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Home arrow Psychology arrow Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply



Hokusai says Look carefully. He says pay attention, notice. He says to keep looking, stay curious. He says there is no end to seeing.3 Introduction Inquiring Deeply grew out of my compelling personal desire to understand howto blend Buddhist mindfulness and relational psychotherapy into an integrativeapproach to working with psychological problems. I knew intuitively that therewas wisdom in problems and opportunities for growth contained within them.I loved the Buddhist metaphor of the lotus flower with its roots in the mud growing toward the sunlight, and I could see for myself that problems always seemedto point exactly where I needed to look and reveal what I most needed to see.Early on in my meditation practice, I recognized the profound truth that this verymoment is the perfect teacher, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron famously said(Chodron, 1997). Also knew from my work as a relational psychoanalyst that problems havemany layers, and that the meaning we assign to them is a very powerful catalystin how they resolve (or don’t). At the core of problems, there is often some rejecting attitude toward the problem itself and/or toward some aspect of one’s experience. Indeed, the essential meaning of “problem” is that there is a circumstance orsituation which one regards as unwelcome and needing to be dealt with or overcome. Sometimes we hold the view that problems are a punishment for somethingwe have done, or failed to do; something in ourselves we deem blameworthy orshameworthy. Beyond the particular circumstances, there often seems to be anembedded view that having problems is itself a problem; as if life could be without problems, or that having problems were an indication of deficiency or failure. I could see that finding an effective frame in which to hold problems, a “rightview” in Buddhist terms, plays an important role in someone’s ability to find apath through their suffering. (And, it was clear that most often there is no way outof the swamp except through the alligators!)

Many teachers, too numerous to mention by name, have guided me in my dharma practice through dharma talks, interviews, and the written word. Here I give special mention to my mentor, Phillip Moffitt, and to Jason Siff, both of whom have had major formative influences on my thinking. I also want to acknowledge Gregory Kramer for important insights he provided to my understanding of relational suffering. Nonetheless, the understanding of the dharma conveyed in this book is my own, and I gladly take responsibility for any and all errors contained herein.

The writing of this book has been an exercise in self-discipline, a word which (as I am fond of saying) comes from the same etymological root as the word disciple and means to follow oneself with love. Be that as it may, I have lived with the questions I address in the book on as deep a level as I have known how to do. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to undertake this kind of awareness practice, and I am happy to be able to authentically say that the path continues to deepen.

Marjorie Schuman Santa Barbara, CA March, 2016

So, my first set of questions became: What is a wise relationship to problems? What is a skillful way to “be with ” problems? And/or: How can someone best “practice with”problems, in the dharmic sense ofpractice?2

It was apparent to me that this skillful means could not be looking for something; it needed to be looking deeply into something. Whatever answers I arrived at would have to honor both of the interpenetrating strands of my own life experience: psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

I searched for answers to these questions in many ways and in many different places, including of course the burgeoning literature on Buddhism and psychotherapy. Many of the available approaches were, by and large, not a good fit. For starters, most of the popular clinical applications of mindfulness— mindfulness-based cognitive therapies (MBCT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), for example—were cognitive-behavioral and problem-centered, whereas my own clinical work was psychodynamic/relational and depth-oriented. I was not drawn to mindfulness as a clinical technique but rather as an aspect of self-reflection. I sought to understand how to incorporate mindfulness into psychotherapy as an aspect of intimate relationship, not as a technique for modifying behavior. I also found that my own mindful awareness seemed to invite a resonating depth and immediacy in patients, enhancing the depth of our connection. My primary interest was relational psychotherapy, not applied mindfulness.3

In my own work, the focus tends to be on communication, both conscious and unconscious. Mindfulness is only one facet of a multifaceted effort to uncover previously unseen surfaces of experience. As the reader will see in the many clinical illustrations I have included in this book, I do sometimes incorporate mindfulness practice into the clinical protocol where appropriate, but the primary emphasis is not mindfulness practice.

I gradually crafted a “signature” clinical style which I call “inquiring deeply.” This approach interweaves psychodynamic principles and Buddhist thinking; it is both Buddhist-informed and what one of my patients calls “Buddhist-affirmative,” in that it blends Buddhist view into its interpretive framework. The best way to convey inquiring deeply is through clinical example; many of the clinical illustrations in this book come from my work with patients who are Buddhist practitioners, which may provide an added dimension of interest to readers.4

One preliminary caveat is that “Buddhist view” is not homogeneous, but rather varies across different schools of Buddhism. (A similar point can be made in regard to the various schools of psychoanalytic thought.) The principle Buddhist ideas in inquiring deeply are insights available in the practice of mindfulness meditation; that said, however, it should be noted that mindfulness is only one of many different Buddhist practices, one which is not included in every form of Buddhism. The primary focus of Inquiring Deeply is how Buddhist view is relevant to the practice of relational psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. While the basic ideas on which Inquiring Deeply is based are outlined later in this chapter and the next, the intended emphasis is how Buddhist view and psychoanalytic treatment can be blended into an integrative whole.

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