Psychoanalysis and meditation not only compensate for the other’s blind spots, but also, when practiced together, can provide a richer experience than either discipline pursued alone. After considering the way meditation cultivates heightened attentiveness, refines sensory clarity, lessens self-criticism, and increases affect tolerance, thereby deepening psychoanalytic listening, I’ll examine how psychoanalytic perspectives on unconscious communication and meaning illuminate and transform the nearsightedness of meditation, aiding therapists and clients in understanding troubling thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This helps therapists deepen their capacity to help those people with whom they work. The paper also attempts to illuminate how the therapeutic relationship, conceived of in a freer and more empathic way—as the vehicle for both validating a person’s experience and providing opportunities for new forms of relatedness and self-transformation—provides a crucible in which old and dysfunctional ways of caring for oneself and relating to other people emerge and new patterns of self-care and intimacy can be established. In the concluding section, I will delineate meditative psychoanalysis, my own integration of meditation and psychoanalysis. Clinical material will illustrate my theoretical reflections.
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Buddhist purists might find my interest in blending Buddhist meditation and psychoanalysis objectionable and might prefer that these two disciplines be keep distinct so that Buddhism could remain a practice for radical awakening and liberation, and not be “diluted” and used to lessen symptoms and improve functioning. Such critics might also say that my focus on meditation neglects two other vital aspects of Buddhism, namely ethics and community. I think that the issue is more complex than that and beyond the scope of, and not relevant to, my focus in this paper. But I will say that historically, whenever Buddhism encountered a new culture it both altered the host and was itself transformed. A prominent aspect of Buddhism’s transplantation to the West is its cross-pollination with Western psychology, which it has undoubtedly already transformed. I think that the cross-fertilization of psychoanalysis and Buddhism has the potential to enliven both and lessen human suffering.
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1Jeffrey B. Rubin, Ph.D. practices psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically oriented therapy and teaches meditation in New York City and Bedford Hills, NY.
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Rubin, J. MEDITATIVE PSYCHOANALYSIS. Am J Psychoanal 76, 54–70 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ajp.2015.59
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