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To Heal a Wounded Heart: Pilar Jennings' Daring Experiment :   Pilar Jennings is a quiet iconoclastwho brings an unusual degree ofvulnerability and truthfulnessto her work as New York-based psychotherapist. These qualities arebeautifully illustrated in her second book To Heal a Wounded Heart: The Transformative Power of Buddhism and Psychotherapy in Action recentlyreleased by Shambhala Publications   Early on in her clinical practice Jennings was presented with a particularly difficult case: a six-year-old girl who traumatized by loss had stopped speaking. Challenged by the limitations of her training to respond effectively to the isolating effect of childhood trauma she took the unconventional path of inviting her friend Lama Pemaa kindly Tibetan Buddhist monk who experienced his own life-shaping trauma at a very young ageinto their sessions. In the warm therapeutic space they create the young girl slowly begins to heal. The result is a fascinating case study of the intersection of psychology and Buddhism a storyfor therapists parents Buddhists or any of us who hold out the hope that even the deepest childhood wounds can be the portal to our capacity to love and be loved.  Jennings is not only a professor of psychiatry and religion at the Union Theological Seminary but also a lecturer at Columbia University and visiting lecturer at Weill Cornell University School of Medicine in their newly implemented Integrative Health concentration where she teaches medical students about mindfulness for their own stress reduction and for their patients' increased well-being.  Mark Matousek: Early in your new book youwrite about the human need "to reclaim the very part of us that sets us up for the worst pain. What do you mean?  Pilar Jennings:My original idea was to write about vulnerability as the foundation of our human condition. We areset up to survive infancy by cultivating profound attachments to somebody regardless of whether or not they can care for us skillfully. That person has to adequately feed us and keep us in a safe climate-controlled environment and they have to do that for years. We form those attachments because we are born with an openness of heart but also because we have to trust our wellbeing with somebody. Investing in that trust and that bond however is only cultivated through that openness.  The problem is that many of us suffer lossesoften shocking lossesand we all invariably lose the people we are most attached to. When that happens we often learn to scaffold over that openness that vulnerability. Unfortunately its those attributesthose parts of our beingthat are needed to cultivate new attachment bonds. That protective defense against devastating pain keeps us from forming new attachments and that original openness and trust is what we need to reclaim.  MM:One of the more unusual aspects you bring to your work is your association with your Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Pema. (aka Khenpo Pema Wangdak).  PJ:Yes our association has certainly influenced my life both personally and professionally.  MM: I was especially struck by this passage:He didnt know that hed lived through something that someday might need to be grieved. Can you say more?  PJ:I thought quite a bit about whether or not to include that reference. I did so intentionally in part just to point out that in the Buddha dharma and Buddha teaching there is not very much emphasis on highly personal experience. Buddhism tends towards a very broad lens as it concerns our shared nature of mind. For people who grow up in Buddhist culturesLama Pema was sent to a monastic institute when he was seventhere isnt necessarily the conscious awareness of having had personal experiences that are traumatizing or that might require some support down the road of a clinical nature. You might try to work it through spiritually but wouldnt typically tackle an issue like grief through a psychological or clinical process.  MM:Do you consider that to be a limitation in Buddha dharma or culture?  PJ:To be direct yes. But I want to reframe it by saying that I am highly respectful of our collective cultures and of the spiritually-oriented cultures. One of the gifts that psychologically-oriented cultures or traditions can offer to people who are raised in Buddhist cultures or countries is more appreciation for our subjectivity more appreciation for what we go through as individual people with very unique ways of experiencing suffering. We all have categories of suffering that we share: parental loss being a big one. The specificity of how that loss is experienced is quite divergent from person to person and more appreciated in more individualistic Western cultures specifically in psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic traditions.  MM:You brought Lama Pema in to work with your young client Martine. You write about how in bringing all three of your experiences together you realized that loss and love had been confounded for all of you. That was something you all profoundly shared. How did that affect the process of Martines healing and what exactly happened during this therapy?  PJ:In our own way we helped each other out but Lama Pema has a remarkable ability to never withdraw affection and that was very contagious. Regardless of how he feels deep down about people even people he may be pissed off at he remains steadfast. One of his gifts is keeping love alive even in the midst of or after loss. I attribute that to his temperament honed by the depth of his spirituality. Martine shared something similar to Lama Pema. Shed also gone through absolutely the worst stuff and could be in an endless depth of loss and yet even in revealing her pain she didnt seem to lose touch with her capacity to connect and to relate in a warm and caring way.  MM: So Lama Pema was able tomirror that quality for Martine?  PJ:Exactly. And it became clear that all three of us had struggled with being more vulnerable with risking both loving more fully and being loved more fully because of our various but very different losses.  MM: When you first began to practice you had a fear that you might disappear in the depths of sorrow from the people you worked with as you write in the book. Many therapists fear this and many of us in 'civilian'life fear this. How has that evolved over the years this fear of disappearing in peoples sorrow?  PJ:The first thing that comes to mind is something I learned from one of my primary mentors Ann Ulanov. She is an extraordinary Jungian scholar and analyst and she was my doctoral advisor at Union Theological Seminary. She used to say Your greatest gift is your greatest liability.  This is true for me clinically because I very easily experience and pass into strong feelings of empathy and identification. Sometimesas I wrote in the bookIm overly identified. And I think that at times thats healing for the people that I work with because they really feel that Im with them. With them while maintaining professional boundaries that is.  Part of the problem of being open and empathic is that I sometimes feel myself caring on a very deep level another persons suffering. But I have learned over timeand with the support of great mentorsto be curious why Im carrying a certain persons suffering and not somebody elses. I have real appreciation for the analytic method when it comes to wondering about why a particular form of suffering is touching me deeply. So instead of the feeling of getting devoured by another persons sadness or pain I use curiosity as a form of refuge. This allows me to learn from their pain and find an appropriate way to work with it.  MM:Theres a wonderful moment in the book when you destroy the dollhouse with Martine. Why was sitting in the middle of the messwith her so important?  PJ:The mess was important for Martine because symbolically she was constantly living through very messy situations and nobody was understanding recognizing or responding to her. No adult was saying to her Honey what youre going through is so very challenging. Many kids are in a situation where theyre dealing with chaos. And often what makes the difference for such a child is whether or not there is an adultany adultwho sees whats going on and names it.  In the absence of that happening the child is just caught up in the chaos the 'mess' if you will. Before the dollhouse event Martine and I had sessions that got physically messy because we would just play with absolutely everything in the room that was fun. We were both into it but then Id have five minutes before my next patient was walking in and there were hundreds of toys on the floor. I would get anxious and want things straightened up.  One day I was upset about Martine breaking a pencil and my supervisor at the time said very wisely Thank her for it. She is letting you know she is tired of messes but shes also tired of having to be the one who feels like she has to clean them up. And again that analytic curiosity helped me get out of my own experience and recognize this had meaning for her. And that maybe together we could play it out: her frustration with messes that she had no control over. So we had this little self-contained dollhouse that we just wrecked.  MM: So for a traumatized child to learn that mess doesnt necessarily mean trauma?  PJ:Exactly. Mess doesnt necessarily mean catastrophe.  MM: Thats powerful statement.  PJ:It is. And some messes can be catastrophic especially if youre a kid and there is insufficient support. But part of delinking that kind of mess from the mess of an insurance claim not going through or the pipes bursting or even an old relationship ending is really important to disentangle.  MM: In another favorite passage you write There is nobility in forming and suffering attachment. We risk feeling love when we get attached and more to the point we risk loving another whom we will eventually lose. This is not the same as grasping as its meant in Buddhism the ultimately deluded notion that we should be able to hold onto others forever. Its about aliveness and emotional aliveness that is only possible through loving a specific other. As the psychologist Anthony Storr once said Loving everyone is not the same as loving someone in particular.  How do you as a Buddhist square the transcendent acceptance of impermanence with the acceptance of the inevitable pain of attachment thats part of being a human?  PJ:For many Western Buddhists this issue feels like a bit of a conundrum. And often students of the Buddha dharma want to figure out how to navigate this Buddhist approach to attachment with a Western psychological one. Based on my sociocultural background I think this is an issue where the traditions really need each other because there can be a way in which attachment gets problematized in the dharma. And I think there is a protective element to that.  We all have to have a look at how we get attached and what the quality of that attachment is because sometimes there is a denial of reality in our attachments. There might be beliefs that form that we wont be a viable person without a particular relationship. Thats not a reality-based belief so its important to look at. Buddhist practice and teaching helps people look closely at whats in our attachment. Are we denying the truth of impermanence when we get attached? Are we making up narratives that can never jive with reality? Or are we overly attached to a certain part of our identity or a certain circumstance that we dont imagine we would survive without? All great stuff.   However as I was saying earlier were not viable as infants without our attachments. Unless theres someone were really loving a whole lotand love and attachment are quite mixedthen were not going to survive. I think Buddhist teaching could make a little more room for the psychic and biological aliveness that comes through our attachments. And of course there are well-known theories that when children are securely attached they more easily cultivate feelings of trust in themselves and others. They anticipate being comforted warmly received respected and all those good things. When children are insecurely attached theyre often anticipating rejection isolation or catastrophe. So secure solid attachment is needed for our psychological wellbeing. We need to both appreciate the importance of our attachments and how they keep the psyche and the body alive and well and then as we develop challenge any fantasies that come with those attachments.  MM: Last question. As a clinician survivor and spiritual practitioner what do you say to people who have been silenced by grief? How do they find the courage or the will to finally speak and give voice to whats going on for them?  PJ:Its such an important question. There are so many facets to that experience of hiddenness. For some they come from countries whose problems are hidden globally for others those feelings could be multi-generational. In all cases I would genuinely encourage people to do whatever it takes to find one person who has the openness of spirit the openness of mind and heart to listen and truly get to know who they are. Even if there is some trial and error to the process they should keep trying. Whether thats a spiritual mentor or a clinician or a friend that person should be somebody who expresses genuine care and helps them feel more seen more recognized. Feeling found by another is a basic fundamental human need. One that we all share.