Monday, September 17, 2012

The Magic of Wakefulness

Life is a messy, chaotic mix of joy and sorrow—which for me pretty much sums up the entire terrain of psychotherapy. Some people think everyone knows life is full of ups and downs and should get over it. In truth, the human mind does not readily accept with grace, the inevitability of life’s joys and sorrows, and from time to time will employ ingenious mental gymnastics to avoid acknowledging it.

Human beings are adept at resisting any insinuation of our mortality, impotence, and imperfection. We grasp with certainty at an exquisitely architected neuro-illusion of human primacy, control, and pseudo-omniscience. We want life to be the way we conceive it should be; not the way it actually is. Buddhist Psychology labels this fundamental misperception of the way things are, delusion or ignorance. I like to think of it as, "Wizard of Oz syndrome". The façade of an all-powerful being that runs the show is comforting, sometimes even imperative…. and utterly false. The self is just like that little man who sheepishly comes out from behind the curtain and announces he is the wizard and there is no wizard. There is a self and it is not the all-knowing, all-directing, all-powerful self.

Ultimately, this unrelenting delusion that life must manifest exactly as we imagine is the great troublemaker for us all—including psychotherapists. The extent to which a clinician can recognize and tolerate the discomfort of this stark reality (in and out of the therapy room) determines their capacity to meet a client at the heart of any distress they struggle with. What a gift it is when a client has that first recognition that there truly is a difference between the certain catastrophe their all-powerful mind narrates, and the expansive openness of the uncertain reality that actually exists. That is the magic of wakefulness.

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