Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Listening to myself

It's a hinderance of mine that I get excited about ideas. It's sense pleasure once again leading me away from the focus on my breath. I heard myself saying, "Even if I don't get enlightened, I have gained a lot from being on the path, and working to reduce the distance between myself and the Buddha." That doesn't take into account the dark night of the soul, The Silence, and the hope of seeing the transcendental pleasures of the path. Enlightenment is experience far experience to me, but at a certain point in my meditation today, I felt a little of the craziness churning in my mind, settle down just a little. I guess I feel that is worth it, though I think meditation needs to be beyond good feelings, because that's just chasing sense pleasures again. You just do it, in some ways, regardless of the reward, ignoring spiritual materialism, relinquish, a little, for a second, the endless project of chasing positive sense pleasures and pushing away negative experiences.

Chapter 4 Psychotherapy East and West

Psychotherapy East and West by Watts Chapter IV: Through A Glass Darkly:

The chapter starts out comparing scientific views that are experience far for humans, and that it's not going to be the road to liberation except that it does give insight into some hooey. Then he runs through the confusion between western "ego" and eastern "ego".

Watts discusses difference between Freud and Jung, and is frustrated that even though the Jungians learned a lot of eastern religion, they didn't seem to grasp it beyond psychology. Through that section, I was thinking about how Stephen Mitchell has his grand unification theory of relational psychotherapy, and that drive theory was overturned. I bet Watts would have loved Relational Concepts of Psychoanalysis. I think more about The Denial of Death, Donald Winnicott, Melanie Klein, Fromm, existential psychotherapy, Kohut and self psychology, systems theory, interpersonal psychotherapy, and attachment theory. Freud is a reference point, but his grand theory has been debunked of late, in favor of relational psychoanalysis.

Watts seems to see how the denial of death is in play, says you can't live unless you face death. Kafka is often quoted that the meaning of life is death. Watts is also into field theory which is a close cousin to systems theory.

Much intellectual discourse is tilting at windmills. Nowadays in NYC most of the psychotherapy is done by social workers, who have a kind of curious and supportive approach, and few have further training. Maybe they have read The Drama of the Gifted Child.

Positive psychology is just starting out, not just about the deficit model. We have a long way to go. The conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle is something I think a lot about. Watts sees the double binds of cultural institutions is at the heart of the ishkabibble. The teachings of the Buddha are a way to enlightenment and liberation!

Then he shifts to existential psychotherapy. That is not going to understand the Buddhist project either. Watts is very quotable: "The stereotypical attitudes of a culture are, of course, always a parody of the insights of the more gifted members." Creating a meaningful life is a better project than a happy life, to me, but liberation is something different all together.

He explores the idea that we in the west must be anxious, guilty and insecure. Protestantism infects our thinking whether we're protestant or not. Everything in modern society conspires against liberation. He has a dim view of history, almost likens it to a hoarder of strings and rubber bands and whatnot. Every moment is a rebirth of possibility to be creative and not reactive.

Watts describes one of the fetters: that life is nothing and life is eternal are two ends of the spectrum that are to be avoided.

He seems to know about Sullivan and Frida Fromm-Reichmann, a contemporary psychiatrist of Freud from Germany, who emigrated to the USA during WW2. When you think of it, Watts is pretty well read for someone who is not a psychotherapist. I'm warming to this book as I read it, and get used to his style of writing. Next blog on the book will be about the rest of the book.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Alan Watts reprint of 1961 book

The First Half of Psychotherapy East and West:

In the first chapter of Psychotherapy East and West he skates along big ideas, and typically in academia you're supposed to get into smaller chunks to make sure you've got it right. In some ways Watts is kind of refreshing and there are interesting insights, like that you're going to have to get into social commentary in psychotherapy.

The second chapter is a mash up of physical theories, Wittgenstein and anthropology. The question whether good creates evil was raised, that was my favorite part because it reminds me of the movies MegaMind and Watchmen, who have that theme as well.

Parts of the chapter, I was scratching my head as he switched from topic to topic without transition sentences. It's a kind of riff, and you could see why he was popular in the counter culture when that type of writing was more acceptable. He had some interesting theological views, that in the book of Job, the devil is an adjudicating angel. And he notes he could never get angry at Judas because he just followed Jesus' orders. He thinks schizophrenia is caused by double binds, strong pulls in opposite directions. When the mother tells the little boy, "you don't want to play in that muddy puddle," when the kid really does.

The third chapter on liberation is a kind of history of eastern religions. Watts takes Madhyamaka as the form of Buddhism he is taking about when he generalizes about Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism. It's an odd choice, when he's speaking in a kind of perfection of wisdom way of Chan.

Watts talks about the caste system of Hinduism, but forgets to mention the "untouchables", the Dalits who have used Buddhism as part of their liberation theology in present times, since Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar died in 56, so the movement had been going for 5 years at least. And yet I don't think right or wrongness in his generalizations and characterizations touches his arguments much, such as they are. Watts' style of writing is a kind of challenge in every statement, a kind of interpretation of a philosophy that is at once hard to evaluate, and bold sounding.

The liberation chapter could almost break the chapter up, because he goes on a long riff about reincarnation which is fairly interesting. Watts suggests that all the magic and miracles are for the weak minded. He points out that westerners see reincarnation as a good thing, where as in the east it is meant to be liberated from.

He compares Taoism and Confucianism, then compares Taoism to Rogerian psychotherapy. He looks at the influence of Ch'an Buddhism from Taoism. Then he throws in a dash of neuropsychology. It's a heady brew to gulp down, but occasionally there's an interesting sentence, and a new way of looking at things.

Many times I find myself asking about a statement about Jung or the other topics, "Is that really true?" I have no way of verifying many of the wide claims Watts makes.

I like the concept of distance of excessive reverence: The further away the prophet, the more reverential there must be, and thus a vibrant tradition "dies of respectability."

The question of sexuality is discussed, but he quotes Vedanta, which I'm not as interested in. The Mahayana is supposed to enter the world and therefore one is more likely to be married as a Mahayana Buddhist.

A tour de force is what they call these kinds of books, because it assumes a lot of background and interpretations on that background which are hard to know how true they are. There's a large grand comparison of liberation east and west, which is what the title is, so there you have it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Alan Watts Psychotherapy East and West

Alan Watts Psychotherapy East and West has been reissued now that it's 56 years old. In the preface he talks about all the places where he's compared the two (psychotherapy and Buddhism), lots of academic setting and with lots of people in the field--the only name I recognized was Karen Horney--and he does not wish to summarize other's work and whatnot.

Before I read the book I have many thoughts. I reflect back on all the various books I have read synthesizing the two, seeing what both can shed light on the other. I have No Boundaries on my book shelf to read, which seems to be yet another synthesis. I also want to read Mixing Minds. Watts mentions the Fromm and DT Suzuki discussions.

I recently read a excerpt of Mary Pipher's Seeking Peace, where it seemed that meditation was the crucial event that got her to be mindful of how her past was present. I think of Marsha Linehan's integration of mindfulness into her DBT.

Undoubtedly Buddhism has impacted western psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Now the other way around is more complicated. Freud's project was to turn people into ordinary unhappy people, which seems to stop rather abruptly. Recently I've been taking a positive psychology course on line. But of the ten positive emotions, metta, karuna, mudita and upekka are not mentioned. Instead we have: Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiriation, awe and love. In a way they very much overlap with universal lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

The usual cliche is that you have to love yourself before you can love others, but Mary Pipher seems to be a pretty good therapist with unexamined self loathing. The other cliche is "you have to be somebody before you can become nobody". I always think of the story of the guy who says I'm nobody, and then you walk up to them and kick them in the shins and they double over in pain. There you are.

Faith and confidence in the path for me, means that regardless of the goal, the movement towards the goal is beneficial. Being more mindful and aware--how can you argue against that? In the Triratna Buddhist Community, at ordination, you accept "For the attainment of enlightenment I accept this ordination." My feeling is that if you're not going for enlightenment, now matter how far away, and no matter how vaguely understood, then you're missing a key ingredient. It's like drinking decaf coffee or non-alcoholic beer. What's the point? Now lots of people drink these things, so there must be a point, and some people will admit that they don't really know what enlightenment is, and therefore they can't really aim for a goal they don't understand. But the tradition has come down to us, is that it's important. I think the point is there are flashes, and then there are more frequent flashes, and then you might even feel like you've crossed a barrier, but in the tradition you don't brag about crossing the lines because you no longer exist, you feel the connection to everything, and therefore to say that you have attained something almost patently proves you haven't. And yet people do claim some attainments. I cannot judge however far David Smith (not the sculptor) or Daniel M. Ingram (not the composer) have gotten on the path, because I'm not even close to them. I've meditated with David Smith, and he seemed ahead of me on the journey, and I read his first book, which was interesting. Anywho, enlightenment is an orientation and intention for Buddhist so I keep it around and I'm curious about it. 

I do not know how advanced Alan Watts was as a practitioner, but a biography of him details his divorce due to infidelity, and his drinking problem. Like many people in early Buddhism, the fact that not much was know about it, left people eager to read anything about it. I wouldn't discount automatically his books because of infidelity and alcoholism. I feel like I got pretty far and saw a glimpse before I cracked up. So I'm going to read this book with an open mind and see what I can get out of it.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Ill Will



Read the part of Working With The Five Hinderances the is about ill will. Our current president is firing off ill will in me a lot. Now without going into the criticism of the president, I want to focus on what it triggers in me, my ill will, not his.

I can only control myself. It clashes with my values, including integrity, empathy for others, truth telling, social justice. So lots of things clash with my values. Even a federal government can do that, and an individual executive can do that.

Also I'm not perfect, I've violated my own values many times. Am I mad at myself for going against my own values, not understanding my shadow well enough. Yes I am.

There are plenty of people who don't feel represented by every president, but this one seems special. I'm talking with people a lot, like I did after 9/11, trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

One positive thing to do is engaged Buddhism, to fight what you see as not so good, and work towards a better world. Another is to send metta to all the people who are hurt by certain policies that are attempted to be enacted.

Finally, as always, you try to befriend your ill will, get to know it in the deepest possible way. No point in pretending it's not there.

I'm taking a class on positive psychology, and one suggestion is to make a portfolio of what evokes the 8 positive emotions, the professor says are positive emotions.

I think if I met the president and was allowed to talk with him, I'd want to hear more about his past.