Classes and Seminars

Dr Michal Barnea-Astrog offers classes at Tel Aviv University as well as independently.

The Ecology of Mental Action: On Projection, Projective Identification, and Conditioned Arising

One of the mind’s fundamental conditionings, according to both Buddhism and psychoanalysis, is the tendency to desire the pleasant and to reject the unpleasant. In this course we look into this conditioning and follow its various implications, for the intra-psychic domain as well as the interpersonal. We will consider this through some of the rich psychoanalytic literature on projective mechanisms and through Buddhist ideas centering on the process of conditioned arising, as well as by reference to the following three axes.

In the first of these, we will examine some characteristics of the subjective viewpoint, and how it brings together sensation, perception, and reaction which consolidate into habitual patterns that come to rule our lives. We will see how these patterns, when operating within us unimpeded, tend to feed into, and perpetuate, themselves. We will moreover see how, reproducing themselves across a variety of relationships and situations, they create our personal prisons.

With the second axis we move into the interpersonal field to deal with the ways in which suffering shifts outward from inside and is passed from one person to the next. Here we look into the fluid and relative nature of the boundaries between one mind and another, and their interdependence, being conditioned and non-isolated phenomena. We will see how mental materials constantly pass through these permeable boundaries and how, through this motion, one mind constitutes another. In the light of this we will consider the negative karmatic charge of projection, that is: projection as a mental action which derives from ignorance, greed and aversion, and therefore produces misery.

Arriving at the third axis, we investigate to what extent, according to Freudian psychoanalysis and object relation theories, as well as according to Pāli Canon Buddhist thought and its commentaries, it is possible to break through the endless process of creation and dispersal of suffering. We will look into states of mind and mental positions that offer movement in this direction of release.

We will gain some familiarity with concepts like projection, projective identification, transference and countertransference, containment and reverie, through the works of Freud, Klein, Bion, Racker, Ogden, and others. Referring to the ideas presented in the Suttas of the Pāli Canon we will discuss the concepts of conditioned arising, kamma (karma), not-self, and the five aggregates of clinging. We will touch, through the light these two conceptual systems shed on mental activity, upon the paradoxical mode of being of the person who is determined to see reality from the margins of the blind spots that mark her field of vision, to know it through the ability to know, which lies at the edge of her unknowing.

Based on Carved by Experience: Vipassana, Psychoanalysis, and the Mind Investigating Itself

On Sensitivity and Fear, Holding and Non-clinging: A Buddhist and Psychoanalytic Perspective

Sensitivity is life, or an expression of life. As long as we’re alive, the world touches us and we feel. Body and mind organize themselves in view of experience, and meet it according to their history and the present conditions, their tendencies, abilities and limitations. From one moment to the next, all of these determine how open we are to life, when we are harden and close up against it, and to what extent our sensitivity is associated with suffering: with loneliness, dread, with a sense of fragility and with destructiveness – and to what extent we are able to transform sensitivity into a source for mental growth.

In this course, using psychoanalytic and Buddhist literature, we will discuss the impact of reality on sensitivity and the importance of our mental attitude toward experience. We will look at Pāli Canon texts and concepts, as well as texts by Bion, Winnicott, Bick, Symington, Ogden, Eigen, and others. We will ask: What happens to our sensitivity as it encounters the world? What happens when reality accords with it, and what when they clash? What determines the extent to which our sensitivity is allowed to live, and to offer us fertile grounds for connecting with the internal and the external?

We will reflect on the self’s basic need to continue and be collected, and on its various ways of coping with life’s ruptures. We will consider parental figures’ role in holding and containing sensitivity and dread, as well as the impact of the unconscious realization that the self is a dissolving, decaying phenomenon in a dissolving and decaying world. We will examine the complex interrelations between a person’s need to hold herself and the possibility to let go; between the ability to trust and surrender, and the possibility to be in touch with the truth in a non-clinging space.

Based on Psychoanalytic and Buddhist Reflections on Gentleness: Sensitivity, Fear, and the Drive Towards Truth