Buddhism and psychotherapy: a question of attention. Berlin, 1998

James Low

Berlin, Germany. 7th to 8th November 1998
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“Our topic is buddhism and psychotherapy, with particular reference to the central question: ‘How do we understand suffering and the reasons why people suffer?’ The focus here is primarily on buddhism: both what buddhism has to offer to the practice of psychotherapy, and  also what psychotherapeutic understandings might have to offer those of us engaged in the practice of buddhism.”



In my experience as a therapist, one of the areas where the practice of meditation can be helpful, is in separating off the one who is aware of the experience, from the flow of experience. That is to say, it is as if one is sitting on the bank of a river observing the river flowing, without being pulled in.

We do need to be able to move in the service of another — the gesture of being available to be used by the patient as is necessary, to be idealised when that is helpful, and to be turned into the toilet-cleaner when that too is necessary, because all of these positions from time-to-time are necessary.

In the same way that tantric meditations go back into emptiness, so working as a therapist, having good sessions and bad sessions, positive transference, negative transference, all of that goes back into emptiness. There is nothing really to say about work, more than, ‘Oh yes, I’ve had quite a busy day.’

That’s why we do this simple meditation, which we do with our eyes open. Certainly with our hearts open… not creating any blockage between ourselves and the world, but with a very calm, clear focussed attention simply on the space, within which we find our existence.

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