Continuing with the twists and turns of attachment…

It was an interesting week, last week.  I received the journal and reprints of an article I had submitted to Counselling and Spirituality which outlines the basis of the treatment program Frank and I developed 7 years ago.  Drawing from my spiritual practice, I had been using meditative techniques as part of the treatment of various psychological difficulties for a number of years and when the Mindfulness-Based-(fill-in-the-blank) began to take hold in conventional Western psychology, I decided to get some paper cred for what I was already doing.  That involved training over a couple of years with people I came to respect highly.  But the early days of trying to work with a Westernized model of an Eastern concept were really tough and I will admit to feeling like I had sold out to a commercialization or corporatization of the Dharma. Adding to these feelings of discomfort was the aversion Western psychology has to a discussion or integration of a practice of ethics in its treatment models.  And since we saw this as a crucial part of mindfulness-based interventions, it (and using the Dharma to earn money) really put us out on the fringes of our communities.

There was also a lot of censure for my Evil Ways from factions of sanghas where I was practicing who saw the fee-for-service aspect of our work as taking advantage of the Dharma.  Apparently I will burn in some realm of Buddhist Hell for this.  There was also a lot of nay-saying from my professional colleagues who saw this as a poisonous cocktail of religion (read: values) and treatment.  Worse, this was treatment that had yet to build an evidence-base of research outcomes.  No one was on side but the poop really got churned in the small bowl when I decided that Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness made a great 5 x 4 practice grid to drive home the fact that mindfulness is about practice and practice – especially a mindfulness-based-(fill-in-the-blank) practice – is meaningless without an ethical framework.

Mark end of this part of career here.  Western psychology has no truck with ethical frameworks!

Mark end of sangha life here.  Eastern spiritual communities have no truck with an apparent watering down of the dharma and yoking it to behavioural psychology.

Regardless, the program evolved over the years and many people kindly listened to me ramble on about our model.  But it stalled more than it sputtered onward.  At my most optimistic, I wrote the chapters of the clinic Guidebook; at my lowest, I threw away a few of my vows and wandered aimlessly in the bad neighbourhoods of my mind.  Then one of those random events happened that lead to a presentation, which lead to a submission for a proceedings for the conference, which (and I don’t know what sequence of dominoes had to fall for this) lead to a publication in Counselling and Spirituality.

When I opened the package last Tuesday and saw the reprints, I sat down hard.  In my hands was the path laid by seven years of just putting one foot in front of the other.  I know, I know… non-attachment… But,ya know, looking back, it was non-attachment that made it all happen.  Non-attachment to the criticisms, the rejection letters, the silence of no replies to emails, the turning away at conversations, and so on.  It was also non-attachment to the encouragement in the sense of wanting the supporter to do it for us (I’m fundamentally lazy).  It was non-attachment to praise so that it didn’t become resentment when rejection followed from a different source.

And, it was unswerving attachment to really, really needing to foster this: practice is naught outside the precepts.

In my crazy joy, I sent out the article to the professional listserves and one sangha listserve.  The feedback has been deeply positive from the professional side of the fence.  Apparently, the time has come for an ethical framework in the practice of Western Buddhist Psychology and some of us are deeply attached to making this happen.  Whoddathunk?

The cats, of course, are singularly unimpressed.

OK, seriously… I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone who contributed to getting us to this point.  The over-400 participants in the 7 years of programs we ran actually get all the credit.  What is wisdom except courage to transform suffering?

Thank you for practicing,


7 thoughts on “anti-dis-attachmentariansim

  1. The Buddha had no doubts about the importance of an ethical foundation (6 of the 8 steps of the Eightfold Path, not to mention the precepts) for the practice life.

    Without such a foundation, any awakening experience would only serve to reinforce the ego. (I’m sure that most of us have encountered certified teachers who remain in the grasp of ego-dominated impulses).

    John Welwood has also written movingly about the balance of absolute training (deep meditation and insight) and relative training (penetrating egoic defenses and impulses) that are needed to develop as a whole human being.

    Although the Buddha did teach guidelines and precepts, methods and techniques, these only served to advance his sole interest: the cessation of dukkha. He only sought to bring human lives back into balance. That’s all that matters, really.

  2. Now that’s a story of perseverance!… and a test of true dedication to what you were doing. How easy it is to give up in the face of all these challenges. And to have the support of a deep practice combined with a deep belief in what you were doing. Ah, the fruits of your practice have ripened in many wonderful ways, I think. What comes to mind is a line from the Scripture of Great Wisdom: Going, going, always going beyond, always becoming Buddha. Bows to you for your work and wisdom!

  3. Congradulations! This sounds like an important program. Ethics seem just so basic: first stop doing stuff that is guarenteed to cause you pain!
    Years ago I went on a ride-along with a friend who was a big city police officer, and the thing that most amazed me about the people we picked up was their lack of any awareness or consideration of the results of their actions. It really brought home how huge an aspect just paying attention seems to be of successful functioning.
    I’ve noticed that when someone is a step and half ahead of everyone else, they’re called briliant, but when they’re a couple of blocks ahead they’re called deluded, or worse.
    Congrats again!

  4. Didn’t realize you were getting so much flak. I am so glad you stuck to your vision. I would not have signed up for a pure Buddhist Sangha nor would I have gone anywhere near the prevailing ethics-less psychology. You and Frank were able to reach me, teach me and encourage me and for that I am very grateful.

  5. Thank you for all your support!

    Isn’t it funny that we don’t see our efforts until we stop and look back to see the miles traversed?

    Barry, I’m sure as a teacher you see how we students can easily delude ourselves into thinking (mistake #1) that we are penetrating the ego defenses when in fact we’re just using meditation to shore them up! Until I started working with the precepts, it wasn’t as apparent to me.

    ZdS, thank you. It”s like art. Every practice stroke of the brush is crucial. I have grown much from sitting by your studio and learning from your practice.

    Chong Go Sunim, I’m so grateful for your presence here. I might just get up the courage between you and Barry to pull down Sueng Sahn from the shelves!!! I did my internship with our department of “Corrections.” I think the deepest suffering is in that type of don’t-know-mind.

    Bruce, you and others like yourself are our poster practitioners! I remember setting up our day-long session so that one participant (whose faith commitment prevented driving on the Saturday) could join us. We all did walking meditation to meet him halfway from where he had spent the night so he could walk to the clinic the next day. In that one act, we had practiced all the mindfulness trainings as a community of many faiths! The joy we see in all of you who come back for “visits” kept us going! A deep bow to you for your dedication to an authentic practice!

  6. Hi Genju,
    I’d never thought about that before: the department of “corrections.” sigh. A bit more effort towards correcting wouldn’t hurt, would it. Actually, have you ever read “At Hell’s Gate” by Claude Thomas? Now a monk under Thich Naht Hann, he was a soldier in Vietnam, and his description of his upbringing and thought processes (unmindfullness and reactivity)are really interesting.

    My Dharma teacher is actually Daehaeng Kun Sunim; she really emphasizes relying upon our inherent Buddha-nature and unconditionally entrusting with everything that arises. In the details of this, it seems to encompass a lot of cognitive behavoir therapy. I wrote a paper on an aspect of this, if you’re interested I can email it to you.

    On a bit of a tangent, a couple weeks ago it was really driven home to me that one of the main differences with people classified as mentally ill seems to be the inability to let go of a thought or idea, and move beyond it. Yet with mindfulness, in order to pay attention to the present moment, we have to let go of everything else. Have you had any success with people considered mentally ill, or are there just too many other things going on there? I’d imagine an accute organic cause wouldn’t be very treatable, but a weaker organic element might be the result of repeated thought habits, and more treatable.
    with palms together,

    • I’ve read a bit about your teacher (though I didn’t know she was your teacher) – either via Marcus or Barry.

      You raise a good point about what defines mental illness. There’s such a range of capacity that it’s never predictable as to which skills will take. I’m always surprised by the outcomes of helping people become more present to their lives. They seem to have an easier time than I do with the practice! 🙂 I’m the one who needs to let go of my assumptions of what will work and what won’t for them – or how it should be working!

      One form of mental suffering is that we cannot let go of a thought or idea. Another is that we cannot hold onto to a sensation and its effects. In the first, we become tied up in the dynamic between craving and rejecting of a sense object (thought being one). In the other, we feel a deep lack (such as feelings of love, contentment, belonging, safeness). Both are painful and have serious consequences for our relationships with each other.

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