Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-11-32-29-amIt was fun to compare notes last week on “I, Lawyer” – the podcast of Fredrik Svärd, a Swedish lawyer and journalist and the creator of Legaltech.se, a top legal blog in Sweden that focuses on the intersection of law and technology.

Fredrik endured his own bout of burnout in the legal world, and lived to talk about it, so our conversation turned into a healthy give and take around experiences in law and interacting with other lawyers under often difficult circumstances.

Don’t worry, we decided against conversing in Swedish.  But it was interesting speaking with a lawyer from another country, and Fredrik has a very Scandinavian wryness and hard-boiled-ness about him – he’s been there himself and asked tough, pragmatic questions about strategies for surviving law and the realities of leaving the profession.

You can listen to the podcast here (on Soundcloud), or here (on Fredrik’s blog.)  And click here to access all the episodes of Fredrik’s podcast, “I, Lawyer” in iTunes (you can also subscribe so you never miss another one.)


Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance


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One of the hard parts of psychotherapy  – and the unavoidable realities –  is remorse.  Inevitably, once you become more aware of who you are, and how you’re living your life…you wish you’d done so sooner.

Patients are always telling me they’re kicking themselves for not getting to my office (or at least someone’s office) years before.

One patient this week wept as he reviewed all the relationships he’d wrecked over the years by behaving exactly like his father, suspicious and controlling, exhausting the women he dated until they finally left in frustration.

“All those wasted years,” he sighed.  “All those wasted opportunities for happiness.”

There isn’t much I can say to that, except that’s how awareness works – when it arrives, you always wish it made the trip a little quicker.

Then I remember what Gerald Lucas, a psychotherapist and institute director, used to say at times like that:

“What a fool I was at 80, said the 90 year old man.”

There’s no such thing as perfect wisdom.  Lena Fugeri, another psychotherapist I used to work with, used to say you never finish with psychotherapy because as soon as awareness arrives, life throws you new challenges.

Lena was right.  My patients in their teens are struggling with their first relationships and finding meaningful careers. My patients in their 40’s and 50’s might be dealing with raising children, navigating a marriage with a partner, learning to manage others on the job, or the death of their parents.  And my patients in their 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and 90’s are handling growing older and the entirely new set of issues triggered by that process.

You are like a lotus flower – the more you peel the petals away, the more petals you find within.  There is no center – only more layers to peel away, new hidden wonders.

Instead of beating yourself up for not achieving awareness sooner, it makes sense to emulate one of my favorite figures from Buddhism – the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The Bodhisattvas, in Buddhism, are followers of the Buddha who achieve sufficient wisdom to attain enlightenment, the state of nirvana.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, alone, chooses to remain behind in the world, to assist mankind on its journey to awareness.

In one famous story, three monks wander the parched desert until they reach a walled garden. They hear the tantalizing splash of water within.

The first monk climbs on the shoulders of the others, and leaps into the garden, disappearing.

The second monk laboriously scales the wall and is also soon hidden amid the plants and trees.

The third monk clambers up all alone and perches himself atop the wall, studying the lush garden and cool, clear spring.

Then he slides back down, and returns to wander the arid waste.

This monk’s job is to search for other lost souls. He shows them how to locate the garden.

This is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

You might be wiser now than you used to be.  I hope psychotherapy helped you acquire some of that insight.

But please don’t forget – part of wisdom is passing on what you’ve learned to others.

Don’t sit in a walled garden, thinking you’ve got it all figured out.  You don’t.

Share what you’ve learned.

You’ll acquire more wisdom showing others the path to enlightenment than sitting in a garden surrounded by walls.

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Two famous pilgrimages:

The Journey to the West – the legendary voyage of the Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, to India to bring the Sutras back to China and establish Buddhism there.

Another, less celebrated Journey from the East – Freud’s parents, Ostjuden (Eastern Jews), emigrating in a horse cart from the ghettoes of East Galicia to Vienna.

The Silk Road channeled a rich current of human activity across Asia from China to Europe.  Along with the merchants and their caravans of camels laden with spices and luxuries, ideas flowed back and forth across the continent.  In the center, there was India.

It was in India that the powerful concepts of Buddhism originated, then spread East, to China, and West – ultimately, perhaps, to Freud’s office in Vienna, where so many of his ideas about living more consciously seem to echo Buddhist philosophy.

I’ll touch on two issues:  first, why Buddhism doesn’t have to be intimidating, and second, some interesting stuff it has to say about our daily lives:

You don’t have to think of Buddhism as just a religion.  The ancient India of around 500 B.C.E.,where the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, lived, was a lot like the historically contemporary Ancient Greece – the existence of a pantheon of gods and goddesses was taken for granted.  Buddha wasn’t interested in being a god – there were already plenty of gods.  His goal was achieving human enlightenment – a condition of peace and serenity.  Over thousands of years, Buddhism spread all over Asia and splintered into a thousand different schools and practices.  Some of them espouse devotional practices, complete with temples and incense and kowtowing before fat, smiling statues.  You can disregard much of that, and concentrate on the ideas.

To give you a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s the most famous single story in Buddhism.  There are a dozen variations, but this covers the basics.  See if it doesn’t leave you thinking:

The Buddha was born a wealthy prince.  Upon his birth, a fortune-teller issued a prediction that the young prince would eventually renounce all his wealth, and become a monk.  To prevent this, his father, the king, ordered that Siddartha be prevented from leaving the walls of the palace.  For 29 years, the prince was permitted to see only wealth and beauty.

Finally, perhaps on an impulse – some say a mischievous god was involved – Prince Siddhartha escaped for the first time outside the palace walls. Almost at once, he saw four famous sights, which changed his life forever:

He encountered an old man, and learned that he would not remain forever young.

He saw a leper, and learned of the existence of suffering and disease.  

He saw a corpse, and knew that one day he, too, would die.

He met a monk, and realized there were other paths to joy than the pleasure garden within the palace walls.

From that day forward, the Buddha became a monk, devoting himself solely to the search for enlightenment.

I told you this was a powerful story.

Opening your eyes to the world around you, and the emotions you carry within, stirs something in the human soul, which could change your life forever.

That’s what we do in psychotherapy.

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