Buddhist Meditation, Love, and Therapy

Review of Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness by Marsha Lucas, Hay House, Inc., 2012, 201 pages.

 

Disclosure: I have known and been fond of Marsha Lucas for some time. Reading this book made me more fond of her.

 

Warning: This is in some way a subversive book. If you practice the meditation exercises it provides you will probably find yourself being more fond of yourself, your family and friends, and possibly even all of humanity.

 

Marsha admits to being a neuroscience geek, and she invites the reader to join in her exuberance over this field of study. I have a certain geek component in my own personality, so I thought it would be easy to follow her along this path. However when we got to an anatomical diagram of the various parts of the brain I lost some of my momentum. Nevertheless I feel on friendlier terms with my insula and my amygdala than I have in the past.  Frequent citations of the massive amount of research on how mediation actually changes the brain anatomically somehow makes the whole thing more "real," in a way that I am a bit embarrassed to admit is compelling to me.

 

Among other things this book is a brilliant synthesis of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy. A recent edition of “The Psychotherapy Networker” raised the question of whether we even need psychotherapy anymore because we have discovered mindfulness. Marsha makes a very good case for the combination of the two. I found myself musing about whether psychotherapy is an adjunct to mindfulness or mindfulness is an adjunct to psychotherapy. I am trying (mindfully) to simply notice that thought without getting attached to trying to answer the question.

 

The writing style in this book is clear and precise while still informal and playful. It feels like having a lively and fun conversation with a very bright friend who is passionate about psychotherapy and about meditation. Parts of her own life are included freely, as are case studies from her own psychotherapy practice. It is not clear that she recommends meditation to all of her psychotherapy clients, but it is also not clear that she does not.

 

Early in the book there is a brief description of how to engage in basic mindfulness meditation. Near the end of the book there is a description of how to engage in lovingkindness meditation. In between there as a specific meditation practice given in each chapter that is tailored to fit a specific kind of difficulty, such as uncontrolled rage, PTSD, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy, and the like.  Each chapter also presents an interesting and relevant case example.

 

Attachment theory is woven seamlessly into the various chapters in the book, and within this tapestry there is also considerable attention given to a implicit, or preverbal, memories.  Such memories are extremely difficult to address in psychotherapy with its usual emphasis on verbal interaction, but it appears that mindfulness meditation in combination with a verbal psychotherapy can be much more effective in this regard.

 

I found it reassuring to read Marsha’s recommendation to the meditation practitioners who encounter difficult material in their meditative introspection. She recommends backing off and being gentle with one's self, and also recommends finding a good psychotherapist to help in this journey of exploration. She does not feel that the psychotherapist need necessarily be a meditator. Instead she refers back to the literature on psychotherapy that demonstrates the central importance of the relationship between client and psychotherapist and the genuineness of the psychotherapist in this relationship. Clearly in other parts of the book she points out how meditation can enhance genuineness and depth in relationships in general, but does not insist that this is the only way to achieve such authenticity.

 

The title and the picture on the cover might seem to suggest the promise of greater intimacy in a romantic relationship. Indeed this is part of what the book seeks to address. However, only one very brief passage actually refers directly to sexual intimacy and clearly Masha is talking about a much wider kind of intimacy that subsumes sexual intimacy.  Of course I personally had no thought of juicing up my sex life when I bought the book, but I am sure there are those of a less refined and enlightened nature who might have such a fantasy.

 

Throughout the book there is an underlying optimism about the possibilities for individual change as well as larger social global change. Some of this optimism is based on the current view of neuroplasticity. Most neuropsychologists now believe that neuroplasticity is available to some extent throughout the lifespan, and not just during the early years of life as was previously thought. The research that is cited in the book about changes that occur in brain structures after relatively brief periods of regular meditation certainly support this optimism.

 

Clearly the book has radical implications beyond just office-based psychotherapy. This is particularly true with the presentation of lovingkindness meditation. The case example that is offered in conjunction with this type of meditation describes a client whose professional activities caused a certain moral discomfort in the client in spite of the fact that no actual laws were being broken. After a period of using lovingkindness meditation this client confronted the need to make a change in career. I was reminded of hearing Jack Kornfield describe at a workshop last year the way in which the military is using mindfulness meditation to help soldiers be more efficient. He mentioned that it is his hope that meditation, specifically in the lovingkindness format, will migrate its way up the chain of command within the military. Although not explicitly stated it seems clear that he had some hope that the practice of lovingkindness meditation in the military might be quite subversive of the military’s general purpose of killing people.  I have a similar hope about psychotherapy.[1]

 

Having read this book I have found myself struggling with the impulse to recommend it to a large percentage of my psychotherapy clients. So far I have been fairly restrained, and expect to find some sort of balance in this regard as I go forward. Clearly this book could be helpful to many of my clients, but I do not think I should hand out copies to everyone who walks in the door. However, with regard to psychotherapists, I cannot imagine any one of us who would not benefit from reading this book.

 

John Rhead

2-23-12

 

A professionally edited and more formal version of this book review appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy.


[1] See my article “What Might Psychotherapy Have to do With Peace” which appeared in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 2009, Vol. 5, No. 4, pages 186-193, at http://www.johnrhead.com/writings/psychotherapy_peace_final.pdf, which happens to be right here on this website in the list to the left of this article.