Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's it Like Being a (fill in the blank)?

…Psychotherapist, Writing Coach, Shamanistic Healer, or (fill in the blank)? What goes on behind the eyes of a health practitioner? What thoughts whirl around the inside of the mind?

Often, when we can’t relate to something someone does, the mystery can be disconcerting and we may feel self conscious. It can also be intriguing if we are open to the unknown. But shedding light on some of the obscurity can put us at ease, and we might feel a little wiser, a little less mesmerized by that which seems so unfamiliar.

I’m a writer, photographer and writing coach. I can tell you what it’s like to be any one of these things from my perspective, but I have no clue what it’s like being a psychotherapist or hypnotist. Because of what I do, I’m in my head a lot – feelings, impressions and ideas lead to thoughts, words and images – which then often lead back to ideas, impressions and feelings.

When I’m helping someone else write a book or any sort of writing project, however, while I’m still thinking, I’m not as much in my own head as I am trying to be in theirs. And as long as they are open to sharing their experiences with me, it’s a fun challenge putting myself in someone else’s world. Usually, I learn something about people in general that I never knew. Usually, I also learn things that we have in common. Therefore, by sharing feelings, thoughts, ideas, words and images with one another, something that once seemed to escape my comprehension is now within my grasp and something that seemed foreign is now comfortably close. Understanding others in turn makes me a better writer. But perhaps more importantly, the gap between me and the rest of the world narrows.

In essence, by helping others understand and express themselves, I better understand and express myself. I don’t see myself as the ‘expert’ and my clients as ‘students’. We all have something to teach each other, something for show and tell, and something to learn from our peers. Sometimes, it is simply my perspective that can help open someone else up to a broader reality that has more potential than the one before. And then I offer suggestions for practice which can help them remain in that space.

In order to write or help others write I have to open myself up. That can be a vulnerable place for anyone. But if we all come to the table with honest and good intentions, we’ll all leave with more of the good stuff, and more to offer others.

What’s it like writing? Exhilarating, laborious, inspiring, comforting, confusing and almost always enlightening. What’s it like helping others tell their story? Exhilarating, laborious, inspiring, comforting, confusing and almost always enlightening. One way or another, I always come away better for the wear. If we’ve opened ourselves up at all, we can’t help but to have learned something. And then we’re in a slightly different place than we were before.

Finding Self and Love

Why are there so many movies that end in that fairytale way? With the main character finding true love and happily ever after just naturally occurring from that moment on? Is it because it really happens this way, because we want it to happen like this but it doesn’t or because it is a partial truth?

Do people find themselves and then true love or vice versa? Is there a formula that works for everyone or does it happen differently for each person?

Are finding oneself and true love synonymous? Do they tend to go hand in hand? Are they symbols of one another or complement each other in the highest way?

And if you do find yourself and your true love, is that the actual ‘end’ of the fairytale? Or just a continuation of the journey?

In my experience, wanting to find oneself and one’s truth – being on a quest for it and nothing less – is the best and quickest way to also find one’s true love. Because without knowing and accepting one’s truth/identity, you can’t know and accept the truth/identity of another; without being true to oneself first, one cannot be completely true to another.

Yet finding oneself is not a process that ever really ends. It’s an ongoing journey that is both heightened and softened by the love of another. Life goes on once the couple rides off into the sunset, as they continually learn how to love and respect each other as well as themselves. The journey together is the happily ever after, although there will be challenges that come in other forms and continue to plague or challenge the ‘happily’. It’s the getting through this with awareness and grace that brings you back to the ‘happily’. It’s just that there’s no permanent state of happy or promise of a halt of change. Realizing this eases the pain of morphing through it all.

But what about finding true love before one truly knows oneself? Is this possible?
There are probably an infinite number of formulas for living, so one’s own path is a unique journey that can look very different from another’s. As long as one is open, anything is possible. The opening to and joining with another is often the catalyst to self-discovery.

Style, Fashion & Possessions as Windows to the Soul

We all shop, but why? We shop because we need things. But mostly, we shop because we want things. But not just things. We also want experiences. We shop to obtain things that will ready us for certain events and situations, and we shop to create certain experiences and feelings. Often the things we buy are just symbols for what we want to experience and who we are inside.

I go through periods where my shopping is really frantic. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that my life also feels frantic during these times, but we do have to stop and pay attention to our lives in order to uncover these hidden gems of genius. When I do this I realize that if my life feels frantic, nothing – not even shopping – is going to make it better. I have to make it better from the inside out, not cover it up like a band-aid on a booboo or distract myself with bright shiny objects.

Right now, I’m in a nesting phase. I’m shopping for things to fill my home with, things that radiate a soothing warmth, casual comfort and laissez faire atmosphere… because… I want my life to radiate soothing warmth, casual comfort and laissez faire sense of things.

Lama Jinpa is in the process of moving, and he’s experiencing some unpleasant late-blooming buyer’s remorse, or what I call ‘Object Overload’. “I’m looking around at all this stuff we have to move… At one point we wanted all this stuff… Now it’s all just shit. Now we’re moving and it’s just a hassle. It’s hijacked us and now it owns us.”

You have to know him to understand his sense of humor and get that he doesn’t take things too seriously. But he does bring up a good point – There are times when what we want becomes a hindrance, appearing like not just one monkey on our back but a whole load of incessantly-squawking, bouncing-up-and-down, finger-meddling monkeys that are in fact and in truth just the lot of possessions we’ve collected so passionately one by one.

But passion, too, is a curious thing. Are we passionate because we crave things outside of ourselves or because we long to share ourselves with the world? Are we passionate because we feel something is missing and we want to obtain it badly or because we have all these emotions inside of us simply needing outlets and expression?

Having you ever wanted something so badly you couldn’t concentrate on anything else? And did that passion ever fade away slowly and quietly or quickly with a thud? Lama Jinpa wants a pair of snakeskin boots he saw at Shoefly. And he’s now walking around in them. But if you don’t see them on his feet it’s because he’s only imagining that he’s wearing them. And he’s doing such a good job at it that he might not actually have to go out and buy any. Because sometimes, the pleasure is all in the mind.

Betrayal Vs. Trust

Being or feeling betrayed really sucks, doesn’t it? It’s just one of those feelings that rocks both our inner and outer world. The shock of thinking we know the person, and so by extension ourselves – but discovering that we don’t – is enough to make us question “it all”. And worse than being worked over is that we then second-guess ourselves. So nothing is secure in the world. We feel we can’t or shouldn’t trust. We perhaps even retaliate to make someone else feel as crappy as we do.

But the key to betrayal is in how we react to it.
The upset of our lives and emotions by betrayal often causes us to come up with a brand new sense of who we are. But this is a healthy response. We are dynamic beings who thrive from learning, growing and evolving. So everything we experience can and should be utilized as a learning opportunity.

An unhealthy reaction on the other hand would be keeping the same sense of self but armoring up to protect ourselves from further attack or betrayal, or even strategizing to ensure we are never caught exposed again. The problem with this is that if we refuse to ever be vulnerable again, we become a closed system that cannot change and improve. And by creating and living from certain “operating systems” designed to shield and protect us, we are under an illusion of ‘control’ and don’t accept that our experiences are life’s way of nudging us to evolve.

Being a little bit fragile and sensitive sometimes is a good thing. It means you’re alive, for one. But it also means you’re human and that you’re healing. During healing we need to nurture – not harden – ourselves, because it is actually by stiffening up that more scarring occurs.
Be wary of extremes in reaction; they mean we are out of balance.

How do you deal with disappointment and betrayal? This says a lot about a person. Seeking answers and remaining open can make one a little foolish, but we have to be willing to be somewhat foolish at times – full of innocent ‘wonder’ – in order to grow in the healthiest sense. If you are too afraid to look foolish you are trying to control too much about your life. It is a fa├žade to think that we can keep it all together 100% of the time. If someone else appears to be able to do that, don’t buy into the grass being greener. Optimism is one thing; but refusing to accept that we all have challenges to overcome is more detrimental than sometimes admitting you just don’t know what you’re doing. How refreshing, and relieving, is it when someone is as real as they can be?!

Who doesn’t want to trust another? It’s human nature and is necessary for relating and building relationships. We can’t get close to others without trusting. And we can’t achieve or be all we can be without others in our lives. It’s just that occasionally our tendency to trust is put in check.

We’ve all been “screwed over” on some level and in some way by friends, lovers, parents, society… We’ve all felt lost at times and reacted like a victim, failing to see the big picture; that the reality to life is that there is a darkness paired with the light, another side to the coin, a yin to the yang. We’ve all at times questioned ourselves, felt we “should have known better, cursed our own intelligence for betraying us.

But the reality is: Shit happens.

While a survivor is someone who learns coping skills, real thriving is coming up with a new sense of who we are in an even more inclusive world; a world that is, yes, full of jerks, mishaps and mosquitoes… but is all in all still a pretty good place to be.

And as for those who could care less about who they hurt, if we refuse to put up with their selfish nonsense, they’ll be stuck with their own shit as their very own self-created punishment, self-imposed hell. Karma, baby. As for the non-vindictive folks that we are, we’ll eventually have to get to the forgiveness. Because we have to let go of what’s harmed us in order to finally stop the bleeding.

BUDDHISM & PSYCHOTHERAPY: Conversing Candidly with Lama Jinpa

Lama Yeshe Jinpa is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Midtown. He’s also a Buddhist teacher and is working on a novel. While Stephen Walker is his western name, his Dharma (or Buddhist) name is Lama Yeshe Jinpa. Lama means ‘teacher’, Yeshe means ‘transcendent awareness’ and Jinpa is ‘generosity’. While it’s traditional to call him ‘Lama la’ for short, Lama Jinpa works just fine too.

“Pairing Buddhism and psychotherapy is not at all uncommon, especially on the Coast, back East and in the UK,” Lama Jinpa tells me. He wants to reach people with not just therapeutic techniques, but meditative as well. “I’ve been practicing some sort of Dharma practice for a long time. It’s been a lifelong kind of path.”

“I have a deep appreciation for people of other persuasions and religions,” He adds, but knows that “there are a lot of people with tons of guilt who are wondering if they’re good people. Or they may even feel broken inside.” So a lot of people “get spiritual” with him, he says. He offers an environment in which “they feel safe to open up,” and he provides the skills to help them in return.

As for why he’s been on a lifelong path toward integrating Dharma and psychotherapy, Lama la explains that he grew up Presbyterian and enjoyed going to church. But then his father passed away when he was 11. “That started me wondering what was going on, and my church couldn’t answer all my questions. So I became a rather serious kid, studying philosophy and books on personal existential crises until stumbling on some Buddhist books, which immediately made sense to me.”

Then, when he went to Japan with his family as a teenager and “felt a very close affinity with the temples there,” thus began the forming of his Buddhist identity.” His quest wasn’t about being bored and seeking things because of it. He simply had questions needing answers and wanted greater understanding of his own life.

Fully embracing not just the spiritual but the practical too, Lama la continues, “You can be on the spiritual path, but there are many things that also have to be worked out on the personal level. You can’t use your spiritual practice to avoid everyday life. I think you have to deal with the practicalities of being someone in this society. There’s an absolute level (spiritual) and a relative level (life). They both exist. And people need someone to talk to about personal issues.”

I mention a dream that just bubbled to the surface from something Yeshe Jinpa has said, and he tells me that he likes working with dreams. “The point is not to wake up so we don’t dream anymore. You wake up to the dream. That’s mindfulness. Waking up to the dream-like nature of the world.”

“People come in for all reasons,” he continues, “situational, traumatic, really deep existential reasons… I like just common problems too. There’s nothing wrong with helping people through regular suffering.” Lama la also sees more couples nowadays than he ever has before. But his bottom line when it comes to therapy is this: “It’s not a path of perfection. I think people need a living teacher to have permission to get off that rat race kind of thing.”

And his reality is this: “There isn’t a situation or diagnosis I haven’t worked with. And I don’t think therapy or Dharma is just for the upper crust of elite. Being present with loving kindness and empathy for others and ourselves – something happens, something’s liberated. Without the generosity of spirit, nothing really happens.”

The “transpersonal and practical is where the spark happens… There’s a spark, an energy connection, a transfer of energy… a healing that arises” And it “heals on both sides – I just don’t get burned out.”

In fact, he seems to be constantly expanding and enriching. Lama Jinpa gives Middle Way Training workshops (designed from his own blend of Buddhism and psychotherapy) that help people balance, heal and improve their lives. He’s also working on his first book, Something So Obvious, which is a spiritual fiction adventure story, as well as a subsequent book Zen and the
Art of Shopping.

He’s a busy man with as much vision as he has compassion. And it’s how he blends the two that equips him to help others in both intimate settings and greater good ways. Lama Jinpa/Stephen B. Walker, MA, LMFT, can be reached at or (916) 492-9007. His office is located at Middle Way Health, 1809 19th Street, lower unit, Sacramento, CA 95811].


When I headed out to meet Lama Jinpa for our regular Tuesday meeting it was a cold teaser of a morning, with the sun trying to get through the hazy clouds after a weeklong storm spell. When LJ greeted me at the threshold of his office, I noticed he was wearing all black and a lot more hair than this time last year. It didn’t take me long, either, to sense a certain impatience about him – something I likened to crabbiness and he equated to edginess - the difference between the two, as he put it, being an “anxiousness to make things happen.”

On this day, the priority of our collaboration (understanding, respect and cooperation) was to create a column that would serve as a soundboard for Lama Jinpa’s psychotherapy practice Middle Way Health, his Buddhist meditations and ruminations, his Middle Way workshops, our book projects and the miscellaneous happenings currently encircling us (for instance, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sacramento in 2010). And somewhere in there as well, we decided - perhaps too subtle to detect - would be a sprinkling of my thoughts and perspectives on the experiences.

But where to begin the introductions, I wondered? How to begin updating our readers on the happenings of the collaboration between myself and LJ?! I suppose one simply begins by recognizing a pivotal moment in time… It all started a few years ago when I was writing my very first article for Midtown Monthly. I chose a complementary health clinic Downtown and Lama Jinpa was one of the only practitioners there to return my call. Never mind the fact that the article went to print with the words ‘complementary’ and ‘complimentary’ sloppily interchanged throughout, Lama la saw something of substance in it. And when the time came for him to begin writing his first book a couple of years later, he called upon me… and so began the beginning of a very fruitful working relationship. Since then, we’ve partnered on the creation of a newsletter and a series of workshops, and have collaborated on a plethora of projects, including both a fiction and nonfiction book.

Often, community (cooperation, collaboration, kindness) begins when the simplest of equations – like two people – have a multiplying effect that produces benevolent thought and action. Meaning, we work together because we have similar visions for the good of our own lives and the betterment of the greater good. Yet it’s all cyclical, it’s all connected… so the consequences of and reactions to our actions always somehow come back to us.

Lama Jinpa teaches me how to make sense of, make peace with, design and harmonize my own life. I in turn reiterate and write about this knowledge so that together we can share it creatively within our communities. It’s a balancing act that helps us reach our potential as individuals, hopefully do the world some good and fuel our own fires so we keep heading in a healthy direction.

Being open and honest with ourselves and each other, being lighthearted but focused, being complete by being balanced… Life doesn’t have to be as hard as we often make it. We don’t have to choose to live by extremes. There’s a much easier, kinder, gentler way… and it resides within the vast, magical and practical space between the extremes ~ The Middle Way.