Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy
Summer 2016
BCBS Buddha Hand
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.
AbblettA Conversation with Mitch Abblett, IMP's New Executive Director
by Timothy Little

Mitch Abblett, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders. His books include The Heat of the Moment in Treatment: Mindful Management of Difficult Clients and Mindfulness for Teen Depression. In May 2016, Dr. Abblett was named as the first Executive Director of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP). He joins host Timothy Little to talk about his new role.


kleinSedona Reflections
by Lauri Klein, LICSW 

Lauri Klein  is a Clinical Social Worker with a private counseling practice in Hingham, Massachusetts. She has over 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist and teacher, and is a long-time meditator. Lauri regularly attends retreats and workshops that enhance her practice and understanding of mindfulness.
"Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place."
- Rumi

On my way to a retreat in Sedona a place I have never been. Meditation, yoga and hiking will be wonderful. I hear it is a beautiful area, the perfect landscape for practicing.

I ask myself, "What is in a place that makes it beautiful? Can you find a place within yourself that holds all that the mountains rivers and oceans offer? Can you find peace wherever you are?"

This was most perfectly tested in an experience I had during this retreat.

We had morning sessions of mindful yoga, movement and  sitting meditation and then after lunch, went on some adventure or another.

On the first day I had a conversation that, unfortunately, lead to what I perceived as a distorted view of how I was seen and misunderstood by a woman who had joined us hiking.

I didn't give it much further thought until the following morning when I awoke. I felt emotionally triggered and strong emotions, reigned over any logic or intellectual acceptance of what had happened. What Buddhist psychology would call an afflictive state had arisen and I was terribly sad. I didn't want to show my vulnerability. After all, I am supposed to be an expert.

I spoke with the retreat leader and tried to untangle myself from the old fears and feelings that were showing up. In the next sitting meditation I, finally, allowed this emotional ride to be exactly as it was. I noticed and accepted this episode. I brought friendly curiosity and mindfulness to my experience. I opened to all of it, exactly as it was.

In the next hour we practiced some mindful movement at the edge of a creek. I was taken by the colorful and many textured reflections in the water. I got my camera and took some photos of what I saw.

This was followed by a period of walking meditation during which I noticed that my mood had changed and that I was feeling much gratitude and joy.

The following words emerged quite spontaneously:

How often have you felt unseen, unheard;
So alone that you thought your heart would break?

Can you notice, now,  the resilience and strength of your spirit ?
By the simple act of shifting your attention, the heart begins to sing.

Wake up !  You have all you need.

Turn away from the ever repeating thoughts of unworthiness.
Turn toward the textured reflections of clouds and reeds in the creek.

Follow the mother mallard with her chicks,
Gliding through the sunlight on the water.

Perhaps seeing, rather than being seen, is the path to love.

Mindfulness gives us the gift of being able to step away from our experience just enough to notice, to create space for, whatever is happening; to see clearly and to accept how things are. Then a door opens as the next experience of being human arises.  

This is the gift we need to hold dear and bring to our clinical work. If we can face and work with these afflictions, and recognize our own fragile humanity, we can see more easily how to help others to do so as well.

Make no mistake, we are all doing the same work.

dixonThe Dalai Lama Meets the Lord of the Flies
by Brett Dixon

Brett Dixon is a candidate for a Master's degree in counseling psychology from Lesley University. He is interested in developing psychoeducational programs for children and adolescents that utilize Buddhist psychology, contemplative practice, lovingkindness and existential philosophy as a foundation for personal exploration and growth. 

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama once said, "If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." I do not think it is farfetched to assume that many of us would immediately write this notion off as naïve and idealistic. We have become a jaded species, and with good reason. After all, how many tragic headlines must we read before finally lobotomizing ourselves with the blade of apathy?

In January 2015, I was hired to teach mindfulness in a local, inner-city elementary school. I was responsible for the infamous fifth graders, a group of students who had, in only half of a school year, managed to drive their art and Spanish teachers from the building in search of less intense job opportunities. Saying they were a "challenging" group would be an understatement.

My initial experience with this group of students was no different than that of my predecessors. Week after week, I observed in horror as the plot of Lord of the Flies unfolded before my eyes. It did not matter what I had planned for class, the same issues manifested over and over again. This student always argued with that student. This group didn't get along with that group. These students always ganged up on those students. The conflicts were plentiful and ongoing. I was overwhelmed - and even worse, I was not helping.

Then, while enduring the long, noisy subway ride home from the school one day, it hit me: teach loving-kindness. I brought this idea to them the following day, and, after the initial spell of expected resistance, the students began to settle in. For our first meditation, I instructed the students to focus on someone who cares for them. Who is this person? What does it feel like to be cared for? Then, after this short introduction, we shifted gears. Instead of focusing on someone who cares about them, I then instructed the students to send that same feeling of being cared for to someone else - someone, perhaps, that they had difficulty caring for or had trouble getting along with in the past. What ensued was astonishing.

We meditated for about five minutes - about four minutes and thirty seconds longer than our previous record. After the sound of the bell, I looked upon a changed classroom. We discussed what the experience was like. One student shared that he focused on his father that walked out on him many years ago. Another student sent love to the homeless person she saw at the bus stop earlier that morning. I watched one student cry over the memory of her late mother while the adjacent student comforted her. One student asked why people were so cruel to one another.

I remember those tears shed. I remember the hugs shared. I remember watching their walls crumble and fall, and seeing that, after the dust cleared, there was nothing left but a group of kids-a group of amazing and resilient kids-every one of them with a wound that needed healing. Therefore, perhaps the Dalai Lama is onto something after all. Maybe it is only through searching ourselves that we can finally break down the walls that divide us and find what we have been looking for all along: each other.

by Timothy Little

by Bill Morgan
Shambhala Publications, May 2016

Meditation is supposed to improve the quality of our lives. Why is it, then, that so many of us - beginners and long-time practitioners alike - struggle with our practice? And what can we do to generate positive momentum? These are the questions that clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Bill Morgan invites us to explore in his new book, The Meditator's Dilemma: An Innovative Approach to Overcoming Obstacles and Revitalizing Your Practice. Morgan draws upon his own long experience to offer a fresh, down-to-earth perspective that is nonetheless deeply rooted in ancient Buddhist wisdom. He gently guides us through a step-by-step process to create conditions for enjoying our meditation practice rather than simply enduring it as distasteful medicine.

The Meditator's Dilemma begins by naming "the elephant in the meditation room," the discrepancy between intensity of effort and liberating insight that is often experienced by Western practitioners. The "no pain, no gain" mentality that seems so deeply ingrained in the Western psyche is often unhelpful in meditation. Morgan suggests that what we need is not to increase the sense of striving in our practice, but instead to relax into our meditation with steady, gentle effort - Wise Effort, the Buddha might say. The concept of the "holding environment," borrowed from psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, seems to perfectly describe the internal conditions necessary for an enjoyable and fruitful meditation practice.

The heartwood of The Meditator's Dilemma consists of a series of reflections and exercises. Beginning with relaxation, Morgan invites us to explore playfulness and delight, gratitude and wonder, warmth and tenderness. These qualities, in turn, allow us to access the inner tranquility that is a necessary condition for liberating insight. The internal holding environment thus becomes a safe playground for exploring perceptions of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self. In the final chapter, Morgan guides our return to the perfectly imperfect world of interpersonal relationships, offering simple suggestions for integrating the insights from our meditation practice into our everyday lives.

The warmth and tenderheartedness of Morgan's prose is palpable and reflects a great depth of experience and wisdom. The chapters are short and easy to digest, crafted in such a way as to make for quick reference as the reader experiments with the exercises. It is very helpful that each of the guided meditations is available as an audio file ( Morgan concludes each chapter with questions for consideration, addressing some of the frequently asked questions that might come to the reader's mind. Mental health professionals will find The Meditator's Dilemma to be a valuable resource both for revitalizing their personal meditation practice and for helping clients to cultivate internal holding environments of their own.

bmorganExploring the Meditator's Dilemma with Bill Morgan
by Timothy Little

Bill Morgan, Psy.D., is a Boston-area clinical psychologist and founding board member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP). In The Meditator's Dilemma, he confronts the struggle of maintaining a regular meditation practice and invites readers to explore the all-too-often missing delight and enjoyment in meditation. He joins host Timothy Little to talk about his new book.


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.