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The Misleading MindReview - The Misleading Mind
How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them
by Richard Bell
New World Library, 2012
Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D.
Oct 2nd 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 40)

Karuna Clayton brings to his new book, The Misleading Mind, a broad background of theoretical studies and practical applications, across a spectrum of mental health research, narrative therapy, professional development, and life coaching. Over twenty years of professional training practice in educational, business, and health settings and twelve years of studying Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal have helped Clayton to develop and tailor a highly practical approach for addressing and resolving the challenges of the human life.

The reader can readily identify Clayton's Buddhist orientation in his grounding assumption about the human condition: to be human is to suffer. We can also locate his methodological roots in the field of Western psychology in his understanding of human suffering as both a universal and a subjective state. Where many will at first hesitate in their agreement with Clayton's study is in the conclusion that he draws from the union of these two ideas: that the causes of suffering are always internal. Modern Western psychology sees unhappiness as occurring within the psyche, but the causes, when not determined by material malfunctions, i.e., pathology in the brain's functioning, will be attributed to external causes and environmental stressors, such as dysfunctional family systems, poor or absent parenting, childhood trauma, or living in unsafe conditions. Therapy is usually complex and highly personalized, drawing attention to very specific and immediate problems that are plaguing the unhappy individual. However, Clayton's approach differs from Western-style therapy; he instead employs a Buddhist meta-psychological approach that seeks to disinter not merely the individual's personal story line, but to illuminate the universal nature of human problems per se. He locates the causes of unhappiness in the general tendencies of human minds, in self-destructive mental attitudes.

Where Clayton sees Western and Buddhist psychologies aligning is in their common urgency to engage problems directly, rather than avoiding them, deflecting them, or covering them over. However, the two psychological approaches are at odds in fundamental ways: whereas therapy treats individual problems as anomalous obstacles to be overcome in order for the patient to return to a carefree, happy life, Buddhist psychology takes a longer term and more realistic approach, training the sufferer to embrace problems, taking care of them and nurturing them as old friends who will become allies in cultivating a joyful life.

After outlining the distinguishing features of the two psychological approaches, Clayton then offers a practical method for training the mind to approach problems in this more positive, suffering-embracing way. The approach begins from an alternative assumption about problems: problems are the norm of the human condition, not an aberration or anomaly. This grounding realism allows me to expect problems as part of human life, to anticipate them as opportunities to practice our problem-solving skills, rather than as curses and misfortunes that are victimizing and targeting--me! Clayton's problem-solving skill-building program will increase the mind's awareness, discipline, strength, and discernment. When we learn these skills, Clayton assures us, our problems change shape and become "ornaments that we wear" rather than boulders thrown in our path (p. 11).

First in our mind-training lessons is a crash course in Buddhist philosophy. The Four Noble Truths alerts us to the ubiquity of suffering in a changeable, fluctuating, unsatisfying world that gives everybody plenty of what we don't want and only temporarily what we do want. The final truth points toward the path for overcoming the aversion or clinging that generates our disappointment with this reality, rendering life painful and intolerable. Clayton addresses in turn some of the forms of suffering that waylay us on the path--physical pain, ignorance, anxiety, small-mindedness--then assigns us a simple breathing-counting exercise to launch ourselves on this path, so that we may begin to train our minds to limit the influence of negative emotions, desires, or perceptions and to transform them into helpful forms. The message is that we are not helpless victims of negative circumstances, as it often feels and as Western psychology would have us believe, but we are free to interpret the raw events of our lives. We have a choice how to see our situations, how to transform them, how to overcome them. We are the umpires of our own ball game; we name the balls and strikes that come across the home plate. This reinterpretation of the events of our lives frees us from the prison of our reactive mode of living and puts us back in charge.

Clayton then describes a step-by-step method for achieving the transformation of attitude that frees us from hopelessness and helplessness.

1. Establish awareness: stop and give yourself a choice how to react.

2. Create a gap in the process of reactivity by reciting the ABC's: A (anatomy) checks in with the body; B (breath) anchors our attention in the breath; C (counting) reminds us of the breathing counting exercise that focuses our mind on five exhalations.

3. Identify and name the emotion that is arising and whether it is negative or helpful.

4. Choose a response that is an effective, positive action.

The Misleading Mind focuses the reader's attention on her own possibilities for cultivating a joyful freedom, even amidst the problems that inevitably trouble every human life, by reinterpreting freedom as the ability to choose one's interpretations of events and one's reactions to life circumstances. The reader learns she has a choice: to welcome her problems as though she had invited them, working affirmatively with them to develop grace and agility at problem-solving, or to wail, struggle, and ultimately drown in feelings of helplessness. This comfortably secular re-articulation of Buddhist methods brings meditation from the caves and monasteries and places it in the present moment of busy Western lives. The book will prove to be an accessible, valuable, and enjoyable read for any educated reader and a beneficial addition to any self-help library. At a time when anxiety and depression reach epidemic proportions in Western nations and masses of people--even children!--are popping pills and rushing to therapists to treat their "mental illnesses," Clayton's book offers an alternative interpretation of life that empowers individuals and challenges them to accept responsibility for their own emotional and mental balance, and to develop practical strategies for working with their problems in positive ways.

 

© 2012 Wendy C. Hamblet,

 

Wendy C. Hamblet, Professor, North Carolina A&T State University


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