Category Archives: Blog

Here and Now

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most common perspective gleaned from contemporary dharma teaching is that our goal in mindfulness practice should be to keep ourselves in the present moment.   For example, from a recent “Daily Dharma” published by Tricycle magazine:

“We can get dragged back into the past, which can lead to depression, or we can become anxious about the future, which can lead to fear. Conscious breathing returns us to the here and the now, where we really belong”.
—Gary Gach, “Brief Teachings

This is certainly some truth in this.   And, we have all gotten (repeatedly) lost in our minds.  

HOWEVER:  The present moment does not, and cannot,  exist in isolation from the past and future.  The present moment includes what arises in the mind as we recollect what has happened to us.   The process of recollecting and narrating our experience is an essential part of the activity of the brain/mind that is given to us as human beings.   Stories about what has happened to us in the past are an integral part of the present moment (albeit not the direct experience of the present moment).

 

Similarly, we don’t exist in isolation from how we relate to the future.  Planning, thinking about, and fantasizing are intrinsic functions of mind.  It is important to be aware of these processes and to try to be conscious of them.   It quite often happens that we topple forward toward the future, and we can become quite anxious in the gap of Unknown between now and then.  It is skillful to be wise about the imagined future through the way that we formulate our intentions.

A woman said to me in a therapy session:  I want to stop worrying and just be present with what’s happening.

I said:  worry is what is happening.

 

Are Buddhism and Psychotherapy Different?

  

“We are all living within a myth, the myth or myths that provide us with our fundamental world view. Psychotherapists [often read] the Buddhist myth in terms of their psychotherapeutic myth…But to understand Buddhism, one must enter the Buddhist myth, and once we are within that myth, then we will naturally read psychotherapy in terms of Buddhism”… Patrick Kearney

As my dharma practice has unfolded during dedicated study over more than 40 years,  it has taken shape as a psychologically-minded contemplative practice that I call “Inquiring Deeply”.    Simply stated, I have made it a habit to inquire within about the “deeper meanings” I see in whatever events are transpiring in the moment.    My inquiry lives in the overarching frame of Buddhadharma.  It begins with the premise, as Pema Chodron famously said, that “this very moment is the perfect teacher”.

Starting with the intention to explore the leading edge of subjective experience, “Inquiring Deeply” is awareness practice which is focused on deepening understanding of your emotional life.  Deep emotional understanding is more than simply mindfulness.   It is intuitive understanding grounded in personal history, embodied experience, and the felt sense of things.   The emphasis in deep inquiry is on exploring the field of relational connection with others.

The most frequent question that I get asked is how (and whether or not)  Inquiring Deeply differs in any significant way from the dharma practice I have learned in the American Vipassana movement (as taught by Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and many others).   I found that question sufficiently interesting that I wrote a book about it  (“Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:   Inquiring Deeply”;  Routledge Press, 2017).   

Are Buddhism and psychotherapy different? Zen-like, in my book I conclude BOTH yes and no; NEITHER yes nor no.    Your answer depends upon where you are looking from.   As the opening quote suggests, both Buddhism and psychotherapy are narratives  (“myths”).  The distinction between them is neither clearly delineated nor fixed. 

That said, my effort has been to construct a wise and compassionate frame that includes them both. 

 

 

 

The Best Thing For Being Sad……

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, ….”is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

                    ….T.H.White   from The Once And Future King

Autobiographical Reflections: Marjorie Schuman, Ph.D.


I.      LONG JOURNEY TO FIND MYSELF
:                                                                       I Used To Be Different,  Now I’m The Same

My parents often said I was a born psychologist.

From as early as I can remember, I felt compelled by the mysteries of consciousness.   Inquiring deeply into these questions has been the unifying theme of my life.

My wish to understand the connection between mind and brain led me to a PhD at the University of Michigan, where I studied psychology and psychopharmacology, and then to postdoctoral work in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry.   

But as much as I loved what I studied,  academia felt  too dry and objective to me.  I came to recognize that in order to understand the mysteries of awareness, I needed to  focus on the inner landscapes of my mind. 

Mid-career,  I turned my attention to clinical work.   I did advanced training in psychoanalysis and Buddhist mindfulness meditation.  This professional identity has been a wonderful container for my continued learning over the years and has enabled me to come more and more fully into being as myself. 

 

II.      IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE:                                                                                The Gift of Being Fully Understood

I have always possessed the ability to know intuitively where people are coming from. As a psychotherapist, I can sense what my clients are feeling and can translate those feelings into words for them.    More than 30 years of practicing Buddhist meditation has also had a large impact on the way I approach therapy.

My insight and psychoanalytic understanding help me to contextualize and articulate complicated feelings and emotions.  It supports my ability to be an unwavering and emotionally attuned anchor in guiding others through difficult life experiences.

Bottom line,  I believe that the ability to Identify what you are feeling is the first step in self-understanding.   And, I believe that therapeutic empathy is the most important factor in the healing of psychological wounds.

III.   LIFELONG STUDENT OF THE MIND:                                                                     I teach, therefore I learn

My work as a clinical psychologist was greatly enriched by the decade I spent as an Associate Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology where I taught psychology graduate students.   Developing and implementing advanced curriculum sharpened my clinical prowess and enhanced my understanding of how to work with clients.

I absorbed as much from my students as hopefully they did from me. I also realized that teaching and learning are two sides of one coin.

Years of teaching has paid off regarding the psycho-educational dimension of my clinical work. My ability to explain concepts in simple terms helps clients understand the process they are engaged in.

 

“Blood Moments” in Psychotherapy

“Your intelligence grows new leaves in the wind of this listening”     ….Rumi 

“Moments of meeting”  are special moments of now in which there is a profound sense of mutual connection.    The prototypical moment of meeting is the one that occurs in the first moments after birth, when the new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back.   Such moments of special intimacy in psychotherapy are a vital aspect of  the healing connection.

These moments  have also been termed blood moments, a description which derives from the native American ritual in which two members of a tribe mixed their blood in celebration of bonding as brothers. By this metaphor, we can understand a blood moment as an “intersubjective now moment” in which two individuals co-mingle their most vital essence.

Applying the idea of a blood moment to the psychotherapeutic encounter also carries the meaning that real feelings and actions are taking place between real people in real time.

Last but not least, because blood is a quintessential element in birth, the term “blood moment” is also well suited to express the meaning that something new is being born.

From my point of view, psychotherapeutic blood moments are those in which new aspects of self come into being.

excerpt from Marjorie Schuman, Ph.D.  Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply.   Routledge Press, 2017.    

What is “Inquiring Deeply?”

Deep inquiry—  “Inquiring Deeply”— is awareness practice focused on deepening your understanding of your emotional life.  Deep emotional understanding is more than simply mindfulness.   It is intuitive understanding grounded in personal history, embodied experience, and the felt sense of things.   The emphasis in deep inquiry is on exploring the field of relational connection with others.

“Inquiry” means to live in the question of something, on and off the cushion; to consciously engage your experience in a way which invites it to unfold. When you ‘inquire deeply’ into a problem or concern, you approach your experience with the attitude of delving into it, feeling whatever it is more fully, and inviting it to reveal itself.  

Inquiry explores your relationship with other people and expands to include your relationship with life itself. Through this self-reflective awareness practice, you become more fully who you are.

 

Problems as Koans of Everyday Life

Koans are riddles or paradoxes used for contemplative meditation.  Their purpose is to invite a profound shift in one’s experience of the world.   A well known example is  “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  Koans do not have answers nor make logical sense, and that is the point of them:  to boggle the mind.  Sometimes the problems of everyday life have a koan-like effect: they tend to entangle the mind in the search for logical solutions which cannot be figured out.

In Zen practice , engaging with a koan involves sitting with, being with, and repeatedly asking the question as a means of inviting a profound change of heart or inner transformation.  A koan creates a kind of mental slope which inclines the mind in a different direction than it might otherwise go – off the beaten track of familiar mental patterns and towards creative discovery which lies outside the box.

In psychological terms, while there may be no way around reality, there may yet be a way through.  It’s like running up against a door that opens inward: no matter how hard you push against it, it won’t open. And yet, when you can pause and consider other options, the door may open and you can pass through.

When we can ask the right questions and tackle them with a mind which is steady, focused, and receptive, we can best discover what we need to do next.

The Parable of the Velveteen Rabbit

We are mistaken if we believe that our consciousness is fully awakened at the first moment  after birth.   Perhaps because we don’t know how to imagine any other living state, it may seem to us that birth is a decisive instant,  before which there is nothing and after which we are fully ourselves.  Contrary to that assumption, consciousness is an evolving condition of being.

One of my favorite childhood stories is The Velveteen Rabbit[1], a parable of  just how this evolution may occur.  The Velveteen Rabbit, once a beloved and shiny stuffed bunny,  was loved deeply by The Boy, who saw him as real.  All of the wear and tear from allowing himself to be vulnerable stripped the rabbit both of his sheen and his un-realness. When the boy finally “moves on” as children (and all people) can do sometimes, the Rabbit was heartbroken, feeling rejected and diminished.   Despondent, after crying his first real tear,  a beautiful fairy came to make him into a Real Rabbit, allowing him to hop, skip, and jump with other rabbits (who also had once been discarded).    The Velveteen Rabbit could never have enjoyed the beauty of being Real had he not been “broken open” by the experience of vulnerability.

To me, the moral of this story is that we become Real through the process of connection.    The story is a beautiful metaphor for how our flaws and apparent imperfections can be transformed when they are integrated and fully accepted.    We become more “Real” (authentic) when we are open and ‘vulnerable’  (able to be hurt),  when we allow ourselves to be deeply affected by someone.   But as the Skin Horse wisely tells the little rabbit in the story, sometimes becoming Real hurts. 

Becoming who we are is a journey in which we must come to terms with our tattered fur and threadbare paws. This is a life-long process of learning to be comfortable in our own skin.   We live fully only to the extent that we embody authenticity and aliveness.   This is how we become Who We Are.

                       [1] By Margery Williams

 

 

 

 

 

Downloading Future, Please Wait

BEING HERE NOW

When I posted this picture without title or further explanation some time ago, I was astounded at how many people said “huh??”

The point of the post is not some intent to confuse or create a clever play on words. 

Rather, it is to invite you to contemplate two things:

(1) The computer mindset in which we all spend way too much of our time (downloading content); and

(2) The future-oriented frame of mind in which we all have the tendency to live our lives.

The problem with waiting for the future to finish downloading is the idea that we have Time.  People tend to live facing towards the Future with some sense that “It” will be arriving from that direction.   “Someday” we’ll get all our ducks in a row and then life will begin.

Waiting for “It” to arrive (whatever we take “it” to be) distracts us from the only moment in which we can ever be happy, which is Now. 

Life is not a dress rehearsal; it’s the actual event.

 

 

Mindful Conversation

MINDFUL CONVERSATION

Communication is a mutual act;  it takes two to communicate,  one to speak and the other to listen.    As Henry David Thoreau once said, “the greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought and attended to my answer”.

Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, mindful awareness of speaking and listening provides a wonderful opportunity to open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the moment more fully.

The following are some important guidelines:

  • Listen to others with appreciation for the gift of what is being communicated.
  • When participating in conversation, rest quietly and receptively in open awareness.      If I am not present with me, I cannot be present with others.
  • Listen to emotion, facial expression, and tone of voice as well as meaning. Listen to the silences between words or between speakers.     You are listening to a fellow human being.   Listen with kindness.    Let the words, the stories, touch a compassionate heart.