Meditation as a therapeutic practice

I just finished reading Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart by Lara Bennett-Goleman (Harmony Books, New York, 2001). Bennett-Goleman is a psychotherapist who practices a fusion of Buddhism and cognitive therapy, more specifically, schema therapy.

Schema therapy says that there are ten basic mind sets that engender strategies to cope. These are burned into our minds from childhood, kind of an automatic pilot in response to stress, trouble or human relationships. They might have made sense when we were children, but they led to us repeating maladaptive behavior. Knee-jerk reactions to our encounters with family, friends, colleagues and strangers.

You can take an easy test to see which ones prevail in your personality. For instance, perfectionism or social exclusion.

Bennett-Goleman draws on case histories of her patients and on her own Buddhist learning experience. What interested me was the use of meditation as a tool applied to other purposes. It’s not just useful in and of itself, but as a means of achieving distance between the person and his problems. Rather than saying that meditation is good for you (like eat your spinach), she shows that it helps maintain a healthy balance of the mind and spirit, just as yoga does on the physical side.

I personally would have preferred to see the content shrunk down to 100-150 pages. A nice touch is a post-script after most chapters — exercises in mindfulness meditation. In my desire to finish the book, I will have to go back and do them.

I should add that my current meditation approach sahaj samadhi is not so task-oriented. Art of Living instructors emphasize it as an emotional hygiene, like brushing your teeth. It will “de-stress” you. The Buddhist school seems much more oriented to applied learning. Techniques seem to be more varied in the Buddhist school.

It all makes a lot of sense — at least it does now. I’ve had the book for more than a year and a half and never got around to reading past the first chapter. I picked it off the sale stacks at Borders for $6. The Goleman name caught my attention because her husband has worked closely with the Dalai Lama in a collaborative effort between Western scientists and Tibetan monks. He also pushes a concept called Emotional Intelligence. It rekindled my interest now because the meditation angle fits my own discovery of its value.