Local Buddhist psychologist and psychotherapist Karuna Cayton likens the difference between Eastern and Western psychology to chocolate. You can give a piece of tasty chocolate to someone, but there is no lasting benefit. If you can teach them to train their mind, they can produce a different type of chocolate—one that lasts forever.
The chocolate is symbolic of transient pleasures versus true happiness, and it is this idea that forms the premise of Cayton’s new book, “The Misleading Mind: How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them.” In this pithy book written with a lay-audience in mind—yet filled with tools, techniques and anecdotes that even long-term practicing Buddhists can gain from—Cayton draws on his training and clinical work as a Western psychotherapist, as well as his longtime practice in Buddism and Buddhist psychology.
With mental calisthenics ranging from practical meditations such as “Deconstructing Traffic” and “Bad Commute,” to the more esoteric “Getting to Know Your Selves” and “Cultivating Compassion,” Cayton leads readers through a progressive series of exercises designed to strengthen the mind.
If you’re interested in learning more about the radical practice of achieving lasting happiness, Cayton will read from “The Misleading Mind,” answer questions, and sign copies at Capitola Book Café on Thursday, March 29.
In the meantime, Good Times caught up with Cayton to talk about his life-changing techniques and where he drew inspiration for this transformative book.
Your spiritual mentor, Lama Zopa, made a statement that would shake the foundation of your professional life: “You know, if you’re just helping people feel better, there is no benefit.” How did this change your career trajectory?
The context is important. This doesn’t mean that helping people feel better isn’t important. But in Buddhist thought, we don’t see temporary happiness as particularly helpful. It’s not that [searching for temporary happiness] is bad, but that’s what we do anyway. That’s why we buy cars and houses and drink bottles of wine and get stoned or whatever it is we do—play golf or go surfing. All those things make you feel better. But as a therapist with a background in Buddhist psychology, there is not any [lasting] benefit to that. Buddhist psychology is primarily concerned with happiness that lasts.
Helping someone feel better in therapy is just a very short-term benefit, and it generally doesn’t generate the capacity to [produce] lasting, long-term happiness that comes from wisdom and understanding of how the mind works.
What inspired you to put the teachings you learned into a book?
My mentor, Lama Yeshe, who passed away in 1984, gave me as much attention and teachings as he did not just for my benefit. You can’t just hold on to these ideas and then die. We have to share whatever we are able to learn. So it was the idea of sharing rather than holding on for myself. I feel there is incredible benefit in these ideas. But it’s often the language, the culture and the interpretation that get in the way, because the ideas are very shrouded in tradition and language.
How is your book different from other Buddhism books?
These are not my ideas, but a translation or interpretation of traditional ideas. The difference for me is that I had the experience of studying and living in Nepal, plus experience living in the West.
What is the source of most of our suffering?
Misunderstanding of reality. Reality doesn’t exist the way we think it does. There is a famous quote [by Anaïs Nin]: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” So suffering arises from misapprehension of reality. Some of the things that don’t exist the way they appear are ourselves, or our identities, and then the world around us. Because we see them incorrectly, we respond to them incorrectly. And that’s where suffering arises.
What is the most important tool in this book, as far as training your mind?
You cannot train your mind without developing an ability to focus it. You cannot practice anything without a focused and balanced mind. The easiest and most traditional method to get the mind focused is the breathing method. I outline the ABC method [A = Anatomy, or tuning in to the state of our body, B = Breathing, paying attention to our breath, C = Counting, focusing more intently on the breath by counting each exhalation in sets of 10]. That’s just the foundation. After that, the important thing is developing the idea that disturbing emotions are separate from who you are.
You say that readers should not expect a quick fix, but rather a gradual progression toward true happiness—how much time will it take to see changes?
Immediately people will get some results, but lasting results are a gradual process, really a lifetime shift on how we approach happiness. Everyone wants happiness. I mean, even I still have problems, but I am a far healthier person now than a year ago, a decade ago and three decades ago. When clients ask the same question, I often ask them, “How long has the problem been around?” That will help to get a sense for how long it will take to be free of it. Not that it is a one-to-one ratio, but just to give a sense of time.
Everyone asks, “If it doesn’t give a quick solution, then why would I do it?” But the focus of Buddhist psychology is a lasting solution. And for a lasting solution, it takes more time. Everyone is different, so we can’t say whether it takes a month or a year or a lifetime. But there will be gradual improvement right away anyway.
What do you hope people will gain from implementing these ideas?
What I hope they gain the most is a different way of looking at how they approach their life. Because our approach to life has to do with being happy—everything we do is really to be happy. So hopefully this book will give them the idea that the way [most people] pursue mental and emotional happiness is flawed. And hopefully this book will give them the idea that there is a different approach, and help them understand the real cause of happiness and instead pursue that.
Karuna Cayton will read from “The Misleading Mind,” answer questions, and sign copies at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, at Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave. #G, Capitola. For more information, call 462-4415.
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