The approach to meditation that I have adopted in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of articles, is unusual because it brings together elements from philosophical, spiritual, and psychological traditions that do not usually cross-pollinate, and tend not to understand each other. My aim in this article is to provide an overview of my approach, and to show why I have found the relatively unknown brahmavihāras (Equanimity, Loving Kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy) to be so essential to my framework for meditation and self-enquiry.
My Psychological and Spiritual Influences
Although I was born into a nominally Christian family and a nominally Christian culture, my first real spiritual education, during my twenties, was in the context of the Triratna Buddhist Community, a Western Buddhist tradition that integrates Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana elements, with a special emphasis on re-creating something of the spirit of the lost Indian Mahayana in a Western cultural context – especially the spirit of the Bodhisattva Ideal. During that time I have a number of very strong and deeply affecting visionary experiences during meditation sessions. I also, in my mid-twenties, made a deep study of Padmasambhava’s Bardo Thodol texts, the so-called ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ – symbolic teachings that I continued to reflect on over the decades since.
In my thirties I became a Quaker for 10 years, and subsequently studied Eugene Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’, Marshal Rosenberg’s ‘Nonviolent Communication’ (NVC), with a few different non-Buddhist non-duality teachers, before returning to Buddhism in my early sixties.
I worked in General Psychiatry settings for many years, where I became an Occupational Therapist and made use of the very Buddhist ‘open system’ model of the person, developed by the Occupational Therapist, Gary Kielhofner. During those years, when my profession required me to speak the language of medical model psychiatry and the various models in use by Clinical Psychologists, but I maintained a keen sense that human experience cannot fully explained by merely humanistic or brain-based models. For me a comprehensive psychology has to include a transcendental dimension, so it was perhaps inevitable that I would return to Padmasambhava’s Buddhist non-dual psychology of the mandala.