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.