You write that traditional Western psychotherapy tends to hone in on what's gone wrong in an individual's past, and Eastern practices can help you get to the heart of "what's right".
I would say both Western psychology and Eastern paths would recognize that we get caught up in feeling like a separate self and an unworthy self. I call it "the trance of unworthiness" because it's like our whole reality shrinks and we get very self-centered in our idea of "I'm a deficient self, I need to be better." That takes our life energy.
I think the reason Buddhism and Western psychology are so compatible is that Western psychology helps to identify the stories and the patterns in our personal lives, but what Buddhist awareness training does is it actually allows the person to develop skills to stay in what's going on. It's learning to stay. In our culture especially, our reflex when it's uncomfortable is to leave and we get busy. The Chinese word for busy is "heart-killing." Isn't that amazing?
So what we do when we get anxious and insecure is we speed up. We get busy: we get addicted to email, we get addicted to being online, we get addicted to food and drugs, we get addicted to talking to other people--not just to communicate but just to keep busy. Buddhist practices offer a way of saying, Hey, come back over here, reconnect. The only way that you'll actually wake up and have some freedom is if you have the capacity and courage to stay with the vulnerability and the discomfort.
Meditation helps us to pay attention so that we can directly realize and trust the goodness that's there. We actually begin to recognize that who we are is awareness, who we are is love, and our sense of identity shifts in such a fundamental way that it actually challenges the small-self story.
What do you mean by "small-self"?
The perception that we are separate and deficient. One of the metaphors I always find helpful is that our being is like an ocean and we get identified with different waves, like different weather systems that go through, like we get identified with fear or clinging or certain thoughts and if we can recognize those waves but remember our oceanness, really remember who we are, remember the innate radiance of our mind, the tenderness, then we can be with the changing weather systems, the waves, but not get caught up in them, not lose sight of who we are.
One of the teachings I love the most from the Buddha is, "Our fear is great, but greater yet is the truth of our connectedness." So we can remember our belonging at any moment—even facing death—if we can remember the love that holds us. Then we can actually face living and dying and have something that's large enough to hold us.
One of the reasons I was so drawn to writing about radical acceptance is because we spend so many moments at war, and we do it in the ways we judge ourselves, we do it in the ways we blame others, we do it in the ways we feel it's our country against that country. There is so much division in this world. So what is really the path of healing? It can begin in this moment, by embracing the life that's here. Because if we can begin to bring a sense of peace and care to the life inside us, naturally the circles widen to include other people. It's the way of the heart—if we can be kind towards ourselves we'll be kind towards others.
This conference is about fear, something you've written a lot about.
The biggest fear we have is that somewhere, we are failing or are going to fail. You can almost say that our personalities are in a large part a way of compensating for fear. We want to show to the world what would be acceptable and loveable. In doing so, we in some way disconnect from the aliveness and authenticity of who we are.
So I really feel like our path should be one of slowing down enough to re-embrace, re-connect with what we've pushed away. One of the simplest ways we can do that is just to intend to say "yes" to what we experience in the moment. I teach that a lot. We can at any moment feel what's going on; just say "yes" to that. It's a practice of truthfulness, we're acknowledging what's real and saying, this is here and meaning that with some kindness and when we do that, when we accept what's in the moment, it actually taps us into the intelligence, the wisdom, the heart that allows us to act more wisely in the future.