Saturday, March 17, 2012


A Book Review

What a great title: The Misleading Mind! Rings true to me… The subtitle of Karuna Cayton’s new book makes its intention clear: “How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them.” Cayton is a “psychotherapist, business therapist and coach to help people lead a more balanced life,” and a student and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. He’s also a board member of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, a Buddhist organization with “over 160 centers and projects throughout the world.”

Impressive credentials, then. Cayton’s book comes from the perspective of years of both personal, spiritual practice and clinical work with patients, helping them to address the challenges in their lives and relationships. No surprise, then, given this background, that he follows the dharma in identifying the suffering we human beings experience, the source of that suffering, and the path that can lead us to the end of it. It’s the lies, ignorance and delusions of the “misleading mind” that are the prime suspects in the creation of what we see to be our “problems,” and it’s in training the mind that we can learn to overcome them.

I think that Cayton might have a quarrel with those who practice Buddhism as a religion in his belief that it is “a system of thought and ideas rather than a religion or dogma.” This has become almost an article of faith (excuse the term!) among those who preach a Westernized version of Buddhism that is “more science and philosophy than religion.” I myself, however, am not about to quarrel with the sound psychological counsel that his book embraces: if the mind is powerful enough to create what Cayton calls the “disturbing emotions” that cause our psychological imbalance and distress, it is surely powerful enough to enable us to identify and make our peace with them.

I say “make our peace” because after all it's inner peace we're looking for. And as Cayton makes clear, the work of emotional healing is not a matter of doing battle with our demons or overpowering them. It’s more a matter of learning about their strategies and habits through close, clear-eyed, mindful observation and, once having come to know them, making friends with them. The reactive patterns—of anger, fear, depression, to name only the most prevalent—are very often precisely those the mind invents, misguidedly perhaps, for our comfort or protection. They may have our best interests at heart. We cling on to them for dear life because our minds mislead us into mistaking them for the truth about ourselves.

Therapy, then, seen in this light, becomes the healing process through which we learn to “change our minds”—to teach them, kindly and through constant repetition and practice, to do those things we want them to do rather than those they decide to do, reactively, of their own accord. It’s the process by which we learn to relinquish our grip on imagined identities that no longer serve us, and to acknowledge the impermanence of the selves that we invent, or that others invent for us. With the dharma as his model, Cayton walks us through this process with both wisdom and patience, leading us toward the true revelation that it is indeed possible for us to choose compassion over anger, and inner contentment over depression and despair.

Eventually, it is not the doctor or the therapist who heals us, it is we who heal ourselves, and the single most powerful instrument at our disposal is the human mind. Cayton offers us a valuable gift in leading his reader thoughtfully along the path to self-knowledge and self-healing, with the persuasive, serviceable and user-friendly logic of proven Buddhist principles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
As you said the other day, altho you and I have chosen different paths, they lead to almost identical havens,frames of mind! Your path leads you to compassion instead of anger, and contentment (is that joy and peace?) instead of depression and despair. I have many causes to be angry, depressed and desperate, and yet the path I follow gives me compassion, forgiveness, love for those who caused me anger, and yes contentment (peace, happiness) instead of despair and depression.
Big hug