My intention here is to explore the interface between psychotherapy and Buddhism — more particularly, my personal take as a practitioner of each. I’ve been studying and practicing in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism since 1988. I was a Buddhist practitioner long before I become a therapist, so the first time I sat with a client, it seemed only natural to bring in what I’d practiced on the cushion. What could be a bigger or better way to meet another’s experience than from the pure natural presence of non-conceptual awareness? The practices of meditation and therapy naturally inform one other, in my experience. More to come on that subject.
I’ve been marveling recently at how my past life as a travel writer and trek leader dovetails with my current role as a psychotherapist. For starters, both involve exploring new territory, be it outer or inner — checking out the terrain, leading others through it, observing it together. Hey, did you see that? What about this over here? Hmmm, this is interesting … what’s your take on that? How about this journey, this perspective? And, how does it feel, right here, right now, to be in this landscape, be it Varanasi or Bhaktapur or Lhasa — or what we’ve uncovered in the last 15 minutes?
Here’s another similarity: guide, journalist, and therapist all involve listening for story. The subtle art of leading someone to reflect on their own perspective by skilfully drawing out themes and evoking observations eventually unearths not just facts, but meaning. This last is a key point. We have a glut of information in this culture, and a terrible dearth of meaning.
Another element that serves me well in my current practice is the double-world experience of being an expatriate. I’ve spent 15 years of my adult life living abroad, in France, China and Nepal. It’s refined my ability to blend in unobtrusively, to tune into what’s going on and find a way to seamlessly move into the flow. I’ve learned patience, perspective, respect, openness and flexibility. It’s honed my intuition, rewired my brain to quickly pick up new languages, and opened up my synapses to different ways of being. Living abroad has taught me the relativity of every cultural perspective, and the importance of being grounded in that which is universally true — the archetypes hardwired into our human being-ness.
The ability to move fluidly and flexibly yet be grounded in deeper values has served me well since I returned to the U.S. in 1998. It gives me the opportunity to be a translator, a bridge between different traditions and methods. I aspire to live and play in each perspective, but not be stuck in any.
The territory I cover is both deep and broad. The fundamentals of my professional practice are depth psychology (a la Jung and Hillman), Vajrayana Buddhism (Dzogchen), and a deep and abiding interest in the body — its undeniable truth, its often-ignored wisdom, its intuitive capacity. Exploring these territories, and translating one to the other and each to the outside world — this is several lifetimes of work, really.