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.
IMP@20: A Round Table Retrospective
by Timothy Little
The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year. Joining host Timothy Little for a round table retrospective are six of IMP's founding members: Paul Fulton, Christopher Germer, Trudy Goodman, Stephanie Morgan, Ronald Siegel, and Charles Styron.
Why We Walk
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
will be published by Quarto/Fair Winds in January 2017. For information about his practice, visit
The American philosopher and naturalist Henry D. Thoreau wrote in his 1862 essay, "Walking," that he rarely met someone "who understood the art of Walking . . . who had a genius, so to speak, for
." He traces the etymology of "sauntering" to
meaning without land or a home, or "having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering."
equally at home everywhere
is the essence of mindful walking. It speaks to another of the paradoxes on this path:
mindful walking, our goal is a way of
We walk to cultivate mindfulness, a sense of being at ease and at home, inside ourselves, wherever we are, whatever is happening. We're at home everywhere because we carry home, a sense of well-being, within us.
This view stretches us, because it requires us to let go of the idea that peace or happiness is a thing or place only found somewhere in the world, and life is a search for it. The mindful path is ultimately a labyrinth, leading inward, to the center of who we are. But the path leads not to a place, but rather to
a way of being in a place
. To find this place-that's-not- a-place in ourselves we need nothing except wakefulness of mind. If we sleepwalk, we'll miss it. Awakening is the flash of insight that our true home is a way of being, in any place, especially our own mind and body.
Each time we walk mindfully, it's a dawn of something new-a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us. As Thoreau wrote in the last lines of
, his masterpiece on simplicity and living each moment: "Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn.
The sun is but a morning star." For mindfulness practitioners, awareness shines bright, i
n a process continually unfolding, and there is always more to discover.
Book Review: 'Untangling Self'
by Delia Kostner, PhD
by Andrew Olendzki, PhD
Wisdom Publications, December 2016
Many of us were introduced to meditation practice through the now ubiquitous clinical interventions such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs. Or perhaps we came to meditation through participation in a drop-in group that taught simple practices for focusing the mind and increasing concentration. For some of us, a fortuitous outcome of such experience was a dawning awareness that mindfulness practices go far deeper and do far more than reduce anxiety or make physical pain more manageable. For some, the clarity of mind that arises with consistent practice eventually ignites curiosity about what else might be at work in this process, and one is drawn to explore the Buddhist foundations on which mindfulness programs rest. Yet, unless accompanied by a proper guide when one begins wandering through this vast and diverse forest of Buddhist literature, it is easy to get confused, daunted, or even derailed by the cacophony of terms, practices, and unfamiliar vocabulary one encounters along the way.
Fortunately, we now have a thoroughly competent guide to pilot us on this journey. With the recent publication of
Untangling Self: A Buddhist Investigation of Who We Really Are,
Dr. Andrew Olendzki skillfully unpacks the complex teachings of early Buddhism and presents us with the psychologically transformative program the Buddha laid out for us for the relief of human suffering. And he does so in language that is clear, deceptively concise, and consistent with our modern psychological sensibilities. This is indeed a generous offering. Dr. Olendzki's credentials as a long-time teacher, scholar, writer and translator underscore his familiarity and expertise with this literature. He was former executive director of the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and is a contributing writer for both Tricycle and Lion's Roar magazines. He is also a longtime board member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. For those who have had the pleasure of studying in person with him, as I have, or enrolled in one of his on-line courses, his voice will be intimately familiar: down-to-earth, friendly and accessible to even those with little experience with Buddhist concepts.
Within the pages of this slender volume one finds the foundational tenets of Buddhist psychology. In nine short chapters, Olendzki takes us on a tour of much of the Buddhist enterprise, thus placing into context many terms and practices that have caused much confusion for those who entered this field through the portal of the modern mindfulness movement. Olendski's gift to us is in how he presents these concepts in a manner wholly relevant to our modern times, and surprisingly consistent with modern western psychological theory.
Olendzki points out that despite our increased understanding of how we human beings contribute to the current biological and sociopolitical crises of our world, we are nonetheless blind as to how the personal forces of greed, hatred and confusion, the three "fires" or "poisons" in Buddhism, keep us mired and unable to adequately mobilize our understanding in a manner that serves our own wellbeing as well as the greater good. What the author elsewhere refers to as the "Buddha's curriculum" for freeing ourselves, and by association, others, from suffering, includes becoming exquisitely aware of the working of these forces, and transforming them through wisdom or insight, achieved through meditative practices.
For psychotherapists in particular this book is a valuable resource, and I cannot recommend it enough for those seeking to understand key Buddhist concepts beyond mindfulness, which in psychotherapy circles has become a mere synonym for attention. The concept of "non-self" in particular has confounded western psychotherapists for whom the idea of reinforcing, shoring-up and reifying a healthy sense of self has been a cornerstone of many theories and approaches to clinical work. The notion of an autonomous self is a powerfully felt fiction, we learn, the product of a mind that grasps at certainty and solidity, and refuses to glean the naturally occurring working of impermanence. The sense of self as substantive and unchanging is a "largely unexamined psychological reflex." How the construction and perception of the self as immutable is the source of great self-inflicted suffering is laid out with a coherence I have not found elsewhere.
The teachings of the Buddha are, of course, at heart an experiential affair, as the author repeatedly reminds us. The writings and teachings on the dharma are guide posts, pointing toward what we might expect to see and experience as we practice both on and off the cushion. This current volume is a wonderfully clear and welcome guide along the path.
by Meghan Searl, PhD, ABPP-CN
Meghan Searl is a clinical neuropsychologist and mindfulness teacher in Boston, MA. She is on staff at Brigham & Women's Hospital where she practices clinical neuropsychology in their Center for Brain Mind Medicine and leads mindfulness and acceptance groups at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Searl also has a small private practice in Brookline, MA, and is on the board of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy.
In September nearly one-hundred people gathered at the Harvard College Student Organization Center at Hilles for
Mindfulness for All: Moving Beyond the Barriers of Race, Gender, Age and Class
day-long series of talks, panel discussions, and breakout sessions
examined patterns of exclusivity and possibilities for inclusivity within practices of Western mindfulness. This symposium was inspired by conversations that arose during the Harvard Buddhist Community's s
Buddhism and Race Conference
on how to make mindfulness practice available to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, income, or social class.
As is often the case, the day left many of us in attendance with more questions than answers. However, we know that sitting with unanswered questions can sometimes be one of the richest forms of practice. Indeed, Rainer Marie Rilke encourages us to
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue."
One of the questions that most stayed with me in the weeks following the symposium was this,
Was this space constructed with me in mind?"
This question, posed by panelist Melanie Cherng, was not one I had often asked myself before September. Like many Westerners attending meditation retreats or local practice groups, I find that I fit in. I look like my fellow practitioners and very often I look like American dharma teachers. I feel comfortable in the physical structures I inhabit while on retreat or during an afternoon or evening teaching.
Statistically, the majority of meditation practitioners in the U.S. who attend retreats, trainings, and teachings at local centers are white, educated, heterosexual, upper-middle-class individuals and the spaces in which they practice typically reflect
. In fact, one might say that the spaces were
constructed with them in mind.
What I and others like me often don't realize is that, in being constructed with a certain type of person in mind, those who are different feel that they don't belong.
In a society where most of the spaces are constructed for individuals of the predominant culture, to receive the message,
"I don't belong here,"
undermines precisely the conditions necessary for practice - safety, acceptance, care, belonging. So, I ask myself, what would it be like if I were the only white person in a retreat setting time and time again? The only woman? The only straight person? What if every time I had to use the bathroom (multiple times a day, every day) I was reminded that there was no space where I could feel comfortable and safe to take care of my most basic, private needs?
We can talk about the construction of "space" of practice and learning in concrete terms (physical space) or more broadly, as the larger context in which practice and learning happen. As we each encounter our own spaces of practice, perhaps we can remember to hold as an open question,
"Was this space constructed with me in mind?"
Mindfulness for All
now, following the recent presidential election, it feels even more urgent that we live into these questions about what supports experiences of safety, welcoming, and belonging - for all who seek instruction in mindfulness or refuge in the buddha, dharma, and sangha. Again, may be we encouraged by Rilke to
the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
Mindfulness for All was sponsored by IMP in collaboration with Harvard University Health Services Center for Wellness, the Harvard University Office for Work/Life, and the Cambridge Health Alliance Center for Mindfulness and Compassion. Speakers and workshop leaders included Susan Pollak (program director), Lama Rod Owens, Jonathan Barry, Jameson Beekman, Luana Morales, Melanie Cherng, Jenny Phillips, Kara Dansky, Jessica Morey, Bill Morgan, Susan Morgan, Rose Pavlov, Janet Surrey, Laura Arena and Christopher Willard.
If you would like to join IMP's effort to hold space for these questions and conversations, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and write Mindfulness for All in the subject line. Please also consider coming to our workshop on March 3, 2017, on Mental Health in an Uncertain America. This day-long workshop is intended for clinicians and will be focused on caring for self and clients in this time of increased hate speech, hate crimes, permissiveness of racism, sexual assault, homophobia, and Islamophobia. The aim of this event is to open up a conversation about what mental health professionals are seeing in their practice since the election. We will be exploring together how we are coping, how we can find support, how our clients are coping, and how we can best support our clients to be present and engaged in a time of fear. CEUs will be offered to mental health clinicians.
Andrew Olendzki: Integrating Dharma and Untangling Self
by Brett Dixon
Andrew Olendzki, PhD, is a Buddhist scholar, teacher, and writer living in Amherst, MA. Trained at Lancaster University (UK), the University of Sri Lanka (Perediniya), and Harvard, he worked in leadership positions for 25 years in Barre, MA, first at the Insight Meditation Society and then at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, where he was the Senior Scholar. He joins host Brett Dixon to talk about his new book, Untangling Self.