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Emotional baggageStudy of the lojong slogans at a time when my Buddhist community is in a state of instability has me working with a interesting conundrum. On the one hand, these ‘post-it note’ type proverbs remind me of our basic nature, which according to the Buddhist view is one of an inherent goodness; the Shambhala lineage is rooted in these teachings yet it is alleged that the current leader has not demonstrated this inherent goodness. How can we understand this paradox, this contradiction? Perhaps psychotherapy can offer us an explanation - and so in skipping to the punchline of this two-part blogpost: perhaps an overt focus on goodness misses the need to address our shadow.

I wanted to start this week by preparing the ground for my thoughts: so a little theoretical background on how Buddhist and Western psychotherapeutic approaches view human nature. If we consider three basic ‘camps’ of thought: psychoanalytic (after Freud), humanistic (after Rogers) and Buddhist (after Buddha!) we might place them along a psychological health continuum.

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dont forgetAs I witness progress the clients I work with make along their therapeutic path, there comes a point where our discussions uncover less new insights and attention switches to their “remembering”. We may have been talking about a certain relational dynamic and how they contribute to it and the following week, the same ‘complaint’ has arisen. “Ah yes, we were talking about that last week…I forgot”…followed sometime later with the lament “how do I remember?”. There are some clients who never learn ‘to remember’, and we therapists can get interested as to why some clients don’t seem to have a psychological minded-ness and what that might tell us about their developmental path and what was not provided at critical points. However, most people take time to integrate new understanding in to their lives…and it can be frustrating “to know” the blind spots, yet they remain only on the periphery of day-to-day awareness.

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morning cuppaAfter my morning meditation practice, I take a cup of tea outside and sit on the bench in my front garden. At this time of the year, this ritual takes in the sun just as it is rising above the houses at the end of the street. I feel like a cat, bathing in the morning rays and enjoying the sensations of warmth on my face. This morning, I was taking in the September sun and watching the world waking up: dog walkers, commuters, and even a few school children. I had a real sense of the rhythm being set, another year ahead.

As I sat, I noticed how my feelings changed - all depending on the story I was telling myself. “Ah, September sun..its still warm…I love this time of year”; and then “Groan, September, the end of the summer, back to work”. Alternation. In the first I felt open, in the second I felt closed and defended.