“Minding What Matters: Psychotherapy and the Buddha Within,” by Robert Langan
It’s an interesting thing when a book induces a sense of confusion and self-doubt. For the past couple of weeks this particular book, Minding What Matters: Psychotherapy and the Buddha Within, I have picked up and put down, picked up and put down.
No matter how I approached it I just found the style of writing and content too peculiar to engage my attention or interest. This resulted in me feeling that the book was either completely over my head or was just badly written. As I didn’t wish to expose my own possible ignorance and lack of intellectual ability or arrogance by doing an ill-informed review, I often felt inclined to return the book pronto to the publishers or Wildmind. However, I persevered.
According to the notes on the book jacket Minding What Matters: Psychotherapy and the Buddha Within belongs in the genre of Personal Growth / Psychology / Spirituality. The author, Robert Langan, appears to be amply qualified in these areas, being a Fellow, Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute in NYC, where he directs its Center for Applied Psychoanalysis and maintains a private practice. Coupled to this is his long term membership of the Jewel Heart Sangha and the Insight Meditation Society. However creditable this experience, it does seem to translate into the ability to communicate through the written word.
If I understood correctly his purpose in writing the book is not only to reflect on topics relevant to Psychoanalysis and Buddhist practices but to attempt to give the reader an actual transformative experience of awareness through the process of reading. To achieve this end he uses a peculiar structure, like a double helix perpetually turning from one sort of writing to another: the first helix, comprised of six essays on Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, alternating with the second helix, a fictional psychoanalytical case study.
The intention is that some shift in experience will arise as one moves from reading one style of writing to the other. However I found the literary style clumsy and labored throughout. There definitely are interesting points raised with regard to both Buddhism and Psychoanalysis but they are so hard won that for me they were not worth the labor involved in reading the book.
The text is peppered with asterisks which refer to a commentary section at the back of the book entitled ”Sources and Associations.” The author suggests this section should be ignored until after reading the main body of the book.
However this section made more sense and was much more interesting and illuminating to me than than the essays or the case study. In fact as I read the Sources section and flicked back and forward through the book, a light would go on in my head and I would have an AHA! moment — so that’s what he means, why didn’t he just say that?
The book is intended for general audience so whether you are an expert in Buddhism or Psychoanalysis or neither, you may want to give it a try. It’s definitely not predictable and if you do pick it up then attend to the advice of Christopher K. Germer, co-editor of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, when he says that this book should be read slowly, savoring what emerges quietly within.
Nagaraja (Gareth McMillan) is a Western Buddhist and a BACP Accredited Psychosynthesis Psychotherapist practicing in Glasgow, Scotland. He also is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 2.