Category Archives: Inquiring Deeply Newsletters

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

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, June 2018


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, June 2018

Relational Inquiry

“Hunger for connection is also hunger for deep conversation to be received, to be listened to, to be deeply understood.   This is how new meanings come into being ”

My signature clinical approach, “Inquiring Deeply,” involves mindful exploration of the surfaces of our connection with others: the “relational field.” There is a great deal we can learn about ourselves by using the “relational field” as a mirror.

Being mindful of our experience of connection to others – the quality as well as the depth of connection – can be very illuminating. Hunger for connection is only one of many interesting experiences that can be explored. We are interpersonal beings, and in large measure the relational dynamics of self and other are the very stuff our minds are made of. Chapter Six of INQUIRING DEEPLY describes some of the basic dimensions of relationality, providing a framework for understanding how relationship is held in mind.

Because we spend so many hours of our lives talking to other people, the dance of speaking and listening is an especially rich domain for relational mindfulness. In conversation, we have the opportunity to listen to ourselves as well as to listen to the listening of the other. We have the opportunity to see clearly who we are (or how we are presenting ourselves in that particular moment). And we have the opportunity to see our reactivity as it is happens.

With self-reflection, moreover, conversation becomes a stage for observing the theatre of the mind. We can investigate what we enact with others (and what they enact with us); we can inquire about the psychological sources of those relational patterns. And we can observe the narratives we use to frame that experience. In all of these ways, we can gain understanding of our relational dynamics.

In short, we can use the opportunity of conversation to bring awareness to the experience of self-in-relation, and cultivate the practice of relational inquiry to deepen our experience of being with others.

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:  

Looking Ahead:


On Tuesday and Thursday evening June 26 and June 28 in Santa Barbara, I will give a dharma talk on “Mindful Conversation” under the auspices of One Dharma Sangha.

(Tuesday 6 p.m. at MacVeagh house, Museum of Nat’l History Santa Barbara; Thursday 6 p.m. at Sacred Space in Summerland).
Free; Donations welcome.

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, May 2018


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, May 2018


This newsletter is my first one. It is created out of my desire and intention to share my work. I begin with a question that underlies many others:  WHAT IS INQUIRY? [see below]

Inquiry is the subject of my 2017 book “INQUIRING DEEPLY”.  As the title suggests, the book is about the method of inquiry. ( “Inquiring Deeply” is actually an abbreviation of a longer and more ponderous title). It reflects, in part, the strategic use of awareness practice in the investigation of personal problems.

As a psychotherapeutic approach, Inquiring Deeply can be described as the use of mindfulness practice to unpack and amplify subjective experience. It is a therapeutic framework which blends relational psychoanalysis and Buddhist wisdom into a single coherent frame.

While INQUIRING DEEPLY is (I hope) a deep book with many interesting things to say, I recognize that not everyone wants to take the time nor do the ‘heavy lifting’ the book requires of its readers. So, more recently, I have been distilling the essence of what I have to say into a series of simple blog posts, and I will be sending out one each month to those who have signed up to receive them (free).

INQUIRING DEEPLY available at Amazon:  


“Inquiry” is an attitude of mind. It means to live in the question of something, to consciously engage our experience in a way which invites it to unfold. When we ‘inquire deeply’ into a problem or concern, we approach our experience with the attitude of delving into it, feeling whatever it is more fully, and inviting it to reveal itself. Through this practice of awareness, presence, and self-reflection, we become more Real; more fully who we are.

Looking Ahead:


On Tuesday May 2 and Thursday May 4, I will be giving a dharma talk on “Mindful Conversation”under the auspices of One Dharma Sangha. (Tuesday 6 p.m. at MacVeagh house, Museum of Nat’l History Santa Barbara; Thursday 6 p.m. at Sacred Space in Summerland).

On Saturday May 19th I will be presenting a workshop sponsored by LAISPS ( Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies): MINDFULNESS AND PSYCHOANALYSIS: Deepening The Conversation. May 19, 1- 4 PM, De Neve Plaza/UCLA.