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.

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