The Wise Mind & The Compassionate Community
Written by Helen Rose
Delivered at Westside Unitarian Universalist Church
On Sunday, February 3, 2019
An audio version of this post can be found here.
One of my favorite things about this tradition is that we draw inspiration from many sources. In that spirit, I have some science and psychology to share with you.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is a skills-based psychotherapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the late 80’s. DBT is rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a talk-based therapy in which clients are prompted to challenge unhealthy or ineffective thought patterns. DBT builds upon this by giving clients specific skills to help them identify and challenge ineffective actions or thoughts.
One of the most basic tenants of DBT is the middle path, which is also the name of Knoxville’s primary DBT clinic. The concept of the middle path is rooted in the Buddhist tradition. Just as the yin and yang symbol embraces both the masculine and feminine, dark and light aspects of life, so does the middle path. Zen Buddhism and DBT both challenge practitioners to reject extremes and embrace a both/and approach.
For example: I can face hardship and still enjoy life. I can be flawed and still have inherent worth and dignity. I can disagree with everything this person is saying and still find something worthwhile in the message, or even in my reaction to it.
DBT tells us that our extremes from the emotional mind and the logical mind are reconciled in the wise mind. While emotional and logical mind are reactive and see only black and white, wise mind is responsive and sees shades of gray, including silver linings.
Reconciling instinctive black and white thought patterns can be exhausting at first but is ultimately effective. A 2000 study of DBT participants found “Significant decreases in the number of parasuicidal acts post-treatment as well as significant improvements in ratings of depression, dissociation, anxiety and global stress.” There are multiple studies citing similar findings.
In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, the fourth principle affirms and promotes every individual’s right to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
As we journey alongside one another, each a separate vehicle on the same universal highway, we are all free to adapt the message to suit our needs, and responsible for the way we choose to receive it.
In my opinion, this tradition is more difficult to practice than others because there are few hard and fast rules. There is not a book of answers waiting to be read. It can be difficult at times to remember that one of the only hard and fast rules – the inherent worth and dignity of all beings means all – even those who have caused harm, even those it would be easy to make exceptions for.
In this tradition, we are tasked with the responsibility of finding the answers that work for us. On our free and responsible search for truth and meaning, one of the few things we can all agree on is that this is a compassionate community. This is not just a compassionate community at face value. This community does not just say it respects the inherent worth and dignity of all beings – this community shows up and takes action where others may find it sufficient to send thoughts and prayers.
As a compassionate community, let us try to walk the middle path and reconcile our desire to have our individual needs met with that same desire of our fellows. As we share this space and time together, let us remember that even when the message does not suit our specific needs, it may have been exactly what one of our fellow travelers needed, and let us be joyful that they have had their need met.
This piece was written as part of a larger service focused on the many reasons UUs gather together and how the church operates to meet such a wide range of needs.
You can listen to the podcast of this service here and this is the handout I developed on UU DBT Skills 2-3 UU DBT Skills
For more about Unitarian Universalism, check out these posts: