Readage – Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts

Psychotherapy East and West

With its initial release way back in 1961, Psychotherapy East and West by noted philosopher Alan Watts sought to examine the parallels between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophy. I must say it has aged well despite both areas of his interest transforming greatly in the 50+ years since the book first hit the presses.

Psychotherapy East and West focuses on the methods and objectives of both segments and how they converge and contrast with one other. Watts’ overall goal with this book was to bring both together in a new way and have both parties examine each another – or as he suggests – take a look at how they can “fertilize each other.”

He begins with a nod towards the contributions that Eastern philosophy has made to advance the domain of Western psychology. As one would expect, there is plenty of mention of the ego in here – either Freudian-flavoured, or as it is viewed in Eastern philosophy. The transformation of one’s consciousness is advanced as what both areas have in common. Be it a guru, minister – or a therapist, it’s all about liberation.The therapist is concerned with helping the individual resolve their personal feelings with the social norms that surround them. It’s the wire-walk between being oneself and not offending those around them. For the guru or master, it’s helping the adept see how samsara may come from trying to contort oneself to fit into society’s rules and identifying greatly with the ‘I’ at the centre of it all.

Freud and Jung are the core individuals who Watt’s explores in this book (makes sense). As far as Buddhism, the concepts of suffering, samsara, reincarnation, liberation, karma, bodhisattvas, the ego, sense perceptions and name dropping of several key figures occurs. Much is said about the process of both psychotherapy and interactions with one’s guru. I personally found it quite interesting to see the links that Watts finds between the two.


The book jumps around a bit in my opinion. I found myself thinking I had understood the first few chapters – to then getting lost in the woods in several areas towards the middle and end of it. I approached Psychotherapy East and West with the view that I would take what I could from it and not sweat what seemed to be over my head or rambling. I still feel satisfied having read this book and figure that maybe someday I’ll go back for a second read if Watt’s koan calls out to me!

Overall, this was a very interesting read. I have an affinity for reading psych books – and well, give me a great Buddhist book any day and I’m in! With both of these subjects examined by such a revered scholar as Watts, Psychotherapy East and West deftly covers each with the respect they deserve. Neophytes may find the subject matter a bit heady (confession- there were several areas where I was in deep waters) – but readers are certain to find something that will speak to them within its pages.

If you are interested in a deeper exploration of Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts, I would encourage you to visit the blog Going for Refuge as it is currently exploring the book chapter by chapter.

Linkage – More links I love – February Edition


To help fight the February blahs, here are a few more links to some goings on that have helped me feel a little less morose. March is fast on our heels. 

  • Check out The Extraordinary Breath.
  • Check out some extraordinary smells while you’re at it. 
  • Ill Will – I feel this. Oh I so feel this
  • Speaking of TrumpBuddhist Activism and Quietism is a great recap of the two approaches to dealing – or not dealing with him. 
  • I Can’t Tell That Story –  I’m feeling this quite a bit as I wish to share so much with you dear reader, but also must practice self-editing while I process difficult emotions and situations that I’ve encountered. Maybe I’ll share – someday. Maybe not. 
  • SUMERU Books have recently released their 2017 catalogue  where you can find mention of the book I had edited – Lotus Petals in the Snow: Voices of Canadian Buddhist Women. Since Canadians are so popular these days, with our hunky Prime Minister and compassion – well maybe you might want to pick up a copy to warm your heart. 
  • Speaking of SUMERU, they are offering up a free e-book titled Understanding the Chinese Buddhist Temple by Karma Yönten Gyatso. Check it out here.
  • Speaking of Canada’s hunky Prime Minister… 

Hunky Canadian prime minister busting out a yoga pose

Readage – The Guru Drinks Bourbon? – Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse  doesn’t mess around.

There was Not for Happiness  – a book that gives readers the skinny on the preliminary practices (aka Ngöndro). Before that one was the seminal What Makes You Not a Buddhist  which has still left a mark on me. This isn’t a teacher who sugarcoats the Dharma. Rinpoche really lets you have it. This is why I have the ultimate love and respect for him.

His latest book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? is no different than its predecessors. It will push your buttons and make you think. It will enlighten, entertain and educate. This book features captivating and creative photography that may evoke acid flashbacks!

With its somewhat provocative title, this book is focused on the relationship between a student and their guru in the Vajrayana path. It offers up personal stories of his experience, those of his students and many examples from history to help illustrate the various perks and pitfalls of this unique path.

Guru devotion – the path of Vajrayana (aka tantra) means wholeheartedly handing yourself over to this being. It’s all about embarking on a journey to having yourself cracked open completely. You don’t want to hand over the keys to the first cool looking, sweet talker that comes your way. You’re looking for a lean, mean spiritual coach who is going to make you work! The ultimate goal is to tame our mind – leading to enlightenment. This isn’t an easy or traditional relationship and we’re working with someone who will be able to customize this path according to our specific quirks and personality.

Rinpoche asks us to consider our motivation for wanting a guru in the first place and then, upon full examination, notes we need to place our trust in this person to help you move towards enlightenment. He mentions that the search for a guru is one of the most important part of the path.

This book sets out a framework for what one should look for in selecting a guru. It highlights the importance of scrutiny and wisdom when choosing a teacher to work towards ultimate realization of the nature of our minds. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse covers a lot of ground within these pages– everything from why we need a guru in the first place, Western Buddhism, mindfulness, devotion, corruption, the Tulku system, the guru-student relationship, abuse, and our expectations of how a guru should behave. There is mention of a lack of female gurus in our society as well as an abundance of ‘charlatans’ who are busy staging elaborate stage shows and Instagram photos of them wearing Rolexes. Yes. Celebrity culture is very much a part of the Vajrayana and you could be star struck, but left spiritually empty if you aren’t careful.

There are instructions on how to evaluate a guru and what one should look for. Rinpoche also has recommendations for what responsibilities gurus have towards both their existing, and potential students. Yes. Sizing up the guru is mentioned, but conversely, gurus are also sizing up their potential students. How’s that for non-duality? Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse mentions that the standard for this sizing up is about 12 years although one size does not fill all for this kind of evaluation. Its recommended to develop a shortlist for contenders and then he suggests that one tests the potential guru in some way or another.’ He also showcases the four ‘guru-types’ to avoid and the characteristics of each – a kind of ‘bad guru checklist.’

There’s some deep and murky territory covered within The Guru Drinks Bourbon? It’s not a read that will have you putting down the book and feeling like you’re any more certain than when you initially picked it up. It may piss you off. It may shake you up. It may answer a few questions – or it may cause even more questions to emerge.

This book is truly a must read if you are interested in the Vajrayana path. It’s a no-bullshit; no holds barred look at what you’re getting into when you decide to follow this approach. I’ve come to really appreciate Khyentse’s writing style and his direct honesty so to be truthful; any book that he releases is going on my bookshelf. 


Death Positive

When you say that you’re ‘death positive’ – it may sound kind of weird to the uninitiated.  Like you’re running around dressed like a goth cheerleader, chanting ‘Rah Rah. It’s OK. Everybody Dies Anyway.” Like anything, there are levels to the positivity, just as there are levels to the woo in New Age circles and the guitar noodling in the Heavy Metal realm. 

The concept of ‘death acceptance’ might be bit less strange as it’s commonly spoken of, and well – regardless of whether we want death in our lives, we accept that it happens (eventually we accept it, because we have no choice). As Buddhists, our dear friend the First Noble Truth teaches that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and uh hem, death is unavoidable. Whether we become comfortable or tolerant of this truth is our own personal journey.  

Given 2015 was the year that I was initiated into the Hardcore Grievers Club, I’ve since become quite death positive. This isn’t without a basis in being interested, frightened or ‘death curious.’ As a child, most of my interest in death revolved around a love of horror films and all things that went bump in the night. One of the deeper death experiences I had was when my close friend, Tina was killed by a drunk driver. I was roughly 10 years old and from what I remember, it was surreal to me. I was left trying to comprehend how someone I spent so much time with and was bonded to, was now no longer. I didn’t have a lot of resources to help me through this and was left to process things pretty independently. We lived on the same street and I remember walking by her house feeling something I couldn’t quite nail down. Fear. Sadness. Confusion. Worry about my own death. Anger. Righteousness. Wanting to find the drunk driver and smash his head in. Worrying about seeing her parents and not knowing what to say. Wanting to see her parents. 

I come from an Irish Catholic family, so death was accompanied by a wake. With this wake was a full on expression of emotions. More emotions than many in my family could handle. There were fistfights on occasion, but always yelling, crying, wailing and the presence of a priest. Our priest was a lovely man. Ruddy-skinned, big ears and a stick think frame. He used to play on an all-priest hockey team called ‘the Flying Fathers’ and this delighted me to no end – imagining a bunch of priests in collars with no pads, checking each other around and zooming across the ice. It would have spoiled my childhood image of this to know that they were well-padded, helmet-headed and looked like no other hockey team shimmying it up. 

Deaths continued around me. Family. Friends. Schoolmates. There isn’t a day where the obituary section isn’t filled with one name. Some of these deaths came with a sense of relief – Ah, they will now be at peace. Some were met with shock. Some didn’t have the old age, or sickness category affixed to their cause. 

I trod through life for 19 years, and then discovered Buddhism. One of the first books I read was ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’ I didn’t understand a word of it then, and likely now it may be as mystical and kaleidoscopic as it was when I first cracked the spine. I pawed over countless other deathy books – likely hoping to gain an understanding, but also out of sheer interest.

You can’t learn through books along – only by experience. 

Reverting on old ways, when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer – I tore through books hoping to get some insight. When my dog’s health began to decline, I did the same. Maybe it was a way to buffer myself from the inevitable. To better manage what was coming. To batten down the hatches. To know how the story is likely to end.

The books may have helped a bit.  I can’t say for sure. What did help was going through the experiences. The messiness. The confusion. The wild hurricane of emotions. I wasn’t studying or practicing Buddhism in the way I used to – reading, studying, practicing – but was now living what I had learned to that point. Pema Chodron’s words on uncertainty, letting go, not biting the hook – they all had an application at various stages as things evolved with my mom and my dog. Teachings from Chogyam Trungpa rang in my head. Momentary flashes back to weekends spent at Shambhala centres where I was being primed for this. Like a young gymnast doing reps on the beam – over and over and over. I was coming back to my breath when I was feeling like I was drowning. 

It was unconscious. I wasn’t seeking this comfort or running to my bookshelf for the perfect passage for the moment. It was in there. I didn’t have to call upon it. It just arose. 

I’m now even more curious about death. I’m heartened to see that more and more people are expressing that they are death positive. Maybe you are too and you don’t know it yet. Don’t wait until it’s too late! 

A list of death positive people you should know:

Please add anyone I’ve missed in the comments. I’d love to find more death positive mentors and friends. 

Is it like a Buddhist Diary?

I used to get personal over on my old blog and I’m hoping I’ll pick that up again over here. There’s always the fear of revealing too much – or being a big blabbermouth. Maybe worse yet – of being boring. Add to that nobody reading in the first place.

Then there was that mild troll infestation I had a few years back that made me question why me as a Buddhist woman on the web would even write anything at all. 

Now I’m jazzed about writing again and hoping that this space will keep me inspired to write a bit daily. I’m not at the Morning Pages level of writing that I strive to be at someday, but it’s something. 

Before, my blog felt like a Buddhist diary that I was writing in at times. I would hope that some pimpily-faced kid in the Midwest would stumble across my blog which searching for “Buddhist punk” or a similar optimized term to bring all the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids to the yard. Y’see. I didn’t have any of this when I started folks. I had an old bookstore in my small hometown (cue up a Springsteen-sounding guitar riff to accompany this story). I would buy up any book I could that even smelled like it had a Buddhist scent on it. That led me to some crazy places. Maybe the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids are being lead to similar crazy places online. It’s the age-old battle of ‘back in my day’ was better than your ‘kids nowdays.’ I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Frankly a lot of my perceptions and beliefs on the best way or the only way has gone out the window. Maybe I’ve hit the ‘question everything’ phase of my journey on this winding road?

February 16, 2017

Dear Diary,

I’ve been reading ‘The Guru Drinks Bourbon’ and am devouring it like a parched office worker at a Christmas party punchbowl. There is so much in this book that is challenging – and I love that. Much as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would challenge my thoughts and perceptions about a teacher and how a teacher should behave, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse is doing the same – and I love it! 




Dharmage Podcast – Episode 2: Shaun Bartone of Engage!

Almost a year to the day that I recorded my very first podcast episode and well…. here we have the second dispatch. I’m hoping that it won’t be a yearly thing and  will be a bit more of a regular effort! This is at least a promising start for 2017. 

I’m so happy to have spent about an hour chatting with Shaun Bartone of Engage! – the Engaged Buddhist magazine/podcast. We covered A LOT of terrain in our chat, everything from Shaun’s personal journey on the path, the current situation with Trumpism, activism, interconnection, the mission of Engage, difficult discussions, the organizations and people who are lighting the way and the power of online sanghas balanced with the need for a physical group to sit with. I’m only skimming the surface on what was discussed. Honestly, I didn’t want the discussion to end because I was feeling so informed and inspired. It’s always cool when you can uncover someone who has been on the frontline of activism and learn new tactics, techniques and perspectives. It’s real talk here folks. 

Do check out the podcast and be sure to  let us know what you think and be sure to visit Shaun’s website to further open your mind and get information. Engage! Engaged Buddhism Magazine

Here are but a few of the organizations and individuals that were name-checked during this episode:

Linkage: Links I Love – Valentine’s Day Edition

I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you do, I hope you have a lovely day. If you don’t, I hope you have a lovely day. 

Here are a few links that I want to share with you. May they be of interest, benefit, stoke you in some way or just serve as something to while the time away with.

  • All of this is everything. Go and buy everything that Liz Prince has ever made. 
  • Dharma Cowgirl has written a post that really resonated with me. Gah! It is so good, and so familiar. Thank you for sharing and for being brave. I’m getting comfortable with being a bit more brave myself. 
  • The best band in the world are touring this year and coming to my town. This brings me so much joy. 
  • A little musical entertainment for you from Flag

Good intentions

Oh hey. Remember when you were going to try to write more often because hey, you love writing and it brings you joy and you had all of these good intentions to sit every day and practice each morning and would try to do some at-home yoga at least once a weekend, and you’d break out the juicer and make sure to swig a wholesome and hearty juice to start the day?

Yeah. Good intentions. 

Before I would beat myself up over all of these failings and transgressions. After some mega-doses of self love and self compassion and a whole bunch of realizations that have hit, I’m being a lot more gentle on myself. I’m trying. I’m doing my best. That’s good enough. My habitual tendency has always been to DO ALL THE THINGS and then feel defeated when I didn’t succeed. 

Each day is a fresh start to get back at it. DO SOME OF THE THINGS! DO ONLY ONE OF THE THINGS! 

The phrase “Practice like your hair’s one fire” used to really resonate with me. It was a language that I was most comfortable with. Push yourself. Pressure. DO BETTER. DO ALL THE THINGS. DON”T FAIL. 

Now I’m experimenting with the discomfort that comes from letting some of the things slip. Sitting with the not-sitting. Knowing that this isn’t a race. Doing what I can and letting that be enough. With all of the chaos in the political space, I’m hearing many people feel like they aren’t doing enough. If you’re like me and tend to feel this way – do one thing. Just one thing is enough.

‘So our practice is one of being as conscientious, clear, and honest as we can. We can of course create incredible standards of goodness, but knowing ‘good enough’ means that you check: am I doing what I feel I can do within my capacity to do good? Am I doing something that’s deliberately nasty, stupid, and poisonous or not? Is my energy going into violating others or not, trashing other people or not? Trashing myself or not? This is not appropriate behaviour. What is it that wants to do that? That wants to criticize and continually castigate ourselves and hang on to guilty perceptions of things we did fifteen years ago? What is it that wants to do that? That’s harming us, that’s never going to lead to ‘good enough.’ 

via Ajahn Sucitto

Relax. You’re likely doing much better than you think. 

Readage: Detox Your Heart by Valerie Mason-John

Detox Your Heart

Having missed out on reading this book the first time around, I am grateful to have the opportunity to check out the new edition of Valerie Mason-John’s book Detox Your Heart- Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma. I’m like a broken record lately in saying that again, a book that I needed at this particular stage in my life has made it way into my hands. Call it cause and effect, karmic forces or just plain great timing – I’m feeling blessed to have the chance to receive and be open to the materials within this essential book.

This book is a refreshed, revised and expanded version of the one that was initially released in 2005. It features more stories than the previous work as well as an update on the author’s relationship with her mother.

Anchored in the Four Noble Truths, Mason-John delivers an eye-opening autobiographical journey through her overindulgence in sex, drugs and rock and roll, or as she calls it a different kind of Triple Jewels than what Buddhists know.

The author shares her personal story of how she grew up under terrible circumstances and was unable to shake the negative self-talk she was imprinted with. Her honesty is direct. You can’t help but feel deep empathy for the pain that she suffered. The stories of the obstacles she overcame throughout her life will inspire you towards enacting change in your own situation. She views the human spirit as what helped her break out of her addiction and self-destruction. Once we discover this promise of a way out, we need to overcome our habitual tendencies – those hindrances that keep us stuck in what causes us suffering. Mason-John suggests that we need to detox and purify ourselves in order to fully heal. She calls us to use kindness, generosity, creativity, meditation, and mega-doses of self-love to help in our healing. This book in her words is about “reuniting heart with mind.”

“This book is a self-awareness book.”

Detox Your Heart- Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma will help you to see where you’re hung up, and then will provide you with suggestions for how to change your habits. As was the case with Valerie, all it takes is a willingness and desire to heal. Getting in touch with our emotional self and how we are not to blame for many of the circumstances that befall us is a central element of this book and one that resulted in a major shift. In sharing her story, Valerie’s bravery is helping others like her. She notes that we must face our inner demons in order to come to inner peace. Slowing down and looking at ourselves – our experiences is what helps us tap into feeling and connecting to our emotions. Emotions play a key role in Mason-John’s book and she spends a good part of this work on identifying, exploring and working with our emotions, thoughts and feelings. Creating a space for emotions, welcoming them and then seeing the wisdom that can come from exploring them further than we traditionally do is key to transforming our habitual reactions.

Valerie is an example of resiliency and recovery. This book draws the reader in and explores exercises that they can do to help them to view their situation from a new perspective. Her goal is to help individuals heal their bodies, minds and hearts with the idea of taking “stepping stones towards inner change.”

In the author’s words “Detox your heart and you’ll detox your life.” This book is essential if you are seeking freedom from suffering and want to step into a path of healing and self-awareness.