Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy
Fall 2016
In this issue:
Cushion and Couch is IMP's quarterly e-journal, featuring articles, interviews, and book reviews written by and for members of the community. If you are interested in contributing, or just want to give feedback, please send us an e-mail.
Awakening Together: A Dialogue on Relational Mindfulness with Janet Surrey
by Darya Mangeym

Janet Surrey, Ph.D., is a Boston-area clinical psychologist and board member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP). Her 2015 book, The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together, explores the liberating potential of right relationship. Dr. Surrey joins host Darya Mangeym to talk about the book and the process of cultivating insight and compassion in community.


Anxiety: A Love Story
by Douglas Baker, LICSW, RYT

Douglas Baker is a yoga and meditation teacher and therapist in Cambridge, MA, specializing in integrative methodologies for anxiety, stress, addiction and other challenges. He presents regularly on integrating contemplative practices in mental health treatment. He is a former clinician of the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, including the Psychiatric Emergency Service. His first book, Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking is due to be released by Quarto/Fair Winds in December, 2016. For information about his practice, visit

How did anxiety get such a bad rap? This harmless feeling is widely feared, and has been pathologized by the DSM as a "disorder." Well-meaning primary care physicians regularly write prescriptions to help their patients banish it. As mindfulness-oriented clinicians, we may find ourselves, oddly, as ambassadors of anxiety.

Abraham Lincoln famously described de-fanging his enemies by making them his friends. How "Mindfulness" is that? He understood the power of shifting out of struggle and into a new relationship with difficulties.

How can we help our clients to love, or at least befriend, the feeling they fear? For some of our clients, it may begin with entertaining a simple thought like "Maybe the way I've been thinking about anxiety isn't helpful." Awakening, for some, may simply be coming to see that there is another way to relate to their experience.

Years ago I quietly dropped the word "disorder" when discussing anxiety with clients. Instead, I encourage them to consider it as a universal human feeling, not always a sign that something's wrong. Similarly, I encourage clients to refer to acute anxiety as "panic feelings" rather than a "panic attack." There is no attack; that word is an inflammatory embellishment.

How we think about feelings matters, and our thoughts about them often cause more distress than the feelings themselves. But this view requires a flexibility of mind that stretches many of our clients, especially those conditioned by perspectives - including much therapy - that assume anxiety is a problem and the goal of treatment is to eradicate it.

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a teaching called "Too close, too easy, too vast, too wondrous." It means that the idea that vast and wondrous changes could come from a small shift in perspective or thinking seems "too easy" from the conventional view.

Perhaps one of our main challenges is helping clients deal with how relatively simple mindfulness is. Maybe we should make it more complicated. The western cultural influence that teaches us to roll up our sleeves and attack the problem can be a central hindrance. The nuance of the method - that relief comes in letting go, of reducing the struggle with experience - is counterintuitive and countercultural.

Often a key piece of treatment is helping clients direct their work ethic in a productive way. From struggling with anxiety, or trying to make something happen in meditation, we may shift to actively strengthening what one of my teachers calls the love muscle: Actively nurturing kindness, patience and compassion. It's something the client can "do." From offering passersby a silent wish ("May you be happy.") to bringing a half smile to an anxious feeling, we begin to cultivate more constructive doing, without struggling.

Similarly, we may help clients proactively create new narratives about feelings. One I often offer is from Thich Nhat Hanh, who writes that our feelings are our children, and we must hold them with tenderness.

In the complex relationship to our feelings, awakening starts with seeing there is in fact a relationship there, a pattern of responding when feelings arise. From awareness, mindfulness, acceptance and perhaps other steps along the way, we may ultimately arrive at love. Sometimes perhaps all that's missing is someone in a position of authority - like a therapist - to endorse, with a sprinkle of formal diagnostic language, the efficacy of love.

The other night, drifting off to sleep in a playful reverie, I imagined a future time when Mindfulness-oriented clinicians had further claimed their collective voice and published a Mindfulness Diagnostic Manual. I imagined a client telling a loved one about our first meeting, "Oh dear, I've been diagnosed with a Flabby Love Muscle."

Book Review: 'The Buddha's Wife'
by Darya Mangeym

by Janet Surrey, PhD, and Samuel Shem, MD
Atria Boo ks/Beyond Words, June 2015

The Buddha left his home and family in order to find a path  to awakening. But what about those who do not have the privile ge of leaving home? Can they not also attain the fruits of spiritual practice? In  T he Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together ,  Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem draw upon Buddhist tradition to imagine the untold story of Yasodhara, whom the Buddha left behind - on the very day she gave birth to their son - to embark upon his quest for awakening. Yet somehow Yasodhara was able to find her own path to liberation. The first part of the book tells the story of Yasodhara's journey; the second part is a reader's companion that offers a suggestions for practicing the path of "right relationship" in everyday life.

Surrey and Shem reframe the traditional understanding of liberation from being an individual undertaking to a collective one. Speaking as Yasodhara to the grieving mother Kisa Gotami, the authors write, "The healing moment, the movement out of grief and isolation into community, came in your  being with.  In 'right relation,' true communion can take place. This is our practice: not alone but with others. It is compassion and insight co-arising between us." Yasodhara and her 
sangha  - her spiritual community - created a practice in which connection with others is the path not only to healing but also to spiritual awakening.

The authors describe the second part of the book as an "invitation for you to be part of a movement of awakening together, to become a relational activist in your own life." Each chapter presents a teaching along with guides for individual and collective reflection and meditation. The authors urge readers to help our suffering world by practicing a relational way of being in our everyday lives, as exemplified by the story of Yasodhara. This relational way of being seems to have much in common with group therapy: an intentional community with the purpose of mutual healing and support. Although the authors did not necessarily intend this, the second part of the book could be adapted very easily to a DBT-like intervention: introducing the theme of each chapter; engaging in group discussion; completing and sharing the reflections; practicing relational meditation; and assigning individual meditations as homework.

This book is important for both personal and professional development. It shows readers the potential for healing not only as individuals but also in community. These are teachings which the world so desperately needs.

by Janet McKenney

by Mark Epstein, MD
Penguin Books, June 2014

Mark Epstein's insightful book,  The Trauma of Everyday Life, provides a useful look at the intersection of Buddhist and Western psychological approaches to suffering. As a beginning therapist and recent graduate, I have wrestled to fit together what I know of Buddhist psychology with Western therapeutic ideas and practices. This book made meaningful connections for me and informed my understanding of both the therapeutic process and healing aspects of my personal meditation practice.

As the title suggests, the book discusses how everyday life is filled with traumas great and small. Using experiences from his life, his patients, and the Buddhist tradition, Epstein examines the nature of trauma, our typical response, and a pathway to healing. In the process, he highlights the similarities between Eastern and Western psychological thought including the relational healing embedded in both therapy and mindfulness meditation.

Our Western psychological concept of trauma is primarily of significant traumatic events, persistent abuses over time, or developmental trauma due to caretaker deficiencies during childhood. Trauma specialists recognize everyday trauma as a phenomenon as well, although it is less discussed or acknowledged. From a Buddhist perspective, trauma is a ubiquitous aspect of life to be treated like any other unpleasant event, that is, with mindful awareness. Everyday trauma is akin to the notion of dukkha or the sense of dis-ease due to the very nature of things which are transitory or impermanent. Both Western and Buddhist perspectives agree that going through trauma (by staying with difficult feelings rather than dissociating from them) is the healing solution; going through trauma requires a safe environment or relationship so difficult feelings can be held and processed. In Western practices, the therapeutic relationship provides the vehicle whereby traumatic feelings can be known and felt; in Buddhist psychology, it is mindful meditation. According to Epstein, the Buddha goes one step further, however, by showing how mindful meditation is the transformative road to knowing ourselves as fundamentally relational, compassionate and joyful.

Based on accounts and statements attributed to the Buddha, Epstein speculates about the Buddha's own trauma, primarily the loss of his mother in infancy, its impact, and his response. He postulates the Buddha's great discovery of "The Middle Way" is fundamentally a relational one - our freedom from suffering lies in our ability to hold what's happening without dissociation. According to Epstein, this is similar to how Winnicott's "good mother" creates a holding environment for the healthy development of her infant's capacities. Mindful meditation also allows this to happen: Within the space of "being," difficult feelings can be tolerated and unconscious aspects of experience can arise, be seen, and become integrated.

This well-written and engaging book would be helpful for those exploring similar questions or anyone who would enjoy a unique perspective on the Buddha's life and enlightenment.

by Brett Dixon

I have taught mindfulness to children before. It is not easy. In fact, teaching mindfulness is a lot like door-to-door sales. More often than not, a teacher has a very small window of time to make their sale before a student slams the door shut. Luckily for all of us who continue to take on this role, Dr. Christopher Willard is here to help us out.

In his new book,  Growing Up Mindful, Willard masterfully guides his readers through the cultivation and teaching of mindful practice. In part one, Willard provides a comprehensive look at what mindfulness reallyis and why it is relevant for children and teens today. Utilizing humor, personal anecdotes and a very relatable, down-to-earth writing style, Willard walks his reader through cutting edge research and dense neuroscience with clarity and ease. His concise, but educational first section provides the information and support one needs to begin and sustain mindful practice.

Parts two and three then dive into material directly related to teaching mindfulness to young people in a variety of different settings. Rather than approaching his reader with abstract concepts and guidance, Willard provides a practical and concrete mindfulness manual, rich with specific instruction, creative exercises and useful details from his own experience working with children and teens. Willard explores and suggests many inventive pathways to mindful practice, including using games and technology to capture a young person's interest. I found myself starring and circling nearly every exercise listed, wishing that I had access to this material when I first started my own work with children.

Growing Up Mindful's greatest success is reminding readers that practicing mindfulness is supposed to draw from one's natural curiosity and zest for life. The way in which we teach mindfulness to children is also the way all of us should approach mindfulness. In my experience teaching mindfulness to young people, often the biggest hurdle is dispelling the negative stigma and false stereotypes that have been attached to practicing mindfulness. Willard proves that mindfulness is not some solemn, dogmatic practice that binds us, but rather an explorative process that allows us to become deeply in touch with ourselves and the world around us. It reminds us that we are interesting and unique and worth learning more about. It reminds us that it is not until we approach mindfulness from the perspective of a child that we truly understand the meaning behind the practice.

From beginners to experts, from counselors to teachers, from parents to children, Christopher Willard's  Growing Up Mindful is a must read for anyone interested in mindful practice.

About Us
The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP)  is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of mental health professionals in the integration of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy.