Meditation and Psychotherapy, by Ajahn Sumedho

Kannon Bodhisattva ©BPGI was invited to a conference in Gloucestershire not so long ago which was all about dealing with spiritual crises. There were therapists, psychiatrists and counsellors there talking about mindfulness, because this word ‘mindfulness’ seemed to be the main topic of interest, which I thought was very good.

The way to liberate the mind is through mindfulness or awareness, and this is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching; this is the important one. It isn’t that people in general are never mindful or always heedless and ignorant, but speaking for myself, it never meant anything to me in the past; it wasn’t raised up as anything significant. I would be mindful under certain circumstances, but I didn’t know what mindfulness was; I was just that way because the conditions were there for it. And in life-endangering situations, I would be particularly mindful. People would ask me afterwards, ‘Were you frightened?’ And I would say, ‘No, I was very mindful.’ It wasn’t that I had trained myself to be that way; it was just that I was naturally alert on those occasions; it just happened as part of the life-preservation instinct. We didn’t call it ‘mindfulness’, of course, and it wasn’t appreciated even though it had happened. After developing meditation over the years, however, I began to recognize and understand the power of it rather than just seeing it as a technique or a way to gain some limited state.

Psychotherapy gives a forum for talking about things that you would not perhaps talk about in other circumstances. It can be quite useful for allowing fears to become conscious, especially the darker aspects of the psyche. You can’t talk to just anybody about these things because you need someone who will listen to you without making judgements or giving advice, so having that facility can initially be quite useful as a skilful means. But if that process becomes addictive, you can get too interested in yourself as a person. In meditation, on the other hand, you don’t find your personality that interesting after a while.

From Don’t Take Your Life Personally.

Ajahn Sumedho

Categories: Ajahn Sumedho, Buddhist meditation, Theravada

Tags: , , , ,

10 replies

  1. shared! :)

  2. I am learning so very much since embarking on my Buddhist journey. I believe that I have always been intuitively Buddhist in that I have a high degree of empathy and keen intuition. However, my ego has always gotten in my way. I hope that by reading articles such as this one, in conjunction with meditation and perhaps some psychotherapy, I can attain enlightenment and live the life I have always wanted to live – a life of real mindfulness. Thanks for sharing these insights. The article is thought provoking, as are the comments.

  3. In my personal experience, many modalities are useful when healing yourself of inner demons and evolving into your higher self. Inner demons or lower ego are all about instant gratification. They are messy when let loose in our lives and can lead to many problems. They also are the driving force to push us to our higher self. To tame the lower mind I have found that you have to enhance the subtle body through some of these modalities that work for you. They can include medication if you and your doctor think it will settle you down to do personal growth work. This work includes psychoanalysis, meditation, yoga, tai chi, diet, exercise, getting fresh air, healing wounds with family and friends, and taking personal responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions.

    It is about growing through the lower ego and into the higher ego. The higher ego seems to be able to center and focus for long periods of time. To be creative and in touch with their higher feelings of compassion, kindness, intelligence and harmony with life. I believe that as you work through the lower ego and into the higher ego, you align with what I refer to as the emanations of the universe. (I think I got that from Carlos Castenada.) As you align yourself with the Universe, it is like Enlightenment. I think you can reach it through many paths. I believe the Universe wants us to be happy, or at least calmly content and aware. It seems to put things on our paths that teach us these lessons.

    So that is the theory, here is the practical part. I think that the path to personal freedom from suffering and awakening the Buddha within for myself looks like this:

    1. Wake up early every day and go sleep early.
    2. Eat a mostly vegetarian organic diet and limit coffee and alcohol.
    3. Have a job that you like going to. Have a parter that makes you feel good.
    4. Practice yoga, join a gym, learn tai chi, meditate.
    5. Learn to clear your chakras and ask for help from the Universe.
    6. Spend 30-60 minutes outdoors 3+ times a week.
    7. Turn off the TV, ipad, iphone, laptop off 2 nights/week. Get a hobby.
    8. Learn about eastern religions (buddhism, hinduism) or western spritual traditions… Learn about who you are.
    9. Learn self-discipline. Say no to your self, and stop procrastinating.
    10. Have a clean and organized home, office and car. Declutter.

    I do not do these things all the time, of course, but I know my goals. Every day I start again. I forgive myself of yesterdays mistakes and tell myself that tomorrow is a new day to become better and better.

    Also, relax and take a vacation. Life is fun too. Have a bloody mary with brunch on Sunday, or not, but don’t feel guilty about it.

  4. Psychoanalysis is primarily a method of psychotherapy developed by Sigmund Freud. According to psychoanalytic theory, anxiety is due to the presence in us all of certain threatening sexual or aggressive urges, wishes or motives springing from the id. These urges come into conflict with the realistic barriers imposed by the ego and the taboos of society incorporated in the superego. We repress the urges and conflicts – hide them from conscious awareness in the unconscious mind. We cannot consciously think about or verbalize a repressed desire. But the urge is still there in the unconscious mind, driving for expression though always in conflict with the ego and superego. We are afraid to express the id impulses. This fear is called anxiety. Various normal and abnormal defense mechanism develop in us to reduce anxiety. Abnormal neurotic behaviours occur when the defenses distort reality to such a degree that an individual’s ability to function is impaired.

    The aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to lessen anxiety and the need for exaggerated defense mechanisms through self-understanding and knowledge of the sources of anxiety. Psychoanalysis emphasizes free association, the phenomenon of transference, and the development of insight. Psychoanalysis helps a person understand himself better. The goal of psychoanalysis is for patients to acquire self-understanding and knowledge of the sources of anxiety.

    We will now see how practice of meditation works effectively as psychoanalytic technique. During meditation the mind is at first apt to wander. But let any desire whatever arise in the mind, we must sit calmly and watch what sort of ideas are coming. By continuing to watch in that way the mind becomes calm, and there are no more thought waves in it. Those things that we have previously thought deeply have stored into unconscious mind and therefore these come up at the surface of conscious mind during meditation. This is sort of catharsis. We may call it ‘auto-catharsis’ or ‘catharsis within’. Meditation provides us insight, self-understanding and increases our will power. Meditaters are fearless.

  5. I totally enjoy Ajahn Sumedo’s talks. He is erudite, wise, funny, and humble.

  6. Sumitta’s comment is well taken.

    There is a profound difference between the view of the mind in the western mental health profession and in Buddhism.

    They hold opposite views regarding the nature of mind. Therefore, the adoption of “mindfulness” by psychotherapists can never be more than a surface phenomenon.

    Perhaps we walk into trouble when we expect more.

  7. As someone who works in healthcare and attends our Theravadan temple, I am often amazed how often I have to “hold my tongue” when dealing with behavioral health patients and professionals.

    To one degree, there are many who seek mental health professionals who would benefit greatly from Buddhist practice. To another degree, there are seriously mentally ill people, or those who are not willing to walk the Middle Path. In the latter cases, I must find other ways in which I can assist and help heal.

    I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist or clinical social worker (yet), which brings other challenges. On occasion, we must all be mindful that HOW we practice is appreciated by Western medicine, it is not always welcomed in practice.

    I have always appreciated your teaching Ajahn, and have gained great progress with them. Thank you.

    Namo Buddhaya,

  8. I love the way it is expressed in the closing line: “…. you don’t find your personality that interesting after a while.” This gives me the perfect response for those occasions when someone suggests that efforts to know one’s own mind are increasing self-centeredness.

    Thank you!


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