Barry Magid (USA)
In Barry Magid’s new Italian translation of his latest book, just published by Ubaldini Editore, Roma, he discusses that Zen Buddhism, like psychoanalysis, has endeavored to grapple with the problem of human suffering, and has evolved its own metapsychology, its own theory of the self, and its own ways of engaging and transforming human experience. Meditation can produce profound experiences of self-acceptance, and help develop capacities for empathy, compassion and affect regulation that may parallel or even go beyond what psychoanalysis has traditionally been able to offer.
Yet, the two traditions formulate the problem and offer their respective solutions from fundamentally different perspectives. In order to highlight that basic difference, we could begin by saying that we all face two challenges in accepting who we truly are. The first is to accept our vulnerabilities and all those parts of our self about which we have grown up feeling shameful, guilty or in denial. The second challenge is in grasping our intrinsic wholeness or perfection. While each has found ways of engaging with both perspectives, Western psychotherapy has traditionally been more focused on the first, Buddhist practice on the second. Western psychodynamic psychotherapy analyzes those aspects of the personality that are obstacles to happiness such as difficulties in attachment, lack of self-esteem, inhibition of one’s desires or sense of agency, unlinked or conflicting self states, a sense of badness, and failures in recognition. All of these have been formulated as obstacles to development or growth. Buddhism, on the other hand, has foregrounded the realization of perfection, accessing a self state of deep acceptance of life as it is, an acceptance not contingent on the vicissitudes of loss or gain in any ordinary sense.
In order for there to be a fruitful dialogue between these two very different perspectives, we will need to untangle some basic assumptions about how analysis and meditation each goes about their job, and how we can understand what is happening within each practice in the language of the other practice. For to truly integrate the two systems of thought, it is not enough to give a psychoanalytic account of what is going on in meditation practice. One must also be open to understanding from a Buddhist perspective what is happening in analysis. From each perspective, there is a temptation to say that we understand what is really going on in the other, to privilege one system of explanation as more fundamental, more foundational, more all encompassing than the other. It is helpful to be reminded that we are Other to the Other, that the object of our study and judgment is simultaneously studying and judging us.
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