Monday, September 28, 2020

 In these remote and secluded depths

of quiet mystery,

silence boundless, 

distances empty,

you see endeavor denies

our nature

and appearance the inner pattern.

When eyes and ears can tell us

nothing of such things,

how could anyone follow

the path with mere footsteps?

- Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433) 


Intuition is an elusive concept in therapy. To have a funny feeling about something is a profound and meaningful experience without the benefit of a clear understanding of cause and effect. To be distraught over the tragic loss of someone close is a clear and traumatic part of our ourselves. To feel unsettled about a situation or a relationship is to be subject to uncertainty and self doubt. We try to avoid conducting an investigation; to find some proof for this elusive experience. In therapy we honor the quiet mystery of intuition and allow the thoughts and feelings to guide us to a new understanding. Intuition is a gateway to change. By transcending mere footsteps we become open to the experience of insight that can only be realized by sitting with the mysterious and elusive intuitions. It becomes the teacher within and provides a new space for our perceptions and feelings.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

 

Consciousness and perception range from shallow to deep. As for profound perceptions, they are pure through the ages. They are the basis to influence and cultivate mind from the first generation of the aspiration for enlightenment until the achievement of buddhahood without falling back.

- Records of the Lanka

 

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years in our life. Kairos are the profound moments in our life. They happen when they happen.  In therapy I meet with my patient once, twice, even four times a week if it’s psychoanalysis. We talk about the experiences they have and how they compare with other experiences from the past. We contemplate the future and their fears and hopes about what is to come. In the midst of our reflections a profound moment occurs. They make a new link between an assumption they have carried all their life and an observation I share about our conversation. A new awareness emerges and the aspiration for enlightenment influences and cultivates a more balanced and mindful understanding of all the positive and negative parts of who they are becoming.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

 

Withdraw now from

the invisible pounding and weaving

of your ingrained ideas.

If you want to be rid of this

invisible turmoil, you must just sit

through it and let go of everything.

Attain fulfillment and illuminate thoroughly.

Light and shadow altogether forgotten.

Drop off your own skin,

and the sense-dusts will be fully purified.

The eye then readily discerns the brightness.

- Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157) courtesy of dailyzen.com

 

I have always struggled with the idea of “just sitting” . After spending five days in sesshin, where I sat facing a wall for most of the time I emerged with a deep appreciation for how difficult and challenging it is to just sit. The pandemic has shifted my practice from the office to the zoom room on my laptop. I sit at home and connect with others sitting in their homes. Together we work on the fears and frustrations of this imposed life of quarantine. We create a space for the pounding and weaving ideas that reflect this frightening and confusing new reality. Letting go is not about feeling happy instead of angry or afraid. Letting go is dropping off our conclusions and allowing new questions to emerge. The brightness that can be discerned will challenge our basic assumptions. Our co created space is an opportunity to discover new truths and to cultivate a confidence and wisdom in ourselves.

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

 

For those who have no mental vigilance,

Though they may hear the teachings,

Ponder them or meditate,

With minds like seeping water

From a leaking jug,

Their learning will not settle in their memories.

- Santideva Bodhicaryavatara   courtesy of dailyzen.com

 

 

Freud would refer to mental vigilance as evenly suspended attention. It is important as a psychotherapist to be open to everything my client is discussing so that I can fully understand their world and how they perceive themselves in it. We need to do the same for ourselves. By staying vigilant to all of our experiences we can connect to the richness of our daily lives. It is easy to become preoccupied with worry, excitement, and anger. The day becomes a source of confirmation for what is felt strongly inside. We anticipate disasters and bring suspicion into our experiences with others. It would be overly simplistic to suggest we stop doing this because it is a natural part of  who we are and is necessary to navigate the complex and challenging world we live in. Mental vigilance is to question our beliefs and assumptions. We can elevate our self-doubt to a practice of contemplation. Instead of second guessing we can wonder about the strong emotions that arise and consider the myriad possibilities that may be suggested by their presence. For learning to settle in our minds we need to be open to new experiences no matter how subtle or powerful they may seem. Our curiosity is also a natural part of who we are and can keep the seeping waters from spilling out of the jug.

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 dailyzen.com 

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 dailyzen.com 

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”.


  In these remote and secluded depths of quiet mystery, silence boundless,  distances empty, you see endeavor denies our nature and appearan...