Buddhist ethics · Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · compassion · mindfulness · psychology · social media · virtue

More Perfections of Post.news

Saul Tobias offered on Post.news a lovely explication of the six pāramīs (generosity, virtue, wisdom, zeal, patience, concentration) from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. You can read it here. Following in Saul’s footsteps I would like to add how the following forms of virtuous conduct can be applied on Post.news and all other social media sites.

The Theravada Buddhist tradition (the teachings of the historical Buddha found in the Pāli Canon) teach ten paramitas. They are as follows: generosity, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, zeal, patience, truthfulness, determination, goodwill, equanimity

Renunciation: Restraint is a profound tool for creating a social media environment that is both thoughtful and informative. Renunciation means the impulse to post harmful content gets recognized and assessed internally for wholesomeness and usefulness to the community at large. Renouncing self aggrandizement and posturing can go a long way toward fostering civility and care in a social media environment. 

Truthfulness: This paramita seems self-evident yet so hard to put into practice in daily life. Our internal distortions, negations, evasions, and biases show up full force in social media. We so want our own views to be affirmed and yet disagreement can be a rich part of human interaction—as long as there is a commitment to honest debate and deep listening.

Determination: Once again, the historical Buddha was a big fan of checking ignorance and reactivity in thought, word and deed. Determination to respond thoughtfully takes a lot of zeal to be real instead of getting lost in habit reactivity and posturing. 

Goodwill: Also translated as friendliness or lovingkindness, mettā is an altruistic aim to resonate a kind of love which is unfettered by self-interest and bias. In the Udana Nikāya, the Buddha famously said, “Searching all directions with your awareness, you find no one dearer than yourself. So you shouldn’t hurt others if you love yourself.” Applied to social media, attention-seeking can often lead to posts that emphasize benefiting oneself rather than seeking the welfare of others. Goodwill and renunciation complement and strengthen one another. 

Equanimity: This paramita is for me the outcome of practicing the preceding nine paramitas. In Buddhist psychology equanimity is described as a neutral feeling tone of experience or a mental quality of impartiality. Equalness as a perspective builds distress tolerance and cognitive-affective flexibility by lessening self-absorption or what is known in pop psychology as ‘taking things personally’. Recognizing humanness and its inherent imperfection is a wonderful virtue to practice as one engages in social media. All humans are prone to misapprehend primarily because our perceptual apparatus views everything through one’s own mind-psyche-experiences.

May this post be of benefit to all who read it!

impermanence · mental health · psychology · relationship · social media

All Things Must Pass Away

For ten years Twitter has been my primary resource to access and interface with colleagues nearby and far flung. Residing and working around the globe, my feed was populated by a rich mix of medical, psychological, academic, contemplative researchers and clinicians.

I was appreciative of how intentional contact curation made this possible and somehow I assumed Twitter would not change. The basic platform would remain as it was. My community would keep contributing and interacting with intelligence, care and respect. Oh how wrong I was.

Of course I knew that Twitter was a cesspool of hatred, misinformation and nefarious bots. Yet, I counted on Twitter’s infrastructure of values/rules of conduct to keep that away from my feed. Then a couple of weeks ago the specter and reality of Elon Musk arrived full force and disassembly began to erode much of Twitter’s corporate and technical foundation.

One by one my community began to close their accounts. And my feed filled with Elon Musk’s antics and the counterpoint #twitterapocalypse. The rich community I had relied on for years to offer up the latest and most interesting research links and discussion dissolved before my eyes.

And I was sad. So bereft and powerless.

And then the wave of Mastodon tweets started showing up. “Find me now @mastondon!” So I investigated Mastodon and though it seemed interesting, I kept bumping up against the futility of not finding my people. So many servers… disjointed, slow, not intuitive coding in the app. And I realized anyone could say they are me and create a profile that looked like me. Big red flag!

For years people have admonished social media sites as superfluous, consumerist, privacy nightmares, and rife with the worst humans can dish up. It was not till my community went away in a poof of Elon Musk smoke that I understood how real cyber-reality actually feels for modern humans. Especially when a user has carefully over many years orchestrated it to deliver nurturing, informative, and honest content.

Today one of my colleagues let me know that Noam Bardin, former Waze CEO, has decided to get in the game of building a new social media site Post.news dedicated to “Real People, Real News, and Civil Conversations”. They seem to be taking their time to carefully build, so now you can only join the waitlist. I look forward to my invitation arriving so I can see what Post is actually like.

I did not expect Twitter to devolve so quickly and yet I know all things are subject to impermanence. My heart goes out to all Twitter employees–whether fired or remaining. Thank you for a wonderful decade! May you find peace and healing.

change · health · healthcare · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · poetry · psychology · psychotherapy · somatic psychotherapy · trauma healing

Last week

Last week…
Over and over session after session;
Patients truth-telling.
Aliveness transforms.

Habit narratives are so damn limited.
Drop them.

I watch the beauty of learning to turn toward experience
And dive in fearlessly.

Inspired, I encourage.
“Fear not. You will not be swallowed up and chewed into bits.”
Experience opens its arms; welcomes them in.
Scoops them up and lifts them high.

Dance  sway  rest  feel
Open in wonderment!

This is real.
The alive one you have always been.

Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist psychology · clinical mindfulness · integrative psychiatry · mental health · mindfulness · mindfulness interventions · nondual mindfulness · psychological inquiry · psychology · psychotherapy · somatic psychotherapy

Intersubjectivity and Interdependence

Recently, a colleague shared the following, “I am more and more tuned into the reality of separateness, gradations, distinctions. I think we are being hoodwinked by this idea of universal oneness. This feels particularly true when working with patients, where I find most significant change occurs from investigating distinctions and details.”

While I agree that in-depth exploration is critical for insight, contrasting that process with notions of universal oneness rings hollow for me. And that common mistake may simply be due to widespread misinterpretations of ‘oneness’; most especially the Buddhist concept of emptiness or interdependent co-arising. Although emptiness is a concept, therapeutic dynamics provide a real-time example of how interdependent co-arising actually manifests in human experience.

The Intersubjective School of Psychoanalysis hypothesized an intersubjective field continually mediating bidirectional knowing between psychotherapist and patient. Intersubjectivity enables a psychotherapist to empathically use their entire psychophysical system to receive and mirror a patient’s cognitive-affective-somatic material. That form of empathy or therapeutic attunement, is the primary process through which a patient feels known. So, although a psychotherapist may deliberately direct patient inquiry, intersubjectivity tells us that both parties are equal participants and influencers in the therapeutic container’s ebb and flow.

Acknowledging that apparent interdependence does not discount or negate the appearance of two separate participants. Each exists from their own side in a relationship of mutual influence. Nagarjuna, the progenitor of the Middle Way School of Indian Buddhism argued that emptiness rests on two principles: (1) things/selves in the world appear nominally, and (2) because of their impermanence, interdependence and insubstantiality, these entities lack any essential (svabhāva) nature.

For example, take the device you are reading this blog on. If it was self-existing, it could not be broken down into its parts—cover, screen, content, matter, particles, quantum information and so on. It is no more than a so-called object, interdependently linked to nominal parts similarly lacking any essential nature. Though the device does have conventional or relative existence, it also cannot be found to ultimately exist separately from its myriad parts.

Similarly, though the therapeutic dyad includes two separate beings, the therapy itself is an intersubjective, co-created process. Co-creation widens the menu of possible perspectives and makes possible successful interventions that decrease systemic reactivity and increase capacity for in-depth inquiry. Mutual influence and co-creation till the soil that yields embodied awareness and cognitive-affective-somatic openness. Such that self-fixation and its concomitant feelings of separateness fall away; and along with it the oh, so ubiquitously harmful distorted notions of self and world. Clearing those obscurations of mind is not only the optimal path to less cognitive-affective-somatic distress, but also increased tolerance and connectedness with all other beings.

health · healthcare · mental health · psychological inquiry · psychology · psychotherapy · wellness

Psychotherapist as provocateur

Provocateur: a person who provokes dissension; agitator.

Effective therapeutic change must include pivotal moments of therapeutic provocation. Yet we all know patients most love psychotherapists that make them feel good. But honestly unconditional positive regard only goes so far and therapy that focuses on producing good feelings is ultimately unhelpful and frankly dishonest. Why? Because real change rests on the hard work of facilitating mental clarity, humility, uprightness, and fierce compassion—not just in the patient but also in the mental health professional. To accomplish that task, a psychotherapist must be willing to call patients on their blind spots, their hubris, avoidance, and plain old bullshit.

Yes, that can be uncomfortable and possibly confrontative. Therefore, a therapeutic professional has to look deeply at their own blind spots, avoidances, hubris and bullshit with courage and compassionate regard for basic human suffering. We are fallible humans too.

Some of that blind spot work involves honest assessment of whether one is clinging to pleasurable feelings that arise from being a patient’s good gal or savior. Ouch! Even writing that sentence elicits feelings of disgust when I consider how much harm is done to a patient when a psychotherapist is lost in their own ego fixation. That is the worst form of therapeutic unconsciousness.

I remember many years ago reading Irvin Yalom’s, The Gift of Therapy. This manual on how to skillfully accomplish self-disclosure blew my mind and showed me the value of continually assessing the best interests of a patient and acting solely on that. Sometimes I don’t know or I can’t decide what is in their best interest. That is when I ask them directly.

Often asking involves provocation in one form or another. Provoking by questioning a blind spot or naming an oft-discussed avoidance. Even directly pointing at hubris, assumptiveness, or outright disownment of responsibility. This kind of provocation for the purpose of clear-seeing can frustrate or even anger a patient. Anger shows they trust you. So rather than backing away in fearfulness, lean in to skillful inquiry.

It’s like surfing a wave of habit reactivity on a surfboard of mutual curiosity about the patient’s feelings. All while inviting them to join you on the surfboard of openness to accomplish shifting reactivity to responsivity. Not rejecting; not accepting—this is the way to model equanimous provocative inquiry that leads to wisdom and transformation.  

And best of all, this process allows a psychotherapist to model fearlessness and facilitate movement away from defensive eruptions and into intentional, deliberate engagement with confused or distressful thoughts and feelings. For me, that movement produces the most change. Change born from a patient skillfully facing their own internal provocations and realizations with or without the psychotherapist.

awakening · Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist practice · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · cessation of suffering · clinical mindfulness · emotional suffering · integrative psychotherapy · interdependence · meditation · meditators · mental suffering · mindfulness · mindfulness interventions · mindfulness meditation · mindfulness psychotherapy · not-self · psychology · psychotherapy · secular mindfulness · Tibetan Buddhism · Uncategorized

Meditation is not an antidote.

If you think meditation alone will ‘cure’ the deleterious characteristics of humanness, like anger, violence, greed, hatred, fear and bias… think again. These qualities arise from an experientially shared, all-pervasive perceptual feeling of separateness—I am inside, everyone else is outside.

Cutting through that misapprehension requires both conceptual training and contemplative practices for cultivating cognitive-affective quiescence and profound insights into what is known in Buddhist philosophy as the Three Marks of Existence—impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self.  Most clinical and non-clinical applications of mindfulness teach meditation devoid of information about the way in which humans misapprehend the Three Marks of Existence, and how this mistaken perception becomes the proximate cause of all forms of human suffering.

Let me be absolutely clear. Noticing 1) how thoughts come and go; 2) how much time we mentally spend in the past and future; 3) cultivating compassion; 4) and that basic physical pain is worsened by mental anguish about painful stimuli—all these insights will decrease cognitive-affective symptoms, which makes them appropriate Western psychological interventions. However, when ‘Buddhist-derived’ mindfulness meditation practices are offered as a means to attain happiness and/or reduce distress, those meditators remain largely unaware of the root causes of their suffering.

The main reason Buddhist psychology does not view symptom relief as an end goal is because non-suffering is ultimately an outcome of the fearless pursuit of non-delusion. That pursuit includes the recognition of and liberation from two basic causes of human suffering—our deluded belief in a substantive, separate self; and our deluded belief that happiness is conditioned upon comfort, certainty and security.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that perceptual distortion is called, innate reification, which is viewed as largely unconscious; functioning at a very basic level of cognitive processing. The pervasive and assumptive nature of innate reification is a primary obstacle to direct realization of how all perceptual phenomena (including the self) interdependently co-arise moment-to-moment. Separate self-existence is illusory. But that illusion makes harming doable—particularly the false perception that harming another does not simultaneously also harm the harmer. Imagine how different the world would be if all human beings recognized how intimately connected they are to all other beings through their thoughts, words and deeds.

Because this profound insight into reality is not a predetermined outcome of meditative practice, it must be pointed out directly. Clear conceptual understanding proceeds and fortifies accurate perception of reality. Experiencing the Three Marks of Existence and cutting through the perceptual distortion of innate reification requires both concentration meditation and analytical meditation practices. Just practicing mindfulness and compassion is not enough. Concentration meditation alone is not enough. Conceptual understanding is not enough. Going beyond antidotes requires all of these together.

complex trauma · health · mental health · mindfulness · psychology · psychotherapy · PTSD · PTSD treatment · Somatic Experiencing · somatic psychotherapy · Trauma · trauma healing · trauma therapy · wellness

The ‘somatic therapist’ nightmare

Increasingly, I am hearing disturbing stories from new patients about what is being labeled in the SF Bay Area as ‘somatic therapy’. What is clear is how many clinical and non-clinical people are calling themselves ‘somatic therapists’ and offering subpar to damaging services to individuals in need of effective mental health treatment for PTSD. 

Frankly, I have no idea what a somatic therapist is. Yet so many people are seeking somatic therapy because these days pop psychology views everything as traumatic and somatics as the cure for all trauma. This reminds me of what happened 15 years ago when mindfulness became the clinical intervention for every malady. We all know how poorly that worked out.

Integrative psychotherapy acknowledges that mental health is interdependently determined by the systemic quality of one’s mind states, emotions, and bodily responses. Human beings are organisms in constant flux; continually homeostatically reacting and responding to causes and conditions. Our thoughts are conditioned by body health as much as physical health is undermined by a chaotic mind and highly-reactive emotions.

Because traumatic experiences impact the entire human organism, resolving traumatic experiences must be a whole system endeavor. Changing thoughts is not enough. Loosening muscles and tissues will not prevent future bracing each time a challenging-enough situation occurs. And emotion regulation is a body-mind-heart mission.

Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) focuses on and accomplishes whole system trauma resolution. SE is a complex theoretical model delivered in a three-year training program. It takes time to learn how to recognize, work with, and deliver skills for effectively resolving the nervous system dysregulation commonly found in PTSD sufferers.

Other clinically helpful trauma methodologies include Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR. However, EMDR is often too activating and unhelpful for people with complex-PTSD who experienced early developmental trauma prior to adult traumatic events. SE is an excellent methodology for those individuals.

I encourage asking anyone claiming to be a ‘somatic therapist’ what training they have undergone and if they are a licensed clinical professional. Unlicensed practitioners are unregulated practitioners with no legal or ethical oversight. That is a minefield to avoid particularly for trauma sufferers.

Buddhist ethics · Buddhist psychology · clinical mindfulness · complex trauma · mental health · mindfulness · psychedelics · psychiatry · psychology · PTSD · Trauma · trauma healing · world mental health day

World Mental Health Day

It seems dis-ease predominates the world stage at this time. Whether it is whiplash from 2.5 years of pandemic, the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, or mounting climate disruption catastrophes, an air of dread permeates the current world mental health landscape.

In 2014 I coined the phrase genuine mental health and set out in a rather dense textbook to explicate what that might be and how to facilitate it in psychotherapy. I still hold to the premise that human minds are innately capable of humility, wisdom, compassion, and great insight. And I remain committed to offering patients targeted, clinically-appropriate contemplative practices for cultivating these states and building states into traits.

Eight years later the landscape of mental health interventions seems more murky, sensationalized, and as Yaden, Potash and Griffiths recently described in JAMA Psychiatry more subject to hype-cycles. Psychedelics and cannabis are big medical business now and clinical research on effectiveness is slower than business-led exaggerated claims of efficacy. Substances are remarkably unpredictable in how a given human will react. And with the growing number of cannabis-induced psychosis reports (that industry refuses to address) I remain skeptical of the long-term transformative capacity of these methods.

And it’s not just the interventions, diagnoses as well have expanded to include almost any form of human suffering—particularly PTSD or trauma. Difficult or painful human experience is not by definition traumatic. Prior disposition and level of cognitive-affective-physical disorganization in a receiver’s system usually determines if a given painful experience will be traumatic or not. A great example is discussed in my previous blog post on overcoupling. Humans are a tremendously adaptive and resilient species by nature. Most of us can withstand high levels of challenge and some of us greet it with joy and anticipation!

My prescription for World Mental Health Day is a plea for each of us to take up the mantle of humane, respectful conduct and communication in all of our interactions with others—regardless of whether they are friend, foe or stranger. Kindness is not enough. Holding in thought, word and deed a commitment to non-harming is critical in a world of increasing global disturbance.

Equally important is the compassionate recognition that every human has their own form of human suffering; me included. None of us is perfect. Reflecting on our own imperfection and recognizing the power every one of us has to awaken to genuine mental health, will rescue our world from its current path of intensified suffering and harm.

integrative psychotherapy · mental health · polyvagal theory · psychological inquiry · psychology · psychotherapy · Somatic Experiencing · somatic psychotherapy · Trauma · trauma healing · trauma therapy

Uncoupling excitement from danger

Though this Somatic Experiencing® intervention is not discussed widely in SE™ circles, I consider it one of the most critical steps for resolving long-standing systemic trauma response. A history of early (0-6 years of age), repeated, traumatic experiences are easily identifiable in adult autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysregulation. The primary sign is minimal capacity for sympathetic nervous system (SNS) arousal.

SNS arousal is not bad nor it is an indication of something wrong. For instance, awe-inspiring, meaningful, interesting, or joyful experiences are arousing. The body needs SNS arousal to accomplish any activity that does not fall under the category of ‘rest and digest’ homeostatic function. Many forms of overcoupling are common in early developmental trauma (EDT) response—including overcoupling of SNS arousing states of excitement and danger.

To a very young brain, most experiences are novel. Inherent in novel experience is a quality of excitement. That means interest, exploration and play are often encoded in memories of EDT events that most adults would only consider frightening, egregious, and morally corrupt. Very young children don’t feel danger until they are directly threatened, disturbed, terrified, abandoned, or physically harmed.

This intermingling of novelty, excitement and danger can be difficult for adult survivors of EDT to accept–especially when memories are laden with disgust, shame, terror and anger. A good example of excitement/danger overcoupling is in sibling sexual abuse where a tween sibling frames perpetration on a much younger sibling as ‘play’. Initially the novelty and attention can register in the young victim’s brain as an exciting experience with no negative valence. Yet, that can shift to fear, confusion and resistance at any point during a particular perpetration event or with successive events. Overcoupling of excitement and danger increases with each successive perpetration. Eventually novelty and excitement fall away and what remains is high-dorsal vagal freeze—(a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) safety response)—because small children can rarely run from or fight off an older perpetrator. Proliferation of successive events increases excitement/danger overcoupling in SNS dysfunction.

Obviously the first intervention is helping a patient conceptually understand excitement and danger overcoupling, and then facilitating increased capacity for presencing the body-mind system’s low threshold for excitatory body sensations, thoughts and feelings. That is the ideal time to introduce SE™ pendulation skills for initiating parasympathetic deactivation, which eventually actuates healthy SNS/PNS cycling.

I feel such joy when this work results in a patient report that includes something like, “This week I actually felt excited and just let it happen without worrying something bad would occur or I’d become so overwhelmed by good feelings. It is so freeing to not be scared of my emotions… even the good ones!”

In summary, early repeated traumatic experiences impede our natural capacity to tolerate systemic aliveness. Uncoupling excitement from danger allows the ANS to move more readily, willingly and easefully between SNS activation and PNS deactivation.

Buddhist psychology · health · integrative medicine · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · psychology · Uncategorized

Contemplating the Work

I’ve had three blogs over the last twenty years, which no longer exist on the web. Mindful Psyche charted my first decade of psychotherapeutic practice. Dharma Moment offered a daily randomly selected teaching from the Pāli Suttas, accompanied by something I can only describe as minimal musings. The old Effortless Mindfulness blog was a complementary, commentary vehicle for my textbook on Buddhist psychology.

Integrative Psychotherapy blog will chronicle revelatory experiences and surprising outcomes which regularly occur in the sacred space my patients call “Lisa’s office”. Identifying personal information or topical content will not be shared. I will externalize my internal processes and flesh-out the rich intersubjectivity that makes the integrative psychotherapeutic container such a powerful force for change.

Each new post will be featured on my clinical website and on this WordPress blog so you can easily subscribe and comment. Here’s to another new blogging endeavor!