Trusting the Process: Trauma, Attachment and Yoga with Deirdre Fay
by Douglas Baker, MSW, LICSW
Deirdre Fay, MSW, LICSW, integrates trauma and attachment theory with yoga and meditation. She maintains a private practice in Arlington, Massachusetts, and is the founder of the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills. In 2007 she authored Becoming Safely Embodied: A Skills-Based Approach to Working with Trauma and Dissociation. She joins host Douglas Baker to talk about her new book, Attachment-Based Yoga and Meditation for Trauma Recovery.
You Gotta Have Heart
Timothy Little is a Master
s level mental health clinician working with men and women at a long-term day treatment program outside of Boston, Massachusetts. His professional interests include the mental health applications of contemplative practices, and the development of social and emotional skills in adult learners. He is especially focused on psychoeducational approaches that integrate meditation and psychotherapy as a resource for psychological and social well-being.
According to the
Karaniya Metta Sutta
, the Buddha offered his teaching on loving-kindness as protection against the array of hostile beings that assailed his companions living in the forest. By following the Buddha's instructions on the cultivation of
, the quality of infinite goodwill or unconditional open-heartedness, his companions were encouraged to return to the forest and abide in harmony with - in the words of an old Scottish prayer - the
ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, a
nd things that go bump in the night."
Much like the Buddha's companions, individuals who seek psychotherapy are often besieged by seemingly unbearable feelings of anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, or disgust. As therapists, what encouragement can we offer to our clients, patients, and students so that they too can "return to the forest" and abide in harmony?
Carl Rogers was clearly on to something when he identified congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard as necessary conditions for psychological growth. An accumulation of evidence suggests that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the strongest predictor of a successful outcome.
This way of being has its parallel in the Buddhist tradition. In the
Uppadha Sutta, the Buddha admonishes his attendant Ananda, "Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life." Bhikkhu Bodhi defines admirable friendship -
kalyana-mittata - as a teacher-student relationship in which the teacher is "motivated by compassion for his students and by a sincere wish to uplift the students by improving their knowledge and practical experience."
Metta, of course, is intrinsic to admirable friendship. Sharon Salzberg describes
metta as the inherent capacity that each one of us has to be in authentic relationship with another: a quality of pure connection in which our perception of the other person is not distorted by our own agendas. It is up to each one of us to develop this capacity to its fullest potential by questioning our assumptions and inviting a sense of gentle curiosity into each moment of our experience.
Without the quality of
metta, or unconditional positive regard, the holding environment of the therapeutic relationship is built upon a precarious foundation. When we approach the therapeutic encounter with
metta, we create the conditions for the arising of secure intra-personal attachment: a visceral awareness of one's own "self" as a refuge to which we can return again and again in the face of adversity.
While our clients, patients, and students are ultimately responsible for making their own way in the world, we can still accompany them as a
kalyana-mitta, an admirable friend.
By being together with our companions in the spirit of admirable friendship, by giving them our encouragement - literally offering our hearts - it may be that we instill in them the confidence to go forth into the forest and abide in harmony with the "things that go bump in the night."
The Agony of Enlightenment
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, Connecticut. Dr. Ryan has practiced insight meditation for thirty years, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Insight Meditation Society, in Barre, Massachusetts. With his wife, the poet Sylvia Forges-Ryan, he published
Take A Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace
Have you ever noticed how much smiling there is in American Buddhist circles? Almost every photograph of a meditation teacher or a psychotherapist who integrates Buddhist mindfulness into her or his clinical practice is characterized by an enormous beaming smile. Sometimes I have thought it may be a form of advertisement. Sometimes the smiling even seems competitive: "See how happy I am!" Am I mistaken to think that the implication is that these superlative smilers are enlightened, and that enlightenment naturally leads to blissful happiness? Not to be cranky - I enjoy smiling, both my own and others - but always smiling? And smiling so intensely? What is all the smiling about? I do not think it can be enlightenment.
In my experience, the path toward enlightenment is a challenging one. There can be moments of happiness, usually accompanied by a sigh of relief, as I feel some freedom from a grudge or a delusion. As I sob in forgiveness, freed from a grudge, the words arise: Why have I waited so long? I cannot say that I feel like smiling at such moments, or in the time following the awareness. As for delusions, when the awareness arises within me that "This is not my body; this is not my life; this is not my self," I feel an enormous relief as I lean back into ultimate reality. But these glimpses of awareness and the comfort of resting in the dharma are accompanied by grief - anger, sadness, and depression. My attachment to this body, to this life, and to my self do not vaporize in an instantaneous flash. Rather, these experiences of relative reality - that I am, that I have a self (my self), that this is my body, that this is my life - are yielded through fear and pain and are mourned as losses.
In psychotherapy, our neurotic ways resist insight and - despite inroads of understanding and new experience - never fully give way. So, too, I have found that the karma we inherit - reinforced by the values of relative reality that we internalize as we develop - does not yield so easily. When it does, it can be agonizing. Just imagine coming back, time and again, with some new awareness, only to realize that once again it is a contrivance of one's relative self, insisting on the independence and permanence of its own existence. This has been the way for me. I can chuckle about it, with the feeling of what a fool I have been, I am, and I expect to be.
In almost fifty years of work as a psychotherapist, which has been informed by over thirty years of meditation practice, I try to keep that one thought central in my mind: What a fool I am. For me it is the way of compassion, the way of fellow-feeling. Whether it is lost in neurotic ways of being and relating, or lost in the delusion of independence and impermanence, we do the best we can. The mind does not yield its depths. We work around the edges, making the most of whatever fragments may reveal themselves out of the vastness of the unconscious. This little goes a long way. Similarly, our karmic legacy runs so deep and remains largely unconscious and persistent. I feel lucky to have a little more freedom and a little more mourning when a fragment reveals itself in meditation.
Perhaps for a while after we experience a little freedom from a life-long neurotic pattern, or after we experience a little freedom from a well-established and deeply held karmic tendency, we may exult in the release. But soon enough we find ourselves back in those ways again, and again, and again. Even when at least a few strands are uprooted, and even with a new and established perspective, we still miss those ways. Those were my ways, I loved them. That was my self, I loved him. Now I am happy to freer, but it is sobering and it is heartbreaking.
That has been my experience. This is my opinion based on that experience, and these are my two cents. Who knows? I may be wrong. After all, only a fool would write a little piece against smiling so much.
Book Review: 'Attachment-Based Yoga and Meditation for Trauma Recovery'
by Douglas Baker,
by Deirdre Fay, MSW, LICSW
W.W. Norton, April 2017
A fundamental idea found in millennia of yoga-based teachings is that the human quest for relief from suffering can be found through both mind and body. This contrasts the Buddhist view that liberation is primarily a cognitive shift. As dharma teacher Larry Rosenberg pithily stated, "Where is peace to be found? In the same place as sorrow. How convenient." In other words, in the mind.
In her comprehensive, insightful, and heartfelt new book, Attachment-Based Yoga and Meditation for Trauma Recovery, Deirdre Fay guides us through yogic teachings and practices that essentially say, 'Let the body help free you.'
I began my own exploration of yoga's therapeutic potential after seeing myself and others touch remarkable states of wholeness in a 90-minute meditative yoga class, a shift that more than a decade of psychotherapy had not yielded.
We can learn to sit, stand, breathe and hold the body in ways that produce therapeutic opportunities - to experience states of balance, integrity, clarity and ease in the body. These in turn can be powerfully medicinal for the mind, and lead practitioners to new frontiers of experiencing the body as a safe place to be, often for the first time in their lives. For some who are deeply alienated or dissociated from the physical and emotional realms, the value of this mind-body rapprochement cannot be overstated.
Originally steeped in the spiritual growth-oriented Kripalu Yoga lineage, Fay went on to collaborate with Bessel Van der Kolk (who enthusiastically speaks of the yoga studio installed in the Trauma Center) and others. Indeed, this book might be thought of as the hands-on manual that could ably accompany The Body Keeps The Score, Van der Kolk's remarkable memoir-like overview of his lifelong journey to better understand and treat trauma.
With great compassion, Fay details how shame and trauma create a toxic inner environment, leaving the sufferer feeling like there is no safe place in their own skin. Whether the trauma is 'big T' or the mundane variety of parent-child mis-attunement, no matter. As Mark Epstein describes in The Trauma of Everyday Life, we all carry this shame and trauma. The sufferer blames himself "there must be something wrong with me."
Attachment-Based Yoga and Meditation for Trauma Recovery presents a trove of simple body-based practices to empower the client to differently discern sensation from association. In coming to know the body, its energies, emotions, sensations, fluctuations and mysteries in a new way, free of shame and fear, yoga becomes a practice of loving self-attunement.
As valuable as all of this is, where Fay's work arguably breaks the most new ground is her linking yoga, trauma and attachment theory, from a rich variety of perspectives, including Bowlby's attachment research, the Focusing method (Gendlin), Germer and Neff's compassion work, and many others. In the end, Fay shows us there are literally countless tools in the self-attunement toolbox of yoga and meditation, and encourages the reader to take simple steps. This is not put-your-leg-behind-your-head yoga, the often competitive workout commonly taught in studios. This is the yoga of union (one of many translations of the word), and the book guides the reader toward a more perfect union of mind, body and spirit with great compassion.
This lovely book is quite vast in scope and impressive, but what comes through again and again is simple and profound: Learning to trust the body. In this Deirdre Fay has done a great kindness to us all.
Book Review: 'Boundless Heart'
by Delia Kostner, PhD
by Christina Feldman
Shambhala, March 2017
n Buddhism the four brahma vihara are central practices in the repertoire of meditation technique. Most of us were introduced to these through metta or loving kindness meditation, which is the first and most fundamental of the four approaches to developing a boundless, open heart. Brahma vihara means "divine abode." Vihara translates literally as the place we reside, or more colloquially, "home." Through our practice of the four brahma vihara qualities of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, we begin to build a "home" where positive states of mind are more easily accessed than the "homes" of greed, aversion and confusion. These four qualities are essential practices, avenues to awakening themselves, and are felt by some to be the most important teachings of early Buddhism.
Christina Feldman, a co-founder of Gaia House in Devon, England, guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, co-founder and teacher of the Bhodi Institute in England, and author of several dharma books, has provided us with a beautiful, poetic guide to these four practices. Within the pages of Boundless Heart: The Buddhist Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity, Feldman unpacks
metta (loving kindness),
mudita (appreciative joy) and
upekkha (equanimity), giving us clear guidelines for how each is to be understood and cultivated in our meditation practice and enacted in everyday life.
brahma vihara are not simply useful add-ons to mindfulness or insight practice. Although they are frequently taught as concentration practices, they are actually core mindfulness practices in and of themselves. Furthermore, these qualities are latent in all individuals but may need encouragement to actualize. Feldman addresses "the myth of authenticity" to which we all fall prey. That is, we are convinced that we need to directly and genuinely experience an emotion or state in order to give it honest expression in our behavior. Yet, she reminds us, qualities such as kindness and compassion may not emerge unless actively cultivated. We do not only practice mindfulness when clarity of mind sneaks up on us, we set aside time to actively nurture present moment awareness. So it is with the
brahma viharas. Through active practice these states become internalized and accessible. We are always practicing and enacting something in each and every moment, and with practice, we are far more likely to enact the four beautiful qualities of the heart and mind.
brahma vihara are not ends in themselves. Friendliness, compassion, joy and equanimity are relational qualities to be developed so that our interactions with others are free from strife. Feldman reminds us that the
brahma viharas are fundamental ways of seeing the world. Their importance is that they imply and encourage a thoughtfulness for the other, a concern for the well being others, concern about their success, their happiness, their ability to do well even in the face of adversity.
In addition, Feldman emphasizes, these are practices that pertain to the self as well as the other. So when we generate these states in relation to our own inner conflict, our own dukkha, we develop a genuine wellspring from which to draw when the stress of world comes to bear on us. She notes that, "the cultivation of metta equally invites us to learn what it means to be a friend to ourselves, to befriend all aspects of our experience in body and mind, to protect ourselves and remind ourselves of what is beneficial in the pathways we follow in our minds, to be generous with ourselves, forsaking the harmful patterns of self directed ill will and enmity" (p.39).
Feldman gives clear and detailed guidelines for how to practice with the four
brahma vihara. Although these approaches are likely familiar to us (repetition of phrases that guide us toward the experience of each experience) her wording of the phrases, and descriptions of the insights that can arise, are fresh and inspiring.
So much of this practice of mindfulness depends on the quality of heart with which we see what we see in meditation and everyday life. There is a lot of softening and kindness that must go along with opening to
dukkha. There is much compassion needed when we approach the suffering of the world. And the experience of joy soothes the heart burned by strife and conflict. Equanimity is the cornerstone of the whole enterprise. We need a little to practice mindfulness at all, we need a lot to achieve a more awakened state. Turning toward rather than away from
dukkha, requires tenacity and courage, and this is precisely what these practices produce. Christina Feldman's
Boundless Heart provides us with a lovely addition to the literature on these four boundless and immeasurable states.
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.