via Pilar Jennings, Ph.D. on the Huffington Post,

Once considered esoteric by most Westerners, Buddhism and psychoanalysis have come to infiltrate much of contemporary culture. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has become a universal symbol of peace and good will. Buddhist meditation centers abound in most urban centers, and increasingly the scientific community has given credence to the ameliorative impact of meditation on many psychological struggles, including depression and anxiety.

The same is true for psychoanalysis. What was once a stigmatized option for the mentally ill and affluent, therapy — at least in most urban settings — is today almost a rite of passage. It’s the rare New Yorker who has made it through the various travails of contemporary life — finishing one’s formal education, finding a partner, making a living — without seeking some form of psychoanalytic support. Add to these pervasive struggles the distressing issue of terrorism, the rise of childhood diseases including autism and leukemia and the onslaught of stimulation from advances in technology, and you have a population increasingly eager for help in finding psychological and spiritual wellness.

What has changed in recent years, and captured the attention of both Buddhist teachers and psychoanalysts, is the fascinating relationship between these divergent traditions. Today, there are growing numbers of people looking for therapists who respect their need for meditation and spiritual support. So too, there are scores of long-term (even second generation) meditators who have come to realize that spiritual practice does not always eliminate the psychological problems they hoped it would. In this way, these two radically different approaches to wellness have begun to intersect with new levels of respect and curiosity.

As a caveat to this growing conversation, scholars of both traditions have been quick to point out that the differences between these two healing realms are extensive. Buddhism arose some 2,500 years ago in India. Its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was a young man of great wealth who grew up in cloistered privilege. It was through his introduction, at the age of 29, to the suffering world of sickness, aging and death that he was inspired to explore how we might relate to our basic vulnerability and still remain happy. In his 84,000 ensuing teachings, he emphasized that despite the pain we would invariably endure, happiness was our most basic birthright.

Psychoanalysis, in contrast, first developed in Europe just over 100 years ago. Sigmund Freud, its founder and steadfast protector, lead a radically different life from the young Siddhartha. At an early age, Freud knew the pain of loneliness and struggle and went on to suffer the traumas of anti-semitism, two world wars and the loss of a child. It is not surprising that his approach to healing would posit a basic conflict inherent to the human condition. Freud believed that much like the warring world that raged around him, within our own psyches was another kind of battlefield of raging instincts that constantly seek expression. His was a more pessimistic view: that the best we can do is find ways to sublimate our sexual and aggressive urges and settle for “common unhappiness.” Yet, he brought to light the impact of the unconscious, and the ways in which we can live with less suffering and more integrity if we accept the truth of what is in our unconscious.  

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Read the complete article here. Read Mark Epstein’s “Buddha and Dr. Freud” from the Tricycle Wisdom Collection here.

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