Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Empathy Series: Buddhist Mind-Training (Lojong)

Master Shantideva

Empathy Series Class 2: Buddhist Mind-Training (Lojong)

Whatever joy there is in the world, comes from cherishing others.

Whatever suffering there is in the world, comes from only cherishing yourself.

What need is there to say more: the childish work for their own benefit while the Buddhas work for the benefit of others. Just look at the difference between them! – Shantideva

Meaning of the word Lojong:

Lo = Mind/Heart Jong = Training/Developing

Training the mind in wisdom, training the heart for compassion.
Implicit meaning is using life's challenges and difficulties for one's spiritual development.

Two Main Problems:

Svartha = self-preoccupation
Svabhava = self-existence

Two Main Remedies:

Karuna = Compassion
Prajna = Wisdom

History of Mind-Training:

The mind-training practice was developed over a 300-year period between 900 and 1200 CE, as part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Atisha (982–1054 CE), a Bengali meditation master, brought these and other practices such as the stages of the path (lam rim) to Tibet. Atisha's most renown text is the Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradipam). The lojong practice is based upon Atisha's studies with the Sumatran teacher, Dharmaraksita, author of the lojong text called the Wheel of Sharp Weapons.

There are three lineages of the mind-training teachings: The Sevenfold Cause and Effect instruction; the Fourfold Equalize and Exchange of Self and Other (dakshen nyamje), which is the second point of the Seven-point Mind-Training system; and, the Elevenfold Mind-Training synthesis, which is an integration of the previous two systems. Numerous text and commentaries on these three systems comprise the mind-training literature. In 2006, a total of 43 texts on mind-training were edited by Thupten Jinpa and published by Wisdom Publications entitled Mind Training: The Great Collection.

The lineage of the mind-training traditions are directly linked to the Buddha. The Sevenfold Cause and Effect instruction was taught by Buddha to Maitrya, to Asanga, to Lama Serlingpa, to Lama Atisha, to Je Tsongkapa. The Fourfold Equalize and Exchange of Self with Other method, found within the Seven-point Mind-Training, was taught by Buddha to Maitreya, to Shantideva, to Lama Serlingpa, to Lama Atisha, to Je Tsongkapa. The Seven Point Mind-Training in its present form was composed by Geshe Chekhawa (1101–1175 CE). Chekhawa studied with Sharawa, who was a student of the great master Langri Tangpa Dorge Sangye (1054–1123). The Seven-point instruction and the Fourfold method were combined into an Elevenfold Mind-Training synthesis by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419).

The rise of Mahayana Buddhism, occurs 500 years after the Buddha in a time when spiritual practices were becoming popular with the laity outside the monastic circles. At this time a new wave of teachings and literature on the wisdom of emptiness (shunyata) appear, which highlight the relativity and interdependence of things. The turn of the millennium in Buddhist India and East Asia is then characterized by an ethos of love and compassion designed to transform the very fabric of urban society. The emphasis on renunciation in early Buddhism is replaced in the Mahayana by compassion firmly grounded in wisdom. Spirituality is brought back from the ashrams on the outskirts of society, back into the marketplace and the hearts and mind of urban dwellers.

Extending the Nervous System:
Our three-part series follows the trajectory of the historical development of Buddhism in India known as the three vehicles (yanas). Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana are three systems of Buddhism each exploring new horizons while subsuming the teachings of the former. They can be characterized by their emphasis on: Hinayana = Dispassion/Renunciation and self-healing, Mahayana = Compassion and social healing, and Vajrayana = pure Passion and embodied healing.

If we use the lens of contemporary psychotherapy and attachment theory we might say that the first phase was about becoming a parent to ourselves, the second phase about becoming a parent to others, and the final phase about becoming a supremely blissful parent to all beings. First the nervous system is regulated and calmed, then the calm nervous system is extended to others who are deregulated, and finally the deepest potential of nervous system is harnessed to expedite the process of regulating others.

Sevenfold Cause and Effect instruction:

1. Recognizing all beings as kin.
2. Remembering their kindness.
3. Vowing to repay their kindness.
4. Developing love for all beings.
5. Developing compassion for all beings.
6. Generating the wish to save all beings.
7. Perusing full enlightenment in order to fulfill one’s wish.

Equalize and Exchange Self and Other
(Point 2 of the Seven-point Mind Training)

I. Equalizing Self and Other
II. Contemplating the Limits of Sefl-preoccupation
III. Contemplating the Benefits of Empathy
IV. Exchanging Self and Other
V. Giving and Taking Meditation (tonglen)

The Seven-Point Mind-Training (with the 59 slogans)
Source: Wikipedia Lojong Entry

ONE: The preliminaries, which are the basis for dharma practice
1. First, train in the preliminaries.

TWO: The main practice, which is training in bodhicitta.
Absolute Bodhicitta
2. Regard all dharmas as dreams.
3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
4. Self-liberate even the antidote.
5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
6. In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
Relative Bodhicitta
7. Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.
8. Three objects, three poisons, three roots of virtue.
9. In all activities, train with slogans.
10. Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.

THREE: Transformation of Bad Circumstances into the Way of Enlightenment
11. When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.
12. Drive all blames into one.
13. Be grateful to everyone.
14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
15. Four practices are the best of methods.
16. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.

FOUR: Showing the Utilization of Practice in One's Whole Life
17. Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions.
18. The mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.

FIVE: Evaluation of Mind Training
19. All dharma agrees at one point.
20. Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.
21. Always maintain only a joyful mind.
22. If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.

SIX: Disciplines of Mind Training
23. Always abide by the three basic principles.
24. Change your attitude, but remain natural.
25. Don't talk about injured limbs.
26. Don't ponder others.
27. Work with the greatest defilements first.
28. Abandon any hope of fruition.
29. Abandon poisonous food.
30. Don't be so predictable.
31. Don't malign others.
32. Don't wait in ambush.
33. Don't bring things to a painful point.
34. Don't transfer the ox's load to the cow.
35. Don't try to be the fastest.
36. Don't act with a twist.
37. Don't make gods into demons.
38. Don't seek others' pain as the limbs of your own happiness.

SEVEN: Guidelines of Mind Training
39. All activities should be done with one intention.
40. Correct all wrongs with one intention.
41. Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.
42. Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.
43. Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
44. Train in the three difficulties.
45. Take on the three principal causes.
46. Pay heed that the three never wane.
47. Keep the three inseparable.
48. Train without bias in all areas. It is crucial always to do this pervasively and wholeheartedly.
49. Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment.
50. Don't be swayed by external circumstances.
51. This time, practice the main points.
52. Don't misinterpret.
53. Don't vacillate.
54. Train wholeheartedly.
55. Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing.
56. Don't wallow in self-pity.
57. Don't be jealous.
58. Don't be frivolous.
59. Don't expect applause.

Quotes on Bodhicitta The Spirit of Enlightnement / Awakened Heart:

Although it is the stick that hurts me, I am angry at the one who wields it, striking me. But they in turn are driven by their hatred (and misperception); Therefore it is with their hatred that I take offense. - Shantideva
(v. 41, Chapter 6) on "Patience", from the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

First of all I should make an effort

To meditate upon the equality between self and others:

I should protect all beings as I do myself

Because we are all equal in wanting pleasure and not wanting pain.

Although there are many different parts and aspects such as the hands;

As a body that is to be protected they are one,

Likewise all the different sentient beings in their pleasure and their pain

Have a wish to be happy that is the same as mine.

The suffering that I experience

Does not cause any harm to others.

But that suffering is mine because of my conceiving of myself as "I";

Thereby it becomes unbearable.

Likewise the misery of others

Does not befall me.

Nevertheless, by conceiving of others as "I" their suffering becomes mine;

Therefore it too should be hard to bear.

Hence I should dispel the misery of others

Because it is suffering, just like my own,

And I should benefit others

Because they are sentient beings, just like myself.

When both myself and others

Are similar in that we wish to be happy,

What is so special about me?

Why do I strive for my happiness alone?
- Shantideva

"May I become food and drink in the aeons of famine for those poverty-stricken suffers.
May I be a doctor, medicine and nurse for all sick beings in the world until everyone is cured.
May I become never-ending wish-fulfilling treasures materialising in front of each of them as all the enjoyments they need.
May I be a guide for those who do not have a guide, a leader for those who journey, a boat for those who want to cross over, and all sorts of ships, bridges, beautiful parks for those who desire them, and light for those who need light.
And may I become beds for those who need a rest, and a servant to all who need servants.
May I also become the basic conditions for all sentient beings, such as earth or even the sky, which is indestructible.
May I always be the living conditions for all sentient beings until all sentient beings are enlightened."
From A Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shantideva, tr by Stephen Batchelor, Chapter VIII, verses 90-95,, Snow Lion Publications.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Empathy Series: Attunement, Attachment, Meditation and Psychotherapy

Primary Reference: Daniel Seigel. (2007). The Mindful Brain.

Key words: Attunement, Attachment, Meditation, Psychotherapy and Empathy

Two Problems
1. Affect Disregulation / Nueral Unintegration
2. Traumatic Narrative

Assumptions about Attachment
• Attachment is the relationship of the child to the caregiver over time – first three years are crucial
• Attachment style of the care giver conditions the style of the child
• Research has shown attachment shapes the developing mind/brain
• Attachment impacts self-regulatory circuits

Attachment Styles: Relationship Type

Relationship Type => Parenting Behavior

Secure => Responsive, Consistent
Avoidant => Rejecting, Distant
Ambivalent => Rejecting, Distant
Disorganized => Frightening, Confusing, Fearful

Characteristics of Secure Attachment: The Trusting Child
Securely attached children exhibit distress when separated from caregivers and are happy when their caregiver returns. Remember, these children feel secure and able to depend on their adult caregivers. When the adult leaves, the child may be upset but he or she feels assured that the parent or caregiver will return.
When frightened, securely attached children will seek comfort from caregivers. These children know their parent or caregiver will provide comfort and reassurance, so they are comfortable seeking them out in times of need.

Characteristics of Ambivalent Attachment: The Anxious Child
Ambivalently attached children usually become very distressed when a parent leaves. This attachment style is considered relatively uncommon, affecting an estimated 7-15% of U.S. children. Research suggests that ambivalent attachment is a result of poor maternal availability. These children cannot depend on their mother (or caregiver) to be there when the child is in need.

Characteristics of Avoidant Attachment: The Aloof Child
Children with an avoidant attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers. When offered a choice, these children will show no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger. Research has suggested that this attachment style might be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers. Children who are punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.

Characteristics of Disorganized Attachment: The Confused Child
The disorganized types seek attachment but experienced anxiety as a consequence of attachment. They also experience anxiety at the disappearance of the mother and are difficult to soothe upon reunion. Disorganized children are particularly ambivalent upon reunion with their attachment figure, both approaching and avoiding contact. Bowlby described these children as "arching away angrily while simultaneously seeking proximity" when re-introduced to their mothers.
Attachment Styles: Parents Narrative

Adult Narratives

Adult Narrative => Child Attachment

Secure => Secure
Dismissing => Avoidant
Entangled, Preoccupied => Anxious
Unresolved Trauma or Grief => Disorganized

Characteristic of Secure Narrative: The Balanced Adult
flexible, coherent, self-reflective, balanced perspective (positive with the negative)

Characteristic of Dismissing Narrative: The Adult in Denial
Incoherent-vague, inflexible-ridgid, minimize emotional significance, insist on lack of recall, based on denial

Characteristic of Entangled Narrative: The Preoccupied Adult
preoccupation with past, intrudes on present, intense idealization or fixation

Characteristic of Unresolved Narrative: The Traumatized Adult
disorganization, disorientation around issues of grief or trauma, unintegrated, spontaneously intrusive, disorienting

The Brain is a Social Organ

• The function of the brain is to engage with other people, other brains, in the shaping of its development over time and in shaping its activity in the present.

• Mirror Neurons and the capacity to develop empathy and insight = MINDSIGHT

• Our brains are extremely social. Areas involved in self-regulation overlap with those involved in interpersonal communication and plasticity

• How one brain interacts with another has important effects on how the brain functions: Social interactions are one of the most powerful forms of experience that help shape how the brain gives rise to the mind

• Mindsight enables us to meet life’s challenges with more flexibility and joy in our internal and interpersonal worlds

• We are ultimately connected to each other as part of a larger whole

Two Solutions:

1. Attunement via mindfulness (intrapsychically) and empathy (interpersonally via psychotherapy)
2. Coherent Narrative via psychotherapy

Secure Attachment and Empathy Fosters:

• Flexible self-regulation
• Prosocial behavior
• Empathy
• Positive sense of emotional well-being and self-esteem
• Coherent life-story
• Neural Integration

Brain Regions and Functions Integrated During Mindfulness and Psychotherapy:

I. Brainstem: Reptilian brain. Core functions. Heart. Respiration. Metabolism. Sleep-wake cycles. Fight-flight Response.

II. Limbic region: Mammalian brain. Social function. Connection with others. Memory processing into autobiographical context., Appraisal/meaning of sensations and emotions. Hormone regulation via the hypothalamus. Endocrine – autonomic and parasympathetic NS. Motivational drives and survival instincts.

III. Cortex: Neo- Mammalian brain. Cognitive function. Perception, planning, and attention. Resonance circuitr and mirror neurons. Imagination and empathy.

A. Left brain: language, linearity, logic, literal thinking. The narrarator.

B. Right brain: non-verbal, holistic, visiospacial, autobiographical memory, spontaneous emotion, stress modulation, empathic response, attention.

How Psychotherapy Cultivates Attunement, Self-regulation, and Neural integration:

Sharing coherence/integration
In the process of psychotherapy with a range of individuals with intact mirror neuron systems, shared states with the therapist may be an essential component of the therapeutic process. As two individuals share the closely resonant reverberating interactions that their mirror neuron systems makes possible, what before may have been unbearable states of affective and bodily activation within the patient may now become tolerable within conscious awareness. Being empathic with patients may be more than just something that helps them “feel better” – it may create a new state of neural activation with a coherence in the moment improves the capacity for self-regulation. What is at first a form of interpersonal integration in the sharing of affective and cognitive states now evolves into a form of internal integration in the patient. With the entry of previously warded-off states of being in conscious awareness, the patient can now learn to develop enhanced self-regulatory capacities that before were beyond their skill set. It may be that as interpersonal attunement initiates a new form of awareness that makes intrapersonal attunement possible, new self-regulatory capacities become available. - Seigel

Positive Attachment: Attunement and Narrative
Studies of attachment reveal that the parent’s openness to a child’s signals and the coherence of the parent’s own narrative are important predictors of a child’s development of security of attachment (13). Such factors seem to promote a form of resiliency in the child which self-regulation unfold as the child matures. Psychotherapy may naturally harness these developmental origins of well-being in creating a resonant state in which the therapist is sensitive to the patient’s signals and also has made sense of his or her own life. Being open to the many layers of our experience, often involving the non-verbal world of sensation and affect in addition to our verbal understanding is an important stance for the therapist to create toward the internal and interpersonal worlds. Within this framework, the state of brain activation in the therapist serves as a vital source of resonance that can profoundly alter the ways in which the patient’s brain is activated in the moment-to-moment experiences within therapy. Such interactive experiences allow the patient to “feel felt” and understood by the therapist, and they also may establish new neural net firing patterns that can lead to neural plastic changes. Ultimately lasting effects of psychotherapy must harness such experiences that promote the growth of new synaptic connections so that more adaptive capacities for self-regulation and well-being can be established. -Seigel

Adult Narrative made Coherent and Integrated During Psychotherapy:

A narrative is a story we tell ourselves that helps contextualizes our experience.
A narrative is just a construct, and needs to be flexible and adaptive.
In the case of traumatic experience, memories are decontextualized, fragmented, relegated to the unconscious and need to be reintegrated into a holistic, coherent and conscious narrative.
Implicit memories are procedural, non conscious, non verbal, non linear, unconscious, fragmented, emotional, somatic.
Explicit memories are conscious, autobiographical, verbal, holistic, cognitively contextualized.
We need to make positive meaning of our experiences in a coherent narrative.
This process of making meaning of traumatic experience is one of the hallmarks of good therapy.

Narrative: Making Sense of a Story

The hallmark of secure attachment being the ability to reflect on one's internal emotional experience, and make sense of it, and at the same time reflect on the mind of another. One can immediately see how these capacities are imbued in the infant through sensitive attunement of the caregiver. When a caregiver reads the verbal and non-verbal cues of the child and reflects them back, the child sees him or herself through the eyes of the attachment figure. It is through this attunement and contingent communication process that the seeds of the developing self are planted and realized. Insecurely attached individuals lack this reflective function either because their emotional responses are so repressed as in the case of the dismissing attachment status or exacerbated as in the case of the preoccupied attachment status that they are unable to either identify their own internal experience or reflect on that of the other. When either one of these extremes are the method of regulating the attachment behavioral system, the capacity for reflection (on oneself and others) is compromised. - Fonagy

Jeremy Holmes, likewise an analyst in England, has written the book The Search for the Secure Base: Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy (2001). Holmes talks at great length about the narratives of insecurely attached individuals. He refers to story-making, and story-breaking. In the case of dismissing attachment, where the story is so restricted as to reduce the possibility of dysphoric affect, the clinician is helping the patient create a story that is coherent, full of memory and manageable affect. In the case of preoccupied attachment, where anxiety over-runs the client's story in that it becomes convoluted and saturated with anger and disappointment, the therapist's role is to help break the negative cycle of the narrative, manage the affect more effectively and create a story that is balanced and coherent. - Dan Sonkin
See Sonkin's Article Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy

Nine Middle Prefrontal Functions
By Dan Seigel

Body Regulation:
Body Regulation is achieved by the Autonomic (automatic) Nervous System. This system generally works without conscious control and regulates functions like heart rate, breathing, digestion, vascular tone, inflammation and immune response etc.

Attuned Communication:
Attuned Communication is defined as the coordination of input from another mind with the activity of one’s own, a resonance process involving these middle prefrontal areas. This is distinct from other resonant functions such as those achieved by the mirror neurons in the motor cortex that automatically interpret the motor actions of another as one’s own.

Emotional Balance:
Emotional Balance in this context is defined as being able to balance between rigidity and chaos. In other words, being able to keep from being overwhelmed or becoming inflexible in one’s emotional response.

Response Flexibility:
Response Flexibility is the capacity to pause before action. Such a process requires the assessment of ongoing stimuli, the delay of reaction, selection from a variety of possible options, and the initiation of action.

Empathy (Mindsight):
Empathy is defined as conscious awareness and sensitivity to the mind of someone else. It is the putting of oneself in someone else’s shoes.

Insight, or self-knowing awareness:
Insight links the past, present and future. The middle prefrontal cortex has input and output fibers to many areas. Insight means integrating cortical representation of autobiographical memory stores and limbic firing that gives emotional texture to the emerging themes of our present awareness, life story, and image of the future.

Fear modulation:
Fear can be modulated from the middle PFC via neurons that enervate the amygdala, a limbic structure that registers threat and opportunity. These neurons can release calming neurotransmitters (GABA) and can be consciously reprogrammed.

Intuition in this context means registering the input from neurons from the heart and gut. In other words, respecting one’s gut feeling.

Morality in this context means the ability to think of the larger social good and enact those behaviors, even when alone.

Nine Forms of Neural Integration
Adapted from Dan's Seigel's Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation (2010)

1. Integration of consciousness - Awareness of the body, mental/emotional, relational, and outside world. Openness to things as they are.

2. Bilateral integration - Left and right hemispheres working in synchrony. Left hemisphere is logical and linear, very literal. Right side is more creative, metaphoric, and symbolic.

3. Vertical integration - Body up, including lamina-1, from the brainstem through the midbrain (hippocampus) and into the cerebral cortex. [ME: Also look at the role of the vagus nerve in vertical integration.]

Gut, heart, and lungs all have neural networks that seek to communicate with the brain. Too many people are disconnected from the awareness from our bodies.

4. Memory integration - Implicit and explicit memory integration. When traumas become implicit memory, a schema, we are stuck in the past. To integrate memory, we make implicit memories explicit.

5. Narrative integration - Biographical memory, needs to be included. Run into the trauma, not from it. When a dog tries to bite you, stick your fist down it's throat - it'll gag and release. We get wounded, but not as bad as if we pull away and the dog's teeth tear the flesh from our hands.

6. State integration - we are multiple selves sharing a body. Three parts: We need to learn to honor our states (intrastate), interstate, honor that we have different needs at the same time and we need to pay attention to that, and interpersonal states, maintaining my own states while in relation with others.

Other states - such as gross, subtle, causal, nondual?

7. Interpersonal integration - Honoring and supporting the differences in each other promotes neural integration in the brain. Mind is energy and information flow. Talking about thoughts and feelings gets you nowhere. It's about nurturing energy.

Communication of feelings, not about feelings, can be integrative for the brain - promotes integrative fibers in the brain. Parent-child interactions that create healthy attachment work in this way.

8. Temporal integration - Making maps of time. Connected to narrative - we seek certainty, but change is the only constant. We also become aware of our eventual death.

Differentiation and linkage, chaos and integration. We need to differentiate before we can link, and we need to recognize the chaos before we can integrate.

9. Transpirational integration - The identity of a bodily self expands beyond the boundary of the skin - we sense our interconnection time, place, and people. Integration of integration. We Space consciousness.