Ties that Bind/Ties that Free: A Cross-Cultural Conversation between Buddhism and Modern Psychotherapy on Attachment, Mindfulness, and Self-Reflection (Mentalizing)
Harvey B. Aronson, Houston
Modern psychotherapy, in the space of my adult life-time, has gone from neither an accurate nor a useful understanding of Buddhist practice to wholesale adoption of “mindfulness” practice in the service of a host of legitimate therapeutic aims. Using Richard Shweder’s frame for crosscultural reflection, I will be looking at traditional Buddhist writings on maternal love and attachment, and contrast these with some modern research-based reflections on the child-mother attachment system—in particular its bidirectionality. Buddhist theory finds "attachment" (clinging/grasping) problematic, traditional Buddhist culture enshrines the loving connection
between a mother and her child and identifies it as love (metta). Western psychotherapy finds this loving connection an essential element of mental health, and calls it "attachment." I will explore and sort out to the extent possible, the diverse uses of "attachment" in both Buddhist translations and psychological literature. I will use these observations as a jumping-off point for briefly considering the traditional individualistic moral/spiritual and soteriological orientation of mindfulness practice, and contrast this with how "mindfulness" practice is currently being integrated into relational psychotherapy as a source for a sense of inner security, and as a basis for significantly enhancing our relational capacity. Overall, I see a remarkable trajectory of cultural importation, with "mindfulness" practice as now embodied in the West being an amazingly telling revelation of our cultural values. Psychotherapeutically, this practice is a behavioral tool with very valuable qualitative outcomes—a practice with roots going back twenty-five hundred years and whose flower, albeit a hybrid, is yet of benefit today.