Category Archives: Inquiring Deeply Newsletters

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter: April, 2019


                  The Unfolding of Wisdom:  Going With The Flow

Wisdom is inherent within us but it takes a concerted effort to learn how to listen deeply for what life is speaking.   By following the thread of inner truth which is available in whatever we experience, we connect more and more deeply both with what is so and with who we are.  

Wisdom is not abstract.  It reveals itself in insights, both large and small, as well as in the answers we discover for our deep questions and in the resolutions we find for our most vexing problems.   Wisdom is a path. 

Wisdom is also a practice.  By bringing alert receptivity to what we experience moment by moment, we increasingly discover whatever we need to see in what is going on; the meanings implicit in what is happening.  In this way, we can endeavor to receive life:   to open to life instead of struggling against it. 

In cultivating wisdom, we attune ourselves to the simple truth of experience, including emotional experience.   Wisdom unfolds naturally as we inquire about what is happening, and why;  our deepening wisdom expresses itself in our ability to be increasingly present with ourselves and others.

In inquiry practice, we attune ourselves to finding the dynamic intelligence in the flow of awareness.  To ‘go with the flow’ of life as an unfolding wisdom process means to align ourselves with what is happening.   Literally, we aspire to be like water – to flow in and around the events of life.   Going with the flow is a kind of letting go in which we allow life to carry us downstream; surrendering to the currents of our life energy,   whatever they may be, we heed the intelligence of our body, heart, and mind.  

Ultimately wisdom reveals itself in a felt sense of the existential coherence in life, inclusive of all of its thematic complexities.   In the words of the famed Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, we learn not to push the river; it flows by itself.

Life has a mind of its own.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, March 2019


Inquiring Deeply About Self-Reflection


Self-reflection may be broadly defined as the process of examining our own experience in order to become aware of our thoughts and feelings. The word “reflection” itself evokes the idea of the mind as a mirror.   We may become aware of many different kinds of images in the mirror of the mind: what we see and hear, what we feel, what we think.   And, we also have the capacity to turn our attention back to the surface of the mirror itself.  This is the self-reflexive capacity of awareness. 

Self-reflexivity is built into the very structure of the human mind.   At times self-awareness operates in the background of our experience, giving rise to a vaguely felt sense of being.  At other times, it may move into the foreground of our attention, amplified through intentional focus (as in meditation) or by virtue of emotional reactions (e.g. social anxiety; embarassment) or interpersonal events.   Regardless, we can never become aware of ourselves from outside of our experience, only from within.  So self-reflexivity is always both subjective and objective;   it weaves together mind and body, thoughts and emotion, as it integrates both the observational and experiential dimensions of awareness.

Although an inborn potential, self-reflexivity is not a fixed capacity, but rather one which expands and deepens along with other aspects of psychological development.  It is organized in relation to our understanding of our own minds as well as the minds of others.  Moreover, because some aspects of ourselves are essentially invisible except in the mirror of another, our capacity to know ourselves is a function of our connection with others.

Interpersonal experience is an important domain for the development of self-reflection.   Conflicts between ourselves and others call our attention to possible discrepancies between how we see ourselves and how we are seen. Such disruptions invite us to de-center from our own point of view and consider the impact we may be having on others. They also galvanize our attention to what would otherwise remain unseen in ourselves. 

For all of us, psychological defenses in the mind are engaged in order to obscure vulnerable aspects of ourselves.  We may deny or disavow realities which are painful, attribute qualities of ourselves to others, or find other ways to avoid knowing the truth about our feelings. 

What we are blind to in ourselves is the limiting boundary of our freedom. 

Self-reflection is arguably the central integrative element in psycho-therapeutic exploration and psychological growth.   Reflecting on our experience and behavior either by ourselves, or in conversation with others (including psychotherapists), can help us to become aware of how we are relating to our experience.  In seeing more clearly what we are doing, how we are feeling, and the way that we react to things, we create a greater capacity for choice.  In this way, self-reflective awareness may be likened to a “clutch” which allows the mind to shift gears so that new points of view can emerge.

Self-reflection is an evolving dimension of our subjectivity which can be intentionally cultivated in practices such as meditation.   Mindfulness meditation amplifies self-reflection through the intention to notice what one is aware of from moment to moment and through the ability to shift awareness from the content of experience to the context of background awareness which surrounds and contains it.  This enhances the clarity of what is seen in the mirror of self-reflection and creates greater access to somatic, psychological, and relational layers of the mind. 

Last but by no means least, with the cultivation of mindful attention we can become aware of awareness itself.  This transcendent dimension of self-reflexivity is conveyed by the statement that mindfulness is the state of mind in which you realize that you are more than your state of mind.   This deepening of self-reflexivity allows us to see more and more deeply into the body/heart/mind and into the nature of self.   

In the words of the Sufi aphorism, What you are looking for is who is looking”.



Inquiring Deeply Newsletter February 2019

Meditative Listening

There is a kind of magic in the experience of feeling deeply heard. A special set of relational moments, “moments of meeting,” are those in which there is a profound sense of mutual connection.  Such “moments of meeting” occur in conversation when something is said and received in such a way that the speaker feels deeply seen, felt, accepted, and understood.    The prototype of this experience is the moment that occurs immediately after birth, when the new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back.  Such moments of mutual deep contact are what the philosopher Martin Buber understood to be the essential meeting of “I-and-Thou.”   The descriptive term “intersubjective” is also broadly useful, carrying the general meaning that two (or more) minds come together in a space of shared thought and feeling.

In addition to what is said in moments of meeting, equally important is the felt sense of connection.  Regardless of what is being said aloud in a particular conversation, we likely have a felt sense of one other and some idea of where the other is “coming from.”   This felt sense is the “relational moment”.   Of course, not every experience of being-with is mindfully known; we may feel many things, including our connection with others, implicitly — i.e., without conscious awareness. 

Moments of meeting vary in level of depth.   The conscious experience of being-with is a capacity which is enhanced by mindful attention.   Such moments often feel replete with Presence.  Along with the felt sense of connection or intimacy there is a deep sense of being oneself.  Connection may be so profound that the boundary between self and other momentarily disappears.   Wisdom arises in such moments as the compassionate and intuitive knowing of the other’s experience, and sometimes as the experience of a heart-to-heart connection between us.

We can also engage a similar quality of deep meditative listening within ourselves by turning inward to explore what we are feeling and sustaining an attitude of receptivity towards what may be emerging.  This may be called meditation, contemplation, prayer, or by other names.  I call it INQUIRING DEEPLY.  In this inward turn, we come to an inner threshold where we are in the presence of the unknown.  At this threshold, deeper wisdom has a chance to break through.
The hallmark of emergent moments, whether listening to another or listening to our inner experience,  is that they simply arrive:  what arises can be neither predicted nor controlled.  The emotional impact of emergent moments is amplified and the experience more vivid when they are experienced against a backdrop of deep stillness and Presence, as in meditation.  Meditative listening deep within oneself opens space for things to unfold at the living edge of our experience.

When experienced against the backdrop of a focused mind and a heart-centered, receptive listening field between two people,  the impact of relational presence resonates between us, deepening the experience of us both.

When you feel heard a silence falls.
In that silence more may come
Often it is something deeper: you can feel it
Just now forming at the edge of being."
...Rob Foxcroft



*More about emergent moments may be found in Schuman, M.  (2017) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Inquiring Deeply.  Routledge Press, New York.



Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, January 2019


“I call the moment when you fully know that a change is achievable realizing the imaginative possible.  When you are able to envision that an alternative is real, you experience a sudden energetic surge toward actualizing it, which becomes self-reinforcing.”

……Phillip Moffitt  (2012)  Emotional Chaos To Clarity

The New Year holiday is a natural time to reflect on the cycles in our lives – the beginnings and endings, the losses and renewals, the ongoing narrative themes that weave in, out, and through our life story.    In the ritual of new year’s resolutions,  we also have an auspicious opportunity to contemplate our aspirations and intention as we go forward into the unfolding future.  

For more than I decade, I have had a personal new year’s practice of reflecting on and then writing about my goals and intentions for the new year.   I distinguish between goals and intentions.  Goals express our preferences for future;  what we want to accomplish;  what we want to bring into being.  They provide inspiration and direction as well as determine how we allocate our time and resources.  Intentions, on the other hand, are statements about how we would like to actually think, act, and speak in any given moment as we move forward towards our goals.   Together, goals and intentions describe our purpose—  the forward thrust of our energy going forward.  They can function as a blueprint for the “imaginative possible” (to use Moffitt’s phrase from the opening quote).

Because intentions are what ‘incline the mind’ in one direction or another, it behooves us to be conscious of what our intentions are. Having clear intentions is a soft form of “thinking from the end”: the fundamental idea that consciousness has a shaping impact on awareness going forward.  In new age psychology, this idea is captured in the phrase “energy follows thought”.   If we think of the past as a push and visualization as a pull, push and pull come together in the present moment by influencing how we interpret and respond to events in an ongoing fashion. In the act of bringing new awareness to the present moment, the next moment is already changed because of the alteration in view.

Without resorting to metaphysics, the concept of intention in Buddhist psychology elegantly illuminates the complexity of this process. Everything that happens, the Buddha taught, begins with our thoughts; for good or ill, our thoughts are the foundation of what arises. Intentions are an important dimension of thought because what we intend directs our energy and attention. The back and forth movement of attention lights up the process of ‘minding’ that is the unseen background of experience as it arises. Intentions frame our interpretations and determine how we hold things in mind.

When we form a conscious intention, this then becomes an integral part of what unfolds next. Attention and intention light up experience and support living from the inside out.

When our purpose is clear and coherent, we are on course towards a particular outcome. Moreover, intentions keep us centered in the moment by keeping our attention focused on what is important, and that helps us stay optimally responsive to what is unfolding.

Clear seeing and clear intention segue into strategies for action. Once we are clear about what the goal is, we are poised to take whatever action is appropriate and indicated. (And conversely, our failure to see or understand important aspects of the current situation keeps us blind to important possibilities). Intention leads to constructive action in the spontaneous unfolding of the journey forward. It remains only to commit to what we most deeply value and stay on the path defined by putting one foot in front of the other.

Wishing us all a safe, healthy, and vital new year.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, December 2018

Mindfulness of Conversation: The Dance of Speaking and Listening

Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, engaging in conversation can itself be a dynamic and fully engaged mindfulness practice.  Just as we can explore the internal world of the body and thoughts in sitting practice, we can explore the external world of language in vocalized words, gestures and spoken interaction.   This focus of attention helps open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the present moment more fully. 

Mindfulness of conversation begins with the embodied experience of speaking and listening. However, far more than simply denuded  ‘present moments’ of mindful awareness, there are many other layers of the experience of conversation that reflect what is happening in the ‘relational moment’.  Some of the layers have to do with what is being conveyed— communication— and others with the how— the connection between us conversation.    In the framework of Buddhist meditation practice, all of this falls under the heading of relational mindfulness.  

The experience of conversation provides a window into the relational moment, a stage for observing the theater of the mind.   Mindfulness of conversation allows us an up-close and personal experience of basic psychological phenomena and relationship patterns enacted in real time.   We can observe how we show up in the relational world and we can discover a great deal about who we take ourselves to be.  We can investigate what we enact with others (and what they enact with us);  we can inquire into the psychological sources of those relational patterns; and we can reflect on the narratives we use to frame our experience.  In all of these ways, we can gain understanding of our relational dynamics:  our interpersonal reactions and their emotional roots*.   

Each of these dimensions provides a variety of opportunities to observe how we relate to others in the dance of conversation.  We can observe what happens at the intersubjective intersection:  the intimacy or distance we experience moment by moment; our comfort or discomfort; whether we lead or follow;  the energy, tempo, and flow of what we say.

In addition to the interpersonal domain, we can mindfully observe the conversation that takes place within our minds.  Inner speech may manifest in words or phrases that catch our attention; at other times, it can be elaborated into ideas we want to express.   We may notice replays of actual conversations we have had with others.   Our minds may host soliloquies or arguments, or fantasize entire interactions.     These narrative themes shed a lot of light on our actual interactions with others.  

To summarize, there are at least three interwoven strands in mindfulness of conversation: communication with others, our inner narratives,  and the felt sense of our symbolized experience.     Through mindfulness of conversation we can discover many different voices, many different layers of knowing and cognizing within.   There is value in becoming aware of the entire process. 

Most importantly, mindful attention to the process of communication entails potential for change in both participants.  This is especially true because communication reflects the underlying stories we tell ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) about self and other.  It provides an opportunity to observe both our biases and our intentions.  And, it creates an opening to practice the Buddhist principles of wise speech.

 One of the most exciting aspects of the dance of speaking and listening is the realization that communication is a generative act;  no one knows in advance what will transpire.  It is as much (or more) an event that happens to us as it is something we ‘do’.  Conversation invites something to “emerge” between ourselves and another.   This potential is what the writer Ursula Le Guin “the calls beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift.”   


A longer version of this essay appears in Wise Brain Bulletin,            vol. 12.5:     “Speaking and Listening:  The Intimate Dance of Communication”.                                      


** Schuman, M.  (2018) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  INQUIRING DEEPLY

Picture credit  Edgar Degas,  The Conversation.




Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, November 2018

November 2018


Inquiring Deeply About Emptiness

There is a not uncommon experience people allude to as “emptiness”, meaning a deep sadness, yearning, or inner sense of something missing.  It often connects to a felt sense of deep deficiency or unworthiness.    This psychological emptiness is quite different in meaning from the Buddhist concept of the same name, which refers to the reality that things do not exist in the way we suppose that they do;  that life is empty of anything which is inherently substantial or permanent enough for us to hold onto. 

A good way to think about the psychological experience of emptiness is in terms of parts of us which have been lost from awareness.   What has been lost from consciousness leaves a vacancy, a place which feels empty.  Sometimes emptiness is a hole in our lives which comes from the loss of someone or something.  It may arise in relation to something we want very badly but despair of ever finding/having. Psychic holes in the mind may also come about as a result of traumatic experience or something else barred from memory.  

We can begin to explore emptiness by inquiring into the holes we find in our own lives.   What is missing?  In what way(s) do we feel insufficient?  What emotions do we not want to feel?  What in the balance of mind, body, and heart gets too little of our attention?   

We can also explore emptiness by paying attention to what we do to ‘fill’  the holes we feel within:  our addictive attachments to substances, activities, and people.  Ironically, our improvised ‘solutions’ to pain most often result in new, worse problems!  By exploring the strategies we use to block the feeling of what is painful,  we can deepen our awareness of the underlying feelings.

When we turn our attention to exploring empty places within,  often we may find memories of hurt feelings and conflicts that block our natural ability to connect to others.   Our most habitual and powerful feelings and thoughts define the core of who we think we are.  When we are caught up in a sense of being unworthy, the universal sense that ‘something is wrong’ turns into the feeling that ‘something is wrong with me’.  This felt sense keeps us on the run, driven by desperate efforts to get away from these bad feelings.

In a different vein, the experience of emptiness can sometimes be illuminated by contrasting it with its psychological opposite, aliveness.  We can inquire about the experiences in which we have felt most whole and complete, most authentic, most at peace with ourselves and with our world.   What has blocked these channels of vitality and aliveness?

In my view, our empty places, our ‘holes’, can ultimately only be filled by connection: both connection with others and better connection to ourselves.   Healing relationships (including psychotherapy) help us through deep listening both to what we say and what we don’t say (and may never even have thought!).   Deep empathic listening connects us heart-to-heart and cultivates our ability to extend compassion and tenderness towards what is wounded within us.

Mindful awareness of the experience of emptiness is a useful place to begin on the path of healing.  If we have the inclination and/or interest, we may also find it useful at some point to contemplate the nature of emptiness itself.  In a philosophical/spiritual sense,  emptiness is the Everything/Nothing from which all manifestation arises.   From this perspective, paradoxically, emptiness is a vast reservoir of unrealized potential. 

In the words of the Taoist sage Lao Tzu, it is the emptiness within the cup that makes it useful.

Picture Credit:  Farshad Sanaee


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, October 2018

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter,   
October 2018


Inquiring Deeply About Praise

The famed German novelist Thomas Mann apparently experienced quite a bit of anxiety about how his work would be received.  He quipped that he suffered from a  “P vitamin deficiency”:  chronic hunger for praise.  

I personally resonate with the idea of P vitamin and its implied meaning: that approval fills deep needs and is an essential psychological nutrient.  It is quite evident that the need for approval is a driving force in human behavior, as well a basic regulator of self-esteem.  We are motivated to be seen in a myriad of different forms.  Praise and approval— as well as its close cousins mirroring, recognition, validation, and positive evaluation—   are all very high in Vitamin P!   Praise is an upper.   On the other side of the coin, the failure to receive praise which is wanted, needed, or expected is emotionally upsetting.

So, what is this about?  When we look into how the need for praise shows up in our experience, we confirm what Heinz Kohut postulated in psychoanalytic Self Psychology:   recognition and approval are self-delineating and life-affirming.  We seek validation for who we take ourselves to be and in order to feel a vital connection to our core experience of self.    In Buddhist psychology, the primal motivation is thehunger to be; to exist.

When we do not get sufficient Vitamin P from important relational others—when we fail to be affirmed as valuable, special, worthwhile, and/or lovable— our incapacity to sustain a coherent sense of ourselves shows up as emotional turbulence.   While each person’s experience is somewhat idiosyncratic,  the general tenor is usually anxiety, depression, or similar.    What I find in my own experience is a sense of deflation: negative mood and self-critical ideation.  The general idea of contraction seems to capture it.

The hunger to be seen is a primal relational desire:  the need to exist in the eyes of the Other.  This deep relational need stems from the fact that humans need other humans to survive.  To be abandoned as a helpless baby means certain death.  Psychological survival, too, depends on being seen.  This reality was dramatized in the classic novel of the late 80’s, “Clan Of The Cave Bear”, in which a female character was psychologically exiled for nonconformity to the tribal rules of her Neanderthal brethren.  No one was to make eye contact with her.  This was a brutal form of punishment.

Self is brought into being in relationship.  The prototypical moment 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.  As Kohut put it, the self at birth is a virtual self, a self which develops in the process of being seen and responded to by(m)other. This is true in earliest psychological life and remains so throughout the life span. What is not validated by others will tend to be repressed or will simply fail to come into being.  In other words, if we are not seen, we cannot be fully alive.

So, the wish to be seen is quite understandable.   But how can we understand thefear of being seen? In psychological terms, we find at its core the fear that we are not worthy of being seen.  In Buddhist terms, this too is connected to a fear of non-being.  

Our fear of being invisible connects both to our elemental fear of death and of existential emptiness. The fear of not being seen joins together with the fear of being alone.   This can become a futile quest to fill our empty places with other people.

So it is useful to inquire deeply into both the wish and fear of being seen.  We need to find within our own experience all the ways that, directly and indirectly, we seek P vitamin;  all the constructive as well as dysfunctional ways we seek attention and approval.  A compelling example from contemporary life is how people relate to getting “likes” on social media, which can assume the proportions of an actual addiction!  According to some, ‘thumbs up’  stimulates little bursts of dopamine in the brain.  (Maybe that is Vitamin P!)

In any event, when we inquire deeply, what we can also find is that recognition is not love. Our deepest desire is not for praise or approval, but for connection with others. 

* Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Inquiring Deeply
Routledge Press, 2017.


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, September 2018

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter,   September 2018


Wise Understanding of Emotion

One of the salient qualities of inner peace is equanimity, defined as the ability to maintain mental and emotional balance in the midst of whatever is happening.  For human beings, emotional turbulence is the major surface of challenge.    As the tightrope illustration suggests, emotional balance is a capacity which entails both skill and practice.   It rests on a foundation of wise and compassionate understanding of emotional life.
I find it useful to engage awareness practice to amplify emotional experience around these issues. Deep inquiry—  “Inquiring Deeply”— investigates emotional reactivity as a means of deepening understanding of emotional life.    Both personally and professionally, I find this method to be a powerful catalyst for emotional growth.  The basic principles are simple:
  • Make explicit your intentions, aspirations, and goals in regard to your emotional life.  The main intention is to be with the experience of being upset.  Other possible examples:  to learn to sustain your experience of being centered (physical balance is a great analogue of this skill);   to deepen your understanding of some particular emotional state — (e.g., the experience of being disappointed).
  • The most basic observation is, “being emotionally upset is like this.” **  Then, inquire deeply regarding what you are feeling;  what it is connected to;  what is beneath that.
  • Bring mindful awareness to the somatic experience of emotional activation and have the intention to relax into the experience.  Emotion lives in the body. We process experience through the very act of bringing conscious awareness to it.  
  • Notice how you are relating to the experience of being upset. The goal is to not hold onto experience, push it away, or escape from it, but rather to simply be with, open to, and receive it.
  • The primary goal in relating to emotional experience is for feelings to be felt more completely so that release and letting go can happen. Mindful awareness of emotional experience is key, but at the same time it should be understood that letting go is not something that happens all at once. It occurs in stages through a process called “working through”. 
  • It may not be skillful to just name emotions if in so doing you relate to your emotions like symptoms of a disease you are trying to cure or problem you are trying to get rid of. The frame in which you hold emotional experience is important! 
  • Emotional reactivity is grounded in our interpersonal (relational) matrix of connection. It is not possibly to deeply understand Self without also understanding Other.  Psychological understanding of the dynamics between us is also very helpful.  
  • “Inquiring Deeply” about your emotional experience means to consciously engage your experience  (on and off the cushion) with the attitude of delving into it, feeling whatever it is more fully and inviting it to reveal itself.   More than simply mindfulness of the moment, deep inquiry explores the meanings and messages conveyed by your emotional experience.
Ultimately, emotional equanimity is about “going with the flow” of experience.  It rests on the broad foundation of our ways of being; what we may call our “life balance”.  Thus, at the psychophysiological level, for example, equanimity reflects our capacity to relax and rest; the balance between being active and being receptive.  At the interpersonal level, it rests on the balance between being with others and being alone, plus our ability to be in harmony with others.  And finally, at an existential level, equanimity is related to our energetic state.  This includes the way we animate ourselves, our pace of life, and our capacity to be centered and present with What Is.

The overarching goal in deep inquiry about equanimity is to be available to the experience of wisdom and compassion that is available in every moment.   As we are reminded by Pema Chodron’s memorable and wise quote,  “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”

* This is the principal topic of my book “Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Inquiring Deeply”  (Routledge Press, 2017)

**  In the style taught by Ajahn Sumedho.

Picture Credit:  Quint Buccholz Giacomond

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, August 2018


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, August 2018

The Path of Problems

A central tenet of my book, INQUIRING DEEPLY*, is that problems are a basic organizing principle in psychological life. Consider, for example, (as every reader can certainly notice) the fact that everyone has problems. In my view, problems have a role in our minds analogous to the role of pain in the body; they call attention to what we most need to see.

Beyond the particular circumstances, we need to address the underlying view that having problems is itself a problem; as if life could be without problems or that having problems is an indication of deficiency or failure. Instead, problems can be seen as opportunities for growth.

The goal in a mindfulness-informed approach to problems is not to disappear problems (which of course is what most people hope will happen), but rather to deepen our awareness of them in lieu of overthinking them. The central premise is that solutions to problems emerge as a function of how clearly we can see where we are stuck. From this perspective, problems and solutions can be seen to be two sides of a single coin.

The path of problems follows along in the slipstream of our concern about a problem.

Problems are configurations or patterns in the mind which are organized around a nucleus of something too painful to be fully experienced . Such “nonexperienced experience” may be thought of as a logjam in the free flow of mental energy in the mind. Such patterns comprise the traumatic core of problems, which over time calcify or rigidify into a kind of ‘scar tissue’ in our psychic structure, including character.

Bringing mindful and self-compassionate attention to the network of our associative connections gradually untangles the knots of pain and trauma in the psyche and helps to reveal aspects of our innate wisdom.

In INQUIRING DEEPLY, I delineate ten headings or “stepping stones” on the mindful path of problems: ten component factors in psychological change. The first tasks have to do with clearly identifying the problem and conceptualizing the leading edge or horizon of change which the problem represents. A related task involves deconstructing the experience of the problem; unpacking the problem into component elements of sensation, perception, thoughts, and feelings. Because problems crystallize around relational wounds, inquiring deeply about our relationships with others is primary. Together, this deep inquiry leads to the development of insight, clarity, and deep emotional understanding.

* Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply
Routledge Press, 2017.  

Looking Ahead:


On August 21st and 23rd, I will be leading the meeting of One Dharma Sangha in Santa Barbara: Guided meditation & dharma talk on “Emotional Balance”:

Tuesday 8/21/18, 6:00-7:00 p.m. @ MacVeagh House, Museum of Natural History; 2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Thursday 8/23/18, 6:00-7:00 [email protected] “Sacred Space” in Summerland; 2594 Lillie Ave, Summerland, CA 93067

No Charge; Donations Welcome

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, July 2018


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, July 2018

To Think Or Not To Think: That Is Not The Question*

As is often said, the mind makes thoughts like water makes waves. So to think or not to think is not the question! The more appropriate question is how we relate to the process of thinking.

In my view, thinking in meditation is not merely the unwanted source of ruminative distraction it is often painted to be. To the contrary, there is transformative opportunity in paying attention to the content of the conversations that take place within our minds during meditation. The word “conversation” is useful in this context because it highlights the fact that thinking itself is a relational process. By paying close attention to inner dialogue, we can discover a great deal about our different “voices” or part-selves and can gain insight into the way we relate to ourselves.

Inner conversation is revealing. We may notice replays of actual conversations we have had with others, showing us what remains unfinished or where we have gotten emotionally snagged. Our minds may host soliloquies or arguments, even fantasize entire interactions with others. Inner conversation, like our communication with others, has many layers, interwoven with emotions and the bodily sense of our symbolized experience.

The themes represented in our mental narratives say a lot about how we “show up” in our interpersonal lives. We have an opportunity to get in touch with the stories we tell ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) about self and other. Our inner dialogues reveal our interpersonal assumptions, the interpretations and projections we tend to superimpose on others when we talk with them.

One important and often neglected dimension of the thinking mind in meditation is awareness of the mind’s relationship to itself. We can begin by noticing the judgments and thoughts that we have about thinking. There is often a bias to view thinking as a kind of stepchild in the inner family. We may implicitly feel shame about the amount of mental band-width devoted to “story-teller mind”.

Apart from the content of our mental narratives, there are also subtle aspects of our inner conversation that can be revealing. Do we feel ourselves to be Speaker? Listener? Neither? Both? Do we create sufficient space around what we say to ourselves to feel into the meaning of our inner conversation? Do we feel pushed around by our minds, driven crazy by our thinking? Do we rely on a kind of “thought police” to stifle our inner voices rather than to kindly investigate them? To the extent that we view our job in meditation as managing and controlling the thinking mind, we may unwittingly enact a power struggle which is a form of self-violence.

It is ultimately the climate of our relationship with ourselves that allows transformative change to come into being. Any thought which we must not think often represents a part of ourselves which has felt rejected, disappointed, frightened, ashamed, or otherwise hurt. Alternatively, when we make space in the mind for the process of thinking— when we can be present with thoughts and bring self-acceptance, compassion, and wisdom to investigating them— that creates the possibility for deep healing.

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:  

Looking Ahead:


July 24th and 26th, I will be leading the meeting of One Dharma Sangha in Santa Barbara: Guided meditation and talk on “Wise Relationship”. See below for more details.

On, Tuesday 7/24/18, 6:00-7:00 p.m. @ MacVeagh House, Museum of Natural History; 2559 Puesta Del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

On Thursday 7/26/18, 6:00-7:00 [email protected] “Sacred Space” in Summerland; 2594 Lillie Ave, Summerland, CA 93067
No Charge; Donations Welcome

picture credit:    Leigh McCloskey

* For more on this topic, see Ch. 7,  “Reflections on Thinking”, in my book INQUIRING DEEPLY