Tapio Malinen, tapio.malinentathata.fi, Sundintie 26, FI 06650 Hamari, Finland


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Buddha, Wittgenstein and Postmodern Therapies

Tapio Malinen

Tapio Malinen. M.A, Psychologist, Private Practitioner, Teacher in Psychotherapy,
Helsinki Psychotherapy Institute, Finland. Email: tapio.malinen@tathata.fi



In this article the author is exploring the parallels between postmodern psychotherapies, the later philosophy of Wittgenstein and Buddhist psychology. Key elements of the modern, the postmodern and the buddhist theory of knowlegde are highlightened. The authors conclude by demonstrating how the narrative practice and mindfulness can be integrated in a way that thickens the subordinary story with the embodiment of the present moment.


Buddha, Wittgenstein and Postmodern Therapies

The world that we know and of which we create our conceptual map is not necessarily the world we actually live in. As I embark on writing on the topic of what Buddhist psychology, the later philosophy of Wittgenstein and postmodern psychotherapies have in common, I am painfully aware of something: my words in this article are inevitably at least two steps away from reality. Language does not reach the being itself, which escapes all concepts and juxtapositions. If my mental images are a model of reality and my language is a model of my mental images, a direct experience of, for instance, meditation – the central practice of Buddhist psychology – cannot be obtained simply by reading about it. If you want to learn to swim, you must eventually go into the water!

Our intellectual map is much easier to handle than reality itself, and therefore we have a tendency to confuse these two and see our concepts as reality. According to the Austria-born philosopher Ludvig Wittgenstein, ”Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (Wittgenstein, 1968, § 109). Aware of the limited nature of conceptual knowledge and its belonging to the so-called relative or conventional reality, I will attempt to describe some connections of Buddhist psychology and the so-called postmodern therapies in this article. I hope this will offer therapists an even wider view of their own work and life and perhaps even a hint of a novel relationship with reality.

Wittgenstein will act as the reflector of my story by enriching what I have to say with notes from Philosophical Investigations and Tractatus. He can be considered the most psychological of all philosophers, much in the same way that Buddha was the biggest philosopher of all religion-founders (Strong, 2005). Wittgenstein only published one book in his lifetime, starting his philosopher's career with a mathematical-logical approach and ending up with the idea that philosophy should perhaps, after all, be practiced as a poetic act. While reading Wittgenstein, Steve de Shazer, the father of the solution-focused approach, realized that the structure of uncertainties is similar to therapeutic uncertainties: it is a question of liberating oneself of the philosophical confusion, which arises when we separate language from ”the stream of life” (de Shazer & Miller, 2000).

“Philosophy cannot be transformed into science, because it has nothing to find out. Its puzzles are the consequence of a misuse, a misunderestanding, of grammar, and require, not solution, but dissolution. And the method of dissolving these problems consist not in constructing new theories, but in assembling reminders of things we already know. In philosophy we are not, like the scientists, building a house. Nor ere we even laying the foundations of the house. We are merely ´tidying up a room´”(Monk, 1990, p.298-299).

It is not Wittgenstein's goal to teach us anything new with his investigations. Nothing ever needs to be added or deducted from a person. As therapists, we always already have everything that is the way as it is. The only thing that matters is to understand and to perceive what has been open before our eyes the whole time and what we, for some reason, cannot see (Malinen, 2008). Wittgenstein's philosophy leaves everything the way it is. However, it is good to remember that while he is not changing anything other than our way of seeing the world, he is attempting to – no more or less than – change everything.

Postmodern Therapies

In this article, the term 'postmodern therapy' refers to solution-focused, narrative and collaborative approaches. The late social psychiatry professor Tom Andersen thought that postmodernism, which is a manifold and somewhat obscure as a concept, is simultaneously a chronological consept and ideology. The central ethos of modernism, developed in the 17th century, was to strive for certainty, universality, liberty, rationality, and individualism. Postmodernism, which became prevalent in the 1950's, was a reaction to ”development”, control, the destruction of nature, and forgetting tradition, ethics and aesthetics (Andersen, 1993). What is common and unique to postmodern therapies is that they have no unified theory of human behavior, personality, normative individual development, health and disease, or the causes for psychological problems. Instead, their theories can be considered a philosophical stance on the nature of knowledge, the social construction of reality, and the creative potential of language. Instead of being a scientific theory on human behavior or personality, this stance offers clues to how one can construct change-inspiring conversations.

Steve de Shazer, the developer of solution-focused therapy, relates: ”I stopped trying to explain things over 30 years ago and started to only describe what my clients and I found to work. Theories tell us what should happen. Descriptions tell us what happened. Traditionally, we think that theory leads to practice, but as Lyman Wynne said many years ago, practice is always ahead of theory. Furthermore: when we have a theory, then according to human experience, we also have a tendency to make facts correspond to the theory – just like Sherlock Holmes showed – even if facts should be able to change theories. If solution-focused therapy had a theory, it would be as complex as any other Theory, and it could also easily blur people's minds” (de Shazer & Miller, 2000, p. 24). The way I understand this is that the ”theory” of solution-focused therapy is not attempting to explain reality, but it rather organizes the brain and productive activity.

”There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and describtion alone must take its place. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have already known” (Wittgenstein, 1968, § 109).

Michael White, who was the most central creator of the narrative therapy, simply states: ”There is no theory, just talking about ideas!” He did not even consider the narrative approach as a unified therapy movement, but rather as an open process of development, which changes the whole time (Malinen, 2001). The most central influences for this approach have been poststructuralist thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Harlene Anderson, on the other hand, describes the ”theory” of her own collaborative approach as a philosophical stance, in which knowledge is created as a discursive action and its truthfulness is defined locally and contextually. Language is considered a tool creating different realities. With this tool, dialogical conversations innately lead to change (Anderson, 2007).

”Language is an instrument. Its consepts are instruments. I don´t offer any philosophical theory, but instruments in order for us to liberate from a need of such a theory” (Wittgenstein, 1968, § 569).

Even if postmodern therapies have clear differences in, for instance, their relationship with power, directivity, strageticness, goal-orientedness, or focus on society and politics they also share nowadays well-known common base assumptions (Anderson, 2002).

• Everything existing and real is created in social relationships. We live in a world of meaning, which is built with the help of language in a certain social and historical context.
• Problems and solutions are not inside the individual or the family; they are formed and given meaning in social relationships and dialogical contexts.
• The goal of therapy is to create a social and dialogical space for change.
• There is no interpretable, hidden, constant self; we construct ourselves all the time in the stories that we create of ourselves in relation to other people.
• The human being is multi-storied and has many identities; one constantly redefines oneself in one's social relationships.

Instead of the individual, postmodern approaches emphasize social and historical networks and linguistic practices in the rise and solution of problems. According to these approaches, psychotherapy is a process or a language game, where the client's problematic situation is changed or is dissolved through conversations into a discourse, which is more flexible than before and offers a possibility for a new kind of interaction. All postmodern therapies are also deconstructive in nature, for when they work, they make the clients doubt the self-evident truthfulness and power of the problem saturated story. Questioning the therapy process via different follow-up procedures is also included in these practices. The deconstruction of the therapist's own practice comes across the most clearly in narrative therapy.

Towards Buddhist Psychology

According to an old story, the Sri Lankan monk Dharmapala was lecturing on the non-self in Harvard University in 1904. After the lecture, William James, the founder of American psychology, said to the audience, ”This is the psychology that everyone will be studying in 25 years.” Now, 104 years later, we can truly witness the rise of Buddhist theory and practice in western psychology and psychotherapy. Interest in the Buddhist concepts of self and consciousness goes back as far as Jung (Moacanin, 1988). Epstein (1995) and Rubin (2000) have studied the relationship between modern psychoanalysis and Buddhism. American Buddhist Alan Watts (1961) was often in contact with Gregory Bateson's research team at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in regard to family therapy. He found that the western psychotherapy and oriental wisdom traditions benefit each other by calling therapists away from individualism, towards a social and cosmic context.

During the past twenty years, the so-called third wave cognitive approaches have eagerly adapted Buddhist practices, particularly mindfulness, into psychotherapy. Kabat-Zin's (1990) use of mindfulness in stress reduction is perhaps the most extensively researched adaptation of this Buddhist core practice. Mindfulness has also been used to prevent depression (Teasdale & Segal & William, 1995), as well as working with so-called borderline problems (Linehan, 1993). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which also adapts Buddhist meditation, is also gaining more and more ground among modern psychotherapies (Hayes & Strosahl & Wilson, 1999). Also worth mentioning is the contemplative psychology program at the American Naropa University. Psycotherapists have been trained within this program since 1974 (Kaklauska et al, 2008).

The connections of Buddhist psychology and postmodern therapies have been studied by Gehart & Parré (2008), and specially in a narrative therapy context by Lax (1996), Bankart (2004) and Blanton (2007); in a solution-focused context by O´Hanlon (2006) and Simon (1996); and in the collaborative approach by Gehart (2004).

The Three Marks of Conditional Existence

The psychology of the classical Theravada Buddhism has been exhibited in the so-called Abhidhamma-pitaka, or basket. It is composed of books that contain systematic documentations and philosophical-psychological interpretations of sutras, or texts of canonical literature (Rahula, 1959). Buddhist psychology is a systematic and empirically proven, broad theory of the human mind. It has its own scientific method, the meditation, which does not only produce scientific knowledge, but also gradually transforms the researcher. To understand Buddhist psychology, it is useful to know Buddha's lessons about a) the three marks of conditional existence, b) emptiness, c) the four noble truths, and d) the noble eightfold path.

1. Conditional existence is unsatisfying (duhkha) (1). The material world and life as we usually live it cannot give us perfect and permanent satisfaction, and there are three different reasons for this. Life inevitably contains both physical and mental pain (birth, aging, disease, death). We do not get what we want; we get what we don't want. Not accepting these facts, we resist and reject the pain-inflicting state of affairs, and by doing so, we create suffering into our lives. We also suffer when we don't accept that everything changes. Suffering is created when we consider our self-centered reality as objectively true and our self as an unchanging, lasting identity.
      (1) Unless otherwise noted, the Buddhist terms used in this article are Sanskrit translations.

2. Conditional existence is impermanent (anicca). The world created by the mind has actually been constructed out of short episodes of cognitive activity (perceptions, thoughts, feelings, memories), which rise and disappear at a fast pace. In reality, all phenomena are impermanent, temporary and disappearing. They are defined on many levels, and the cause and effect relations appear according to the contexts. Even our inhalations and exhalations are never the same. No pleasant state remains forever, and unpleasant states cannot be avoided. We are so conditioned to avoiding discomfort and clinging to comfort that our existence is usually tinted with a constant feeling of dissatisfaction, a feeling that there is always something missing from our lives, that we are not home. This feeling is born out of a deep misunderstanding of the nature of our mind and existence. Suffering is not the symptom of a disease. The essential question is what kind of relationship we have with the existential reality of our lives (de Witt, 2000). According to Buddhist psychology, the greatest cause for suffering are false ideas of ourselves.

The ”self” is not an unchanging entity, but rather a process. Even if most of us feel that the ”self” and its basic essence is unchanging from day to day, this view is probably closer to our wishes than it is to reality. Also postmodern theories share the idea that the ”self” is subject to constant change. Instead of problems, these practices pay close attention to ”exceptions” or ”unique outcomes”. The thought of everything constantly changing corresponds completely to the Buddhist concept of anicca as one of the basic qualities of the conditional world.

As therapists, we often use concepts of our clients that reify them, instead of seeing people as changing, ”flowing” creatures. Our client is ADHD or is an anorectic; the symptoms might easily become the thing that defines the person's whole being, and constantly changing self-states end up becoming an unchanging personality. If we experience the world as static and unchanging, we are blind to those numerous opportunities for change that exist in every moment. When the therapist understands anicca, a realization follows that he or she is also subject to constant change. One moment we can be very attentive, other times we are completely in our own world. Sometimes we will work magnificently, other times we are very careless. Sometimes we are warm and compassionate, other times very self-centered and frightened. It is good for a therapist to be aware of his or her own ”flowingness”, to accept it and to constantly strive for a new inner balance (Segall, 2003).

3. There is no inborn, constant nature to conditional existence (anatta). This is perhaps the most difficult thing of all to understand and/or experience in the midst of our ordinary, everyday existence. Life is a constant flow, a network of interactions, where objects and things – including myself – only exist as part of a greater whole, just like the whirl of a stream only exists as a part of the water mass surrounding it. Therefore, nothing has any innate essence. The ”self” is not a lasting identity, but rather a constant stream of consciousness, a process that we have identified with in our lives.

Anatta, the non-self, is one of the most central concepts of Buddhist psychology. A meditating person can experience it directly after meditating for a while. The quality of our feelings and interactions and how we experience our identities depends on how we understand the structure of our ”self”. Ordinary epistemology consider the ”self” as the center of personal experience. This contains the idea that the ”self” has some kind of objective ”essence”. Philosophical realism assumes that the world consists of separate objects, which can be perceived by a separate perceiver. Buddhism and the basic theories of postmodern therapies – constructivism, social and critical constructionism and post-structuralism –, on the other hand, assume that reality and its perceiver cannot be defined independently of one another; knowledge is never an objective image of reality, but is instead created during the process of knowing in the prevalent social and societal relationships (Rosenbaun & Dyckman, 1996).

”The picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably. We say that this picture with its ramifications stands in the way of our seeing the use of the word as it is.” (Wittgenstein, 1968, §115 and §305).

According to Kenneth Gergen, a basic theorist of social constructionism, the very fact that knowledge is constructed in social relationships, instead of discovered outside of us, creates a bridge between Buddhism and postmodern therapies (Gergen & Hosking, 2006). In Buddhism, the ”self” is not seen as an inner entity, but rather as a process, a story that we construct out of constantly changing body sensations, thoughts, feelings, perceptions and mental events (shankhas). The human being is seen from the context of social meanings, and thus the so-called local knowledge is emphasized instead of scientific information. There is no hidden ”self”, but rather a ceaseless process of consciousness. The stable ”self” is only an illusion, a story with which we define ourselves and to which we then easily cling. Things and objects that we ”see” are only concepts in our stories, not something that really exists ”out there”. Buddha tells us to see things the way they are and to realize that we construct our world according to our desires and fears by clinging to pleasure and pushing away unpleasant things.

It is interesting to notise how closely the postmodern and Buddhist concepts of the self resemble each other. According to the former, the story has a special position in our lives. Every person forms a story of his or her life, and this becomes the basis of their identity. The story defines who we are in relation to how we perceive others thinking of us. Our identity is not born solely discursively in so-called everyday speech practices, but it actually is that discourse. There is no interpetable, hidden self; we construct ourselves constantly in the stories we create of ourselves in relation to other people. This is the very process that we have, misguidedly, come to call our self. We believe that we exist as creatures separate from others. However, a constant, separate self is nothing but an illusion, a picture that we usually cling to and that therefore causes us a lot of suffering (Lax, 1996).

Our clients often complain and say: ”I am not myself.” A therapist who believes that there is a ”real self” somewhere inside the person often starts helping his or her client to find this ”better self”. The therapist might also be thinking – according to the very dominant discourse in western thinking – that people's problems are a result of rejected or oppressive inner forces that distort their true essence. It is, of course, also possible to not use our power in a situation like this, and to simply state that we cannot constantly avoid being whatever we are from one moment to the next. To think and experience in this way, it is useful to see the ”self” as empty, i.e. a constantly changing manifestation of different possibilities.


Since all things are impermanent and only exist in relation to each other, they are also, according to Buddhist thinking, devoid of a separate being. The term ”emptiness” (sonyata), employed particularly in Mahyana Buddhism, refers to the nature of an ultimate, absolute reality as a separation of a conventional or relative reality. The insight of emptiness naturally arises from realizing the non-self (anatta) of phenomena, as well as the impermanence (anicca) of conditional phenomena and their interdependence in its whole scope.

When the selves are empty and rise out as a response to immediate experience, we are all in close connection with each other. Families are realized through their members, individuals through their families. The therapist creates him- or herself while creating his or her client. The client creates him- or herself while creating his or her therapist. The Vietnamese monk Thiet Nhat Hanh calls this state of affairs arising from emptiness ”interbeing”. It is a very different situation compared to situations where people meet each other while being full of themselves (Nhat Hanh, 1987, p. 83).

The concept of emptiness is often misguidedly taken to mean that nothing exists. When Buddhists say that all beings are empty, they are not being nihilists, but are rather referring to the ultimate reality that cannot be subdued into the categories of logic. A Zen poem expresses it thusly:

It cannot be called emptiness
or emptilessness
or both or neither;
but so that it can be exhibited,
it is called emptiness.

This so-called quadruple negation means to impress that experience of the ultimate reality is completely unreachable to our concepts. It will not stick to the forceps of our words while pointing towards the ultimate reality, the absolute; in the midst of all things that are conditional and disorderly (Klemola, 1988).

”There exists really something that we cannot express. It emerges, it is mystical” (Wittgenstein, 1971 §6.522).

The difference between relative and absolute realities does not mean that there are two different objects of knowledge, i.e. the ordinary world and the ultimate reality. There is only one reality, this world here and now, but we can experience it in two different ways: through subjective and separate phenomena and concepts, or so that both subject and object are a part of a larger whole, the consciousness.

In other words, ”the empty self” does not mean that nothing exists. It only refers to how the ”self” has no independent expression outside of its relations. When the context changes, the ”self” also changes – or more precisely: a ”self” in its context is a constantly changing process. When we are consciously and accepting in here and now, there is no separate ”knower” and ”object of knowledge”, there is just a process of knowing, which we are. If one of the basic questions of therapy is ”Who am I?”, then the answer must be ”Here I am.” If this leads to the question ”What or where is here?”, the answer must be: ”Now!”

The fact that we experience the ”self” as empty does not mean that we should have some specific technique in therapy. Just like the ”self” changes all the time, our work is also different with different clients. When the therapist is able to experience the non-self, he or she creates a certain mental space for meeting the client. When the identification with the self is loosened, a natural compassionate joining to the other person's suffering is free to happen. Now that the therapist gives up his attempts to obtain a certain result, the therapist's and the client's action is an expression of non-self and change usually happens naturally. Just like sound is born out of silence and movement out of immobility, a therapeutic relationship is, at its best, a process of building an interpersonal space of possibilities. In this empty space, meetings between people and therapeutic techniques depend on each other and in the best case scenario, happen by themselves.

The Modern, the Postmodern, and Buddhist Theory Knowledge

The following table displays – as a kind of repetition and with a help of the consept of knowledge – the main points of our story so far.

  Modernism Postmodernism Buddhism
The nature of knowledge A copy or representation of reality A construction of the person's mind or action A direct, immediate experience of reality
The competency of knowledge The correspondence of truth; the correspondence between map and territory The coherence of truth; the map affects the territory Non-dualism; map=territory,
The nature of truth Singular, universal, outside of history Plural, contextual,
Sonyata/emptiness, tathata/suchness
The goal of knowledge Finding permanent laws Creating agency Transformig the person,
The method of knowledge Quantitative measurements, and controlled experiment Qualitative and narrative
methods, hermeneutic
The role of language Relays social reality, sign system, monologue Creates social reality dialogue, polyphony a Tao, which can be discussed, is not a real Tao
”The three eyes” The eye of the flesh, the science of sentient experience, empirism The eye of the mind, the science of experience,
The eye of the spirit, the science of the spiritual experience
  Either-or Both-and Neither-nor


The Four Noble Truths

According to legend, when people met Buddha after his enlightenment, he was no longer like an ordinary person. When they asked him who he was, the answer was: ”I am Buddha.” Are you God? ”No, I am awake.” In his first speech, he introduced the four basic truths. They are considered noble, because they help us understand the difference between automatic reactions and appropriate actions. 1) Human life, in its conditioned state, is unsatisfactory and suffering. Suffering is understood very broadly here, referring mostly to a very basic feeling of dissatisfaction and longing. The meaning of many of our actions is to obscure this truth, but as with all healing, the first step is to face this pain with honesty and courage. 2) Suffering is caused by a discrepancy between how things are and how we wish they were. All human suffering has one simple cause: desire. 3) We may be liberated from our suffering by changing our relationship with the unpleasant experience. Unpleasant thoughts and sensations are an inevitable part of our existence. By changing our attitude towards the resistance the suffering can be alleviated or stopped completely. 4) There are eight strategies (the noble eightfold path), with which we can be liberated from our suffering. The basic strategy on this path is meditation, bhãvanã (de Silva, 2000). It enables us to follow the movements of our mind, i.e. our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and to recognize the basic qualities of our existence through the direct perception (all phenomena are changing, they have no essential basis, and suffering is created out of not seeing all of this clearly).

As we understand how suffering is conceived when we cling on ideas and feelings, we can start a natural process of letting go. It's very reminiscent of a situation where we let a hot piece of iron fall from our hands (Fulton & Siegel, 2005). After we've realize how we have kept our perceptions and ideas more real than what they really are, we can now move on to deconstruct our identification with the ”self” and learn a new way of positioning ourselves to our mind contents and reality. As the meditation process advances, the perceiver and perceived, the subject and the object even unite, and the meditating person simply follows the ceaseless stream of phenomena, or more precisely: becomes this stream. The border between what is outside and what is inside becomes blurred: dualistic perceiving becomes non-dualistic experience of the unity of everything, and instead of the ”small self”, we can identify with consciousness.


The basic element of Buddhist psychology is ”sati”. This Pali concept means the skill of observing an experience as it appears each moment. Mindfulness can be used in three meanings: 1) to describe a certain theoretical construct; 2) to describe the practice of mindfulness; and 3) to describe a certain psychological process. In this article, I will use Kabat-Zin's short definition: mindfulness means an accepting awareness to the unfolding experience moment to moment (Kabat-Zin, 1990).

The traditional Buddhist meditation technique is theoretically simple, but in practice, it can be a very demanding practice. We sit still in the so-called meditation posture and follow the flow of our breathing either in our lower belly or nostril area. When we notice that our mind is starting to wander, we return to follow the breathing. Over and over and over and over and... For 5-10 minutes at first, but as the meditation advances, the process can be extended to up to 35-60 minutes. When a solid, calm state of mind has been created (samatha), the person moves on to the so-called vipassanã or ”insight” meditation. At this stage, attentiveness is maintained from one moment to another by acceptingly acknowledging everything that happens to appear in the mind-body at any given time. Without reacting to the mind contents or body sensations, the meditator is beginning to realize through his experiences that phenomena are impermanent (anicca) and to see reality the way it is, in its suchness (tathatã) (Nyanaponika, 1962).

Buddha has been called the first deconstructionist (Gehart, 2004). The information gathering method he devised, which is meditation, deconstructs each individual mind content into smaller parts, which are acknowledged, accepted consciously, and then let go. In postmodern therapies, the unfavourable story content is changed deconstructively by using language. In Buddhist psychology, on the other hand, the deconstruction targets our experience. Meditation does not replace a meaning with another, redefine the experience or build a new, more beneficial story. Insights born during the meditation process enable us to form a new attitude on our mind contents and reality.

”Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one´s eyes” (Wittgenstein, 1968, §126 and §129).

Professor Han de Wit, a Dutch teacher of contemplative psychology, has an excellent metaphor that describes meditation (de Wit, 1990). An untrained consciousness is like a stick that floats in the stream of our thoughts. We are in our thoughts. We are our thoughts. In this state, we do not acknowledge the power of the stream at all. When we pick up the stick out of the stream, hit it in the bottom of the stream and keep it there, we have established the conditions for mind stability. This planting of the stick is like sitting still and paying attention to the breath; it is the samatha aspect of our discipline. The stick is no longer floating in the stream, so we can feel the force and nature of the stream; how the water pushes and splashes up against our stick and how its force and other qualities are constantly changing from one moment to the next. These observations are the vipassana aspect of the discipline. We become aware and get increasing insight into the nature of our sream of thought and its confluence in what we have called our conceptualized experience.

Many therapists have not learned how to silence the mind. While the client is talking, the therapist is evaluating, classifying and planning. By silencing his or her mind, the therapist can listen without evaluations and classifications. There is no need to amplify the power of one's ”stream” with anxiety-inducing thoughts, and one can rest in one's consciousness regardless how wild, depressing, extatic or frightened one's thoughts or feelings are. Due to one's inner power, there is no longer a need to automatically react to the events in one's mind; one can act consciously, spontaneously and appropriatively in different situations. One learns to give up the wrong kind of self-importance or ego and to feel and think compassionately. One learns to see the client the way he or she is, without falsifying one's perceptions with theories or predispositions. It is obvious how this affects the effectiveness of the therapist's work and his or her energy in continuing with it.

Mindfulness in Action

Maria is a professional, articulate, succesful and creative. One of her hobbies is painting, something she had neglected when she became depressed. In an narratively oriented consultation she first explored the impacts of the Depression and Its requirements; practices and believes the
Depression was depending on. During the inquiry that was strongly influenced by the poststructuralist curiosity of the therapist (Young, 2008) Maria mentioned that she experienced the Depression getting its nourisment by her not being in touch with the creative part of her personality - “the need to be free”. After a while the therapist started to ask questions in order to give Maria an opportunity to deconstruct the naturalistic account of her “need to be free”. When answering the question “When this need to be free is most present for you, how does it affect what you do?” Maria said that it among other things made it possible for her to come to the consultation.

(T)erapist: Are you in touch with this need to be free at the present moment?
(M)aria: Yes.
T: Could you label the feeling that you are mindful of at the moment?
M: A feeling of lightness.
T: Could you just acknowledge the feeling?”
M: I am feeling light.
T: Just experience that feeling throughout your body... can you label any bodily sensations
associated with this feeling.
M: Warmth.
T: Now see if there are any images associated with the feeling?
M: I see myself as a tree swaying in the wind. Standing effortlesly and strong.
Maria was encouraged to experience this feeling of lightness and the image of herself as a tree, to let the image be, and then to let go of the feeling, the bodily sensation and the image.
T: What are you feeling now? Can you label your feeling now?
M: There is a feeling of disappointment in letting go of the warmth. A feeling of loss in
letting the previous feeling go.
Again Maria was encouraged to simply label, acknowladge and experience this feeling of loss, and to be mindful of any bodily sensations and images associated with this feeling.
M: Heaviness in the chest. Tension. There is an image of a snowy hill. The coldness of the

Initially Maria experienced some difficulty in letting go of the feeling of loss, the bodily sensation an image. When I suggested that she try focusing on the breath, she was able to let go of the feeling and reported experiencing a feeling of neutrality. At the end of this exercise Maria recounted her experience:

M: I think that this is illuminating. In the way that the feelings come and go. I was surprised
at the feeling of disappointment that brings back some of the heaviness. That when I
focused on it, it came back. The image of of the tree is very significant. I think it
is the wish to be free and stand on my own. The snowy hills represents ommovability
from negative feelings. I was struck by how difficult it was to identify bodily
sensations. I think if you cannot express yourself and be who you are, you get
depressed... now I have the framework to understanding it.

After this the therapy proceeded by thickening Maria´s subordinate storyline by sending a letter to her community of consern. In this letter the process of Maria reclaiming creativity back to her life from Depression was described through her experiences and with her words. People were asked to support her in this new project in a way that would be suitable for each one.


”Not, however, as if to this end we had to hunt out new facts; it is, rather, of the essence of our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand. What is our aim in philosophy? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle” (Wittgenstein, 1968, §89 and §309).

In the beginning of the 1970's, lama Kalu Ringpoche, now passed away, was introducing a Tibetian meditation practice in a university. To help people better understand what it was about, he started by describing Tibetian cosmology. One of the listeners asked him: ”Revered Lama, don't you agree that this cosmology needs refreshing?” Lama Ringpoche selected his words carefully when he replied: ”Cosmologies are people's descriptions of the universe. The cosmology of science is one of them.”

While postmodern thinking has many different sources (phenomenology, French post-structuralism and critical theory, hermeneutics, critical literary theory, cultural anthropology, Marxism), Buddhism only has one source: Buddha. However, it is interesting to see the similarity between the ideas these two traditions have of the human being and life. Both approaches give central meaning to a person's own experience. Both aim to liberate us of the story or conceptual reality that causes suffering. Both postmodern theories and Buddhism are deconstructive: they make us doubt ”truths” we consider self-evident – truths about knowledge, power, the self and language. The usual dichotomies (good-bad, beautiful-ugly, body-mind) are also deconstructed, and the dominant discourses of the culture are seen very critically. Buddha encourages his students to not trust any ”truth” and to believe only in their own experience; this also applies when evaluating Buddhism.

The most central Buddhist practice, mindfulness (sati), can be integrated into psychology in many ways. 1) The therapist may meditate personally to create a more mindful presence in his work. Meditating therapists often report being more present and feeling more relaxed if they meditate before meeting their clients (Germer, 2005). Regardless of his or her approach, the psychotherapist may maintain an open, enthusiastic and compassionate method with the help of mindfulness. 2) The therapist may use the frame of reference provided by mindfulness in his or her work. Ideas borrowed from both Buddhist and western psychology may be adapted into the practice. However, to be able to truly understand sati, it is crucial that the therapist have personal experience of meditation. 3) The therapist may teach his or her clients how to practice mindfulness as was done with Maria. Particularly the new cognitive psychotherapies have employed numerous Buddhist practices. With the aid of these methods, clients are taught awareness skills to help them face their problems in a novel way.

It is my understanding that mindfulness is becoming a concept and practice also for the field of postmodern therapies, one which brings clinical theory, research and practice closer together. It also integrates the therapist's professional and personal life in a creative way.


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