On May 8, 2018, psychology professor Jeremy Safran, Ph.D. was brutally murdered at home by a stranger. About 48 hours later I found myself, among many others—psychoanalysts, psychologists, Buddhists, colleagues, students, and friends—overflowing the house where the nightmare took place, united in our shared compassion and love for Jeremy, and hoping to offer some support to his shocked family. Actually, we all were shocked. So many had been touched and encouraged by Jeremy, worked and laughed with him, or shared a delicious meal, a lively conversation, or worries about our children with this compassionate and extraordinarily intelligent man.
Jeremy was an important teacher, researcher, and writer in the field of clinical psychology. But I knew him best as a Buddhist psychoanalyst. As such he helped revive and legitimize the valuable intermingling of the wisdom of Buddhism and psychoanalysis. His groundbreaking book Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue (Wisdom 2007) created a formal conversation between mainstream relational psychoanalysis and those of us who were contemplating and writing about the important contributions our Buddhist practice brought to our work as psychotherapists.
In the introduction to this book, Jeremy recalls a conversation he had with his Tibetan teacher, Karma Thinley Rinpoche, with whom he was living while a youthful traveler to the east. He had, in fact, been invited to share his hut. One day Rinpoche asked if Western psychology could offer him any advice for the nervousness that he often experienced. How was it possible, Jeremy wondered, that this enlightened lama could be struggling with anxiety? What did it mean? But as these questions swirled in his head something other than an intellectual answer arose: “for a moment my mind stopped. I felt a sense of warmth . . . I felt young, soft, open, and uncertain about everything I knew.” Jeremy often recalled this simple but profound moment of awakening.
I first met Jeremy when my husband, Robert Langan, Ph.D. and I participated in a conference with Joseph Goldstein, the founder of the Insight Meditation Center, at the NYU Postdoctoral Program. Goldstein led us in a meditation, and my husband and I presented papers that spoke to our work trying to integrate Buddhism and psychoanalysis. This was the nineties, and we were out on a limb in the world of psychoanalysis. Unbeknownst to me, Jeremy—a fellow traveler in this exploration—was in the audience. Shortly thereafter, he asked for our papers as well as collected papers from other Buddhist psychoanalysts he knew. I, like so many who have worked with Jeremy, felt profoundly validated.
It took over 10 years to get Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue published. At the time, psychoanalysis was just opening to new and creative ideas. Jeremy’s determination and infectious interest brought the book to fruition and to a respectable place in the psychoanalytic world.
Jeremy would go on to write the introduction to countless future books on the subject as the interface between Buddhism and psychoanalysis blossomed into a meaningful field. We also collaborated with others from the NYU Postdoctoral Program, the New School, the William Alanson White Institute, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and PsyBC, an online professional development program for clinicians, to create the conference Enlightening Relationships: Psychoanalysis and Buddhism Meeting in Person, which Jeremy co-chaired with Polly Young-Eisendrath from the University of Vermont. Over 550 people tolerated standing-room-only accommodations. Many talks, articles and books followed.
As a gifted teacher, he taught and collaborated with hundreds of people. He was a professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research, where he served for many years as director of clinical training, supervising research on mindfulness and on clinical ruptures, which is when there is a sudden break in sense of safety between the patient and the therapist. He was also a faculty member at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and at The Stephen A. Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. He was co-founder and co-chair of The Sandor Ferenczi Center at the New School for Social Research. And he was past-president of The International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy.
I never heard a harsh or arrogant word from Jeremy. He was a warm, kind, gentle, and joyfully thoughtful man. He pursued good ideas with gusto, hard work, and dedication. He loved nothing more than a hearty intellectual discussion among friends in his living room or with his students. Openness and warmth characterized Jeremy as he sped through life, pursuing every opportunity to expand on something that had the potential to enhance our understanding of the human condition and to alleviate suffering. We have lost a great thinker, a tireless and gifted teacher, and a warm-hearted friend.
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