Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformationby John Welwood
How can we connect the spiritual realizations of Buddhism with the psychological insights of the West? In Toward a Psychology of Awakening John Welwood addresses this question with comprehensiveness and depth. Along the way he shows how meditative awareness can help us develop more dynamic and vital relationships and how psychotherapy can help us embody spiritual realization more fully in everyday life. Welwood's psychology of awakening brings together the three major dimensions of human experience: personal, interpersonal, and suprapersonal, in one overall framework of understanding and practice.
"Brilliant and thought provoking. This ambitious work succeeds so well because it sheds light on the interplay between meditation, inner work, and conscious relationship as a spiritual practice."— Spirituality & Health
"Marvelously fluent, personable, and eminently compassionate."— NAPRA Review
"Rich, potentially transforming insights abound here. Psychotherapists and spiritual seekers alike will be enriched by this book."— Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
the Introduction to
One: Integrating Psychology and Spirituality
What is the relationship between psychological and spiritual work, between personal growth and spiritual development? How can we work on becoming a mature,
authentic person, while still recognizing that we are something that goes beyond personhood altogether? These questions take us to the very heart of what it means to be human.
Spiritual practice involves exploring who and what we ultimately are—our true, essential nature, shared alike by all human beings. The direct, experiential realization of true nature has been a particular specialty of the Eastern contemplative traditions. Eastern teachings emphasize living from our deepest nature, turning the mind around so that it can see into its very essence, rather than constantly facing outward, focusing on tasks and objects to grasp and manipulate. Recognizing the essential nature of our awareness as an open,
wakeful, luminous, and compassionate presence allows us to relate to our life in a much richer and more powerful way. This realization is what allows us to liberate ourselves from the chains of past conditioning, known in the East as karma.
From this perspective, since well-being, happiness, and freedom are intrinsic—that is, contained within our essential nature—the most important task in life is to realize this true nature. While the illumined yogis and saints of the East represent some of the strongest testimony to the power of this vast,
nonpersonal dimension of being, it is also fully accessible to anyone, East or
While the wisdom of the East has illuminated the ultimate nature of being—beyond the world, beyond the individual person, beyond human relationship, and beyond human history—the wisdom of the West has taken a very different tack. The
Western wisdom traditions teach that we are here not just to realize our divine nature but to embody that nature in human form. If the East has focused on the vertical, timeless dimension, the West has focused on the horizontal—the individual's life as it unfolds in time.
West has also given birth to a revolutionary, intoxicating idea that has taken the world by storm: the sanctity of the individual. Individuals are here not just to fulfill traditional agendas handed down by family, society, and conventional religion, but to discover their unique gift and fully embody that gift in their lives. This is the principle of individuation, which is not such a priority in the East. The Western idea of the individual has also helped liberate the capacity to ask questions and freely investigate the nature of things without allegiance to rigid orthodoxies, giving rise to the scientific method. This in turn has led to the development of Western psychology.
Western psychology focuses on the conditioned mind and illuminates it every bit as brilliantly as the East illuminates unconditioned awareness. Western psychology allows us to understand, for the first time, the individual psyche—how it develops and becomes conflicted, and how it replays inner conflicts, defensive patterns, and interpersonal dynamics from early childhood in adult life. From this perspective, psychological healing comes about through understanding,
clarifying, and working with these developmental dynamics.
East and West have thus spawned two distinct types of psychology, based on totally different methods and pointing in totally different directions. Eastern contemplative psychology, based on meditative practice, presents teachings about how to achieve direct knowledge of the essential nature of reality, which lies beyond the scope of the conventional conceptual mind. Western therapeutic psychology, based on clinical practice and conceptual analysis, allows us to trace specific causes and conditions influencing our behavior, mind-states, and self-structure as a whole. Yet though the Eastern emphasis—on nonpersonal awareness and direct realization of truth—and the Western emphasis—on individual psychology and conceptual understanding—may seem contradictory, we can also appreciate them as complementary. Both are essential for a full realization of the potentials inherent in human existence.
beyond the differences of geography, race, and culture, East and West ultimately represent two different aspects of ourselves.
In this sense, they are like the relationship between breathing out and breathing in. The Eastern emphasis on letting go of fixation on form, individual characteristics, and history is like breathing out, while the Western emphasis on coming into form, individuation, and personal creativity is like breathing in. And just as breathing in culminates in breathing out, so breathing out culminates in breathing in. Each side, without the other, represents only half of the equation.
East and West each harbor at their core essential realizations that together can help the world forge, out of the two ways human consciousness has evolved on opposite sides of the globe, a larger appreciation of the human journey. To discover our human wholeness, which is surely essential for the survival and evolution of humanity and the planet, we need to bring the two sides of our nature—absolute and relative, suprapersonal and personal, heaven and earth—together at last. This is precisely the great promise and potential of a new, integrative psychology of awakening. And this is the work that the chapters in this first part of the book begin to address.
Meet the Author
As a psychotherapist, teacher, and author, John Welwood has been a pioneer in integrating psychological and spiritual work. Welwood has published six books, including the best-selling Journey of the Heart (HarperCollins, 1990), as well as Challenge of the Heart (Shambhala, 1985), and Love and Awakening (HarperCollins, 1996). He is an associate editor of the Journal for Transpersonal Psychology. He leads workshops and trainings in psychospiritual work and conscious relationship throughout the world.
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