When I was having Gestalt therapy during the seventies and eighties, anger release was seen to be a positive thing. There were sound-proof rooms in clinics for this purpose. My therapist, Sarah, encouraged me to get rid of it, often without success; other negative emotions, such as jealousy and hatred were competing with anger and frustration at the time. In Gestalt, one worked on all aspects of the person: body, emotions, spirit and intellect. It was very powerful and at the same time, nurturing ; the therapist was like a kind and wise mother figure. But I got stuck in the womb from which my new self was attempting to be reborn, and I turned to a male psychiatrist to finish off the process. Dr Jordan was a risk taker, and the process ended in a breakdown, from which I emerged, after a “mopping-up” period (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy had arrived by then!) cleansed of many of the bad feelings I was carrying, especially depression.
In Buddhism, anger is seen as the number one obstacle to spiritual progress; its opposite is patience, an extremely difficult virtue to acquire. Of course, love—compassion—as in all religions, is held up as the ultimate value to strive for on the road to enlightenment. It is all so simple, and yet so difficult to achieve. Before the Buddhists, Carl Jung was one of my mentors. He perceived, after comparing religions, that the journey of transformation is at the mystical heart of all of them. It is a journey to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine. Unlike Sigmund Freud, Jung thought spiritual experience was essential to our well-being.
Why Buddhism? Kadampa Buddhism, with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso as the Root Guru, pulled me into its aura over time. I had been meditating on and off, during the eighties, but without commitment. There were signposts, and people along the way, that influenced me. I found “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” in a second-hand bookshop and was amazed; my younger sister, Jill, chose Buddhist music for Mum’s funeral exit march; Tibetan flags fluttered into my line of vision over time; a rupture in communication with my son, who had moved into a Buddhist owned house in Paterson, drove me to attend classes at the Mahasiddha Temple in Bondi with an excellent young monk; I found my ability to detach from my suffering started to grow. The teachings were liberating, and I began to commit.
Buddhists are also practical, and often prescribe the middle way, rather than the extreme, which suits me. Buddhism is like a banquet, from which you can select from what is on offer: wise teachings on happiness, relaxing meditations, mystical offerings, paths to enlightenment or detachment from earthly suffering. A psychologist friend recently spent some time in Nepal to attend a Happiness Conference, where he met a French monk who is said by the media to be “the happiest man on earth”. My friend is a specialist in the scientific approach to mental illness (especially the use of CBT) but he was moved by the wisdom and peacefulness of these monks (if sceptical about the more mystical claims), and has been invited to return to visit a monastery in Nepal. I predict change is afoot for this materialistic but generous soul.