Conferinta Spiru Haret: Dr. Kaisa Puhakka

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Mindfulness: Buddhist Meditation meets Western Culture, Science, and Health Practice.

Today, an encounter of great promise is taking place between Buddhist meditative practices and various fields of Western health practice. Certain Buddhist practices seem to offer hope for relief from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and other forms of suffering that are especially pervasive in contemporary high tech societies.

In this encounter, the Buddhist practices known as “mindfulness” have been modified to become culturally user-friendly to Westerners and also to fit the paradigms of research and evidence-based clinical practice. As a result, workshops designed for health practitioners and for lay people have become popular in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere in the past few decades. Mindfulness is being introduced even to corporate and other work settings—a sure sign that Buddhism has entered mainstream culture in the West.

In our seminar, we will explore how Buddhism and Western cultural and health care practices each have benefited from their cross-fertilization on the Western soil. We will look at the benefits that have come to Western societies in the form of mindfulness practices that have been adapted for successful treatment of chronic pain (MBSR), for the treatment of anxiety, depression (MBCT), and even addictions and personality disorders (DBT and ACT) as well as the more recent introduction of such practices into corporate and other work settings.   We will also look at the contributions of Western psychodynamic theory and practice to a deeper understanding of some central Buddhist concepts, for example, by shedding light on the unconscious underpinnings of attachment and the construction of the suffering self.

But we will also look at what can get lost in these adaptations of Buddhist meditation when they are extracted out of the larger context of Buddhist teachings and principles.     In this larger context, mindfulness meditation is practiced as a deep, experiential inquiry into the nature of self and world that delivers liberation not just from particular forms of physical or emotional suffering but from all suffering. Drawing from the three major traditions of Buddhism—Theravada, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen, we will explore how mindfulness can be practiced as a deep inquiry into the nature of self and reality. When practiced in this manner, mindfulness can become a vehicle for liberation from all conditions–for what the Dalai Lama has called “unconditional happiness.”

Finally, we will outline a difference in depth and transformative power between two approaches to Buddhist meditation. These two are not mutually incompatible and both are rooted in authentic Buddhist traditions. One could be thought of, loosely speaking, as “introductory mindfulness” or as “mindfulness 1.0.” It is taught and practiced in a way that affirms the ordinary structure of consciousness based on the division between subject and object. The other approach to mindfulness could be thought of as being more advanced, or “Mindfulness 2.0.” In this approach the subject-object dualism is experientially deconstructed.

Throughout this seminar, brief exercises can be introduced to help participants ground their understanding in direct experience and to perhaps get a feel, a taste, of what is possible, with both Mindfulness 1.0 and Mindfulness 2.0. When practiced as a deep inquiry, the benefits of both include growth in one’s empathic capacity as well as an opening to compassion—two important qualities in the personal and professional development of counselors and psychotherapists. We will explore how it is that these qualities are not simply ideals to be emulated but can naturally arise as inherent to the flow of reality which is “us” as much as it is all that is around us.

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