Hardly your conventional touchy-feely, quasi-spiritual amalgam, Rob Preece’s Feeling Wisdom (Shambhala Publications, January 2015, $15.95, 128 pp., paper), a crash course on emotional fluency, delivers a cogent argument for why the psychologization of Western Buddhism is not only inevitable but ultimately beneficial.
Preece, a transpersonal psychologist and decades-long Buddhist practitioner, rejects what he understands as the religion’s labeling of emotional life as a personal affliction or spiritual impediment—an attitude he attributes to the cultural mores surrounding Buddhism’s Asian traditions, especially the Tibetan Buddhism with which he’s most familiar. While he acknowledges that a “growing number” of Tibetan teachers, most notably His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “are really looking at . . . how we may need to bring Buddhist knowledge together with modern psychological understanding,” Preece nevertheless spends many of the book’s pages establishing the relevance of feeling to practice. Like a one-man chorus, he asserts and reasserts that our emotions are not obstacles but the very “raw material of awakening. And if we disregard them,” he warns, “we miss a vital resource.”
Feeling Wisdom owes much to Mark Epstein’s landmark work Thoughts Without a Thinker (1995), but reveals itself to be a mirror image. Whereas Epstein wrote from the perspective of the psychotherapist and invoked Buddhism as a supplement for the shortcomings of the Western psychoanalytic tradition, Preece speaks from the vantage of the experienced practitioner yet repeatedly calls upon Carl Jung for corrective insight. Preece’s primary objective is to arm Western Buddhists with concepts and practices that address emotions—not just their experiential qualities, but their potential underlying trauma, which can be resolved, he says, through a combination of meditative awareness and talk therapy.
Preece may be right that the need for his book derives from the emotional suppression native to Buddhism’s Asian context, but the work’s potential to misguide relates to a particularly Western peculiarity: the narcissism that too often co-opts internal inquiry as an endless reaffirmation of, rather than questioning of, the self.
At the heart of Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski’s Considering Hate(Beacon Press, January 2015, $26.95, 172 pp., cloth) lies an unsettling paradox: the more fervently we condemn violence, the worse it gets. When we demonize violent acts and their perpetrators, they argue, we thereby exonerate society from its contributing ills: wealth inequality, race and gender discrimination, and macho culture, to name a few. That’s why the writers, both longtime queer-justice activists, oppose hate crime legislation. To them, it represents a legal instantiation of America’s appetite for easily digestible narratives focused on person-to-person animus, or “hate frames” (as they call them). In order to reduce violence, oddly enough, we must first destigmatize it.
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