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Happy 78th birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama!

Wishing His Holiness the Dalai Lama a joyful 78th birthday today, and praying for his long life! I’ll never forget the one and only time I met the Dalai Lama, at his residence in Dharamsala many years ago. I was quite young, coming off a difficult break-up, and broken wide open alone in the mountains of northern India, just sort of wandering from place to place. He held my hand and just looked at me. He wasn’t scrambling to try to make my heartbreak go away, he wasn’t playing the wise guru offering me some subtle teaching on the empty-luminous ground of awareness, he wasn’t hurling blessings at me so that all would be made right and I could enter into some other state of consciousness. He simply spent a moment with me, all the way through, totally human, fully there with everything in the space between us. It was a short moment of time, but in another way it was totally eternal; those sorts of rare meetings, heart to heart, are rare and precious, and not easily forgotten. In my experience, the Dalai Lama is a holding environment of love, in and of himself; a totally real, humble, open-hearted, incredibly warm, authentic human being. May you live long, your Holiness!

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Inside the broken-open heart

Inside the broken-open heart it is unbearably alive
The world cries out for you to mend the brokenness
Yet there is another longing to stay broken, to befriend the sadness, to hold the loneliness
There are colors in the sky that could never be seen
There is a scent in the jasmine that could never be known
There are sensations in the breeze that could never be felt… until this moment
It is only within the broken-open heart that the unseen can reveal itself

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Embodied Vulnerability and Non-Division

Recorded live in our Boulder studios for the Self-Acceptance Project, Bruce shares with Tami (and viewers around the world) the importance of both psychological and spiritual approaches to the journey of freedom, love, and awareness. In my experience, Bruce is one of the most gifted and innovative therapists out there and someone I feel honored to call a friend and mentor.

As part of our free, 12-week video event series, I invited 23 psychologists, psychotherapists, neuroscientists, and spiritual teachers to speak with my friend and longtime colleague, Tami Simon, to ask the tough questions, and to explore the the relationship between self-acceptance and the larger spiritual journey.

All episodes of the Self-Acceptance Project are now posted and can be accessed as video or audio downloads, or can be streamed at no cost from the comfort of your own home. Our deep gratitude to the 35,000+ of you who registered for the series; we hope you enjoyed and benefited from it.

It is our intention to bring you more high-quality content in this area over the months and years to come. Our next series will focus on Deepening Intimacy, launching in the new year.

http://youtu.be/453_hzuzZ0I

 

It’s okay to be broken

It is okay to be broken, to allow yourself to fall apart
You need not hold it together any longer for you were never together to begin with
Fall apart and resist the temptation to put yourself back together again
See what is forever untouched by the concepts “together” and “apart”
It is okay to be broken, for it is through the cracks in you that light can pour through

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A love we never outgrow

Let us hold all fathers in our hearts today, in gratitude for the gift of life they have given. Some of us are close with dad, some are not; some have very fond memories, some do not; some of us never really got to know that person we called “dad” and what really moved him, inspired him; what he really wanted and what his unique relationship was with the movement of love; or why he came here to this sacred human place. But the one thing we do know is that, just like us, dad only ever wanted to be happy, to be free from suffering, and was only able to use the tools he had been given to take the journey that was his. We may never understand the nature of dad’s journey, the unique pattern that unfolded as his life, somehow orchestrated in the stars, to unveil to him the mysteries of love.

Whether dad is still on this earth or the beloved has sent him elsewhere, it is possible for you to fully connect with him right here, right now, for he is alive inside every cell of your heart; no matter what has happened in the past, he has given you something important for your journey. May we honor dad on this day in all of his guises, in all of his forms – personal and transpersonal – and may we be guided by his wisdom qualities down that pathway that he and all beings have laid out for us.

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Self-care and selflessness: a contradiction?

In the research for the dissertation I’m writing on the ways in which spiritual belief and practice can serve a defensive function, I’ve come across the writings of Miles Neale, a Buddhist-oriented psychologist in New York City (who I ended up interviewing as part of the study). Miles recently sent me an article he just published which covers an important area in the ongoing dialogue between psychological/ therapeutic and contemplative approaches to health and well-being. One of the hot topics in contemporary psychospiritual inquiry has to do with the understanding of the “self,” i.e. its ontological status, what it is, how if at all it might be worked with, and how practitioners might be able to reconcile self-development/ self-love/ self-acceptance/ self-care with the contemplative discoveries of no-self, selflessness, shunyata, and so forth.

During our free video series on the Self-Acceptance Project, more than one participant asked, “So what is this ‘self’ that we’re accepting, anyway?” Or, in other words, how can we accept a self that isn’t actually there upon investigation? All fair questions, of course.

I’ll leave you with the first part of Miles’ paper below. If you find it interesting, you can head over to his website to download the entire piece, which I quite enjoyed. Or just go straight to Miles’ website and read the entire article.

Self-care and Selflessness: A Contradiction?

The nearly half century dialogue between Buddhism and Western psychology has created a potential forum for a mutually enriching exchange. It has also raised productive questions about the points of overlap and dissonance between the two traditions. One of the most apparent differences is in the way these disciplines relate to the self.  Psychotherapy emphasizes genuine care for the self and its feelings, needs and wounds, helps to restore a continuity in the sense of self when it begins to fragment and investigates how self-denial creates profound psychic disturbance and dysfunction in relationships.  Buddhist meditation establishes attentional equipoise, facilitates direct observation of the impermanent, insubstantial nature of the self and culminates in an intuitive insight of emptiness that ends the habits of self-reification and self-grasping at the root of suffering.

Is there a contradiction between the goals of self-care and selflessness, and what does each tradition stand to learn from the other’s approach?

“Spiritual bypassing”: spiritual practice as pain-avoidance 

Psychotherapy encourages meditators to take a more care-ful approach to their traumatic wounds rather than circumventing them.  I’ve frequently observed meditators devaluing their own personal traumas in pursuit of more exalted and seductive spiritual virtues like the bodhisattva ideal of saving others from suffering. Likewise, some yogis aim for mystical heights of ecstatic bliss hoping to transcend their ordinary human fragility, only to come crashing down to their painful reality once practice is over. This phenomenon of using spiritual tools and teachings to avoid psychological issues, traumatic wounds, and unmet developmental tasks occurs so frequently, that in the early 1980’s Dr. John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to characterize this tendency. Frequent scandals involving so-called spiritual masters who have had inappropriate relations with their students as well as students who see little psychological progress after years of spiritual practice stand as testaments to the deleterious effects of neglecting basic human needs. Indeed it may be possible to have profound spiritual insights, and at the same time neglect other areas of our complex being – including emotional, psychological, interpersonal or somatic dimensions. If we don’t take all of these dimensions seriously and incorporate them into “the work” of human development – then the shadow-side of our split identity can reemerge outside of conscious awareness, when we least expect it and with painful consequences.

Common forms of spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing occurs when we unconsciously attempt to avoid pain, shame and the unpleasant side of our humanity and can manifests in a myriad of ways. The most common forms I have observed in myself as well as in my clinical work with yogis and meditators include: when fear of rejection, fear of burdening others or conflict-avoidance masquerade as being easygoing, patient and accommodating; when co-dependency poses as care-giving and compassion; when guru-devotion leads to subservience and conceals unresolved childhood dynamics such as over-idealization or fear of reprisal; when the spiritual virtue of detachment is misunderstood as disinterest and one attempts to avoid pain by disconnecting from feelings and relationships; when spiritual success and accomplishment end up reinforcing narcissism and the very inflated self-images they were designed to see through; when ultimate truths such as selflessness and emptiness are misunderstood and privileged over relative truths and one consequently falls into the nihilistic extreme of self-denial or apathy. All of these examples share one thing in common; they are unconscious adaptations of pain-avoidance concealed in the fabric of spiritual practice.  Without a skilled objective observer such as a therapist or teacher to alert us, we can miss our unconscious attempts at bypassing, just as we do the blindspot in a rearview mirror.

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