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Lions Roar : March 2017
view. I had one client who learned to ask herself “How else could I look at this?” To do that, she would “back up” and see if she could find a different perspective. Often this led her to find humor in how she was approaching the problem. It freed her up to become more creative. In addition, contemplative therapists are interested in help- ing their clients cultivate loving-kindness. At Naropa we use the Sanskrit word maitri to refer to the unconditional loving- kindness that we can bring to all aspects of our experience. It is the opposite of self-aggression, which unfortunately is rampant in much of society. With maitri, we bring a warm heart and curiosity to whatever we are feeling, doing, and thinking. The Wisdom Within Emotions Contemplative therapists are interested in recognizing brilliant sanity in its many forms and disguises, and especially in seeing the wisdom within confused emotions. The approach to working with emotions in Vajrayana differs somewhat from that of other Buddhist traditions. Instead of regarding our emotions as a problem to get rid of, the Vajrayana view is that emotions, even those we regard as “negative,” con- tain wisdom that we can tap into. Usually, we try one of two unsuccessful strategies to work with our emotions. We either try to get rid of them by repress- ing or ignoring them or we try to get rid of them by acting them out. Neither way works very well. Repressed emotions have a way of turning into bodily tension and illness or of pop- ping out at inconvenient times. We may find ourselves explod- ing into tears over something unimportant because we have tried to push away our sadness over something else. On the other hand, acting out emotions tends to intensify them and often leads to problems in relationships. It can even lead to vio- lence when we become carried away by the energy of anger. Instead of trying to get rid of emotions, we can bring curios- ity, mindfulness, and loving-kindness to them. Going toward the direct experience of our emotions lets us get to know them well. We might find that within anger, for example, lies much clarity. Before we can get mad about something, we have to see it first. So instead of attaching a story line to the anger about how something supports our sense of identity or not, we can simply feel what we feel and then see what to do next. Genuine Relationship and the Power of Exchange With its emphasis on direct experience and understanding interdependence, Contemplative Psychotherapy naturally pays attention to the relationship between therapist and client. In fact, a genuine relationship is a key healing factor in therapy. A genuine relationship between psychotherapist and client is one that is free from deception and, at its best, the confusion of clinging to any solid identity. Research supports the idea that the relationship between the people engaged together in therapy is the most important predictor of success. The principle of exchange offers us some ideas about what happens in therapy, and therapists who aren’t familiar with it are likely to misunderstand what is going on. If, for example, thera- pists start to feel afraid during a session, they might conclude that a client is frightening them. But a therapist who understands the dynamics of exchange might be curious to see if the client is feel- ing fear, which the therapist might also be experiencing. Another aspect of exchange is that it goes both ways. Not only does the therapist pick up on some of the client’s experience, the client also experiences exchange with the therapist. So if therapists bring mindfulness, awareness, and loving-kindness to their own experiences, the client may experience those qualities, too. This is a big part of what clients find valuable in contemplative therapy, because they are met with a nonjudgmental and welcoming atmo- sphere that is a helpful foundation for working with their pain. The Therapist’s Own Practice How can therapists provide all that nonjudgmental mindful- ness, awareness, curiosity, compassion, and loving-kindness? By far the most important thing they can do is to have an ongo- ing mindfulness–awareness meditation practice of their own. Spending time on a daily basis being present with themselves and practicing letting go of their own confused thoughts and mindlessness is a powerful way for therapists to know them- selves well. Therapists who practice mindfulness–awareness meditation are less likely to confuse their own issues with their clients’. They are more able to recognize the difference in themselves between having a direct experience and thinking about an expe- rience. Their practice helps them cut through any tendency to latch on to a fixed identity about themselves as better than or fundamentally different from their clients. Finally, meditation gives them the opportunity to make friends with themselves so that they can help their clients to do the same. ♦ A genuine relationship between psychotherapist and client is one that is free from deception and, at its best, clinging to any solid identity. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 59