Touching the earth: exploring a new, secular self-help mindfulness group approach

The SecularBuddhistNetwork.org just published an article I wrote on Touching the Earth:

A group of friends, colleagues and I are exploring a new, less hierarchical way for supporting each other in cultivating more genuine relationships with experience, other people and the world through mindfulness meditation and interpersonal sharing and exploration of meditation experience. Touching the Earth is a volunteer, self-help approach based on egalitarian, inclusive, and democratic values, one that seeks to avoid the ‘power-over’ issues that plague so many traditional teacher-centric Buddhist, Yogic and other spiritual groups worldwide, such as sexual abuse and boundary violations by meditation teachers...

Learning from Nightmares

A new study suggests nightmares have more of a purpose than just scaring you.

I have a theory about nightmares. There is a little old lady in charge of nightmares. She has seen everything; she is trying to get good news to you; she has a wicked sense of humour; and she doesn’t mind scaring the shit out of you. 

My sense is nightmares can represent everyday modes that cause us suffering and are ripe for transformation. A nightmare picks us up and shakes us and says, it’s as if you were living your life like you are being chased by a scary monster or had just murdered someone and the police are about to arrest you, and, the goods new is, you don’t have to live this way. I have found reflecting on and deepening our experiencing of nightmares can be life-transforming. But, of course, deepening experiencing is itself life-transforming.

Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Therapy’s Secular Buddhist Roots

The Secular Buddhist Network, a new global hub for secular Buddhism in all its various manifestations, invited me to write a piece on EFMT’s secular Buddhist roots, particularly its relationship with Stephen Batchelor’s reinterpretation of the Four Noble Truths as four interrelated tasks we can weave into our practice and daily lives.

Therapists Need Therapy Too

Marian Platta writes in her (2018) article “Therapists Need Therapy Too” in Vice: “Acknowledging and accepting what haunts me has helped me become more empathetic towards my patients’ emotional suffering.” Many of us including myself were not aware the extent to which we were drawn to be a psychotherapist because of our own inner pain and unaddressed need for healing. I remember early in my career when the penny dropped for me, triggered by a client’s childhood trauma, and I realized to my surprise, oh, I have to go sit in a waiting room like the one outside my office and see someone like me. This led to many years of psychotherapy with someone much more experienced in trauma therapy than I was at that point in my career, a process that was deeply healing and which deepened my capacity to provide psychotherapy.

What strikes me is, as healing as psychotherapy can be, it can also be an introduction into a way of life where we continue to gradually cultivate making deeper sense of our feelings and motivations and engaging in life in a more fulfilling way, a humbling, lifelong and daily cultivation of a more genuine relationship with ourself, others and the world. I find cultivating meditation in a community of practice invaluable in this process, but we need to take care that our roles as mindfulness-based clinicians, teachers or trainers do not leave us isolated by over-idealization and lack of proper support.

Touching the Earth

Touching the earth

I love this description from Susan Murphy, an Australian Zen teacher, of how she integrates Australian Aboriginal ways into her Buddhist practice, in “Indigenous Dharma: Native American and Buddhist Voices,” an article she co-authored in Inquiring Mind:

“When you know the place where you are, practice begins,” says Dogen. One could say that every stage of Buddhist practice, including realization itself, forms and deepens a covenant with the Earth. We bear witness to the Earth by learning to really be here, and when reality breaks through and shakes us to the core, it is the Earth reciprocating that intimate gesture of custodianship. It is one elemental act of kindness being met by another. The testimonies [in this article] from Native American and Buddhist teachers bring to light some of the affinities of Buddhist practice with the old, native Earth-based traditions and their protocols for creating and tending good relations with the Earth, the source of life.” (Travis, Duran, Wahpepah, Fox Davis, Allione, & Murphy, 2005)

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There are Many Different Forms of Buddhism and Psychotherapy

This (Spring 2018) article, which Tricycle magazine is resharing through its multimedia platforms, by C.W. Huntington, Jr., a translator of Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhism, raises interesting questions, but is hampered by the way the author treats Buddhism and psychotherapy as singular entities, making sweeping over-generalizations about both. The categories of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism have as many or more differences within them as they do between them. (By the way, most of these various approaches claim to be the original teachings of the Buddha, but academics agree such claims are fideist (based on faith or revelation) rather than on historical evidence.)

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Empathy, Compassion and Genuine Relationships

In exploring integrating self-compassion more deeply into mindfulness-based interventions, I have learned that compassion is one of a number of overlapping and deeply inter-related factors, including empathy, congruence (transparency), positive regard and warmth, and responsiveness, key in developing genuine relationships with oneself, others and the world. In this blog, I reflect on the relationship between empathy and compassion in developing genuine therapeutic relationships. 

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Emotions Are Adaptive

Wellington, New Zealand

I gave a talk yesterday at 4 a.m. on emotion-focused mindfulness therapy to One Mindful Breath, a secular Buddhist group in Wellington, New Zealand, at the invitation of Ramsey Margolis. It was 8 p.m. their time. I was labouring under the misconception that they were in Auckland which Ramsey freed me at the end of the session.

Ramsey had asked me to make the talk accessible by keeping it as free as possible of psychotherapeutic and Buddhist jargon. I focused on how emotions are adaptive and how to combine nonjudgmental awareness with responding differentially to emotions depending on whether they are helpful or unhelpful.

On Being Somebody and Being Nobody

Osgood Hall, Toronto





“You have to be somebody before you can be nobody,” Jack Engler wrote back in the 1970s. In his influential (2003) paper, “Being Somebody and Being Nobody,” he explained he had coined the phrase to emphasize how engaging in mindfulness meditation requires certain ego strengths and capacities:

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Collaborative Emotional Processes Supported by Brief Psychoeducation


There is nothing like a safe, empathic, therapeutic relationship to help people learn to become aware of, express and make sense of feelings. This is foreign terrain for lots of us and it makes sense that people need help and support in learning how to do this. A study indicated collaborative emotional processing with a therapist is associated with effective therapy outcomes in both interpersonal therapy (IPT) and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), while the other form of therapist engagement, characterized as “educative/directive,” was not (Coombs, Coleman, & Jones, 2002). Collaborative emotional processes were more often present in IPT than CBT.

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