AAS20

Understanding Resilience in Tibetan Buddhism

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The AAS Annual Conference is taking place next month in Boston and ahead of the event, we asked author Sara E. Lewis three questions about her new book Spacious Minds: Trauma and Resilience in Tibetan Buddhism, and her research on how Tibetan Buddhism frames new possibilities for understanding resilience.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

A favorite anecdote is when a monk and ex-political prisoner described using his time in prison as a “retreat house,” to accomplish recitations of Buddhist mantras. He doesn’t minimize the impact of imprisonment and indeed, continues his work passionately as an activist for Tibet. Yet, he simultaneously works with distress, mitigating the impact of trauma by reframing his situation in a way that provides what he called “freedom from fixation.” That is, freedom from anger and despair.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

There is now a very global movement to use body or somatic-based approaches to treating trauma, which argue that talk-therapy is ill-advised for ex-political prisoners, veterans, and others coping with trauma. This new approach is very similar to ways that my Tibetan interlocutors discussed being wary of “talking too much about trauma”. I will look forward to seeing future work and collaborative efforts among Buddhist practitioners and global initiatives in trauma and resilience, which go beyond a narrow biomedical approach.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Asian studies?

I am particularly interested in seeing more collaboration among clinicians, neuroscientists and social scientists with Buddhist practitioners throughout Asia. Many scholars have written important works critiquing the Orientalist or cultural appropriative use of meditation and mindfulness in the Global North. Yet, fewer studies and approaches describe how Buddhist scholars and practitioners in Asia are innovating new global approaches in enhancing resilience, and complicating the understanding and treatment of trauma in transnational spaces.


Sara E. Lewis is Associate Professor of Contemplative Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology at Naropa University. Follow her on Twitter @DeathRebirthLab.

Read the intro for FREE, here.

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