McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
mindfulness, awareness, present moment, Buddhist psychology, Dzogchen, non-duality, psychotherapy, contemplative practice, common factors, presence
This dissertation considers the meaning of “present-moment awareness” and its role in psychological healing and transformation. The current conversation around mindfulness, a secularized practice with roots in Buddhist contemplative traditions, has largely unfolded within a dualistic framework in which subject and object are separate from one another as well as from a discrete entity called a moment. While widely appreciated for its capacity to foster well-being and insight, mindfulness as construed above remains disconnected from Buddhist psychology’s non-dualistic view of experience, which radically challenges our ordinary understandings of subjectivity and temporality. In the current project, I sought to explore this non-dualistic perspective phenomenologically, and to highlight its potential intersection with psychotherapeutic theory and practice. To this end, I worked with Peter Fenner, Ph.D., a non-dual teacher and former Buddhist monk, exploring contemplative instructions from a Tibetan Buddhist tradition known as Dzogchen. These so-called pointing-out instructions involve a teacher “pointing-out” to their student “the nature of mind,” the non-dual reality held to be already present but habitually unrecognized in their experience. Over 11 meetings, I worked with Peter as he abided within the recognition of non-dual awareness, reading and commenting on five different pointing-out instructions from masters in the Dzogchen lineage and spontaneously engaging me in conversation regarding my own understandings. I wrote phenomenological descriptions of what it was like to work with Peter and the instructions, and then analyzed the different texts in terms of what they might suggest about subjectivity, temporality, suffering and healing. From this analysis emerged four themes that cohere as a single way of being: Immediacy, Letting Go, Not Knowing, and Relating Intimately. I then explored how these might already be implicit within the psychotherapy process. Through a consideration of psychotherapy in terms of the relational context, the client’s experiencing, and shifts in understanding, I suggested various ways that effective psychotherapy can be understood as an attenuated expression of non-duality. Insofar as we realize that the gap between ourselves, experience, and time is in fact imagined, and we can never truly be separate from “this moment,” we might discover novel possibilities for psychotherapeutic theory and practice.
Axelrad, J. (2018). The Inheritance of this Moment: An Exploration of Temporality, Subjectivity, and Liberation in Non-Dual Contemplative Practice and Psychotherapy (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1728