Tina Fossella, MFT, is a Contemplative Psychotherapist practicing in Seattle, WA and San Francisco, CA. She is passionate about the integration of psychological work and spiritual practice to support people in their healing and transformation.

American Buddhism & Psychotherapy
Part III: What would Rebel Buddha say to the American Psychotherapist?

Wherever there is ego-centered drama, there is suffering.
–Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha

I imagine Rebel Buddha Therapist in the body of a woman. She would begin by guiding her peer psychotherapists to look inward and connect with our genuine desire to be free, to love, and be loved. She would help us see that this same basic desire is true for our clients. There is no difference or separation between the lover, the love, and the beloved; between the helper, the help itself, and the one receiving help. She would point out the ridiculous strategies we and our clients employ to try to get love from the outside. We create false identities to try to get people to like us. With compassion, she would point out that the effort we have all been putting into being good, high achieving, rich, successful, carefree, overly accommodating, and perfect are futile. No one can give to us that which is our basic essence, she would say. There has never been anything lacking and all our “imperfections” are perfectly pure. We simply do not recognize it.

Rebel Buddha Psychotherapist would teach us and help us teach our clients how there is no savior outside of ourselves. We cannot go back and have a different childhood where we were seen, loved, or perfectly attended to. We can only wake up to how we are taking care of ourselves right now. She would sit calmly with us while we vehemently disagreed and blamed others for our problems. When we calmed down a bit, she would help us learn to take responsibility for ourselves. She would gently say, “Whether we like it or not, we are grown up now and must face our aloneness.” After all, the goal of a successful therapy is for the client to learn to be their own therapist. They should become totally independent and fire us, at which point we should rejoice in our success!

She would help her peer psychotherapists create a working environment similar to meditation practice by being open and non-directive with our clients. She would invite us to practice tranquility so that we can stay relaxed during those awkward silences and tolerate the anxiety of not knowing what will happen. She would remind us to toss out our agendas and allow the client to come forward. She would teach us that relaxing into the emptiness is what allows for the fullness of the client’s mind and all its myriad projections to become clear.

Rebel Buddha Psychotherapist would teach us about impermanence to help us value the auspicious connection we have with our clients. She would encourage us to consider how each moment may be the only moment we have to offer our love and compassion. When our clients are raging or weeping in agony, we can assure them that this too will pass. Nothing lasts forever. She would teach that peace and contentment come from within and that we won’t find it outside in any new-age-self help-improvement workshop. We must cultivate and nourish it over time.

She would help us wake up out of the dreams we project and take to be reality. The work that we do, by making conscious what was unconscious, is to break free of the painful habitual patterns that come from our early childhood attachments. We need to wake up ourselves so that we can help our clients wake up from their subjective reality. Once they see how they continue to repeat the same painful patterns from childhood, re-creating illusions of isolation and despair, they can catch a glimpse of the illusory like nature of what they mistakenly took to be real. When we finally face the pain by experiencing the emotions and results of our self defeating patterns, we realize, “Oh. I don’t need to keep doing this to myself. My life does not need to be this way.” We begin to feel compassion for ourselves, and this compassion naturally shifts our attitude to one of compassion for others.

Rebel Buddha Psychotherapist would teach us how to practice mindfulness in our lives and our work by maintaining continuity of awareness of our body, speech, and mind. We can see our actions clearly, catch ourselves repeating patterns, and begin to replace old self-defeating habits with new, healthy ones. She would teach us about karma — how cause and effect are simply the way things work. There is no shame and no blame. We can simply become aware of what we do and what the results of those actions are. With compassion and non-judgment, we can help our clients do the same.

She would practice meditation with us to support our creating a steady, calm, and clear mind. She would encourage us to practice every day so that when we sit down with clients, we can share with them the qualities we have cultivated experientially. Just as our clients show up each week for their special time, we can give this time to ourselves to get to know our minds. Just as we do in therapy, we can just be with ourselves, listen, and hold our mind in a larger space of love and compassion. Developing this intimate and caring relationship is what helps our mind calm down. It is the same holding environment that we provide for our clients.

She would help us appreciate our own neurosis and learn to work with it so that we can have empathy and compassion for others who reflect back to us similar states of mind. She would show us how every client who walks through our door is reflecting some aspect of ourselves. She would remind us that the most powerful medicine and the best therapy is simply kindness: I see you. I hear you. I am with you. I accept you and love you as you are. The more we can relax in our own humanity and imperfection, the more our clients can embrace theirs. Rebel Buddha says that, whatever our occupation is, we can make our path a way of life, and our life a basis for expressing our wisdom and compassion in the world. If helping others is the best way to help ourselves, then Rebel Buddha would say we are truly lucky to be doing the work of psychotherapy.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ceci Miller, mikeydubstylee and Rebel Buddha, Kees Voorhoeve. Kees Voorhoeve said: What would Rebel Buddha say to the American Psychotherapist? http://bit.ly/foDmEf [...]

  2. avatar Andro says:

    Nice thoughts, but by visualizing the Buddha as a woman as a context for these thoughts, you’re creating and perpetuating a dualistic perception that these ideals are somehow associated with the female gender. Rather than further concretizing the gender polarizing that plagues our modern consciousness, perhaps we’d do better to de-emphasize this type of artificial and arbitrary split in consciousness that contribute to mind’s tension and agitation, as all such “this, not” preference-provoked thinking does.

    • avatar Ceci Miller says:

      Thanks for your comment, Andro. I’d be very interested to hear more about your preferred language. Also, just as a friendly point of clarification, “rebel buddha,” as used by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, isn’t meant to refer to Buddha Shakyamuni per se, nor even to buddha nature. It’s “the voice of your own awakened mind. . . the sharp, clear intelligence that resists the status quo.” As such, it makes sense to me that this blogger (a female psychotherapist) would engage in this contemplative exercise of imagining rebel buddha as female — and as a psychotherapist as well. :)

    • avatar Robert J. Bullock says:

      Yeah, I can easily imagine a buddha in the form of a woman. Isn’t Tara a female bodhisattva / buddha? This isn’t a problem for me, though I think it’s pointless to visualize Shakyamuni Buddha as a woman since he clearly was not. But Tina did not say “Shakyamuni Buddha”, did she?

  3. avatar Peter Carpentieri says:

    Loved this installment. Thank you. Agree with the previous post re: Buddha as a woman. As a male therapist in a field already dominated by women, and a man who’s father was unavailable, this imagery does not help me at all. I do, though, understand now how women have felt for the past, oh, two or three millennia, so I understand it’s value for you. Thanks again.

  4. As a Clinical psychologist, Buddhist and grateful participant with Dzogchen Ponlop and all the Rebel Buddha Sangha in Seattle, Ms. Fosella’s article was a welcome addition to a great literature that includes (DT Suzuki; Erich Fromm; Richard DeMartino “Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis”) or a favorite, Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, as character Zooey rails at the NYC Analyst of the 1950′s that any any Analyst worthy of being an Analyst would would have to have the goddamn humility to understand that they were blessed enough with the brains or spirit to sit in that chair and enter into the heat and soul of his blessed sister Franny and offer up sacrament of value toward her enlightenment (rough, treasured remembrance from this Salinger Sutra).

    Rebel Buddha holds both masculine and feminine qualities: really all qualities; and the psychotherapist offers up the merits of his/her livelihood each moment; without knowing what’s next: it is this unknowing, empty agenda entrance, that for me has embodied Rebel Buddha;this union; this alchemy of spirits that produces some sort of transmission: as Minds “change”, as our laughter, tears, yells or silence fill a room, there is the Buddha nature present for all of us there and I often forget that I am the one called Doctor!

    on the road to freedom

    Robert Fettgather, Ph.D.

  5. avatar mary tsering says:

    i am totally at ease with the feminine womb of spaciousness that this this whole debate is taking place in . its precious ornament . and this womb miscarries no child as all is welcome fresh and spice and even the hurtful words
    like people wanting to create gender war wisps is like a wound in space calling for fresh cotton .
    shall we call 911 or rest in the easy chair of our buddha nature?
    let us see more clearly the nature of this drawing this echo… is so familiar perhaps it is spaciousness that hates itself?


  6. avatar GokPeelahak says:

    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

  7. avatar podiertooro says:

    Reason is the historian, but passions are the actors.

  8. avatar mary tsering says:

    peace is peace . rest easy when the arrow …flower … landing nicely

  9. “I don’t think that it matters whether the Buddha is male or female. He transcends both in my mind. But if it helps you to think about female Buddhas, that’s fine.”

    This quote by Tenzin Palmo gives me permission to use my imagination to break stereotypes. I do need images of Buddha that are female and male. Just like young girls and boys need images of men and women doing activities that break socially conditioned thinking. Men as househusbands. Women as presidents.

    Tina’s article helps us sit in the seat of the client and imagine a real flesh and blood person in front of us. As a psychologist, I’ll use whatever language is helpful to inspire clients to shake up habitual patterns.

    When we hold the appearance lightly, such as gender, it is easier to play with language in creative and non harmful ways.

    In gratitude to Tina and everyone for the helpful conversation.
    -see blog at http://www.thefemalebuddha.com for more on: The Lady Buddha: Beyond All Constructs

  10. avatar James Post says:

    I like what the Karmapa said about the destruction of the beautiful stone buddhas of Afganistan: “Maybe they are like the Berlin Wall. They should be knocked down so a real dialogue can begin”. He is a rebel Buddha I can trust.

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