intro - Page 3
My Introduction to the Two Views
The ideas, views, and practices discussed in this book come not only from my clinical work with clients, but also, most fundamentally, from my own personal experience. I have never felt comfortable taking other people’s ideas without testing them myself. And both Western psychology and Buddhism have been central to my own personal journey, starting when I was in my twenties.
After college, I started a PhD program in clinical psychology, but I dropped out after one year. More accurately, I ran out screaming. There seemed to be an assumption built into the program that anyone studying psychology was, by definition, sane, and anyone in the client chair was, by definition, neurotic (or worse). I was so disturbed by this unexamined assumption that I left the program and, soon thereafter, the country. I spent two very formative years abroad, traveling by motorcycle through Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. In India and Nepal, I encountered the Tibetan community in exile and became very interested in Tibetan Buddhism. When I returned, I met my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who had moved to the United States and had begun offering the Buddhist teachings to a lay audience.
In this tradition, I found a sophisticated and deep understanding of the nature of mind, practical ways to work with one’s most difficult experiencing, and a view based on our greatest potential rather than on pathology. When Trungpa Rinpoche began the Naropa Institute, he encouraged the establishment of a master’s program in psychology, which I soon enrolled in. At that time, in the 1970s, no one was really articulating a way to join therapy and Buddhism, so our classes alternated between work with very skilled Western psychotherapists and lessons in Buddhist practice and theory. In hindsight, this was a fortunate experience: we were forced to hold these two approaches with no theories offered about how they might be integrated. (Trungpa Rinpoche himself had no apparent problems with contradictory energies. At one moment, he would be encouraging of our training, and in another, he would describe therapists as “cosmic vultures,” living off the experience of others.)
Over time, I have become more and more passionate about this work. I think about it every day. Every day, with some exceptions, of course, I ask myself how I can be helpful with whomever I may be relating to. When working as a therapist, I am continually experimenting with how I might support the person who has courageously placed his or her vulnerability in my hands. How can this person find some relief from any actually unnecessary suffering and experience more freedom in daily life? Freedom that may not require that person to be in therapy every week for ten years. Even though I am a therapist and working with clients pays my bills, like all ethical therapists, I am not interested in keeping people dependent on therapy. I would rather offer them tools that might actually make a significant difference, teach them how to use these tools, and then support the integration of this work into their daily life.
For me, something shifted a number of years ago. I think of it as a change in my psychic center of gravity. Before this shift, my baseline — what I returned to, spontaneously, off and on, every moment — was feeling, to some extent, like a problematic person. I was always trying to improve, trying to wake up, trying to feel completely at peace. From that ground of dissatisfaction, moments of clarity, peace, and freedom would arise. But those moments were temporary, and I would always return to a more fundamental sense of problem.
Then this shift happened, over some time and with no apparent cause; it was certainly supported by my Buddhist meditation practices, my many years of personal therapy, and the good fortune of relating to some very wakeful and kind teachers.