Freud Meets Buddha: Paths to the Relief of Suffering
Dennis Ortman If Freud and Buddha were to meet today, they would have a most fascinating conversation and realize how much they had in common, despite the centuries that separate them. Both were revolutionaries who challenged the traditions and authorities of their day. Both encouraged their followers to recognize the richness of their inner life and the authority of their own personal experience. They were scientists, endlessly curious, who carefully investigated the workings of the mind. Freud analyzed his own dreams and wrote about his experiences with his patients. Buddha shared with his disciples the fruits of his contemplation. Above all, both were men of compassion who sought to relieve the suffering of others. While both sought the relief of suffering, Freud’s therapeutic approach ended where Buddha’s path to liberation began. Freud engaged in a “talking cure” in which he instructed his patients to speak freely about whatever came into their minds. He invited them to pay close attention to their free associations and offered verbal interpretations to help them resolve inner conflicts. While appreciating its benefits, Freud honestly admitted the limitations of his approach. He acknowledged that his therapy could only relieve neurotic suffering, but left untouched “everyday unhappiness.” Buddha, on the other hand, sought to relieve the everyday suffering caused by the afflictions of the mind, that is, the greed, hatred, and ignorance that interfere with inner peace. He proposed four noble truths as a practical guide to life: the reality of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to inner freedom. In this article, I would like to describe how the paths to the relief of suffering articulated by Freud and Buddha converge and diverge. Finally, I will offer some reflections on how I integrate both approaches in my work as a psychologist. Converging Paths Freud and Buddha advocated self‐awareness as the primary tool for healing and growth. Freud instructed his patients to maintain “an evenly hovering attention” to their free associations, while Buddha taught a way of meditation by “a bare attention” to the flow of consciousness. Both trained their followers to be observers of the productions of the mind. The object of attention was similar for both, the flow of consciousness. The stream of consciousness is like a continuously flowing river of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. At times the current is swift, and at other times, almost still. But like Old Man River, it “just keeps movin’ along.” We can approach that flowing river of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in several different ways. If we do not like what bubbles to the surface, we may try to either stop or ignore the flow, thinking to ourselves, “If I just ignore it, it will go away and won’t bother me.” Nevertheless, the current seeps through our obstacles, influencing our moods and behavior. Or the pressure builds up to the point that the dam eventually breaks; a raging torrent of thoughts and emotions bursts forth. Alternatively, we may jump into the river and allow ourselves to be carried along by its current, facing 2 the dangers of drowning in the churning thoughts and feelings. A third approach, advocated by both Freud and Buddha, is to stand back and observe closely the flow of the river, paying close attention to the emergence and intermingling of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, tracing them back to their source. Freud used self‐awareness through introspection as his primary therapeutic tool. All the major psychological traditions, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, and even behavioral, employ this tool to some degree. Buddha represents all the major religious traditions, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Taoist, in preaching self‐awareness through meditation, contemplation, and prayer as a way to inner peace. The following are words of wisdom that both endorse: 1) Trust your own experience. 2) Observe yourself closely. 3) Live the present moment. 4) Recognize your attachments. 5) Believe in your freedom and take responsibility for yourself. 6) Consult with others. I will briefly explain these themes and how I use these insights in the treatment of my patients. The word “patient” comes from the Latin word which means “those who suffer.” My patients come to me for relief from their suffering, whose precise causes typically elude them. 1) Trust your own experience. Contrary to the social conventions of his day, Freud instructed his patients, “Turning your eyes inward, look into your depths, learn first to know yourself.” Likewise, Buddha encouraged his followers to listen to and trust their experience. The answers to life’s questions, he said, will not be found in listening to his words, reading the sacred texts, or following the directions of those in authority. The answer lies within. When Freud and Buddha spoke about attending to experience, they meant the whole range of thoughts, feelings, desires, and sensations that bubbled up in the swift current of consciousness. They said we must courageously face whatever reveals itself, without excluding anything. They recognized a depth to that flow that needed to be plumbed in order to be appreciated. My patients come to see me because they have problems they believe they cannot resolve alone. They may feel anxious, angry, or depressed and do not know why. They cannot decide whether to stay or leave their marriage. They cannot resolve a conflict with a family member, friend, or coworker. Many view me as the expert and hope I will provide advice or lead them to an answer. They trust my wisdom more than their own. Instead, I encourage them to look deeply within and trust themselves. For many that is a new experience because they are so accustomed to living on the surface of their lives, following routines or the directions of others. 2) Observe yourself closely. 3 Freud and Buddha were practical teachers. They taught the method and attitudes necessary to become self‐aware and live a fully conscious life. They proclaimed: stand back and become an observer of yourself. Stop and pay attention. Be quiet and listen. Don’t be caught up in idle activity, mental chatter, or the surge of emotions. To become an accurate observer, they said that we must adopt an attitude of curiosity about ourselves, suspending the tendency to judge critically what emerges from our minds. We must also be open to all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise, without censorship. Finally, they advocated an attitude of courage to face and accept whatever we discover, believing that the truth will set us free. In the process of self‐observation, they noted that we begin the process of separating ourselves from our thoughts and feelings, refusing to identify with them. Although our thoughts and feelings arise from within us, they are not who we are. We live in a culture that suffers from excessive distractibility. The pursuit of the American dream leads us to spend countless hours at work with the promise of a life of abundance. It also urges us to be dissatisfied with what we have, always looking forward to a better future. The distractions of work, family, and leisure can be endless. The pace of life is often frenetic. At my gym, a man wore a monogrammed shirt which proudly proclaimed, “Living in the fast lane.” Many of my patients succumb to the stress of their ambitious lifestyles, unable to relax, and unsure of what will make them happy. They are often so busy that they never stop to pay close attention to themselves or the impact of their lifestyles on their psyches. In therapy, I invite them to stop, look, and listen to themselves, to what is really going on in their lives beneath the surface. 3) Live the present moment. Spending time in introspection and meditation, it becomes clear that only that moment in time exists. While Freud insisted that his patients look at their past to understand the present, his concern was for their current wellbeing. He investigated how the past influenced present thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how to escape its self‐defeating impact. Buddha, and the sages of all the wisdom traditions, recognized even more clearly that the past exists only in memory while the future is an expectation. The past and the future are illusions, thoughts we keep in our minds that distract us from our here‐and‐now experience. Each moment of time arises and passes away, never to return, and only the present is real. Paying close attention to the stream of consciousness, we observe that we cannot step into the same river twice because it is relentlessly moving along. Many of my patients live out of step with time, in either the past or the future. They either fight the currents or are carried along by them in their daily lives. Some dwell on the past, filled with regret, anger, and guilt, wondering, “if only…my life could have been so different.” Others are preoccupied with the future, experiencing anxiety, fear, and dread; they live “what if” lives, expecting the worst to happen. What my suffering patients neglect is an in‐depth experience of the present moment with all its richness and wonder. I encourage my patients to return to themselves in the present moment to see what they can discover about themselves. 4) Recognize your attachments. 4 Paying close attention to ourselves, we notice recurring thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, perhaps wondering how they came to be. The currents of our lives move in a particular direction, with varying intensity, with a distinctive ebb and flow. One of Freud’s major contributions to psychology was his insistence on understanding one’s childhood and its impact on current functioning as a key to healing. He observed that many of his patients compulsively repeated what they experienced in the past. They appeared to recreate the pattern of their relating with their parents in current relationships and experience painful conflicts. Therapy involved releasing the hold of that past. Similarly, Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is our clinging to what we like, hatred of what we dislike, and ignorance about the nature of reality. He observed that we suffer because we create a false self by becoming so attached to our ideas, theories, ideals, and images of ourselves. Real healing is liberation from the attachments that interfere with our appreciating the wonder and reality of ourselves in the present moment. All else is an illusion and distraction. My patients often complain that they feel stuck. Of course, there are many ways of being stuck. They are caught in some self‐defeating behavior, not learning from their mistakes. Their relationships all end in the same conflicts. They are consumed by thoughts and feelings they cannot escape, believing their depression or worries will never end. They are consumed by anger or entertain bitter memories and fears of impending doom. Because they cling to their preoccupations, they sink likes stones in the river of life. In therapy, I urge them to stand back and observe the flow of their thoughts and feelings to gain perspective on them. Then, together we investigate the source, pattern, and consequences of these distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so that they can free themselves from their grip. 5) Believe in your freedom and take responsibility for yourself. Thoughtful introspection and meditation lead to a sense of inner freedom. The stream of consciousness springs forth from within us, not from an external source. Ironically, Freud has been accused of undermining free choice because of his emphasis on the determining influence of biology and the environment on behavior. However, Freud was a clinician who sought to relieve his patients of neurotic pain by helping them to understand themselves. He believed that through insight they could understand the influences on their lives, resolve their conflicts, and make changes. He further believed that the unconscious could be made conscious and become the object of choice. Likewise, Buddha taught that we are born free, but have enslaved ourselves by our attachments. He also affirmed our ability to transform ourselves through our mental activity, stating, “All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” He observed that thoughts lead to actions, which become habits when repeated, and shape our character. He encouraged his followers to become aware of and take responsibility for their life‐shaping thoughts. Most often, my patients are suffering, do not know the precise cause, and feel hopeless to find a remedy. They may blame their misery on their abusive parents, insensitive spouses, or demanding bosses. Or they may blame their unhappiness on the conditions of their lives, their poor health, work load, or financial problems. What they often fail to realize is that they are the authors of their own lives, the sources of their own misery or happiness. They are the actors, not the spectators, in their personal dramas. The liberating truth is that we cannot change the world or other people, but we can change 5 ourselves by looking deeply at our thinking. We may be limited in changing the conditions of our lives, but are free in adopting our attitudes toward these circumstances. In therapy, I encourage my patients to become more aware of how they interfere with their own natural joy in life. 6) Consult with others. We are not the first to navigate the river or our consciousness. Others have gone before us and can offer guidance. While introspection and meditation can be liberating, these solitary practices hold the danger of seducing us into living in our own self‐created, self‐serving worlds. Both Freud and Buddha were acutely aware of this danger. Freud recognized our propensity for self‐deception and listed the many ways we unconsciously use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. He understood that patients come to a realistic self‐awareness through a dialogue with the therapist in which they share and explore the fruits of their introspection. In that relationship, the patient relives his childhood conflicts, which he and the therapist analyze. In a similar fashion, while Buddha emphasized the personal authority exercised through meditation, he also offered teachings for guidance. His followers formed a community that preserved and passed on his teachings. Some within the community of meditators became experts who instructed others on the path to inner freedom and how to meditate. Diverging Paths While both Freud and Buddha had a common goal in the relief of suffering, the type of suffering differed for each of them. Freud’s therapeutic approached promised relief from the suffering caused by neurotic conflicts, while Buddha offered relief from existential suffering, everyday unhappiness. While their methods were similar in paying close attention to present experience, Freud’s introspection was not identical to Buddha’s meditation, which parallels the methods of meditation, contemplation, and prayer of all the major religious traditions. How can we view the difference in their methods? The difference lies in the depth of attention paid to the stream of consciousness. Freud articulated a depth psychology that looked beyond the surface of conscious thoughts, feelings, and desires to their unconscious roots. He encouraged his patients to observe all the waves and ripples and what bubbled up from the bottom in the stream of consciousness. In contrast, Buddha taught his disciples to look at the same stream of consciousness, but noted the bottomless depth of the river, its inexhaustible source, and how the observer was one with the river and its source. The differences between the introspection of Freud and modern psychology and the meditation of Buddha and all the religious traditions can be summarized in these three areas: 1) Using an active or passive mind. 2) Focusing on the contents or process. 3) Differing levels of awareness. 4) The interpersonal context. I will briefly explain these differences, aware that they do not exhaust the many ways introspection and meditation follow different paths to healing and wholeness. 6 1) Using an active or passive mind. Freud and Buddha were both aware that they were teaching their followers a method that took them momentarily out of the mainstream of their ordinary lives. Their method required that the individual stop his usual activity, be quiet, and pay close attention to his mental activity. To do so required a commitment on the part of either the patient or the disciple, disciplined effort, and a willingness to explore new terrain. Both Freud and Buddha developed procedures to instruct others in these practices and exemplified their use and value in their own lives. They firmly believed that paying close attention to the mind would yield a rich harvest in increased self‐awareness, healing, and inner peace. Freud’s approach was much more active than Buddha’s, requiring the engagement of the analytical mind. He asked his patients to be introspective in their daily lives and to speak freely, without censorship, about whatever came to their minds in the therapy sessions. Together, he and the patient observed the thoughts, feelings, desires, and images in their sequence and associations. They noted repetitions and patterns and traced their source to early childhood experiences. Furthermore, they discerned how those patterns of thought, feelings, and behavior were repeated in the present day and the consequences of the repetition on the individual’s wellbeing. In short, they actively explored and analyzed what emerged from the stream of consciousness. Meditation for Buddha was a much more passive endeavor. He taught his disciples to be quiet and attend to what emerged and passed through the stream of consciousness. He told them explicitly not to think about or cling to whatever they observed, but to let it pass. Distracting thoughts were noted and released from awareness. Buddha and his followers advocated long hours in meditation, in quieting the mind of all its mental chatter, to achieve a state of stillness and rapt attention to the present moment. With much practice, the state of silent, calm awareness could be achieved readily and sustained through daily life, resulting in a freedom from the suffering caused by attachments. 2) Focus on content or process. Freud and Buddha paid attention to different aspects of the flow of consciousness. Freud was more concerned with what was closer to the surface, to the waves and ripples, while Buddha sought the silent depths and source of the flow. Freud introduced his patients to the rich inner world of the unconscious, which shaped their lives in ways that eluded their conscious awareness. He believed that by making the unconscious conscious, the patient could resolve conflicts and achieve a measure of happiness. Through an introspective free association of ideas, the content of the unconscious was revealed. In therapy sessions, he and the patient explored and identified the specific ideas, the concrete images, the elusive desires, and the fleeting feelings and sensations that emerged in their interaction. In particular, they also investigated any thoughts that interfered with the free flow of ideas, that is, with the patient’s freedom to express himself fully. Buddha instructed his disciples to develop a quiet mind, in contrast to their usual distracted “wild monkey mind.” After achieving a measure of stillness through concentration exercises, he encouraged them to pay close attention to the rising and passing away of any thoughts, feelings, images, or sensations. It was important not to dwell on any of the content that emerged in the quiet attentiveness 7 of meditation. Instead, he advocated remaining an impartial observer. Furthermore, he told his followers to be aware of their reactions to the emerging thoughts, whether liking, disliking, or neutral, and to let them pass without judging or dwelling on them. By focusing on the process of passing thoughts rather than their content, the meditator would enter more deeply into silent contemplation and come to an appreciation of the impermanence and ultimate emptiness of all things. The resulting mental state was one of freedom from illusion and pain. 3) Differing Levels of Awareness. While both Freud and Buddha sought to reveal what was hidden beneath the surface of everyday appearances, they differed in the depth of their explorations. Buddha believed in a fathomless depth and inexhaustible source to the ever‐flowing river of consciousness that Freud did not imagine. Consequently, Freud and Buddha look at the flow of consciousness with different powered microscopes. Freud’s introspection views experience with a hundred‐power microscope and sees a world not visible to the eye of everyday experience, while Buddha’s meditation attends to experience with a thousand‐ power microscope and sees the subtle world of the soul and spirit. Freud believed he opened up the world of the unconscious mind, hidden behind the repression barrier, through his method of introspection and free association. He saw the unconscious bearing thoughts, images, and feelings from childhood that shaped current behavior, often causing conflicts. He believed in the power of awareness to probe the depths of the unconscious and unlock its mysteries, as a way of releasing its hold on the person. His gaze focused on the psychological level of awareness, on those ideas and beliefs emerging from the unconscious that caused neurotic conflicts. Buddha, along with all the religious traditions, believed that we gain access to the deeper, more subtle spiritual realm through meditation. Through the increasingly refined lens of self‐awareness, we learn from first‐hand experience essential truths about our existence. During meditation, we observe countless discrete moments of awareness as they arise and pass away. We begin to understand that everything we experience is in constant change, never fixed, as we presume in our ordinary experience. We begin to grasp the truth of impermanence. Furthermore, we notice that we have emotional reactions to the various mental events that emerge, and begin to appreciate how our reacting interrupts our clear perception and causes distress. The truth of suffering begins to dawn on us. Viewing this constant change, we begin to realize that there is no fixed point of observation. We cannot make ourselves the object of our awareness, just as the eye cannot see itself. We experience the truth of emptiness, which includes ourselves. All is in flux, ever‐changing, ever‐moving. In the emptiness and constant change, we begin to appreciate how everything is dependent on everything else, influencing the constantly changing form of apparent things. All the major religions teach that through meditation, prayer, and contemplation we become aware of our participation in the Divine life, the Source of Being. That essential spiritual truth, achieved in a deep encounter with silence, is expressed differently in the various religious traditions. Our true Self is called “Buddha nature,” “Atman,” “Tao,” “the image and likeness of God,” a “child of God,” and “Christ living 8 within.” These descriptive words, which historically have caused such conflicts, are in reality fractured and feeble attempts to capture an ineffable mystery experienced in contemplation. 4) The interpersonal context. Freud and Buddha agreed that “no man is an island.” While they both promoted the journey inward, they cautioned about being lost in oneself and needing others as guides. Buddha’s followers proclaimed the importance of the “Three Jewels:” Buddha, who is a model for living; the Teaching, which is a guide for life; and the community that preserves the Teaching and offers support. While many meditate alone in silence, they never feel isolated because they are aware of the guidance offered by the “Three Jewels.” Furthermore, they often seek masters, experts in meditation, to teach them and keep them on the proper path. Freud placed even greater emphasis on the interpersonal context for healing. He practiced a “talking cure.” The talking cure involves putting the fruits of introspection into words which are shared with a therapist. Together, the patient and therapist examine and understand the meaning of the shared communication. Furthermore, the personal relationship itself becomes a source of understanding and healing. As the relationship deepens, the patient comes to trust the therapist and share more of himself. He will also enact in the relationship the conflicts which he has in other relationships, which an understanding therapist can interpret in a kind and gentle way. For example, a young man came to see me because he had a series of unsatisfying relationships with women. After a few sessions, he told me he was reluctant to come for therapy. We explored his hesitancy and learned that he avoids making commitments for fear of losing his freedom. I noted that he repeats that pattern of avoidance, after an initial enthusiasm, in all his relationships with women. The young man, who was extremely loyal at his job, was surprised by his lack of dedication in personal relationships and wanted to explore it further. Towards a Convergence of Paths in Therapy Patients come to me because they are in pain and want relief. I offer them a path to freedom from their suffering. As a psychologist, my method is to begin with Freud’s introspection, addressing their psychological conflicts, and give them a taste of Buddha’s meditative way. I do not speak directly about spirituality or religion, unless they introduce the topic. However, I am aware during the treatment that we are beginning a journey of healing and growth that will surpass the resolution of their initial presenting problem. I invite my patients to pay close attention to their experience, to take themselves seriously, to deepen their understanding of themselves. By making that recommendation, I realize we are on the threshold of the entrance to a higher level of consciousness that can be attained only through meditation, a spiritual practice. I hope to give my patients a glimpse, a taste, an aroma of their transcendence, helping them realize they far surpass the problems of their current life. It is a glimpse of their essential dignity, a taste of their freedom to recreate their lives, and an aroma of their capacity to love wholeheartedly. The following are some strategies I use with my patients to begin the integration of a psychological and spiritual approach toward the relief of suffering: 1) Encourage the basic awareness of experience. 2) Invite attention to personal values. 9 3) Become a teacher of healthy attitudes toward life. 4) Teach a concentration practice. Let me proceed to explain briefly these strategies. 1) Encourage the basic awareness of experience. Most people live on the surface of their lives, reacting automatically to situations in ways they learned growing up. However, some seek help when they face a crisis, and their usual patterns of thinking and behaving do not work so well. The suffering they experience leads them to my doorstep. I invite them to take a different tact to address their problems. I invite them to look more deeply within themselves, instead of at the circumstances or people they think are making them miserable. I encourage them to undertake the wonderful and frightening journey inward. For this journey, I instruct them to stand back and observe carefully their own experience, the flow of their stream of consciousness, suggesting that there is more beneath the surface than meets the eye. There is a depth to their experience that they hardly imagine. Standing back and observing themselves is often a new experience for those accustomed to reacting to the situations and demands of their lives in a relatively automatic fashion. It hardly occurs to them that they could respond differently. Many say, “That’s just the way I am.” I repeatedly ask my patients, “What did you notice about yourself, about your reaction to that situation?” When they pay close attention to their inner thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires, they are often surprised at what is revealed of their hidden motivations. We explore what may have influenced their reactions and what purpose they serve. In these investigations, by mentally distancing themselves from their reactions, they gain a sense of freedom to shape their own lives. With my patients I use the image of a waterfall. I tell them: “Your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs flow like a river over a waterfall. You can ignore or try to stop the flow, but that will not work. Or you can jump into the waterfall, be swept away, and risk drowning. The alternative I suggest is to stand back and observe the flow, seeking to understand what it means.” Through the experience of being an observer, my hope is that they will acquire a new perspective on themselves. Instead of being weighed down by self‐defeating thoughts and beliefs, they can gain a new sense of freedom and experience “the eternal lightness of being.” Hopefully, the fruits of this introspective self‐awareness will make them thirsty to drink more deeply from the cup of self‐knowledge, leading them to a meditative attitude. 2) Invite attention to personal values. Responding automatically to the demands of their lives, my patients often feel lost, lacking an inner compass. When I invite them to look inward, I ask them several questions: “What do you see? Does it make sense to you? Do you like it? How would you like it to be?” With these questions, we explore together the patient’s reaction to his stream of consciousness. Often, it is a new experience for them to even question their perceptions and habitual ways of thinking. They may never have challenged their long accepted beliefs about themselves and their world, imagining their reactions the only possible ones. Asking themselves what they like and dislike begins the process of discerning their desires and 10 their relative importance, especially when these desires are in conflict in a particular situation. From considering their desires, they become aware of their personal values, what is really important to them. Most of my patients experience a profound sense of liberation when they realize that they can shape their lives any way they please, according to their deepest desires and values. My hope is that through an awareness of personal values my patients may begin to wonder about the inexhaustible source of these values, which is achieved through meditation. They may also realize their natural desire to be connected with others in love, which overcomes their restricting self‐centeredness. 3) Become a teacher of healthy attitudes toward life. As a therapist, not only do I listen to my patients and encourage them to listen to themselves, but I also become a teacher. I try to model and point out to them healthy attitudes toward life and challenge their distorted thinking and beliefs. The following are several examples of my teaching intended to draw them into a deeper awareness of themselves. Many of my patients come to therapy with the hope of getting better, of improving their lives. They are in pain and often think of themselves as defective, needing to be fixed. I tell them that I do not view therapy as a self‐improvement project, as a way to create a better version of themselves. Instead, I see it as a way of removing the obstacles to their appreciating their own goodness. People tend to create images of themselves, which they accept as real, to sustain their sense of worth. They face a crisis when that image becomes tarnished by unexpected events and reactions. I tell my patients that wholesome living involves recognizing and embracing ourselves as we really are, which amounts to accepting our essential goodness, despite the apparent imperfections. We are perfect as we are. It is an important step through meditation to recognize our goodness as a participation in Divine life, however it is conceived. I use another image to impress upon my patients the ever‐changing quality of their thoughts, feelings, and desires. I tell them: “Your thoughts and feelings, and even the image you have of yourself, are like clouds in the sky. You can watch them come and go. However, sometimes it seems that a storm front settles in, and the dark clouds seem like they will never go away. But experience tells you that they all pass, and the bright blue sky remains.” Acknowledging the changeableness of what arises in our minds can be a bridge to appreciating the impermanence of all of life, even of ourselves and the images of ourselves we fix in stone. A further step in meditation leads to the awareness of our participation in the spaciousness of the sky because of our spiritual nature. As mentioned previously, many of my patients feel stuck in a time warp. They are either prisoners of the past, living with regret, sadness, anger, and guilt, or trapped in worry, dread, and hopelessness about the future. What eludes them is a full appreciation of the present moment. I remind my patients that neither the past nor the future exists; clinging to regret, sadness, anger, or worry serve no worthwhile purpose. The past and the future exist only in our minds, not in reality. Only the present is real. My patients feel a sense of liberation and exuberance when they are able to sustain their full attention on the present moment. I believe that attending to the present moment can lead to an appreciation of the eternal now. 11 Some of my patients suffer severe chronic mental illnesses. They experience crippling anxiety, profound periods of depression, uncontrollable mood swings, or psychotic episodes. Their conditions are likely hereditary and biologically based, requiring medication for the rest of their lives. Many of these patients are ashamed of themselves, feeling acutely the social stigma of mental illness. They hope for a cure, an end to their pain, which they know will never come. They long to be “normal.” I try to help these patients understand that their condition of mental illness does not define them as persons; it is not who they are. I also point out that while they may not be able to escape the pain of their condition, they can relieve some suffering by their attitude towards their illness. Their shame, angry protest, and depression about being ill only increase their suffering. These patients bear witness to the truth of suffering in a startling way. They also model freedom from suffering in their heroic acceptance of their painful conditions. Furthermore, refusing to identify with their illness and recognizing their own dignity as a human person prepares them to enter the mystery of their sharing in Divine life, which is the source of their dignity. 4) Teach a concentration practice. Many of my patients cannot relax because they are so overwrought with preoccupations. Their minds race, and they keep themselves in constant motion. I invite them to take a break from their busyness, quiet their minds, and notice themselves. Some patients ask me how to relax. I then teach them a method of relaxation that may lead to a heightened self‐awareness, and even a contemplative attitude. I tell them to find a quiet place and sit in a relaxed posture, with their backs straight. I then tell them to breathe from their diaphragm and focus on their breath, suggesting that they count each breath and consciously exclude any distracting thoughts. As they begin to feel relaxed, I invite them to focus their awareness on the different parts of their body, beginning with their head down to their feet, and notice any tension. I recommend that they spend about twenty minutes with this practice. Most feel a welcome relaxation and calmness. This exercise in concentration is a prelude to meditation where the person enters an ever deeper stillness. In conclusion, Freud, a representative of modern psychology, and Buddha, representing the ancient spiritual traditions, both promote a relief from suffering through self‐awareness. Their chant is: become an observer of yourself. They use an increasingly refined attention to the stream of consciousness in the present moment to effect this liberation from pain. However, the kind of suffering relieved and the depth of awareness of the flow of consciousness differ for each. Freud, using a “talking cure,” sought to relieve neurotic conflict, while Buddha aimed at freedom from the ordinary unhappiness of living. Freud’s introspection focused on the material that emerges from the unconscious through the repression barrier. In contrast, Buddha taught a way of meditating that approaches the realm of the Spirit that is the source and ground of the flow of consciousness. These intellectual giants point the way toward the integration of psychology and spirituality. Their insights about self‐awareness suggest how a deepening introspection can prepare the way for a meditative experience of Mystery and the ultimate realities of life.