Archive for the ‘Spirit’ Category
The fundamental cause of human suffering is alienation: alienation from the self, from others and from spirit. Love and compassion transform suffering into bliss.
“Before we can generate compassion and love, it is important to have a clear understanding of what we understand compassion and love to be. In simple terms, compassion and love can be defined as positive thoughts and feelings that give rise to such essential things in life as hope, courage, determination and inner strength. In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of the same thing: compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness.
Self-centeredness inhibits our love for others, and we are all afflicted by it to one degree or another.” (The Dalai Lama, Buddhadharma, Summer 2010, p. 25). As Santideva, an eminent 8th century Buddhist scholar, wrote:
“Cherishing the self is the cause of all suffering. Cherishing others is the source of all happiness.”
The Sanskrit word for suffering is dukkha. The root word Kha means sky, or space. The prefix du means unhealthy. So dukkha, suffering, is a condition in which our relationship to space is unhealthy. We suffer when we feel disconnected and alone. An experience of emotional trauma may cause us to retreat into a “fortress self.”
We unconsciously imprison ourselves in a state of psychic “solitary confinement.” This condition perpetuates endless suffering.
The Sanskrit word for bliss is sukha. This connotes a healthy relationship to space. We are open. We feel related to others. We are connected to our own embodied selves, to others and to spirit.
The key to the transformation of suffering into bliss is to open our hearts. “Through hardness and selfishness the heart grows rigid. This rigidity leads to separation from all others. Egotism isolates people.” (The I Ching, Wilhelm/Baynes edition, p. 228).
Opening the heart leads to love and compassion. Compassion means participation in the suffering of others. Passion, in Latin, refers to both suffering and affection. Participation in the suffering of others is a form of love. An openness to suffering is a prerequisite for complete, unconditional love.
Compassion and Openness
Compassion in Sanskrit is Bodhicitta : literally, the mind of Enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, relative bodhicitta connotes compassion. Absolute bodhicitta refers to the wisdom of emptiness, or openness. All phenomena are seen as being virtual, “like a dream, like an illusion.” From this standpoint, the apparent boundaries between self and others dissolve. The reality of our interdependence, our interrelatedness with all other sentient beings, comes fully alive. We become fully alive, both the subject and the object of all encompassing, nonreferential love.
The Way of Love
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. 1 Corinthians 13
Like all of us, I am in a transitional state. I feel an increasing sense of urgency to articulate my beliefs in regard to the relationship between psychological healing and spiritual growth. The rigid, categorical thinking that pervades psychiatry feels more and more oppressive and confining to me. The “medical model,” which consists of eliciting “symptoms,” establishing a “diagnosis” and formulating a “treatment plan,” is mechanistic, soulless and heartless. All too often, the treatment offered consists of psychiatric medication, with minimal or no psychotherapy. It seems to me, that with each passing year, the doctor-patient relationship is approaching a limit of zero.
Perhaps this trend within psychiatry is of a piece with the evolution of our overall communication and relationships, from embodied to virtual. Dissociation seems to be increasingly pervasive and characteristic of our society. We have moved from speech to text messaging, from emotions to emoticons. There is a loss of soul in our society that is causing immense psychic distress.
This week provided me with a convergence of opportunities that constituted an antidote to this illness of our times. I had the great good fortune to receive teachings from the Dalai Lama, on a Buddhist text known as the Heart Sutra, in Bloomington, Indiana. At the same time, my trip to Bloomington offered me the possibility of a reunion with family members, with whom I had not spent time in many years.
The Dalai Lama’s Teachings
I am in no way qualified to relate the substance of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. Let me, instead, share with you the atmosphere and the spirit of the occasion. Thousands of people, from all over the world, converged on Bloomington, a quintessentially American small university town. Tibetan Buddhist monks, as well as lay people, from all over the world were in attendance. Despite the diversity of nationalities and backgrounds of the audience, there was a powerful experience of the relatedness of a spiritual community. The Dalai Lama, with every breath and gesture, simultaneously honors the differences among peoples, and draws them together through the force of his brilliance, love, compassion, humility and spiritual depth. His driving motivation is to relieve suffering among all sentient beings. Through the strength of his motivation, he held all of us in his embrace. We were as one family.
I was reunited with three members of my mother’s side of our family. During the time we spent together, we connected with each other at a level of depth that far exceeded any of our previous encounters with one another. A great deal of healing took place, both in relation to old family wounds and in regard to the larger trauma of the Holocaust. Expressed emotion, face to face, catalyzes healing. Speaking the hitherto unspoken, responsively, in dialogue, releases the iron grip of ancient family, religious and cultural scripts or roles. This release engenders a freedom that allows for genuine openness to one another in the moment, with mutual compassion for self and other.
Openness and Compassion
These themes, openness and compassion, pervaded both my experiences with the Dalai Lama, and with my family. Openness and compassion are forces of unification, of healing and of integration. Inspired by the spirit of the Dalai Lama, it is my aspiration prayer to do my best to relieve the suffering of all beings, for as long as space endures. It is my intention to use every internal and external resource within my reach to inspire others to manifest their highest calling, to experience meaning and purpose in their lives, and to recognize our true identities as indivisible spirits constituting one human family.
Sport energizes the psyche and uplifts the spirit.
Sport and Psyche
One of my favorite runs is at Point Reyes National Seashore. This is a national park, a wilderness peninsula, north of San Francisco. The run ascends a mountain, continues along a ridge, descends to the ocean, proceeds along a coastal trail, climbs a steep bluff to a dramatic lookout point and finally returns to the trail head by way of a path through an evergreen forest. As I run, my psyche is filled with light, with the scent of the ocean, with the sight of hawks circling overhead. My spirit is recharged with the primal energy of nature.
Do you have similar experiences? Are you caught in the rut of your daily routine? Do you feel run down?
Craig Valentine, a well known public speaker, is fond of the saying, “change small, change often.” If you are sedentary, start your activity program gradually. At first, engage in one of your favorite activities for 5-10 minutes per day. As you gain strength and stamina, increase your active time incrementally to one hour per day, six days a week.
As your fitness improves, so will your confidence, energy and self esteem. Increased health and longevity will be added to your blessings.
Sport and Spirit
Sport is a portal to the realm of spirit.
Seven years ago, I ran a half marathon in Death Valley. This is a surreally beautiful, other worldly wonderland in Southern California. The run traversed Titus Canyon, a narrow cleft through steeply rising cliffs. As the hundred runners spread out along the course, we were each alone, surrounded by shimmering light. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of ancient Native American petroglyphs (rock art), high up on the cliff to my right. These drawings were used in healing rituals by tribal healers, or shamans. Time stood still. The veil separating past from present, matter from spirit, grew very thin.
Have you lost your connection to the realm of spirit? Does your spirit soar? Do you feel at one with creation?
Take your physical activity, your sport, into nature. Quiet your mind. Open yourself fully to sensory impressions. Doing so will stop your inner chatter about past and future.
Your spirit will expand. You will feel supported by the “ground of being.” You will be “at one” with nature, with the Great Spirit.
Being active in nature is a tonic for both psyche and spirit. You will find peace, tranquility, energy and inspiration. You will “shuffle off the mortal coil” of deadening routine and endless rumination. You will be fully present in the moment.
As T.S. Eliot wrote in “Burnt Norton”:
“Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now,
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.”
Dr. John Deri’s next Blog Talk Radio Show: Healthy Mind and Body will be on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 from 8-9:00 PM PDT.
The topic will be: How Does Psychotherapy Heal, Part III – Psyche, Soma and Spirit
Psychological growth and spiritual development are mutually contingent on one another.
This week, Dr. Deri would like to share with you a case that illustrates the interdependence of psyche, soma and spirit in the healing process. Sophia is a 70 year old member of a religious order. She and Dr. Deri have been meeting in twice a week psychotherapy for the past four years. Sophia decided to authorize the dissemination of her life story. She prays that doing so might illuminate the path of healing for others.
During the show Dr. Deri will discuss:
Psyche: Healing Early Trauma
How Sophia reached an experience of genuine compassion.
Psyche and Soma
How psychotherapy helped Sophia to maintain her physical and emotional homeostasis.
Psyche and Spirit
Sophia felt abandoned by God, the Father. She underwent a protracted “dark night of the soul” (St. John of the Cross). As she healed her psychological wounds, Sophia’s spiritual life, has blossomed.
To listen to the show you can:
1. Dial the phone in telephone number at (347) 989-0560
2. Tune in to our online channel at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Healthy-Mind-Body
My immersion in Tibetan Buddhism has influenced my perspective on the healing process. The central tenets of Tibetan Buddhism are wisdom and compassion.
Wisdom in Healing
From a conventional point of view, phenomena are incontrovertibly how they appear. At this level, healing in psychotherapy includes the kinds of work that I have described in previous blogs and radio shows. It is essential to bring dissociated feelings and memories into conscious awareness. Doing so in the context of a caring psychotherapy relationship allows the “working through,” the integration and the release of these emotions. Mourning is central to this process: mourning for both what was wounding and for what was lacking in the patient’s early life.
Another key component of the healing process is working on the patient’s “shadow” side. Trauma propagates through identification with the aggressor. It is a painful, but vital, step to recognize one’s own propensity to hurt others.
From an ultimate point of view, all phenomena are inherently “empty.” I am not qualified to discuss the Buddha’s teachings. So, for our purposes, let me just say that healing is facilitated by the cultivation of the awareness that all of our perceptions, all of our experiences, are like a mirage, like an illusion. We all construct our own “psychic reality.”
This realization is very powerful. It gives us the freedom to construe the past from multiple vantage points. We can achieve release from an identity as a perennial victim of circumstances. We can develop the capacity for what Carolyn Myss has called “symbolic sight.” We can learn to “learn from our experience” (Wilfred Bion). We can develop the potential to do things differently, to experience transformation.
Viewing life as an open field, rather than as a constellation of solid figures, liberates us from fixity, from the unconscious compulsion to repeat the past.
Compassion In Healing
Compassion for others is the antidote for narcissism. Narcissism is the root of all suffering. When we fixate on an “I,” we experience ourselves as fundamentally disconnected, constricted, anxious and depressed. When we cultivate our compassion for others, we feel alive, related and infused with life energy.
Wisdom and compassion are inseparable, like the two wings of a bird. In conjunction with one another, they liberate us from suffering, allowing our spirits to take flight. The darkness of our delusions is dispelled. The radiance of our innate nature shines forth unimpeded. We are free.
“Nothing can be created or destroyed”
I remember having this thought, with great conviction, at the age of three. I was gazing intently at a large rock covered with green moss.
Not the thought of a three year old ….
Valentinus, a second century Gnostic, wrote:
“What liberates us is the knowledge of who we were, what we became, where we were, whereinto we have been thrown, whereto we speed, wherefrom we are redeemed, what is birth and what rebirth.”
From the age of five, I have been inexplicably drawn to and mesmerized by Tibetan mandalas.
Throughout my life, I have experienced external reality as a projective field. What we apprehend through our five senses, and our sixth sense, is a highly idiosyncratic construction.
This perspective motivated me to study anthropology and psychology in college. I wanted to learn how culture, language, memory and desire shape perception.
During graduate work in psychology, I investigated the physiology of perception. Concurrently I did research at Rockefeller University, on the localization of opiate receptors in the brain.
My interest in higher integrative functioning remained a passion throughout medical school. Inspired by Wilder Penfield’s “Mystery of The Mind,” I decided to become a neurosurgeon.
Three thousand miles (New York to San Francisco) and two years later, I had an epiphany: I truly wanted to be a psychiatrist. As the British psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott, wrote:
“Home is where we start from.”
The manifest context for my felt urgent need to choose psychiatry included an impassioned reading of Goethe’s Faust, a spontaneous total immersion in philosophical Taoism and a resurgent compelling interest in the life and work of Carl Jung. Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” had made a searing impression on me as a fifteen year old.
The reading of a book, “The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self,” by the Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen, crystallized my decision.
Some years later, my connection with Tibetan Buddhism resurfaced. I was drawn to seek out teachings from a few Tibetan lamas, notably the Dalai Lama and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.
The twin principles of Tibetan Buddhism are compassion and wisdom, “like the two wings of a bird.” I have come to experience compassion as the life force, Henri Bergson’s “Elan Vital.” This force sustains me. It infuses my work.
As Santideva, an 8th century Buddhist, wrote in “The Way of the Bodhisattva:”
“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide, to dispel the misery of the world.”
Psychological growth and spiritual development are mutually contingent on one another.
This week, I would like to share with you a case that illustrates the interdependence of psyche, soma and spirit in the healing process.
Sophia is a 70 year old member of a religious order. She and I have been meeting in twice a week psychotherapy for the past four years.
Sophia’s father sexually abused her from her early childhood until puberty. Sophia’s mother was hypercritical, perhaps envious, of her. At age 20, following one abortive relationship with a man, Sophia decided to enter a convent.
During her early adult life, Sophia turned to alcohol to drown her sorrow. Some years later, she developed a bipolar affective disorder. More recently, she was diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes, as well as with Parkinson’s Disease.
1. Psyche: Healing Early Trauma
Donald Kalsched, a Jungian analyst, has written a trenchant book called “The Inner World of Trauma.” In describing the work of recovery from trauma, he suggests “where there is an affect, look for an image. Where there is an image, look for an affect.”
With this advice in mind, I encouraged Sophia, a talented artist, to create artwork that would give expression to her childhood memories and feelings. She took to this process readily, with great creativity. There ensued an extended period during which Sophia would bring drawings, watercolors, paintings or poetry to each session. Through giving form to her experiences, Sophia was able to access and to express her feelings at a deep level.
These feelings included shame, rage, terror and sadness. She ultimately reached an experience of genuine compassion, for herself as a little girl, and finally even towards her parents. Her repertoire of emotions expanded dramatically. She came to revel in her own sensuality and sexuality. She came fully alive, before my eyes.
2. Psyche and Soma
Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease have profound emotional effects. Reciprocally, emotional states have a major impact on the manifestations of these physical conditions. Much work in the therapy has had the goal of helping Sophia to maintain her physical and emotional homeostasis.
At times, I coordinate her care with other treating physicians. Doing so is both good medical practice as well as an opportunity to model appropriate symbolic parenting.
Psychotropic medications are utilized to stabilize Sophia’s mood.
3. Psyche and Spirit
Sophia’s sexual abuse, and more specifically her father’s perversion, led her to question her faith. She felt abandoned by God, the Father. She underwent a protracted “dark night of the soul” (St. John of the Cross).
As she healed her psychological wounds, Sophia’s spiritual life, has blossomed. She has developed a vivid, direct personal relationship with Jesus and Mary (the Divine masculine and feminine principles).
Sophia has internally reaffirmed her vows. She has rededicated herself to minister to those in need, within her community. She has found and is maintaining an appropriate balance between nurturing herself and caring for others. She experiences the indestructibility of her own spirit.
Last week, Sophia said to me, “Thomas Aquinas wrote that contemplation yields illumination only when one gives to the world.”
It was in this context that Sophia decided to authorize the dissemination of her life story. She prays that doing so might illuminate the path of healing for others.
When I was 15 years old, I had the opportunity to accompany a group of psychologists on a trip to the Soviet Union. Our group was given a behind the scenes tour of the Soviet mental health system. The first intervention that was offered to a stressed out worker was a two week vacation at a resort on the Black Sea. As a teenager, this “prescription” struck me as somewhat primitive. I have come to appreciate its wisdom.
No matter how much we might love our work, a periodic change of pace, and change of scene, are crucial for maintaining our psychic equilibrium. The human nervous system habituates to sameness. Both behaviorally and neurophysiologically, we get stuck in a rut. We cease to remain fully awake and alert. We begin to “go through the motions” of living. In the extreme, life can begin to feel “stale, flat and unprofitable,” in Hamlet’s words.
Christopher Bollas, an American psychoanalyst with a PhD in English literature, writes that a particular experience “sponsors” a specific state of mind, or “self state.” Thus, if we perpetually repeat the same routine day after day, for months at a time, we drastically circumscribe the experience of who we are. There is a tendency for us to think the same thoughts, and to feel the same feelings. This circumscription can lead not only to boredom with our lives, but as well with whom we are.
Vacations are the portal for new experiences, of the world and of ourselves. Among the many wonderful benefits that we can experience when we are on vacation
- Leaving the world of work for a time allows us to relax.
- Our body and mind uncoil themselves.
- We breathe more deeply.
- Mental focus expands.
- We think new thoughts, we perceive new possibilities.
- Vacations often provide the opportunity for inspirations that transform our lives in myriad ways.
Vacations are strongly associated with childhood memories. Most of us had more regular, more frequent and longer vacations as children than we do as adults. Vacations can allow us to contact our “inner child.” We become so used to suppressing this dimension of ourselves in the service of functioning as “mature adults.” How sad, what a huge loss, if maturity comes to preclude the qualities of playfulness and fun that make life an adventure. Cultivate a relationship with your inner child. Ask him or her what s/he would most enjoy doing. When your child and your adult selves are living life in dialogue with one another, you will feel continually refreshed and fully alive. On vacation, past and present can commingle, giving rise to new visions for the future.
For those of us who live in urban areas, vacations can offer a time to return to nature. The infinite sensory experiences of nature, e.g. the scent of pine trees after rain, are the best tonic for depression and anxiety. Opening up to nature promotes an expansive self state, in which we somehow feel closer, or indeed one with, the realm of spirit.
In this era of economic uncertainty and anxiety, it is all too easy to cut out all vacation spending as one means of saving money. Remember the words of Wordsworth:
The world is too much with us…
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers…
Penny wise, and pound foolish. If we are not mindful, we can end up killing the golden goose: namely, ourselves.
My childhood experiences were highly influential in my choice of profession.
My mother, Susan Deri, was a psychoanalyst. Trained in Budapest, she immigrated to the United States with my father during World War II. My father, Otto Deri, was a fine musician, a cellist. My parents divorced when I was six years old. Two years later, my brother (currently a psychologist in New York City) went away to boarding school. I was left at home alone with my mother.
She was a brilliant, highly creative thinker and clinician. She read widely in the domains of psychology, psychoanalysis, philosophy and religion. From my earliest childhood, she used me as a sounding board for her evolving ideas about symbolization and creativity. She ultimately wrote a book with that title, which was published after her death (Symbolization and Creativity, International Universities Press, 1984).
Both of my parents taught me how to listen. My mother challenged my young mind through communicating both concepts and emotional experiences that were way beyond my comprehension. In order to have a mother, I was forced to develop a precocious intelligence. I had to listen for dear life. My father taught me how to listen to music as a musician, a priceless gift.
Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, has written that “the psychoanalyst listens; the shaman speaks.” In my work as a psychotherapist, I listen very closely to my patients. When I speak, I am serving as a channel for an intelligence that transcends my own. I bring the totality of my life experience into every moment that I share with each of my patients.
I am greatly blessed to love my work deeply. I would be honored to share it with you.
The Psychiatry Blog is currently under development.
The blog will address a wide range of topics. The biopsychosocial/spiritual schema will provide the framework for the blog.
The spirit of the blog will be interactive. I encourage and will respond to your questions, comments and requests.
In the meantime, please return to, or visit my website at www.JohnDeriMD.com .