Interview on Somatic Trauma Interventions


On this day, September 11, when many of us remember the traumatic events in NYC, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, I am pleased to share an interview I did for the Present Moment PodcastOur discussion revolved mainly around the use of Integrative Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing Therapy for trauma healing highlighting where mindfulness interventions and somatic interventions align and depart; particularly when it comes to resolving physiological and psychological trauma responses. The Present Moment Podcast is produced by Ted Meissner, Online and Community Development Manager for the Center for Mindfulness at UMASS Medical School.

Listen here:

There is no such thing as a “present moment”

In the final chapter of my book, I make what many mindfulness enthusiasts would consider a blasphemous request, “Offer up the illusion of being in the present moment! Awareness is not about being in the present moment. Awareness is beyond manifestation and cannot be contained within any particular moment. Awakened presence is the effortless, unperturbed, unelaborated reception of experience—not the effort of trying to be in a present moment.”*

Today, I happened upon the Dalai Lama’s succinct explanation of why there is no such thing as a present moment. Watch it below and consider renouncing the foolish act of trying to be in a present moment.


*Miller, L.D. (2014) Effortless Mindfulness: Genuine mental health through awakened presence. Routledge: New York.

Ajahn Amaro’s wise commentary on the problematic of mindfulness delivery


Ajahn Amaro, a beloved Theravada Buddhist teacher and monastic has written a powerful commentary on the problematic of mindfulness delivery in the West. His paper offers clarity on “(1) the pragmatic versus dogmatic approach of the Buddha in his teachings on psychological transformation, (2) clarification of the traditional understanding of the term “mindfulness” (sati) and its various layers of meaning, and (3) the role of ethics in human well-being, as it is understood from a traditional Buddhist viewpoint.”

I highly recommend taking the time to read his erudite and important commentary on many of the controversial issues featured in Montiero, Musten & Compson’s paper*.
Here is the link to Amaro’s paper:

*Monteiro, L. J., Musten, R. F., & Compson, J. (2015). Traditional and contemporary mindfulness: finding the middle path in the tangle of concerns. Mindfulness, 6, 1–13.

Mindfulness-based interventions are secular Buddhism?

This weekend I had an interesting email exchange with a person who identifies as a “secular Buddhist”, which seems like a redundant term, because in my life practicing Buddhism has never included religiosity of any kind. None of my teachers have ever asked me to believe anything. Instead I have always been encouraged to investigate and see for myself through contemplative research and textual study. This person is also an MBSR teacher and implied that MBSR is a form of secular Buddhism. Below are a sampling of my comments on that topic.

MBSR is a clinical intervention targeted at shifting symptoms and/or perception of symptoms of stress and physical pain. That is what I call relief from symptomatic suffering. The Buddhist teachings and Buddhist psychology are specific methodologies for awakening out of ignorance through direct recognition of emptiness, not-self. It would not matter how long an MBSR class lasted. There would never be any instruction in ethical conduct, teachings on emptiness or the nature of mind, or any mention of “the deathless”, the unconditioned. The idea that any MBI delivers this profound knowledge without mentioning it directly is preposterous and yet this is what Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have been claiming in scholarly articles since 2003. Jon goes so far to say that MBSR teaches the Buddhadharma… Only the Buddhadharma teaches Buddhadharma.

Buddhist philosophy of mind is very complex and profound and mindfulness is not the core of the Buddhist teachings. Mindfulness is merely a tool for recognizing emptiness (Mahāyāna), the deathless (Theravada), the clear light nature of mind (Vajrayāna)… but emptiness must be pointed to in order to recognize it.

The concept of liberation in Western Buddhism has been skewed by our culture’s attachment to self-entitlement, self-cherishing, and demands for individual comfort, security and continual pleasure. This is why liberation from suffering in the West is equated with less negative thoughts. Honestly, that is not the liberation of mind the Buddha was offering.

This is precisely why I authored a textbook on Buddhist psychology for mental health clinicians. One that teaches the actual dharma, with no compromises and detailed instructions on how to deliver interventions in the therapy room for awakening out of the suffering of ignorance, rather than just symptom reduction or achieving greater levels of conditioned happiness.

And I am not so keen on the idea of a “mindfulness movement”. Heroin addicts are very mindful when they prepare their kit and shoot up. Thieves are very mindful when they engage in robbery. The bulk of the Buddha’s teachings are on ethical conduct and philosophy of mind. Not on mindfulness meditation. And the meditation practices were not designed to make the practitioner feel good. The extreme result of this wrong view of liberation is McMindfulness—the mass marketing of mindfulness as a cure-all for everything or a path to greater happiness, wealth and security.

The Buddha complains of back pain and other physical maladies after his enlightenment. He was human being with a human body. Enlightenment does not mean the end of physical pain. It means recognizing the empty nature of all phenomena including the body, which dissolves any self-fixated afflictive mentation about phenomena. There is nothing to cling to… including the idea that the body must be free of disease and decay and death.

Human ignorance is primordial and deeply etched in our genetic code. Awakening to primordial wisdom takes commitment, study and practice.

Universal Dharma… Not: Two Dharma talks available now

You can now download the two Dharma talks I delivered at Marin Sangha June 22 and 29. I hope you find these teachings stimulating and thought provoking.

In the first talk Universal Dharma…Not, I refer to the Suttas to refute the controversial claim by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others, that mindfulness-based interventions (MBSR and the like) delivers a “universal dharma”; an accurate depiction of traditional Buddhist meditation practices and implicitly imparts the profound ethical and philosophical aspects of the actual Buddhadharma.
Listen now: mp3  or  iTunes podcast

In the second talk, Dreamlike Nature of Phenomena, I describe Lojong Mind Training and its attentiveness to the dreamlike nature of self, mind and world; a unique feature of the Buddhadharma that is not imparted by any mindfulness-based intervention.
Listen now: mp3  or  iTunes podcast



Worthy panel discusses the problems of secular mindfulness

Last week, Eric Rea featured a panel discussion on the secular implementation of mindfulness on his BBC radio show. His guests were Christopher Titmuss Buddhist teacher and founder of Gaia House, Chris Cullen mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist at Oxford Mindfulness Center, and Rebecca Crane founder of the Center for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University. Eric’s questions were challenging and intelligent. I urge you all to listen to the entire 30 minute show.

Below are some highlights:

ER: How would you define mindfulness?

Christopher Titmuss: “To be conscious of what is unfolding and revealing itself, a sense of one’s inner life and outer life; an intimacy and closeness with the ordinary and everyday… I wouldn’t like to emphasize mindfulness exclusively. In Buddhism, mindfulness must contribute to inquiry, understanding of causes and conditions. A healthy right mindfulness contributes to harmony and well-being. Unhealthy mindfulness, for instance a thief is very mindful while burglarizing, but what an unhealthy intention for applying mindfulness.”

Chris Cullen: “The practice of present moment awareness is really what mindfulness is about… We live so much of our lives pre-living and reliving our experience, and mindfulness is an invitation to come back out of the cinema of the mind and its thoughts and be here now. Anyone can do this and taste the benefits of it.”

Rebecca Crane: “Mindfulness releases us from suffering moment-to-moment. I can be unhooked from patterns that might give rise to shame and bring myself back to the immediacy of experience.”

Notice the remarkable difference between the profound definition of a Buddhist teacher and the one-dimensional response of the secular mindfulness teachers who seem focused on the prophylactic effect of ‘present moment awareness’ as a method for symptom reduction. As a clinician and Buddhist teacher I favor Christopher Titmuss’ response because it represents a deepened-in relationship with mindful attending, which merges inquiry, insight and ethical, compassionate responsiveness to actual experience.

ER: What is the difference between meditation and mindfulness?

RC: “Meditation is the method of cultivating mindfulness and mindfulness is the process.”

CC: “Since 2013 eighty-five members of the British Parliament (MP’s) have taken an 8-week mindfulness course to reduce their stress.”

CT: I have some concern about these courses, which at the present time do not include any exploration into the main sources of major stress like war, environmental degradation, or tensions that exist between people and nation states. We are at an early stage in delivering mindfulness practice and it will take courage and conviction by those who offer mindfulness in this context to go deeper and awaken the MP’s.”

CC: “In secular mindfulness courses ethics is implicit rather than explicit, there is a sense as people deepen in mindfulness practice they do wake up to how we live and the consequences of the pressures on society.”

RC: “The way we pay attention with ethics in our mindfulness courses is to train teachers well. We have a huge emphasis on having teachers work with their own experience, their own mindfulness practice and ethical process. These courses should not be attached to any particular tradition.”

CT: “Bravo for the medical use of mindfulness to treat depression, chronic pain, etc. But when we talk about delivering mindfulness in political and corporate world where issues of corruption, violence, exploitation—all of that has to be offered in the context of a dialogue about people of privilege and power developing compassion.”

CC: “If it is not ethical and it is not about a paradigm shift away from greed, hatred and delusion, then it is not mindfulness. Mindfulness is radical and it changes lives if it is practiced properly.”

I will write more on the subject of the supposed ‘implicit ethics’ of mindfulness in my next post.

Meditation alone is not enough

My last post ended with: meditation alone is not enough to free individuals from suffering. One must recognize self-delusion and then use the skillful means of wisdom, compassion and ethical conduct to actively free oneself and one’s world of the suffering of self-delusion. Here are three examples from the past week to help us begin exploring this statement.

1) I just returned from six glorious days of retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, a highly regarded and deeply treasured Dzogchen teacher. Tsoknyi Rinpoche is unique in his mind-body methodology for awakening. His approach begins with settling cognitive-affective and somatic systemic agitation, and then opening the mind-heart to essence love. (My book features instructions in one of these basic techniques called, Gentle Vase Breathing.) Once the psychophysical system has settled and a sense of innate well-being is present, one-pointed attentional clarity naturally arises. With continued meditative practice, this effortless stability of mind becomes the platform from which one recognizes dbyings (ying) the basic space of awareness/emptiness.

One might conclude from the above description that Tsoknyi Rinpoche spent most of his teaching time instructing us in meditative methods. Since these techniques are fairly straightforward once taught, Rinpoche moved from a “goody-goody message of healing” to the tougher truth of liberating the deluded narratives of self-suffering, which impede our innate capacity to recognize rigpa, unbounded, empty awareness. At one point he expressed some discomfort with Western psychology’s embrace of compassion practices for symptom-relief. Rinpoche insisted that genuine compassion is not about “feeling blissful or generating well-being”. It is instead serious training in selflessness.

2) Upon my return, I had an interesting exchange with a colleague about the recent equating of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with the buddhadharma (read Buddhist teachings). It seems there is a movement afoot to view MBSR as a “universal dharma”. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this 8-week intervention, MBSR is a palliative method for symptom relief that delivers a small menu of mindfulness meditation techniques in a group setting. In the fourth week there is some discussion of stress. Participants are asked to meditate 30-40 minutes 6 days a week. Studies show varied amounts of participant home practice during the class and those studies that follow post-class outcomes show continued diminished rates of meditation practice over time.

The buddhadharma is a path of liberation from delusion about the nature of reality. It teaches emptiness (wisdom), selflessness (compassion), the inherent suffering of subject/object dualism and stresses the importance of ethical conduct. Meditation is just another tool in the Buddhist toolbox for awakening. MBSR has cherry-picked a few meditation techniques and offers them without teaching the essential, difficult liberative dharmic truths. Therefore, in my mind, MBSR cannot be considered dharma of any kind.

3) Yesterday, another colleague and I were discussing referrals for good couples work. She told me, “Oh you would love (clinician’s name) who has MBSR classes in their office and forces all couples they work with to take an MBSR class for self-regulation.” I was aghast. There is no discussion of emotion regulation in MBSR classes. Teaching self-regulation skills is a part of effective couples counseling. Meditation is not a panacea. Just because one meditates does not mean self-regulation will arise in a difficult interaction or stressful situation. I think this is a prime example of the over-promised benefits of meditation for alleviating mental, emotional and physical distress.

When I teach Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) groups for those suffering with addiction, we spend much of our class time discussing the deeper ramifications of craving and aversion, the difference between suffering and pain, and the tyranny of self-grasping. Hands down the most popular meditative intervention is the informal “pause practice” which participants can use in any moment of distress, not any of the formal MBSR meditation practices we so diligently deliver and ask them to practice at home.

The same could be said of my work with individual patients. Meditation is not my go-to intervention. I rely upon inquiry into the causes of suffering and helping patients cultivate wisdom, compassion and the conduct of non-suffering. This is what ultimately leads to lasting transformation and of course meditation can be a part of that tool set. If ending suffering is our goal, clinicians must be willing to offer more than symptom relief. We have to do the hard task of asking patients to recognize the underlying causes of suffering—self-cherishing and the misapprehension of the way things truly are. This requires much more than just regular meditation practice.