The Courage to Be Present: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Awakening of Natural Wisdom ~ by Karen Kissel Wegela ( Book Description/Interview/Video )

Description of The Courage to Be Present
The quality of presence a psychotherapist or counselor brings to the therapeutic relationship makes all the difference in effective treatment. With this groundbreaking new application of Buddhist practice to psychotherapy, Karen Kissel Wegela offers mental heath professionals a Buddhist’s perspective on bringing compassion, patience, generosity, and equanimity to their work with clients.

She presents as a model the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva, the archetypal being whose life is radically dedicated to seeking the benefit and welfare of others over his or her own.

Drawing on her background in Buddhist practice and her years of teaching at the university level and of working with clients in private practice, Wegela begins with the basic Buddhist understanding of how suffering arises and ceases, and then continues with teachings on how to discover and cultivate the bodhisattva’s awakened heart. She uses stories from her own practice as well as teachings from the Buddhist tradition to describe how to discover and cultivate the six traditional “awakened actions”: generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom.

The Courage to Be Present offers an effective method for cultivating the wisdom of compassion and equanimity in all relationships—both personal and professional. Wegela shows not only how counselors can apply this wisdom in their own lives, but also how they can help their clients to cultivate these qualities in themselves.

Karen Kissel Wegela

Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela has been a professor at Naropa University for twenty-seven years. She teaches classes in Buddhism and psychology at the master’s level. Dr. Wegela also has a private psychotherapy practice. She holds a PhD in Counseling, Psychology, and Experiential Learning.In addition to her book How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance, Dr. Wegela has written articles for professional journals and she is a columnist for the Shambhala Sun magazine.

The Courage to be Present: An Interview with Karen Kissel Wegela
By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D

Question: Karen, what are the differences between traditional psychotherapy and Contemplative Psychotherapy?

Contemplative Psychotherapy differs from other kinds of psychotherapy in being especially interested in what we call “brilliant sanity,” our inherent wisdom and compassion.

Although we are not always in touch with that basic nature of who we most deeply are, nonetheless, Contemplative Psychotherapists always assume its presence in ourselves and in our clients and are trained to recognize it even when it is covered or disguised by confusion and habitual patterns. We work with our clients-and with ourselves- to uncover that sanity within all confused or painful states of mind.

A basic tenet of Contemplative Psychotherapy is the need for therapists to have an ongoing mindfulness/awareness meditation practice. This commitment to working with our own minds every day keeps us “honest.”

We are far less likely to be distracted by our own concerns and our own preferences about what a client might do or not do. It frees us to assist our clients in actualizing their own brilliant sanity, not our ideas about what that might look like.

We take our inspiration from the Buddhist ideal of the “bodhisattva,” one who dedicates his or her life to benefiting others. Not all contemplative psychotherapists are Buddhists, but they are all committed to nurturing mindfulness and awareness in themselves and in their clients.

Question: In your book you talk a bit about cultivating joy in therapy. How do you do that and what tips can you give readers on how to cultivate joy in their own lives?

These days, many therapists and clients are aware of the power of mindfulness practice. In addition to the strong foundation mindfulness provides, Buddhist psychology offers other teachings that are also valuable in psychotherapy such as the teachings on the “four immeasurables,” and the “six awakened actions.” These are practices that are directed specifically toward how we relate with others.

The four immeasurables are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Sympathetic joy is the great delight we feel when those we love are happy. There are a number of practices, some of which are described in my book, that help us cultivate this quality in ourselves and to help us recognize and support it in our clients. We begin by rejoicing in the happiness of those it is easy for us to feel joy about.

Then we practice extending it to people we feel neutral toward, like our mailman or the checker at the market. Then, we practice expanding it out to people we have a hard time with. As we develop this quality, it includes more and more beings whose happiness we can delight in. It is an antidote to the painful feelings of jealousy and resentment.

Question: In your book you talk about 6 awakened actions. What are awakened actions? And how can we begin to engage with them?

The six awakened actions, or paramitas, are the Buddhist description of how a fully awakened being, like a bodhisattva, would naturally act. For us less than fully awakened people, there are various practices and contemplations we can do to help us strengthen our inherent compassionate and wakeful natures.

For example, we can practice the first awakened action, generosity, by beginning with ourselves. One common problem that clients bring to therapy is their self-doubt and even self-aggression. Learning how to appreciate oneself can lead to our appreciating others more as well. When we do that, we naturally become more giving toward them.

Question: What are some core truths that you live your life by that you can share with our readers that can help alleviate suffering from stress, pain, and illness? How can they put it into action?

There are several core truths I live my life by-or aspire to live my life by. The first is trying to recognize brilliant sanity in everyone, even the people I strongly disagree with. This can be quite challenging. One way I work with this is to “exchange self for other,” by imagining what it would be like to be the other person.

I ask myself how I would feel and see things as this other person. Often this lets my heart soften. Sometimes I ask clients to imagine what it might be like to be someone in their life with whom they are having a difficult time.

Another core truth comes from Buddhist teachings: we cause ourselves enormous suffering by trying to hang on tightly to wanting things to be different from how they actually are. Things are what they are. We can’t change anything until we’re willing to see what’s true right now.

Something I often ask myself when I am having a hard time is, “What am I hanging on to here?” And “Could I let go into what is really happening now?” I often find that if I can let go, my view of what is possible becomes much larger. Meditation practice is enormously helpful in teaching me how to let go.

A final core truth has to do with being present. I believe that being present takes a lot of courage. It’s not easy to be truly present. And beyond that, being present for others also means showing up with the qualities of compassion, open-mindedness and clarity. All of those qualities are both natural to us and also things we can nurture further through meditation, contemplation, psychotherapy, and mindful living.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and conducts a private practice in
West Los Angeles. He is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

Search For Meaning 2010 | Karen Kissel Wegela

Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D.
Presentation Title: “The Courage to Be Present: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Awakening of Natural Wisdom”

Satsang Premananda – Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings [updated]

Premananda explains clearly and simply the teachings of the great indian saint Sri Ramana Maharshi. Especially the path of Self Inquiry, “Who Am I?”. Ramaha Maharshi suggested that Self Inquiry is the most direct way to self realisation.

“Ramana Maharshi suggested a path into your true center. He suggests you ask yourself, “Who is doing this?” The answer is, “Me”. When you then ask, “Who is me?”, it brings you back into the center. When you come to that center you find that you are joy, stillness and peace. Our True Nature is like the blue sky. It’s infinite, without boundaries, it never changes. This is you.

English with German translation

Transcendence and Transformation

“I have no interest in instilling any kind of desire, hope or ideas of transcendence. The striving for transcendence implies an escape from the current realm into some greater realm that actually, as is obvious to those who have been trapped in the transcendence trance, leads inevitably to bitterness and disappointment. Transcendence is a false hope, a bait-and-switch operation. Nothing comes of it.” — John Sherman — From a Meeting with John Sherman on November 10, 2008 pm.

“The Journey After Awakening” Adyashanti & Loch Kelly

Awakening to our true nature does not mark the end of the spiritual path—it’s just the beginning. In this intimate and compelling dialogue, Adyashanti and Loch Kelly explore the journey after awakening.

Adyashanti, author of Emptiness Dancing, The Impact of Awakening, and True Meditation, dares all seekers of peace and freedom to take the possibility of liberation seriously. His spontaneous and direct teachings have opened the door for many seekers to awaken to their true nature and live an awakened life.

Loch Kelly, founder of the natural Wakefulness Center in New York City, has practiced nondual psychotherapy and taught meditation for twenty years. Invited to teach the direct path by Adyashanti, Loch offers a unique experiential teaching to assist in the recognition, realization, and full embodiment of our true nature.

Swami Shankarananda: The Great Being Within Us

Swami Shankarananda at 3 Gurus 2006, Nityananda Institute, Portland, OR. Excerpt from the DVD available from Rudra Press.

Awakening NOW – Preview

Awakening NOW is a documentary journey into insights of 6 contemporary spiritual teachers and their experiences on the path to spiritual awakening.

Maharishi: The origin of thought A shortened version of “The origin of thought – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.” Maharishi asks: “We are all thinking all the time – but where do all these thoughts come from?” (Lake Louise, Canada, 1968)

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