Monday, November 25, 2019

Past has passed away.
Future has not arrived.
Present does not remain.
Nothing is reliable; everything must change.
You hold on to letters and names in vain,
Forcing yourself to believe in them.
Stop chasing new knowledge.
Leave old views behind.
Study the essential
And then see through it.
From Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan

There is a mistaken belief that therapy works like a classroom, if you attend enough sessions you will learn new and improved ways of coping with the world. While there are programs offering limited number of meetings to learn about stress management and building your self-esteem, the process of having a deeper understanding of who we are, is not so straight forward. The concepts and strategies of these programs are designed to effectively address unhealthy and self-destructive ways of managing relationships. But who is it that is learning these letters and names? We are in a constant state of change, every moment, every breath brings a new experience into our conscious awareness. Being able to sit with a therapist and reflect on the experiences of learning brings us close to the essential and we see through it when a new insight emerges out of the conversation. Instead of chasing new knowledge we consider all that has passed away; all that has not arrived; and all that does not remain. By leaving old views behind we create a space for a newly created self to emerge.

Monday, September 30, 2019

If your mind is fixed on a certain spot,
It will be seized by that spot and 
No activities can be performed efficiently.
Not to fix your mind anywhere is essential.
Not fixed anywhere,
The mind is everywhere…
Takuan (1573-1645) courtesy of 

One of the hardest tasks for someone in therapy is to think about the poor choices they made in the past; experiences where someone was hurt by what was said; or actions that created chaos and loss in an otherwise successful life.  Wanting to change because of what was done in the past is an integral part of self-forgiveness. Yet the primary feelings behind the desire to change are guilt and shame. These are two of the most distressing and painful experiences we must endure. The paradox of guilt and shame is they are also necessary for us to maintain healthy morals. Without them we would not be able to make choices that are good for us and the people we love. They provide an important frame of reference that will allow our compassion to be the driving force behind our actions. Being aware of our shame, guilt, love and compassion happens when we allow our mind to be everywhere. The actions of the past are just one spot, the resolve to change is another spot, and our capacity for kindness and all that goes with it are a multitude of spots. Being fixed on anyone of these deprives us of the energy needed to change. In therapy we engage in a shared realization of all the spots with an open mind. This allows us to engage in a creative process of developing new ways to think about the past and then find new ways to manage the present moment with a shared hope for a joyful future.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Devote yourself to Absolute Emptiness;
Contemplate earnestly in Quiescence.
All things are together in Action,
But I look into their Non-action,
For things are continuously moving, restless,
Yet each is proceeding back to its origin.
Proceeding back to the origin means Quiescence.
To be in Quiescence is to see “Being-for-itself.”
- Lao tzu  courtesy of 

There is something terrifying about absolute emptiness. To find yourself in a dark and strange place; no one to turn to; and completely alone is our worst nightmare. In therapy my client is seeking reassurance, support and encouragement. Our conversations take on a depth and curiosity that allows him to understand the sources of his fears and frustrations. At some point there will be a period of silence. We sit in our respective chairs, the minutes pass by very slowly and as they accumulate the importance of what is taking place begins to grow as well. I will ask him about his experience of the silence. We proceed to explore the non-action of our time together. All the feelings and thoughts that occur during that time are subject to contemplation. My client will express frustration and embarrassment about sitting quietly in front of me. There is also anger with me for allowing the silence to continue. Our mutual understanding of the experience is accomplished by proceeding back to the origin. We explore the patterns of experiences that come up in association with the silence between us. Times when my client felt ashamed and abandoned take on new meanings.  A quiescence emerges as the feelings give way to insights and new connections to old beliefs. And for a moment we both experience “Being-for-itself”.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I always wanted to go to East Cliff,
More years than I can remember,
Until today I just grabbed a vine
And started up.
Halfway up wind and a heavy mist closed in,
And the narrow path tugged at my shirt;
It was hard to get on.
The slippery mud under the moss
On the rocks gave way,
And I couldn't keep going.
So here I stay,
Under this cinnamon tree,
White clouds for my pillow,
I'll just take a nap.
- Han Shan courtesy of

One of the most persistent and defeating issues is the desire to make a change but unable to follow through. “I know what I need to do, I just don’t do it”. In therapy we can spend weeks struggling with this sequence of events. My client leaves the office with every intention of doing something different only to return the next week frustrated with his failure. When he began therapy, he told me about what he wanted to do. I sit with him and we grab the vine together for the session, aware of the wind and heavy mist; slipping on the narrow path as we move from session to session. And then the rocks give way. Each session becomes a repeated confession of failure. He doesn’t feel stuck; he feels like he is slipping backwards; undoing the progress he experienced with me. He discovered his cinnamon tree when I asked him to pause and consider all the things that make up his life in this moment. We take time to pay attention to the subtle details that exist in the moments of each day. The white clouds have always been there for him, the shadows of his thoughts and feelings about his future kept them out of site. Now he is able to take a nap and I know that one day he will grab a new vine and continue on his journey to his East Cliff.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

When we reach the ultimate
Stillness, we joyfully become
Aware that this mind of ours
Is empty, without any things,
And extends infinitely in all
Directions. It is something
Like the eternal sky,
In which clouds and wind circulate
Without stopping or reaching
An end.
- Luo Hongxian (1504-1564) courtesy of

People come to therapy searching for a better way to manage the stress and complexity of their lives. Goals are set for treatment and we begin meeting regularly to reach the ultimate stillness. Time is spent talking about the struggles that have been experienced that week. Once a week we spend 50 minutes sitting and trying to understand the reasons for their pain. The dialog is the journey we take together. Moments of ultimate stillness occurs when there is a pause and a realization of having a new way of looking at a problem. At that point the fears and uncertainties become clouds that circulate with the wind in the eternal sky. Emptiness is boundlessness, so the infinite array of possibilities  present themselves for consideration. When the possibilities are more questions, we continue the journey with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. Eventually answers are discovered and there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Simplicity is something that our
Fundamental nature inherently
Possesses. If we prepare in
Advance and nurture it within
Ourselves, then wherever we happen to
Be, whether in wealth and high rank,
Or poverty and low status,
In foreign lands, or in difficult
Circumstances, we deal with
Whatever situation we are in
By retaining our simplicity there,
It is not increased when we do great
Deeds or reduced when we are
Dwelling in obscurity.
Wherever we go, we are at peace,
Because we have found simplicity.
- Nie Bao (1487-1563) courtesy of daily

In psychotherapy simplicity and complexity are present in each session. My client tells me her day at work was depressing and we talk about all the events of the day, noticing subtle differences in the wide variety of her experiences. Another time we are talking about the confusing and seemingly contradictory feelings she experiences when she is with her family and we identify the role she plays in the family system. Our challenge is to find that space where we can hold both the simple and the complex in equal light. Our fundamental nature possesses simplicity and our lives are exceptionally complex. When we build in routines that engage our fundamental nature like meditation, we cultivate and enhance a singular approach to our lives. This allows us to simply attend to the complex reactions like fear, anger, and anxiety. Paying attention with an open mind and an open heart increases our capacity to feel these things and maintain a curiosity that helps us to learn about ourselves and grow into a more enlightened self awareness.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Calming the Mind

Too much knowledge
Leads to overactivity;
Better to calm the mind.
The more you consider,
The greater the loss;
Better to unify the mind.
- Shih Wang Ming (6th c.) courtesy of

People come to therapy looking for answers. They are interested in learning new skills to cope with the conflicts and stressors in their lives. While we are engaged in that work something very important is happening; there is an acquisition of wisdom. What we go over in the session and what is experienced in the days between sessions generates a wisdom beyond wisdom about the self and the world. It’s a very subtle experience that gets lost behind the new ideas and experiences of everyday life. There are no words, concepts, or formulations that can capture it because it is the background of our active and busy mind. Taking time each day to be still and listen to our breath in and our breath out gives us the opportunity to have that subtle experience. We are able to calm and unify the mind when we shift our attention away from what we learn and focus on the experience of this time to just be.

Past has passed away. Future has not arrived. Present does not remain. Nothing is reliable; everything must change. You hold on to...