Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

External Mindfulness, Secure (Non)-Attachment, and Healing Relational Trauma: Emerging Models of Wellness for Modern Buddhists and Buddhist Modernism

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

External Mindfulness, Secure (Non)-Attachment, and Healing Relational Trauma: Emerging Models of Wellness for Modern Buddhists and Buddhist Modernism

Article excerpt

A shaved-headed man covered in bright tattoos and dressed casually in a green t-shirt and black sweat pants sat comfortably, one leg over another, in a chair at the front of the room. As he smiled at the sixty or so retreatants before him, a similar glimmer to the chunky silver jewelry on his fingers and wrists came off his front teeth. With the ease that his informal attire suggested, Josh Korda shared that he was feeling excited and nervous. This was because, he continued, whilst he had taught many silent mindfulness retreats, the goal of this particular one would be to cultivate relational mindfulness with others. It was quite scandalous, he continued with a giggle, that so many Buddhists could cultivate a real depth of meditation practice on retreat but not function well interpersonally in the world. Thus began the annual 2015 NYC+Brooklyn Dharma Punx retreat, co-taught by Korda, and Jessica Morey, Executive Director of Inward Bound Mindulness Education, which legitimated the practice of relational mindfulness through both the Pali Canon and attachment theory. Interweaving affective neuroscience with the suttas, advocating for kalyânamittas as a corrective to inadequate parenting, and ending with the chanting of the three refuges and five precepts in Pali, Korda's opening dharma talk was as distinctive as his appearance.

Much scholarly attention has been devoted to examining the incorporation of Buddhist-derived meditations such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) into psychotherapeutic and medical settings (Wilson, 2014; Helderman, 2015). This paper approaches the cross-fertilization of Buddhist and therapeutic notions of wellness from the opposite direction by exploring Korda's interweaving of psychoanalytic developmental theory and affective neuroscience into his Buddhist teachings. Whilst it has become commonplace to note the influence of psychology on American convert Buddhism, little work has been done to identify the specifics of this exchange: the exact type and ways it has been adopted and the particular populations it appeals to. Korda provides a useful example because he is self-reflexive about his psychodynamic adaptations, and as one of the most well-known "Gen X" teachers from the Buddhist Insight Network, he indicates some of the main patterns emerging from American Buddhist convert lineages. One of these, I argue, is a "relational turn," a more context-sensitive approach to individual meditation practice and an increasing interest in developing relational and communal dimensions of Buddhist practice.

The paper will begin with providing some biographical details of Korda and a brief outline of his Dharma Punx New York+Brooklyn sangha. In tracing Korda's trajectory as a Buddhist teacher, it will pay attention to the early formation of his psychological perspective as well as reflections on the specific audience his teachings address and appeal to. It will identify the specific theoretical and pragmatic ways that Korda adopts psychoanalytic and neuroscientific discourse into his Buddhist teachings; highlighting both how Buddhist thought and practice are used as tools for psychological health and how developmental insights are used to mend gaps in popular Buddhist modernist modalities. Next, it will consider how Korda's approach is illustrative of wider trends in both the Dharma Punx and Against the Stream network and the Insight community, a loose affiliation of meditation groups that are centered on the practice of insight or vipassanä meditation and inspired by Thai Forest and Burmese Theravadin lineages. In conclusion, I will consider what this relational turn suggests in terms of the unfolding of Buddhist modernism in the West.

My general approach is more descriptive than prescriptive. Taking a similar path to Jeff Wilson, who traces the dissemination of mindfulness in American culture, my aim is neither to debunk nor defend Korda, but rather to draw attention to the ways in which Buddhism is selectively adapted by and for certain populations in new historic and cultural settings (2014: 10). …

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