Book Review: “Already Free”

Kane Phelps
Membership Chair, LA-CAMFT

Since I am a Zen Buddhist adherent, this title immediately captured my interest. Bruce Tift is a long time Buddhist practitioner and therapist with deep insights into the human condition.

In this book, Tift chronicles a traditional developmental view of neurosis: When parents don’t buffer or protect children from trauma, the child develops a “stabilized repression of feelings.” Side by side with this view, Tift posits the Buddhist perspective, which he calls a “fruitional view.” The developmental view leads to aggression towards self: Blaming others, anger, resentment and substance abuse as common coping mechanisms. The fruitional view leads to dissolving divisions, growing awareness of intense emotions: Acceptance of those intense emotions we commonly try to avoid.

The Buddhist “fruitional” view holds that there is no self, only moment-by-moment awareness. It is the alienated, developmental self that is the source of all suffering. Buddhism, as most of us now know, is the source of the current “Mindfulness” movement. And Tift does a good job of describing Mindfulness practices that are clearly therapeutic: Meditation, disidentification with content, not knowing, and moment-by-moment experiencing in the body.

According to Tift, when we are thinking, we are often judging ourselves and judging others, thus creating separateness. In committing to immediate awareness, to kindness in all experiences, even our disturbing emotions, we are able to free ourselves from much of life’s suffering. I have found these practices to be most useful both personally and in the consulting room.

The final third of the book focuses on relationships, an interest which the author specializes in. Tift posits that everything in life “is relational” and that intimacy is a powerful vehicle for personal and spiritual growth, or, according to Buddha, “…the path to waking up.” He describes intimate relationship much “like building an arch: it’s the tension or the relationship between the bricks that keeps the arch together. “ Tift includes several common sense practices for the consulting room.

I found this book to be very well written, informative and useful. Not sure it would resonate to anyone who doesn’t resonate with Buddhist thinking, but I think it’s worth it to try.