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David Baxter

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The Mindful Monk
By Howard C. Cutler, Psychology Today

Tenzin Gyatso?the fourteenth Dalai Lama?on how analytic meditation can be applied to overcome a harmful emotion like anger.

The 14th Dalai Lama considers himself a simple Buddhist monk. Yet, this humble man is bridging the gap between traditional Eastern wisdom and modern Western psychology.

The Dalai Lama seems to have become an icon in the West. His image is seen in glossy magazines and countless books, and his name is mentioned not only on news programs but also prime-time TV shows. But more than being strewn through popular culture, he has achieved international recognition with numerous awards and honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Albert Schweitzer Award and the Wallenberg Award?conferred by the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Foundation.

For centuries, the Dalai Lama has been the traditional spiritual and secular leader of the Tibetan people. Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, was born in 1935 in Amdo, Tibet, and identified at the age of 2 as the 14th in a succession that dates back more than 600 years. In 1959, he was forced into exile as a result of invasion by Chinese forces, and since then has resided in the remote hillside village of Dharamsala in Northern India.

Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to observe the Dalai Lama in a variety of settings?at his home in India, during visits to other countries, sitting in small intimate gatherings or speaking before tens of thousands. Wherever he travels he exudes an unmistakable warmth and friendliness; even those meeting him for the first time often say that it is like meeting with an old friend. For a man of 65, he displays a remarkable vitality and a hearty sense of humor. He laughs easily, yet he is equally quick to engage in serious discussion, tackling difficult problems in a thoughtful and intelligent manner.

When asked how he perceives his own self-identity, the Dalai Lama remarks that he identifies most strongly with his role as a simple Buddhist monk. Ordained at a very early age, his daily regimen includes rising at 3:30 each morning and spending several hours in prayer and meditation. While his daily practice may include several different types of meditation, such as single-pointed meditation (which seeks to focus one's attention on a chosen object), the Dalai Lama often recommends a particular form of Buddhist meditation called analytic meditation.

"In this type of meditation one uses reasoning," the Dalai Lama explains. "Reasoning can enhance positive states of mind and overcome the attitudes, thoughts and emotions that lead to suffering and dissatisfaction. In analytic meditation, one brings about inner change through systematic investigation and analysis. In this way we can properly use our human intelligence, our capacity for reason and analysis, to contribute to our happiness and satisfaction."

As a psychiatrist, I was struck by the parallels between analytic meditation and modern cognitive therapy. Analytic meditation may have potential application in reducing a broad spectrum of destructive emotions. So in several of our discussions, I asked the Dalai Lama to illustrate how analytic meditation can be applied to overcome a harmful emotion like anger.

"One begins by learning about the destructive effects of anger," he explains. "One should systematically investigate and reflect upon the destructive effects of anger on one's physical health, one's family relationships and in society. One should analyze this and reflect upon it not just once or twice, but repeatedly until it becomes part of one's deeper understanding.

"Then, let's say that someone does you harm. Your immediate response might be to become angry, but then you reflect upon the destructive nature of anger, and that immediately makes you more cautious of giving in to the anger and letting it escalate. Then you continue your analysis, investigating whether responding with anger is ultimately constructive or destructive, whether it will improve the situation or not, and so on.

"This process of reasoning and analysis can continue in other directions. For example, you might investigate to see if perhaps you have contributed in some way to the situation that made you angry. Also, when you are in the midst of anger, your tendency is to perceive the person who harmed you as 100% bad. But if you analyze further, you will realize that every human being is composed of both positive and negative characteristics, and you can try to get a more realistic view of the person by attempting to find some positive aspects of the person.

"So, with practice, various lines of reasoning and investigation can be used to reduce the force of your anger. This doesn't mean you shouldn't respond, or try to do something if someone tries to harm you. On the contrary, one should take countermeasures to prevent harm to oneself and others, even strong countermeasures. But using analytic methods such as these can help diffuse the intensity of your anger, which can have destructive effects, and instead allow you to respond to the situation without a feeling of hatred arising."

In addition to assuaging destructive emotions such as anger or anxiety, it seems that analytic meditation may also play a role in positive psychology, a new field of psychology that focuses on developing positive states of mind and is gaining popularity in the 21st century. According to the Dalai Lama, using techniques adapted from Buddhism may help actively cultivate positive states of mind such as kindness, compassion and tolerance.

In discussing how to take a more compassionate and tolerant approach to one's adversaries, he advises: "Just as you yourself may have committed harmful acts in the past, acts that you regret but do not necessarily make you a permanently bad person, you can learn to separate another person's harmful action from that person as a totality. Remind yourself that perhaps there are other factors at play that you are not aware of, that have caused the person to act in the way that they did. With practice, you can also analyze the situation from a wider perspective and even try to discover if this harmful act or difficult situation might be used in some way to enhance your spiritual growth, as an opportunity to make you stronger in some way." Ultimately, the Dalai Lama elicits positive responses from others perhaps because he reminds us of the qualities that can be achieved by us all. One of his most remarkable characteristics is that despite worldwide acclaim, he seems to maintain a genuine humility and treats all with equal respect. When meeting with him, he seems to relate to you simply as one human being to another; he does not judge you based on your net worth, social status, race or gender.

With his strong interest in Western science and his many dialogues with renowned neuroscientists and psychologists, the Dalai Lama will no doubt continue to be a key figure in bridging the gap between traditional Eastern wisdom and modern Western psychology.
 

cindylo

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Hi David

This is a very interesting post. I have read a small amount of material about meditation. I have also spent some time in meditation retreats with some quite amazing experiences. Some I will not post as I may be considered mad but during my second retreat which I did not complete, I had the experience of....it is very hard to descibe. It was as though memories were surfacing and bubbling up and out of me. I was a single parent at the time and had always had the attitude that my life was not that bad, that I was better off without my ex and my children were too. During the experience of memories surfacing there was also a huge emotional content bubbling up as well. It was overwhelming grief. I sobbed and sobbed. There was a cognitive component to it as well. It was like I was being told that it was so very sad for me and hard on me being a single parent. Then the focus changed to my children, how sad and hard it was on them to be in a single parent family. Until this experience I had always thought I would just get up and get on with raising my children and be grateful for what I had. I had never felt sad for myself about my life situation before this. I left the retreat early but regret it. It was a lot to go through though.

I have thought that this has parallels with Freudian psychoanalysis. That we need to release emotional blockages so to speak. Amazing experience though and changed me for the better. I am a lot more gentle on myself now.

These retreats are Vippassana retreats, they are available all over the world and of course India. They are also conducting the retreats in prisons with some interesting results especially with addictions. I have tried to find out if they have any effect on PD's especially psychopathy where there does appear to be a structural difference in psychopaths brains but have not been able to find the info. I wonder what the Dalai Lama would say about dealing with psychopaths Narcissists etc.

Cindy
 

David Baxter

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I have thought that this has parallels with Freudian psychoanalysis. That we need to release emotional blockages so to speak. Amazing experience though and changed me for the better. I am a lot more gentle on myself now.
Yes, that is called catharsis.

Thank you for that post, Cindy. It was very powerful.
 

cindylo

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Hi David

Yes it was very cathartic. And it was a powerful experience. I have spent a lot of today remembering some things about this retreat. A lot of people at that retreat were doing a lot of crying. I believe it is one of many expected experiences and the managers are there to help and support you through these experiences. These retreats are very difficult, you basically start the day at 4 30 am. Meditate until breakfast, then meditate till lunch then meditate until dinner and then there is an information session at the end of the day by video, then of course more meditation. They are silent retreats. You are not even allowed eye contact with anyone. The Vippassana people believe that ten days is the minimum to gain any real benefit. These retreats are very difficult but I highly reccomend them.

Cindy
 

David Baxter

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you basically start the day at 4 30 am
Yikes! That could be the deal breaker for me. :eek:

But seriously I suspect that the early start and perhaps even some sleep deprivation may be a significant factor in the experience.
 
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how does one go about finding out more about these retreats? how do you know if it's a safe retreat to go to? do you need previous training in meditation before attending one of these?
 

stargazer

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how does one go about finding out more about these retreats? how do you know if it's a safe retreat to go to? do you need previous training in meditation before attending one of these?

Ladybug, there is info at http://dhamma.org -- this is not the result of a random google search on my part either. Last time I lived in San Francisco, some friends of mine reported that they had gone to a Vipassana retreat. You definitely do not need previous training, and I can assure you they are 100% safe. I had been hoping to go to one myself (a 10-day retreat in Northern California), but it didn't quite work out at the time.

I really liked that first article with the Dalai Lama's statements, and I'm going to copy it and send it to my teacher and some of my friends.

David Baxter said:
Yikes! That could be the deal breaker for me

Not for me. It hasn't even hit 4:30am yet in California, and I've already finished my morning coffee. Then again, I went to bed at 8pm last night. I'm not sure how early one can get to bed at those retreats--I know the meditation schedule is intensive, and happens at various times. Do they let you to bed early, Cindy?

Also, "analytic meditation" reminds me of what my Dad always tried to get me to do. In the 60's/70's, when I was growing up and into my 20's, there was a big emphasis on "letting it all hang out" which bordered on the belief that if everybody just expressed whatever was on their minds at all times, all problems would be solved. My Dad used to tell me that there was something to be said for just sitting down for a while and working things out in your head. Looking back, I now think he was right, and I ought to do so more often.

Well, it's been nice talking to you guys! And Merry Christmas.
 

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