Shorter and narrower in focus than The Art of Flourishing, and written more for his professional peers, perhaps, than prospective patients, Jeffrey Rubin’s Meditative Psychotherapy: The Marriage of East and West, available as an e-book from Amazon, is nevertheless required reading for anyone pursuing transformation and growth, whether spiritual, emotional, or both.
Though Buddhism and psychoanalysis foster mindfulness and personal transformation, the differences between them are obvious. Buddhism distrusts ideas and self-consciousness and offers a set of spiritual practices that encourage letting go. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, with its ceaseless self-probing, its endless search for causes and effects, is both ego-driven and materialistic. But Rubin’s great insight is that they are profoundly complementary—that “therapy and meditation not only compensate for the other’s blind spots, but also, when practiced together, can provide a richer understanding than either discipline practiced alone.”
Freud counseled his students to cultivate a state of “evenly suspended attention” when listening to their patients; their minds, he said, should be “evenly hovering” over the patients’ words (and, even more tellingly, over what the patient doesn’t say). Unfortunately, Rubin says, Freud didn’t tell his students how to cultivate this state of mind. But Buddhist meditation—especially the state of mind called mushin, or no-mindedness, or what D. T. Suzuki described as “awareness-without-self-consciousness”—creates “exactly the extraordinary, yet accessible, state of mind Freud was depicting,” fostering “increased attentiveness and equanimity, self-awareness, and tolerance of emotions.” Buddhism doesn’t, however, provide “the capacity to decode or translate what we simultaneously hear on various channels or levels.” Although meditation can sometimes illuminate meaning, it can also obfuscate it, by providing the meditator with the means to detach from and ignore old hurts, instead of the strength, will, and wisdom to identify and disarm them. And “when we ignore the meaning of our feelings or actions,” Rubin writes, “we are condemned to repeat them.”
Thus far, Buddhist meditation and psychoanalysis are only dating, Rubin says; they are checking each other out from across a distance, discovering their differences and similarities: the marriage that this book’s subtitle speaks of is still a long way away.
Thus far, Buddhist meditation and psychoanalysis are only dating, Rubin says; they are checking each other out from across a distance, discovering their differences and similarities: the marriage that this book’s subtitle speaks of is still a long way away. Though psychoanalysis is open to meditation as a “tool,” it grants it insufficient respect on its own terms; meditators, in their turn, are too quick to dismiss the idea that the techniques and insights of psychoanalysis can have any spiritual value.
Rubin has wed the two in his own psychotherapeutic practice, and his writings richly illustrate how this unlikely couple brings out the best in each other—and how together, they can become a crucible for self-transformation.