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Submitted by Meredith Arena on Thu, 1/20/2011, 9:43pm
In the Monday night Buddhism and Psychology class we are asking the question “Does East meet West”? Something that comes up a lot is the difference with which each regards narrative.
We are all trying (for ourselves, our clients, students and loved ones, possibly for all sentient beings) to undo the knots of our complex narratives. Knots are easy to tie and hard to undo. The material usually remains twisted and worn in the place the knot resided.
I am working on a memoir of adolescence that I think is turning out to be chud. I continually paint myself as a victim of society and especially of men. What do I really remember anyway? Its all seems like a self-obsessed fiction.
I was feeling this when I received a facebook message from someone in my tormented adolescent memoir. He said “Have you kept in touch with anyone else from PS 23? That place was probably the most fun I ever had at any school I ever attended. Ah, to be a child of the 80's.” I felt silly for not being able to enjoy the memories that this guy remembered as the most fun he had had at ANY school. Where was my “Ah!”?
I am grateful for the reminder to lighten up. Does psychoanalysis have this feature, so crucial to Buddhism I wonder. I have begun a practice of writing about happy memories of adolescence because although I was a confused and lonely child, I was happy. I see this work as untying the knot or at least releasing it a bit, by allowing it to have another meaning. After all, my childhood classmate had a great time! I find that happiness is the thing I remember with the least amount of detail. Anger and shame the ones I have memorized.
Feelings are impermanent. We like to solidify them, but that causes us a lot of pain. Knowing this often brings me relief from heaviness and hopefully will do the same for my creative work.
How does knowing that feelings are impermanent help us help others?
It helps me to help angry 8 years olds, to have compassion for the depth of their suffering and also to see the relief that is coming.
In psychotherapy, narrative is important. It is a way to look at the past and understand how it shaped you; especially how it shaped the things you call problems, your knots. My understanding of narrative in Western Psychology (a term I should not be using to describe one thing) is as something you need to engage, but I believe that there are practices that deal with releasing as well.
What are these practices?
In Buddhism, narrative is also important. If you have a narrative, you cannot deny its existence because denial is an unworkable violence. In Buddhism, you may consistently notice a narrative or consistently notice your investment in a narrative and you might stop there. You might not stop there and still you would accept and notice that.
I do not see these treatments of narrative as mutually exclusive. Since the relative truth is that we use language to communicate (yea!), then it is probable that we will need language to undo the knots of our lives. Sometimes we will need a lot of language and sometimes very little. Sometimes, we need to practice complete silence. These three can be practiced variably if the correct individual or community is helping the practitioner know when which is necessary.
The past is open to many different interpretations. We have to be able to see it clearly and also let go of what isn’t helping us.
My writing of memoir is primarily an exploration of relative truth, who I was in the fifth grade and how I believe all of this happened. I do not think that the work will be very creative without the ability to see the memories as something my past self-perceived, as revisable and ultimately meaningless in terms of this moment and the next. This is the work.
“Although we are standing on an inescapable past, we are existing here and now in a present state of neither good nor evil-indeterminacy” Tagawa Shun’ei
“Mindfulness helps us to look deep into the depths of our consciousness…When mindfulness embraces our joy, our sadness and all other mental formations, sooner or later we will see their deep roots… Mindfulness shines its light upon them and helps them to transform”. Thich Nhat Hanh
In Buddhism we talk about planting seeds and seeds that are already around in the ground of our consciousness. We use the simple metaphor of a garden to think about what to do with these seeds depending on what we want to cultivate in our lives. These seeds are from our recent and ancestral pasts (or as Ethan offered, our genetic patterns).
How does this relate to anything you know about Western Psychological practices? In class we are talking about Freud and CBT, but it would be interesting to hear from the creative and expressive art therapists, the artists and the teachers as well!
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