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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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Introduction to "Integrating the Various Aspects of One's Life"

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, October 2012

Session Two: Questions and Exercises

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)


This evening I’d like to continue our discussion of an exercise to integrate the various aspects of our lives. Last night we discussed a little bit of the theoretical basis for this program, and we saw that one way of presenting that theoretical basis is in terms of the basis for labeling me.

Throughout our lives we have thought of ourselves in terms of me, my life – “Now I’m doing this,” “Now I’m experiencing that.” And everybody would agree that we have lived our entire lives. It isn’t that we’ve just lived the last year; we’ve lived the entire span of our lives. We have experienced it, haven’t we? Therefore we have experienced a great deal over our lifetime. And we are not some sort of rigid, solid blob that can’t be affected by anything. We have been affected by everything that we’ve experienced over our lifetime. Therefore if we want to have a realistic view of ourselves, we would have to think of that entire span of our lifetime’s experience with all the influences that have affected us and all the various people and societies and so many different things. All of that would be a basis in terms of thinking of ourselves, of me. If we only consider ourselves in terms of a small portion of our lives, then that’s very unreal, isn’t it? I mean, that’s not accurate. And if different periods of our life are not somehow put together, then it’s almost – if I could use the word in a very loose sense – a bit schizophrenic. So the idea here is to try to integrate all the various aspects of our life that we have experienced into a holistic view.

That was a little bit of what we discussed yesterday in terms of the theoretical basis. We also saw that we have had negative influences; we’ve had positive influences. And although it’s important not to deny the negative influences, there’s no great benefit from dwelling on them and complaining about them, although it is very important to acknowledge them. What will be far more beneficial is to emphasize the positive things that we have received, the positive influences in our life. Now, all of that can be presented without mentioning the word Buddhism at all, and this falls in that category that I was explaining yesterday of Buddhist science and Buddhist philosophy. In fact, if we are presenting this type of training to others, it might actually turn them off if we said anything about Buddhism, so it’s really not necessary at all.

Gaining Inspiration from Others

There’s another aspect of the theoretical basis of this, which is that everybody needs some sort of inspiration. We have various good qualities – everybody has some good qualities – which may be natural talents that we have, they may have been reinforced or taught to us by others, and we need inspiration to encourage us and uplift us to develop these good qualities further. And so what we do in this type of training is to think of the various aspects and influences over our lifetime and put the emphasis, as I was explaining before, on the positive qualities from others, from our environment, our society, our culture, etc.

Let’s use the example of our mothers. There are undoubtedly certain good qualities of our mother that we follow ourselves. Well, from one point of view, then, we need to discover those and acknowledge them. But there may be other good qualities of her that it’s not so obvious that this has had such an effect on us. But whether it actually has directly affected us or not, it can also be very inspiring. For instance, our parents, if we are an appropriate age, might have lived through very difficult times, whether we’re talking about the Great War – the Second World War – or the heavy periods of the history that has followed in this country after that. We personally might not have experienced those difficulties; nevertheless it’s very inspiring how they dealt with it. That’s something that can inspire us as well to be able to deal with difficult situations the way that they did.

So when we work with these various categories of influences on us, we think not only of the positive qualities that we have gained from them, but even those that maybe were not so directly transmitted. In a way, then, this is something that helps us to build self-confidence. It helps us to build a positive attitude toward ourselves. If we have very low self-esteem, then to remember all the positive things that we have received from others starts to make you think “Maybe I’m not so bad. If I were really bad, why would I have received all these positive things?”

If we feel that we do have positive qualities and we are inspired for having these positive qualities grow more and more, then also we can feel that we have something to offer to others in terms of sharing these positive qualities. That also builds self-confidence because it is mixed together with compassion actually, which is to help others overcome their shortcomings and their difficulties on the basis of the feeling of doing this voluntarily because “I do have good qualities, and it’s something that I can share with others.” So if we have something that we are able to offer to others and to share with others, then “I can’t be so terrible.”

So this is a little bit more about the theoretical basis. And again you can see that it doesn’t require mentioning the word Buddhism at all. If we do come from a Buddhist background and we’re wondering where this last little piece – not so little – where this last piece comes from, it comes from the way in which we relate to the spiritual teacher.

The way we relate with a spiritual teacher in terms of our attitude is to discover and emphasize the good qualities that the teacher actually has and to regard them with a sense of confidence that it actually is true; it’s not that we’re making it up or projecting it. Then on the basis of that, you have great respect for the teacher. Then if we think of the kindness of the teacher in terms of helping us, teaching us, then you develop a strong sense of appreciation and gratitude. And we try to develop the good qualities that the teacher has ourselves through the inspiration of the teacher’s example.

So here we’re just transposing that to everybody that we have interacted with. We try to see what are their good qualities and to feel confident about that – we’re not projecting them – and on the basis of that, we respect them. And we appreciate the positive things that they have taught us, that they have shared with us, and that they have given us with a great sense of gratitude. we imagine that we gain inspiration from them, as I explained. We can do that in a graphic form of yellow light coming from them if we have a picture of them in front of us or imagine them. That tends to make it a little bit more real, in a sense, or graphic, if you visualize. Then we try to imagine sharing it with others, these qualities.

Okay. So before we start and try one of these exercises, perhaps you still have some questions.

Questions and Answers

Participant: Referring back to what we also discussed yesterday, you mentioned that Buddhist science and Buddhist philosophy can be beneficially studied even out of the context of Buddhist practice. For example, Buddhist logic can be beneficial in legal matters or for the judicial branch of people who deal with legal things.

We can refer to the traditional logic that we are using [i.e. Western logic] with the following example. For instance, somebody finds a dead body and calls the police, asking them to come and fetch the body. The police ask, “Why are you calling us? Why not call the ambulance, for example?” And the person replies, “Well, there is a knife sticking out of the person’s back.” So the police say, “Yeah, it’s logical.” So they come and they start the investigation and they try to find the potential suspects. So they find a suspect and, for example, start to interrogate him or her and say, “Well, you’re probably the killer.” And the person replies, “No. I have an alibi. You can call those people who I was with at that time and they will confirm that I am innocent,” and so forth. So the police say, “Yeah, it’s logical again.”

This would be an example of the regular logic that we employ in our daily matters. Could you give an example of Buddhist logic?

Alex: It’s difficult to immediately come up with a different example that I can use. The example that comes to my mind unfortunately is a little bit of a complex example that I was working on today in an article that I was writing. Since that is fresh in my mind and that’s a clear use of Buddhist logic, then I would do that. I mean, obviously the Buddhist-logic answer: The guy’s dead, so why call the ambulance? There’s no point in taking him to the hospital if that’s what an ambulance is usually for. So, I mean, that’s just common sense.

But in any case, I have been writing an article about a very difficult point in the Kalachakra teachings, and it has to do with the mental holograms that arise when we think of something or imagine something or remember something. Right? You have a mental image. So what makes up that mental image? I have been analyzing whether or not something known as the “winds of karma” (las-rlung) make up that mental picture (that mental hologram, I call it). The parameters here that I have been examining are forms that are not made of particles and forms that can only be known by mental consciousness. So Buddhist logic would say: find the logical pervasions between these two categories.

Participant: Pervasions as in what divides them?

Alex: No. The pervasions would be from set theory. It’s based on set theory. The four possibilities are that it’s one and not the other, the other and not the first one, both, or neither of these two categories. It’s basically set theory – set A and set B, the four possibilities.

Then you look and see are there any type of forms that are not made of particles and can’t… Well, I don’t want to go into that – it’ll be too complicated to even translate – but you get the idea. We’re looking at these four sets. Then the problem is that some of these sets are null sets (there’s nothing that falls in these categories). One of the categories was something made of particles that can only be known by the mind, and there didn’t seem to be anything that fits into that set, so there was no solution to this. So then you think “Well, if I change the parameters, is there a solution? Instead of saying a form made of gross particles, what about a form made of subtle particles or energy (like the electromagnetic energy of light)?” And then you see is there anything that fits into that category.

So this is the type of logical analysis that I’m referring to in order to analyze a problem. I’m sorry that I can’t think of a more simple example, but this is the one that actually I was using today. Very, very helpful as an analytical tool. It’s basically set theory and pervasions. Mind you, that’s only one aspect of Buddhist logic. There are many, many others in terms of syllogisms: You state a syllogism, and then you try to see is there any exception to it. If there’s an exception to it, then you can’t prove your syllogism. And to find if there are exceptions, then you use this set theory.

Sorry for that diversion. I like that sort of stuff.

Participant: What would you advise to psychologists working with people, working with clients, and trying to use your method? Yesterday you were telling us about the Buddhist science, the Buddhist psychology, which is basically how our “I” exists and how it functions, and you gave us sort of a philosophical interpretation of that. So if you’re working as an individual counselor with people coming to you, would you necessarily have to introduce them to the philosophical and scientific basis – the Buddhist basis, in this case – that you are working upon before working with them using the whole series of events and factors of influence that you mentioned yesterday? Or isn’t it necessary to introduce them to that basis? And if we’re talking about the whole basis, the whole span of experience that you mentioned yesterday, is it necessary to use that whole span and make our way through it in working with a client, or can we just focus on a particular problem that the client is trying to resolve?

Alex: As I said at the beginning of this lecture and emphasized, it’s not necessary at all to mention the word Buddhism when presenting this system. In fact, it might turn people off. Now, if you present the theory to the person in brief, not in great detail, before you start working, the advantage of that is that it helps the client to develop a little bit of confidence that you know what you’re doing and you have an actual program. Now, mind you, I don’t have personal experience. I’m not a therapist. But if you just have the client come in and you say “Well, start talking about your life,” after a while they feel it’s so unstructured that it’s not going anywhere (you know, what’s the point of this?). So if there’s a clear idea of what is your strategy that you’re going to use, I think it gives the client a little bit more sense of security.

And also in terms of dealing with a specific problem, then that is a different application. Basically what we’re trying to do here is to deconstruct a solid view that you have of your life. So one aspect I mentioned yesterday was just getting stuck with one event of your life, identifying with that and not thinking of the larger context of your whole life, as in: your relationship with someone broke up, and you think that you’re never ever going to find another partner in your life. Whereas if you think of an entire life span, chances are you will find somebody else, and you probably had other girlfriends or boyfriends earlier in your life. So you’re taking things out of context. So it’s important to see things in the larger context. But for dealing with a specific problem, then again you can use this method to try to see the larger context of the problem:

A relationship breaks up, and you might think “Well, it’s just my fault. I’m the bad one. I’m a loser. Poor me.” But you have to see that everything that happens is influenced by a huge number of other factors. So there are the factors of everything else that’s going on in that other person’s life, their whole psychological makeup, and other things that have been going on in my lifetime that also have affected the relationship – my work, my family, etc., economics. So if you see the larger context, then you don’t just isolate “It was my fault and I’m the sole cause because I’m a bad person and no good. I don’t deserve to be loved” – that that was the reason why it broke up.

So here’s a good – now I can get back to your question – a more practical usage of Buddhist logical analysis. What are the pervasions between the two sets of my friend doesn’t call me and my friend doesn’t love me?

  • It could be that my friend calls me and he or she loves me.
  • Or my friend calls me and he or she doesn’t love me.
  • Or it could be that my friend doesn’t call me and doesn’t love me.
  • Or my friend doesn’t call me but still does love me.

So if my friend didn’t call me, there is the possibility that my friend still loves me. So I examine why wouldn’t my friend call me. It could be for other reasons besides my friend doesn’t love me. It could be they’re busy. It could be their phone doesn’t work. It could be the battery isn’t charged on their cell phone. It could be a lot of reasons. So it is illogical to conclude that [my friend doesn’t love me]. Just because my friend doesn’t call me, that doesn’t prove that my friend doesn’t love me. That is an invalid line of reasoning. That’s Buddhist logic.

Participant: A question regarding the method itself. Yesterday you explained that we’re working our way through each of the factors that influenced us, and then we start combining them in pairs. Is there a logic that allows us to combine those factors in pairs, or is it always a spontaneous process?

Alex: Well, I don’t know if we use the word logic here, but there is a model for that. There are many models for it that come to mind. You want it in a Buddhist context? I can give you the Buddhist model. If we think of the lam-rim, the graded stages of how you develop yourself toward enlightenment: There’s step one. And then when you go to step two, you don’t forget step one; you combine step one and step two. And then you add step three onto step one and step two. It’s cumulative. It’s like building a many-storied building. When you get to the second floor, you don’t destroy the first floor. You have to keep the first floor.

Another model, which is a little bit more graphic perhaps, is a mandala. In a mandala in which there are many figures, we are the whole thing. We’re all of them. It’s not that we are only the central figure; we’re all of it. On the model that we are not just our digestive system; the body is also the circulatory system and the nervous system, and you’re all of them.

So we start to combine the positive influence that we’ve received from these categories:

  • Our family that we grew up with as a child.
  • Our native country, culture, and religion that we were born into (we might have changed; that’s another category).
  • Major fields of study that we’ve learned and sports that we’ve played as we grew up.
  • And all the teachers that we’ve had.
  • Then the partners that we’ve had and children you might have had.
  • Then all the close friends that we’ve had over our life.
  • And then the significant phases of our life – the different places we’ve lived, the jobs that we’ve held.
  • And you might want to add also what we can infer from previous lives. Now, you don’t even have to think in terms of previous lives; you can just think in terms of your natural talents.

So these are eight categories. You could, I’m sure, find more. So you could imagine this like a mandala: You represent each of these categories with a mental picture of one person or something that represents that category – or if that’s difficult to imagine, have them in front of you – and imagine that this positive influence, this yellow light, comes from all of them, and in fact you are all of that. So then these are all the influences. And then all the positive qualities that I’ve learned from them that’s represented by this mandala, that’s me: “This is what I want to further, what I have to offer to the world.”

So that’s one way of working with it if you can do that. It’s not the simplest thing in the world, but I think that if you can do it, it’s very, very uplifting. But you start slowly, and with any client you have to have it custom-made to that person’s situation.

One last question. Then we must have time to try the exercise.

Participant: A terminological question. We were talking about the positive and negative influence that was inflicted upon us. In dealing with a negative influence, we have to acknowledge that but not emphasize it, not focus upon it. So from a terminological point of view, what’s the difference between a healthy acknowledgement of something, a healthy awareness of something, and paying an undue emphasis to it or focusing upon it?

Alex: The difference is whether we exaggerate it or not. You see, when we talk about anger or attachment:

  • With anger at someone or something, you focus on the negative aspects, and you exaggerate them, and you might even add more negative things that were not there, and you tend to ignore the positive aspects. “You said that to me” and “You did that” – and that’s the only thing that you focus on. And then you make that into something really, really big. Then you identify that with the person: “That’s all that they are, this horrible person that said these nasty things to me.” then thinking in terms of this big solid me, “I have to defend myself from that,” and so you reject it, so either anger or you push it away or some sort of negative response.
  • The same thing with attachment or longing desire, just the opposite. You exaggerate the positive qualities, ignore the negative ones, add even more positive qualities, and then “I’ve got to get it.” And if I have it, I don’t want to let go. And even if I have it, I want more – more of your time.

The problem here is exaggeration, so you try to be objective: “These are the shortcomings of the person. These are the strong points of the person (or of the country or of whatever). Everything has shortcomings and weak points and strong points. That’s normal.”

Now, of course you could do a whole analysis of why my parents have the shortcomings they have because of their parents and all of that. Sure, you can go into that. But the point is to not identify them with just their negative qualities. Acknowledge them without exaggerating them. And if you have some understanding of why they are like that, fine. If not, that’s not the emphasis of this type of exercise (you can do that in a different type of therapy). And then just leave it and now look at the positive qualities. Because if I complain about the negative side, what good is that going to do? It’s certainly not going to make me happy. And then objectively the positive qualities, not exaggerating them, and then appreciating them and trying to get more inspiration from it. You don’t get inspiration from negative qualities. You get depression from negative qualities.

But I don’t think it’s helpful to introduce this whole idea of forgiveness, that I will forgive my parents for the mistakes that they made. That’s quite arrogant actually, that I am in such a high wonderful position that I will look down upon them and forgive them. Understanding and letting go is quite different from forgiveness.

Exercise: Thinking about the Influence of Our Mother

Let’s try one of these exercises. A good place to start is with our mothers. If you prefer, you can start with your father, but it really doesn’t matter because eventually you have to do both. But since we don’t have so much time to try this over and over again – well, we’ll see how it goes. Let’s just use one example from the people who raised us, the family that we grew up in, all right, whoever was there.

We start by quieting down. That’s very important at the beginning, to let go of whatever thoughts or feelings, or so on, that you might begin with, come into a session with – to quiet down. And the usual way to do that is to just focus on the breath: breathing perfectly normally through the nose – assuming that your nose is not stuffed – not too fast, not too slow; and if you have any recurring thoughts or strong emotions (it’s more difficult with emotions), just try to let go. Because the breath is quite even and fairly calm, it helps to quiet us down. It’s regular. Also it helps to ground us; it’s physical, so that helps to get us out of being caught up in our thoughts or feelings. And as I explained yesterday, if it’s difficult to let go, you can use the help of your hand being in a fist and then opening up and letting go.

I notice that most people have their eyes closed. Although you might find it easier to quiet down with your eyes closed, that’s really not to be recommended. There are many reasons for that, but the main one is that we need to be able to calm down and quiet down in everyday life situations as well. If you have to close your eyes in order to do that, that can be a big hindrance – like if you’re driving a car and need to calm down, for instance. So it’s best to train to be able to do these various things with your eyes open – they don’t have to be staring – in a way that would allow you to be able to train to do this in everyday life. Usually we just look down.

Then we think that “I’m a human being, like everybody else. I want to be happy. I don’t want to be unhappy. I have feelings, like everybody else. And if I think very negatively about myself, it makes me feel bad, and I don’t want to be unhappy, so it would be good to think of ways that can help me to be a happier person.”

Then we bring to mind a mental picture of our mother. It doesn’t have to be a terribly precise picture if we’re not very good at visualizing or remembering – this is not an exercise in visualization – just something to represent her. Actually it’s very interesting to analyze what image we actually do use to represent our mother. If necessary we can recall her shortcomings or negative qualities, see that they’ve arisen from causes and circumstances, and decide that there’s no benefit that comes from dwelling on her faults. And without denying them, without exaggerating them, just put aside any further consideration of them. Without denying them, without exaggerating them, just sort of “Okay, that’s the way that she is. Everybody has shortcomings. Nothing special. And shortcomings not just in terms of how she dealt with me but in general.”

Okay. Just to give you an example. In thinking of my mother: My mother didn’t have very much education. She had to go to work very early, and so she couldn’t help me with my school work. That’s a shortcoming, but that wasn’t her fault: she grew up during the economic depression, the family was poor, and she had to go out to work. So put that aside. I can understand it. It was a fault but no big deal. And that was the reality. No big deal.

Then we think of our mother’s good qualities, what we gained from her – or what we could have gained (maybe we were too young and had our own problems and we couldn’t really appreciate these good qualities of our mother) – and focus on these facts with firm conviction. And then try to recognize the benefits that you derived from her, even very simple ones like she prepared our food for us when we were a child. (You see, these are things you can help a client to remember if a client can’t think of any good qualities of their mother.) What good qualities did I learn from her, from her example? And focus on these facts with deep appreciation and respect.

And then imagine that yellow light comes from this image of our mother and fills us with yellow light and we feel inspired to develop these qualities further. Feeling uplifted, then we imagine that yellow light shines from us and inspires others to develop these good qualities as well. Then we let our energy settle down, focus again on the breath, and then end with the thought that “May this go deeper and deeper, get stronger and stronger, this positive feeling, so that it can be of best benefit to myself and to everyone that I encounter.”

Okay, so that’s the exercise.

Questions and Answers

Questions? Comments?

Participant: A very simple question. When I’m practicing and, for example, I imagine my father or my mother and I think that I’ve inherited the best qualities that they had, in a few seconds I start to feel that. So what’s the point of going on for ten minutes or more? Maybe the duration of the practice can be determined on an individual basis because everyone is different in terms of how they feel.

Alex: Of course it can be at a different rate for each person. If you’re doing it by yourself, of course you go at your own pace. The first time that you do it, however, for any particular individual within our history, you probably will take longer than the next time that you review that. So this is a natural process that it will get quicker and quicker.

The danger of course in doing it too quickly, especially in the beginning, is that you miss some of the good points – you just choose a few outstanding ones – and you really don’t analyze deeply enough. After all, most of us had quite a lot of exposure to our parents as we grew up, so there are many things that, if you take the time to think about it and remember, you can appreciate. That’s especially important if we had a difficult relationship with one of our parents or somebody in our life. Then often we don’t really think at all of their good qualities. And if we can find one, then all right, but if you delve more and more deeply, you may find more.

Of course the ultimate aim, as in visualizing a mandala, is that you don’t have to go through this whole analytical process and just instantly you get this very positive integrated feeling and that becomes unlabored, sort of part of your way of dealing with life. But that takes quite a lot of training.

Anyone else?

Participant: So the basic idea is that after doing this practice, if it’s done correctly, a person should have a positive feeling even if in the beginning of the practice they were experiencing anger or were on the edge of crying, for example?

Alex: Yes. That was an easy one.

Participant: A question on the negative qualities. Yesterday I understood that I have inherited certain negative qualities from my parents, so I can acknowledge my responsibility for that. But is there something that we can do with those negative qualities apart from acknowledging them, accepting responsibility, and letting go?

Alex: Well, there is a whole process of purification – to use the Buddhist term – that we can apply. You see, the problem here is acting out these negative qualities that we might have (for instance, having a short temper):

  • The first step of course is acknowledging it.
  • But then we feel regret, which is not the same as guilt. Guilt is “How bad it is” and “How bad I am for doing it,” and then you never let go. That’s guilt. Regret is simply that “I wish I didn’t have this. I would prefer not to have this.”
  • Then we make the decision that “I’m going to try not to repeat acting this out.”
  • Then we reaffirm the positive direction that we want to go in in our life. “I want to overcome shortcomings. I want to develop more and more positive qualities.” We don’t have to do this in a Buddhist context of it being in order to gain liberation and enlightenment, just in general.
  • And then to counteract the negative impulses that we might have, we train with the rest of the exercise, which is to emphasize the positive ones to counterbalance them. The stronger and more familiarity and deeper habit that we build up of the positive qualities, those will be the things that come to our mind first, rather than the negative ones, when we’re in a situation.

So this purification process, although it derives from a Buddhist context, absolutely doesn’t need the Buddhist context in order to be an effective method.

Participant: Can we apply this method in working with traumatic experiences that we’ve had (for example, if someone was of a real danger to us, was our mortal enemy)? Or is this method not suited for such extreme, radical situations?

Alex: I think for extreme situations in which we have been physically or sexually abused, this is not an appropriate method. We need to apply other therapeutic methods for dealing with more extreme situations.

In general, the methods that are suggested from Buddhism are not really suited for people who are seriously emotionally disturbed. You need to be fairly stable in order to apply the various methods, either within a Buddhist context or outside of the Buddhist context. Because here in this method, for example, you’re bringing up old memories; and if you’re very unstable, bringing up these old memories can really be very devastating. So we have to be careful in terms of not thinking that “Oh, Buddhist methods can be used for anybody in any situation.” Slowly. Gradually. There are many, many methods.

Participant: Are there any methods or techniques that can be used in working with people in conflict situations (for example, where there is a strong sense of hatred from one side to the other, like it is nowadays in Syria, or when one nation has a strong sense of hate toward another nation)? Are there methods like this in Buddhism?

Alex: Well, you’re talking about a whole society. And for a whole society, this is obviously quite difficult. The Buddhist methods have to be applied individually, so you work with individuals. The only way that perhaps you can work on a larger scale is in the education system and try to present a more balanced, objective view of history, societies, and so on.

And as His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasizes very, very much, it would be very helpful to introduce some sort of ethics into basic education for children. And this is secular ethics, which is respectful of all religions but not based on any religion. It’s ethics based purely on biology – that everybody responds positively to affection. This is the basic factor that you have biologically between mother and the newborn baby. It’s on that basis that you recognize that everyone is a human being, everybody wants to be happy, everybody likes to be treated nicely – we’re all equal.

So you learn to differentiate between the person and the behavior of the person. The behavior might be unacceptable, but that doesn’t mean that the person is unacceptable. The person is still a human being. If your child is naughty, then you disapprove of the behavior of the child; you don’t stop loving the child. That’s something that can be transposed toward everyone. Whether or not that can help on a larger scale, it’s hard to say, but it obviously would take a great deal of time.

Two last questions.

Participant: You mentioned that this method can be practiced individually or as a group. Does the group work imply that we have the same as we did here, where everybody is thinking individually, individually contemplating the same issue? Or can something else be done?

Alex: The advantage of a group is that it helps to give some discipline. People can share their experience if they feel that they are in a protected type of space in which what they say – the other people aren’t going to laugh at them or anything like that. So that has to be a basic ground rule. That ground rule, that protected space, can be established by the leader of the group, just like a therapist makes a protected space where the client feels that they can open up and trust the therapist. So it’s the same thing in terms of what are the advantages of individual therapy and group therapy. It’s the same parameters.

Participant: In working with a particular moment of our life that has affected us, that has had some influence upon us, is there a point at which we can work through that particular moment and then no longer return to it, sort of overcome it, get over it? Or would we necessarily have to go back to points like the effect our parents have had on us, the effect that our childhood has had upon us? Is there a limit to which we can work through a moment so as to no longer return to it again?

Alex: Well, if you’re speaking about a difficult episode in our lives, I suppose that one needs to reach the state of what’s called equanimity about it. Equanimity is defined as the state of mind that is neither repelled, attracted, or indifferent. So repelled – “I’m really angry about it and hurt, and I’m not going to let go” – that has an element of attachment because you don’t want to let go and so you keep dwelling on it. And yet we don’t want to go to the other extreme of denying it and ignoring it (“It’s too difficult to deal with, so I’ll pretend that it doesn’t exist”).

So if you can be completely open and completely relaxed about the whole thing – “This is what happened. This is part of my history, like any other part of my history. It might have been a difficult period, but everybody has difficult periods” – so you have this equanimity, this calmness about it, then you don’t have to work on it anymore. “It played a role in my life. I acknowledge that. And what’s very important is the negative feeling that I had for so long after that. That also played a very large role in my life, and that had a strong effect on how I interacted with others, how I felt about myself.” So that equanimity, I suppose also some people describe that as acceptance. You accept “This is what it was. These are the facts.”

One further point that came to my mind in terms of working in groups is working in families. If you limit the sphere that you’re going to examine in each person’s life within the family to just their interaction with each other and if each person could hear from the other members of the family the positive things that they have learned and gained from them, I think this could be very helpful. Especially if you have rebellious teenagers and the parents have the impression that “Oh, they disapprove of everything that I do, and they hate me, and they just want to get away. They’re ashamed of me,” and so on, it can be quite – if you can create the atmosphere that will allow this – it could be amazing if that teenager opens up and actually admits that there are some things about the parent that he or she likes and admires and has learned. The same thing with the parent in terms of what are the things that they admire in their children. It’s not just they’re always disapproving. So you try to give them the space in which they can analyze, contemplate, and try to think what are the positive qualities of each member of the family that they’ve benefited from, that they admire, that they feel positively about. Obviously that would be an adjunct to thinking of the difficulties within the family.

That brings us to the end of our time together. I want to thank you very much for this opportunity to share this with you. If you find it a useful type of practice, you’re most welcome to use it, please. And as His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says at the end of his speeches, his lectures: If you find it not very helpful, forget about it.

Thank you.