A Thousand Words Are Worth a Picture ...
As further context for Inquiring Deeply, I want to elaborate a bit about my personal experience. I hope to be able to convey “who I am” as well as give the reader an up-close and personal view of where “inquiring deeply” fits into the picture of my life. I hope that this will not only explain but also show and evoke where inquiring deeply comes from in me.
Big picture view: Philosophical and intellectual by nature, I have had a lifelong fascination with fundamental questions about mind, brain, and self. Always in search of deeper understanding and answers, even in the early years of my childhood, I came of age in the psychedelic era, which opened my mind to the mysteries of consciousness. I then pursued answers over several decades of academic and experiential study encompassing psychoanalysis, neuroscience, and Buddhism as well as participation in many different “transformational workshops.”
Not wanting to digress into a lengthy autobiographical narrative here, as I write these words I sit, close my eyes, and turn my attention inward, awaiting some inspiration about what to say. A question crystallizes in my mind: how did “inquiring deeply” become my “life project”?
Several early memories arise:
• I am about two years old and I am standing in the sunshine, aware for the first time I can remember that I am aware. I think of this moment as my birth into self-reflective awareness. (A photograph taken of me in that moment has always been in my possession, so perhaps that image is what framed the significance of this particular moment.)
- • I am sitting on the sandy bottom of a beautiful brook in Connecticut, with my head beneath the surface of the water. I am three years old. I have a stone in each hand and I am clinking them together, deeply fascinated by the way the sound reverberates in my ears. I am in a state of consciousness in which there seems to be little need to breathe.
- • I am sitting on the bed in the bedroom of my childhood, looking out the window. There is a diamond-shaped metal grating/guardrail on the window and as I gaze out with soft focus, the diamond pattern telescopes out and expands into a deep three-dimensional space. The experience is compelling. I repeat it often.
- • Not yet five years old, I wonder often where I was before I was born.
When I told these experiences to a meditation teacher many years later, his response was: “you were a Zen child!” Be that as it may, these memories are emblematic of many similar experiences which have informed my life and which ultimately evolved into the writing of Inquiring Deeply.
Self-reflective and compassionate by nature, I was drawn to a career in clinical psychology. As I traversed the ordinary ups and downs of life and encountered thematic iterations of what I would term my core psychological issues, it began to feel important to me to articulate my understanding of how to find a path through problems. This became a “life project.”
Many layers of “answers” emerged in different reflections and at different moments—many of which are narrated throughout this book—but several major insights stand out:
- 1 As life unfolds there is always opportunity to make conscious choices about the meaning we assign to our significant events—even if it doesn’t always seem that way in the moment. This insight has been the bedrock of my personal life and my professional work.
- 2 Who we are is ultimately the most important contribution we make to others.
- 3 When we peel away the layers of problems, eventually we get to a common core which is communicated very well by the cartoon in Figure 1.1.
What we are holding onto imprisons us, and what we are blind to in ourselves is the limiting boundary of our freedom. We need to see our predicament clearly in order to “free the spirit from its cell” (Brandschaft, 2010).
I have explored many interesting ideas in this long process of inquiry. The process of study and reflection has been deeply satisfying at a personal level, and my hope is that what I have written here will add insight, depth, and texture to readers’ understanding.
Because it has come into being as part of my own psychological, meditative, and existential reflections, Inquiring Deeply bears the stamp of my humanistic and philosophical nature. It has taken its shape from the process of inquiry which has informed it. Again and again, I have circled back to the observation made by Hokusai in the lines of poetry that open this book: there is no end to seeing.
In his book Relational Freedom, Donnel Stem (2015) makes a comment that is apropos and which I strongly resonate with: all theories of technique and therapeutic action are basically statements of values. I have an inquiring mind, and— (as my early memories attest)—I have “inquired deeply” as the natural expression of my being throughout my lifetime; expanding awareness has been one of the major organizing principles in my life. Self-reflective, contemplative inquiry seems built into the very structure of my character. “Inquiring deeply” seems a very apt name for this kind of “awareness practice.”
Inquiring Deeply is a book about how the process of deep inquiry and selfreflection can be incorporated into the framework of psychodynamic/relational psychotherapy. It is a guide to how to practice with psychological problems in the Buddhist sense of the word practice: how to apply Buddhist methods of practice (mindfulness, investigation, and inquiry) to deepen psychological experience. It is pragmatic rather than academic and expresses what I have learned from and with my patients as we have inquired deeply together in a psychodynamic and relational frame.
What I mean by “inquiring deeply” will be defined and elucidated in the next chapter, and its theoretical foundations will be described. The remainder of the book consists of a series of reflections which summarize some of what I have learned during more than three decades of daily practice of Vipassana meditation, many years of advanced training in psychoanalysis, and thousands of hours doing psychotherapy.
Inquiring Deeply is intended to illuminate the intersection at which Buddhism and psychotherapy meet. It is written for psychotherapists, Buddhist practitioners, or for anyone who is interested in understanding the similarities and dissimilarities between psychodynamic and Buddhist approaches to working with emotional pain. My hope is that it will further the reader’s own personal integration of the two paradigms of experience and allow the two practices to be blended into one cohesive whole.