Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy
Spring 2017
cherry blossoms
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 us feedback, please send us an  e-mail .

Douglas Baker: Moving into Direct Experience
by Rachael Duda

Douglas Baker is a yoga and meditation teacher and licensed independent clinical social worker with a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He specializes in integrative methodologies for anxiety, stress, addiction, and other mental health challenges. He joins host Rachael Duda to talk about his practice and his new book, Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking.


Stories I Like: Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
by Edward Ryan, PhD

Edward Ryan, PhD, is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Yale Psychiatry Department, a training and supervising psychologist in the Yale Long-Term Care Clinic, and a clinician in private practice in New Haven, CT. Dr. Ryan has practiced insight meditation for thirty years, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Insight Meditation Society, in Barre, MA. With his wife, the poet Sylvia Forges-Ryan, he published
Take A Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace

We all love stories. We live within them, and in a way you could say they're all we have. Those we really like we call real and say they are true. There are two stories that I like: psychoanalysis and Buddhism. Each of these stories is based in a practice, and the practices have some things in common.

In psychoanalytic practice there is the cultivation of "evenly suspended attention" and the "suspension of the critical faculty" -- in the analyst at first and eventually in the person doing the analysis as well. In Buddhism there is the cultivation of "bare attention," paying attention and separating actual experiences from mental reactions to those experiences. One develops the capacity to let things be.

In psychoanalysis one works through defenses to discover previously unconscious motives, rooted in internalized relational paradigms, internalized in childhood and based on the child's interpretations of experiences. In Buddhism one works through the hindrances that arise, along with previously unconscious karmic paradigms, to discover the true nature of mind and to experience impermanence and selflessness.

In psychoanalysis there is the recognition of an unconscious mind, an amalgam of instinctual interests, primitive defenses and repressed object relations. This is perplexing and a challenge to the analysis because, to put it simply, it is outside conscious awareness. In Buddhism, there is also the recognition of the unconscious mind, and also the awareness of the perplexity and challenge. Inherited karmic tendencies may well remain below the threshold of conscious awareness, but it is also possible that through ongoing meditative practice, perhaps over lifetimes, these karmic tendencies can be known and liberation from them can occur.

Psychoanalysis leads to a freedom through the experience of insight to more fully love oneself as one is, to more fully love others as they truly are, and to live and be oneself more fully in reality. Buddhism leads to freedom from suffering through the sustained awareness of impermanence and emptiness, resulting in the ability to love and live with kindness and selflessness.

So, both practices involve mindfulness: paying attention and investigating. But what mindfulness means, what is being looked at and what insights are being developed in each, is essentially different.

In coming into America, Buddhism has been embraced by our "therapy culture." Since certain aspects of Buddhist meditative practice appear to have psychologically therapeutic effects, there has been a tendency to equate these practices with therapy and to try to translate Buddhism via the language of psychotherapy. But psychoanalytic mindfulness is not the mindfulness of deeper Buddhist practice.

Psychiatrist Mark Epstein is right in observing that the language of Freud has permeated our culture. But it does not follow that any body of knowledge, including Buddhism, must be presented using psychoanalytic language. To present Buddhism in this way distorts the teachings - the Buddhist story - in an effort to make them conform to the psychoanalytic story.

While one might become more aware of one's self-centeredness through Buddhist practice, the Buddha was not referring to the relative reality of psychoanalytic narcissism. Buddhist practice leads to awareness of ultimate reality, and in that reality all of these relative realities may be seen to be empty.

Psychoanalysis was developed to help us free ourselves from neurotic misery within the realm of relative reality. Buddhist practice leads to freedom from the suffering that is inherent in clinging to relative reality as if it were permanent and independent. One does not have to be neurotic to become lost in grasping and aversion, or to suffer as we try to hold on to what is essentially impermanent.

It seems only natural that those who are rooted in the therapy culture of our society, experiencing psychoanalysis as if it were the primary story, would try to translate Buddhism and Buddhist practice into the concepts they know. But psychoanalysis and Buddhist practice are two different activities of the mind, not two different versions of the same activity.

Insight into our memories and our internalized interpretations of our childhood experiences is one thing; insight into the impermanence, emptiness, and selflessness of all phenomena is another thing. To become involved in one while doing the other can interfere with doing the one well: a valuable psychoanalytic insight might become a hindrance in meditation, or a valuable meditative insight might become a resistance in psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is better suited to telling the story of the psychological domain - relative reality: perceiving, experiencing, and relating to others and to ourselves. Meditation is better suited to telling the story of the essential nature of mind - ultimate reality: seeing the momentary arising and passing away of all phenomena, and knowing the transitory, selfless nature of awareness itself.

And yet the two practices are still complementary. The freer we are psychologically, the easier it may be to proceed in meditation; the more we have experienced essential selflessness and emptiness through meditation, the clearer we may be able to see, accept, and understand our psychological selves.

Focusing and Mindfulness
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.

This past Fall I had the privilege of co-teaching a class on Focusing and Mindfulness with Dr. Joan Klagsbrun, a bright and talented practitioner who was trained by Eugene Gendlin, the developer of Focusing. It was a wonderful experience to watch Joan as she modeled the elegance of this technique and taught its steps to our students:
  • Clearing a space - Notice what thoughts and difficulties are present, and put those things aside in order to make space for what is most important to attend to in the moment.
  • Identifying a "Felt Sense" - Find sensations in the body that are connected to the identified issue. It is assumed in this work that the presence and nonjudgmental warm attention and inquiry offered by a Focusing partner will lead to an insight, a new perspective, or a "Felt Shift."
  • Finding a Handle - Find a word or words that help to further identify the Felt Sense as well as what might be important to explore beneath it. This is done by asking one of a variety of questions, such as: "What is the worst part of this problem?" Sometimes the answer is enough to create a Felt Shift and insight.
In Focusing, the client identifies an issue by going into the body's response, then befriending the feelings and treating them as a "part" reminiscent of Internal Family Systems. Focusing is a powerful way of working, and seems to almost always produce a sense of relief, a sense that something has happened.

In mindfulness-based psychotherapy we might suggest that our client turn toward their thoughts and notice them as part of a habitual pattern of thinking. We might explore those patterns and then observe the next thing that arises, or we might get the client to see that a thought is just an event in the mind and not unpack it at all.

As far as attending to the body, if a sensation arises, we might ask if the client can stay with the sensation, explore the shape and texture of it, and allow it to be exactly as it is. Often there is a shift by simply welcoming and allowing the sensation to be there. The client can experience how acceptance of what is can result in equanimity.

We are trained to turn toward our client's experiences in the moment. Whether we are mindful therapists, practice mindfulness-informed treatment, or actually teach specific mindfulness practices in the therapy hour, we pay attention in a special way. By bringing friendly curiosity to the problem at hand, and modeling that for the client, we help them to see what unfolds naturally from this calm abiding.

If a sensation arises, we might ask if the client can stay with the sensation, explore the shape and texture of it, and allow it to be exactly as it is. Often there is a shift by simply welcoming and allowing the sensation to be there. The client can experience how acceptance of what is can result in equanimity.

Focusing is more directive, as the Focusing partner - often the therapist - guides the focuser into the body and asks specific questions in order to bring the person back into the body and Felt Sense. Listening, and not fixing or offering advice, is key. The client may or may not discover a solution and still experience a change.

Mindfulness and Focusing dovetail beautifully. Mindfulness is clearly a tool that can be brought to Focusing, and vice versa. Both approaches make space for clients to experience their pain with an attitude of compassion, curiosity, and loving kindness.

If you would like to find out more about Focusing, please visit

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.

During my first philosophy class as an undergraduate, my professor proposed a simple, yet rather unique question that I had never previously considered. He opened his class by asking, "Where are you in your body?" At first the question seemed ridiculous and the answer obvious. I had always associated my identity - or "self" - with my mind, which was located somewhere behind my eyes and inside my head. As my fellow students shared their answers to this question, it was apparent that I was not the only one to make this assumption. But to every one of our answers, my professor had a clever and perfectly logical rebuttal. What was the mind without the brain? Could the mind exist without a living body to support it? Can the content of the mind exist without the experience of the external world? If the mind and body are separate, how do they interact with and directly affect one another?

The class concluded without any answers, leaving many students frustrated, confused, and frantically fighting one another to be the first out the door. I, on the other hand, left that day with a shattered worldview. What I believed was my "self," prior to this class, was not the fixed and independent entity I had understood it to be. Rather, everything appeared to be linked to something else. Nothing was able to exist on its own - including, and especially, my identity. Without entirely understanding the ramifications of such a realization, I left class discouraged and feeling empty.

The concept of "emptiness" in the Buddhist tradition is often misunderstood by Westerners. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines emptiness as "the quality of lacking meaning or sincerity." Philosophically speaking emptiness represents a form of nihilism. In fact, existential philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus often used the term to help convey their rather gloomy interpretations of the human condition. This sort of existentialist thinking has had a tremendous impact on the Western world's collective consciousness. However, in the Buddhist tradition the term emptiness refers to an idea that, in my opinion, is more wondrous and optimistic. It is a view of reality that has dramatic implications for the way in which we construct meaning.

The existentialists, to one degree or another, identify the construction of personal meaning as the remedy for the human condition, which is seen as a perpetual state of anxiety and absurdity. This perspective views the individual as a stranger in the universe, at odds with the chaos that defines it. However, it appears as though this conflict only arises if one identifies with a "self" that is separate from the universe. By recognizing the emptiness of "self," the ongoing fight between a rational being and a meaningless universe ceases to exist because there are no longer two entities to oppose one another. Emptiness, then, is not a condition that isolates us, but rather one that unifies us with all that is.

Book Review: 'Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking'
by Rachael Duda

by Douglas Baker, LICSW, RYT
Quarto/Fair Winds, January 2017

According to Douglas Baker, author of Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking, mindful walking is a skill that empowers an individual to be at home in one's own body and mind. The practice of walking is a direct path for experiencing physical presence and connectedness, and for cultivating a positive mental outlook. Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking is a creatively illustrated guide to the practice of walking meditation, offering straightforward instructions for activating imagination and curiosity, and for observing and transforming one's state of mind.

Baker draws on the time-honored tradition of mindful movement, a practice shared by many contemplative traditions, including yoga and Buddhism. He calls walking meditation a, "user friendly approach," that draws on our natural sensory experience and proprioceptive awareness. This approach may be particularly helpful for individuals who experience difficulty with sitting meditation. Movement is a common feature of daily experience for most people, and walking meditation can be practiced at almost any time or in nearly any place. Baker describes physical movement as an opportunity to cultivate mental stillness; we also discover a sense of empowerment in finding our own pace and rhythm as we move through the day.

Baker reminds us to appreciate beauty in all of our surroundings. When curiosity and intrigue are alive, they open new pathways. While we may be conditioned to seek beauty through extraordinary experiences - such as watching the sunset from a secluded beach or a remote mountaintop - we do not, in fact, have to travel any great distance in order to find beauty. A momentary pause to simply be present with our immediate surroundings may offer us sanctuary; awakening to our senses offers an opportunity for freedom in every moment.

Baker's practical guide to walking meditation invites us to become skilled at accepting life's challenge without judgment, and to move through life with equanimity and integrity. He describes compassion, lovingkindness, and acceptance as antidotes to the human qualities that hinder such movement. It is apparent that Baker's guidance comes from years of his own practice and study, and the reader can feel the kindheartedness with which he offers his teaching and counseling.

Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking is well-suited for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. Adults and children will both enjoy the insight that comes with this playful, creative, and accessible guidebook to mindful movement.

About the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy

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. 

The vision of IMP is practice-based, and all teaching faculty have extensive personal and professional experience in the practice of mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness practices. Most educational programs offer CE credit for psychologists, social workers, licensed mental health counselors, licensed marital and family therapists, and nurses. Secondary activities of IMP include psychological consultation to meditation centers, clinical supervision, psychotherapy referrals, and networking for interested clinicians.