If you live in Boulder, Colorado and are interested in the intersection of Buddhism philosophy and Western psychology, then you have no doubt heard of, and probably studied with, Bruce Tift, M.A. Bruce has been in private practice since 1979, has taught at Naropa University for 25 years, has given presentations in the US, Mexico, and Japan and was recently published by Sounds True. It is our great pleasure to present you this interview with Bruce Tift.
Please tell us about your journey in becoming a mindful psychotherapist.
My parents, led by my mother, were into a wide range of therapeutic and spiritual activities, so I grew up in that atmosphere. I began a clinical psychology doctoral program in the late 60′s and couldn’t handle the Therapist as Scientist model then being taught. I dropped out and left the country for two years, traveling overland by motorcycle to India and Nepal. I was very affected by the cheerful and embodied presence of the Tibetan refugees I encountered and studied for a while with Thubten Yeshe near Kathmandu. When I returned to the US in ’71, I met Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and felt that I had met my teacher. After several years, my Buddhist practice and study allowed me to re-engage with psychotherapy from a very positive and deep view and I went through Naropa University’s Masters program, graduating in ’79. Since then, I have experienced an always unfolding, passionate interest in understanding how we create our states of mind, how we can reduce our unnecessary suffering, and how we can increasingly consciously participate in our already present basic nature of freedom.
What does authenticity mean to you?
I think that like any important idea, authenticity has different meanings at different levels of understanding. At first, it meant to me the contrast between experience and behavior that represents what is most truly an expression of who we are, as distinct from expressions that represent more superficial and socially conditioned aspects of oneself. If we evolve and mature ourselves, this sense of being divided into conflicting parts gradually dissolves. We begin to take complete ownership of all of our experiencing, however deep or superficial, with the understanding that authenticity not only refers to the content of our experience but even more importantly to how we relate to this content. We may stop pretending to be divided, problematic people and experience our always existing wholeness__ which of course has to include everything, both positive and negative. Perhaps nothing is missing, nothing left unresolved in our past. It’s true, though, that we’re messy humans with no access to some objective reality, so we continue to work with our conditioned experience__ not because it’s wrong or inauthentic, but so that we cause less harm to ourselves and others, and maybe can even be of some benefit. We realize that we are always fully and authentically ourselves, and we commit to doing a more and more skillful and compassionate expression of this.
What do you think is essential to a healthy relationship?
Perhaps the most important capacity for a healthy relationship is the ability to keep one’s heart open at all times regardless of what we’re experiencing. Of course, this is a practice, rarely an accomplishment. Relationships, in my experience, are inherently provocative, disturbing, unresolvable, and guaranteed to bring out any unresolved issues we have about intimacy. They are also incredibly rich, satisfying, and probably the most powerful vehicle of waking up that our culture has. It is very hard to be more intimate with one’s partner that we are able and willing to be intimate with oneself__ which requires the never-ending counter-instinctual practice of disciplining ourselves to keep our heart open to our own worst pain and greatest fears. On a less obvious level, we may also find it’s not so easy to keep our hearts open to our passion and joy, as many of us dampen our positive experience as a type of protection. Engaging with the complexity of intimacy, we can always ask ourselves: “Will this behavior close my heart or help it open?”
What is the dumbest thing you used to believe?
That I was an independently existing self, that I was separate from life, that my emotions were about me, that life was about me.
To hear more from Bruce, check out his interview with Sounds True founder, Tami Simon.
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