Heart Medicine: An Interview with Radhule Weininger

Posted by Angela Borda on Sep 9, 2021 3:06:22 PM


Radhule is an author, mindfulness meditation teacher, and psychologist with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, with a new book out, Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom. Since 1997 she has taught at Pacifica Graduate School as adjunct professor. I’m delighted to learn more about her work and life’s mission.

Angela: To begin, can you acquaint us with your connection to and work at Pacifica? At what point in your career did you decide to teach at Pacifica?

Radhule: My American story began, when I moved in 1985 from Germany to the U.S., shortly after I graduated from medical school. However, my true love belonged to psychology and the healing of the soul. In 1990, I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies and, after licensing, had psychotherapy offices in San Francisco and Berkley. I focused my training in San Francisco on psychodynamic and Jungian psychology. After I moved in 1994 from Berkley to Santa Barbara, it was a natural fit for me to start teaching at Pacifica.

For the last several years I have taught a class in the Depth Program on a topic I most love: the integration between Jungian and Buddhist psychology and practice. I began to study Buddhist practice when I stayed in a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka in 1980. Over the past 41 years, I have deepened my studies, meditation practice, and Dharma teaching. Those two strands of wisdom, Buddhist and Western psychology, flow together naturally and organically in my clinical practice.

Angela: Your first book, Heartwork: The Path of Self-Compassion, presents ten practices for opening the heart. Does your new book, Heart Medicine, flow from the first and are they to be worked with together?

Radhule: Thank you for this beautiful question. Self-Compassion has been a very important practice for me. Mindfulness without compassion can become aloof and disconnected, and compassion without mindfulness can be murky and unwise. Compassion opens the heart between us and others. A Chinese proverb says, “Wisdom and Compassion are the two wings that help the bird to fly.” Through my own life experience and my work with others, I realized that self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-gentleness are important building blocks toward healing our hearts and minds.

For many years, I’ve had an ongoing discussion with my mentor, Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., on how to work with long-standing, painful patterns. Jack challenged me to find a new word for what Jungians call complexes and to find a new way to work with them, through a path that honors the psychological and the spiritual. I had experienced the might of complexes in my own life; however, I found neither existing Western nor Buddhist ways of working with them very satisfying. So, I went to work, and reflected on what had helped me and those I worked with to find a measure of relief and healing. My second book, Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and find Peace and Freedom-at Last, goes further in its understanding and practices than my first book did. I attempted a much deeper and multifaceted understanding of our suffering, the painful constellations and patterns we get stuck in, and I tried to define a whole variety of psychological and spiritual practices to offer relief of suffering and healing. Heartwork: The Path of Self-compassion provides an important launching pad for the mighty task of the second book.

Untitled design (52)Angela: Your new book aims to “Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom.” That seems like the work of a lifetime! What approach do you use in your book to help people do this, and is it grounded in your work as a clinical psychologist?

Radhule: You are right, this is in fact the work of a lifetime, maybe several of them. I am drawing on my experience of treating clients for 35 years and many more years of working with my own challenges. I feel very lucky and in fact grateful for the gifted therapists I had, the wonderful meditation teachers, the trainings I was able to partake in San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and India, as well as the many years of studying with Robbie Bosnak the practice of Embodied Imagination. Theravadin Buddhist practice emphasizes the moment-by-moment awareness of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. However, complexes, or what I call “Longstanding, Recurrent, Painful Patterns,” have to be understood, experienced, and appreciated in their phenomenology over time, in their full depth. Such in-depth understanding of our wounds is new, at least in Theravadin Buddhism or mindfulness meditation, as such practice usually limits itself to looking at moment-by-moment awareness. In that way, Buddhist practice needs to be complemented by a Depth Psychological understanding.

There are twelve steps, which I recommend when working with LRPPs (longstanding, recurrent, painful patterns). First we need to realize that we have become “lrpp-ed” (say “lurped”) with a deep and thorough understanding that includes body feelings, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Mindfulness and compassion practices allow us to be present with our process in a clear and kind way. Setting wise intention and creating a vision gives us a trajectory to do this difficult work. Then it is important to learn to pause and to be with the felt sense of our suffering, to be, as Pema Chodron calls it, in the charnel grounds, to “suffer our suffering.” Breathing through suffering helps us to connect our individual suffering with the interconnected web of life, and to broaden our solipsistic to a wider perspective.

Through our awareness of the interconnectedness of all life we experience compassion, forgiveness of old resentments, and we can experience a sense of belonging. Loosening the grip of our identification with our wound is one of the most difficult tasks for most of us. Embodied Imagination and Dream Tending allows us to create space between us and the images that haunt us. Old trauma gets loosened and re-integrated within the alchemical container of wise and kind attention. The direct experience of awake awareness and of resting in the field of what is mysterious, sacred, and always inherently present, allows us to expand our perspective and to let go and let be. Now we can rest, wound and all, in a vaster field of care, of healing, and of transcendence. From that newly found place, we can be more generous, kind, and loving. A new kind of meaning can emerge. In the foreword to my book His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “It is natural to care for oneself, however, being compassionate towards others is a more effective way of caring for oneself.” Service on behalf of our suffering world will bring us a sense of belonging, healing, confidence, as well as meaning and purpose.

Angela: The Dalai Lama, in the foreword to Heart Medicine, says that he hopes your book will help readers to “build their confidence to lead a more meaningful life.” You also list Jack Kornfield, the co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center as a mentor. And you founded the non-profit Mindful Heart Programs. How did your connection to Buddhism evolve and what tools does it offer to lead a more meaningful life?

Untitled design (53)Radhule: Jack Kornfield is my mentor of twenty years. And my husband and I visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India every fall in non-COVID times. During the last several years, psychologist and Dzogchen teacher Dan Brown has been an important mentor.                              

In my 41 years of studying Buddhist philosophy and practice, I followed for several decades a Theravadin Buddhist path, in which I participated in innumerable 10-day and 4-week silent retreats. Western mindfulness evolved from this practice and allows for an increased psychological awareness of ourselves. Understanding of the process of our emotions and feelings complements the psychodynamic focus on the content of our psyche.

Mahayana practices are quite different. I learned about them from the His Holiness the Dalai Lama, scholar Alan Wallace, and Daniel Brown, who is a Buddhist teacher as well as a clinical psychologist teaching at Harvard’s medical school. Tibetan practices have an emphasis on interdependence and the relief from suffering for all beings. Dzogchen and Mahamudra practices, the mystical core of Tibetan Buddhism, allow the practitioner to experience and to rest in “the field of awake awareness,” which is an experience of timeless, and limitless sacredness. From this vast perspective the practitioner learns to engage with life and to be in relationship in a non-dual way. In Heart Medicine, I give a taste of these practices and show their importance for the healing of long-standing, recurrent, painful patterns.

Buddhist practices helped me to experience my life as much more meaningful. At first those practices and the philosophy behind them allowed me to experience inner calm and gave me a methodology to be with painful inner processes in a grounded, kind, and balanced way. I learned to make friends with myself. Then I found out that the weather patterns of my mind are not the foundation of my being. Underneath dark weather clouds there is peace, benevolence, and a sense of knowing. When I learned to rest in this experience also during the course of my days, my LRPPs lost their sting. I like the way Jack Kornfield says it, “When we put a spoonful of salt into a glass of water, the water is very salty. When we put this spoonful of salt into a lake, the water is not salty at all.”

Angela: How does Buddhism intersect with depth psychology in your work?

Radhule: Having been psycho-dynamically trained in San Francisco, my Freudian supervisors taught me to keep a strict boundary between my “Buddhist life” and my work as a psychologist. Maybe then I was the “mindful therapist,” meaning allowing my Buddhist practice to help me to be more present, connected, and at ease. After I moved to Santa Barbara, Jack Kornfield asked me if I was meditating with my clients. I mumbled something about transference and counter-transference, and about good boundaries that I needed to keep. Jack, a psychologist himself, said, “Radhule, do what feels right in your heart.”

Well, I took Jack’s advice seriously, and I allow myself to be freer with my clients. Although, I still value the importance of a strong therapeutic container, and I follow what feels needed in the moment. Sometimes I teach meditation right then and there in my office, or a client and I develop together an individually relevant compassion practice. For ten years, I led an Embodied Imagination dream group. We began each two-hour session with a half hour of meditation. Sometimes I follow a more psycho-dynamic and Jungian way of being as a therapist. I love working with dreams, and even though I follow Robbie Bosnak’s model of Embodied Imagination, I see dreams also as spiritual path. I follow Indian spiritual teacher and Jungian dream worker Sri Madhava Ashish’s view of the “open window.” By working with a dream, we first polish a mirror, then the mirror becomes a window to another way of seeing. Several of my clients attend my evening meditations, now over zoom, at mindfulheartprograms.org. I am grateful that I can be increasingly flexible, creative, and intuitive as a therapist.

Angela: In your book, you refer to “the Great Mystery,” or “the field of awareness, which has the qualities of stillness, presence, aliveness, love, and luminous knowing.” And in your biography you indicate “a strong interest in the direct experience of the sacred.” Is this the aim of the meditations you teach, and what kind of meditational practices do you present to readers in Heart Medicine?

Radhule: Since I was a child, I had a great interest in the mystical. As a six-year old, I experienced the sacred while lying as if drunk with bliss in a meadow. As a twelve year old, I would sneak into the chapel of my Catholic boarding school, where the nuns sang Gregorian chants at 4 a.m. During a near death experience following a severe car accident when I was 22 years old, I experienced a tunnel of white life during the first night in the hospital. Then I wished that experience would never stop.

On long retreats, I found that experience of sacredness again. After many days of silence, awareness comes towards us as spiritual energy. Dzogchen meditation and the “pointing-out-way” helped me to be able to tap into the Field of Awareness that is always there, hidden in clear sight, even during daily life. In this time in our country, in our world, I see an important role for this experience. The experience of the sacred is not bound to a particular religion or practice, even though some practices might help to access it. To touch into a vaster aspect of reality will make it possible for us to stay engaged, aware and caring for our world and its beings, and to be in the world with eyes wide open-without being overwhelmed. I teach some of these practices in Heart Medicine, and several times a week on our free-of-charge meditation platform at mindfulheartprograms.org. My next book will teach more clearly how tap into the sacred in a relevant and accessible way.

Untitled design (54)-1Angela: I love this quote from your book: “Many practical and psychological steps [to healing] are critical, such as learning to focus, staying present with what is difficult, grieving deep losses, and doing all this with compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others. The most challenging step is loosening our identification with the drama in which we are entangled and opening to a wider, more spacious perspective.” I think most of us have had quite a trying time over the last two years, with many of us in the equivalent of “fight, flight, or freeze” when it comes to the pandemic and socio- political unrest. Sometimes when faced with a real life crises, the tenet of remaining detached, is hard to follow. It seems like it would be easier if you’re living in a remote monastery! How have you held the last year in this way, and what healing precepts does Heart Medicine offer for us on the path ahead as a society?

Radhule: Yes, I gave great thought to how these practices work in times of crisis and uncertainty, and find that one of their major functions is to be helpful in times of challenge. LRPPs, old recurring wounds, come to blossom in times of collective crisis. Old patterns get triggered. A dysfunctional government triggers memories of a dysfunctional parent. A pandemic may trigger feelings of danger and a lack of safety we experienced before. Our spiritual practice gives us an alternate point of view, a larger perspective, and a deeper foundation, on which to build the house of our life.

The field of awareness or the sacred is something we can touch into when we feel overwhelmed. I am not promoting a “spiritual bypass,” meaning using spiritual practices to escape from the nitty gritty of our world. I agree with my friend and mentor Joanna Macy, Buddhist scholar and activist, when she tells us that the deeper we feel our interconnectedness with life, the more we care about our world. Joanna wrote the second foreword to my book. Our experience of the sacred is intertwined with our love for our world. Our activism springs from that understanding. Hence, our practice is not about becoming detached and aloof while retreating to a faraway monastery. Even though pilgrimages and short retreats may be helpful to strengthen our practice, meaning comes from bringing what we learned back to our beloved world with an open heart. That is what Heart Medicine is about.

Radhule_0115_ppRadhule Weininger, MD, Ph.D.,clinical psychologist in private practice, founder of the non-profit Mindful Heart Programs, and teacher of deep mindfulness and compassion practices and Buddhist psychology. She began her meditation studies in 1980 at Black Rock Monastery in Sri Lanka. For the past 20 years, she is mentored in her teaching by Jack Kornfeld and by Joanna Macy in her interest in Engaged Buddhism. Her book Heartwork: The Path of Self-Compassion, with a foreword by Jack Kornfeld, is published by Shambala Publications. Her second book Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Freedom and Peace-at Last, with forewords by HH The Dalai Lama and by Joanna Macy, will be released by Shambala Publications in December 2021. Radhule is adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate School. Together with her husband Michael Kearney, who is an author and physician, she has taught about self-care and resilience to caregivers locally and internationally for over twenty years. Radhule and her husband have six adult children, step-children, grandchildren, and their dog Lucy.


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.

Topics: Trauma, depth psychology, meditation, interview