Psychology + Zen = Philosophy and methods to relieve suffering and reveal happiness.

Psychology:  We project onto others what we reject in ourselves.  Some call it a Shadow.  Healing comes from making the unconscious conscious, taking responsibility for our projections, integrating what is split off as our own thing. 

Zen:  There is no separate self.  When we can be at one with every aspect, then we belong everywhere and we reject no one.  

We heal the world by becoming intimate with our whole selves.   


Wednesday
Oct042017

No comment

Do not like me.  Do not agree or disagree.  

It isn't that it doesn't matter what you think of me. It is that it matters too much, so much that shape shifting gives me whip lash. I know that I am not alone among women in having a tenuous hold on... 

Funny how many words I just auditioned. Tenuous hold on what? From the Zen perspective there is nothing to hold on to. No self, no perspective, no separation. And yet, I lose track of something subjective and subtle when my attention is on the audience, like I'm splashing so much that I can't see the contours of the deep blue sea.  

Anyway, this is not a popular blog.  Only my mother and my Zen teacher and Marta Renzi regularly made comments. I appreciate their efforts but there are too many other things to keep up with. 

Plus, there are other ways to have a conversation. You can use the Connect page or reach me on Facebook, and from time to time I will post comments in a follow-up to the relevant post.   

I appreciate you, Dear Reader, very much!  

October 2017

Tuesday
Oct032017

10,000 Regrets

Note that searching for "regret" images produces pictures of happy people accompanied by corny slogans about "no regret," and this.There is a poem written by Zen Master Mumon:

Not falling, not ignoring;
Odd and even are on one die.
Not ignoring, not falling:
Hundreds and thousands of regrets!

I am starting to write about the importance of old women standing up for themselves because I am not ready to be sacrificed and I don’t think it will improve things. Nor do I think much good comes of chronic guilt. White guilt causes blindness. Mother guilt, along with sacrifice, causes defense and anger. 

And yet my regrets are many. It is with relief that I confess with the community at this time of year. We acknowledge that to be human is to err, to do harm, again and again, even as we love, attempt to repair, attempt to do better.  

I regret the times that I couldn’t soothe my daughter, that I ran away in my socks, that I fell apart during the divorce, that I fled my body. I regret the times that I attacked my mother, that I belittled and blamed her, that I failed to understand. I regret the times I wasted time and the times I rushed through time. And so much more. 

Not ignoring.  Not falling.  Survival is my answer to the koan.  

October 2017

Tuesday
Oct032017

The Sacrifice

Humans of New YorkAnd in conclusion, appreciate your mother.

I’ve been trying to write this post for years, and as the evidence accumulates I feel less and less articulate.  Trump’s little gif, manipulated to appear that he had smacked Hillary with a golf ball, emerged around the same time that a pharma exec offered a $5000 bounty for a strand of Hillary’s hair. Contemplating such things, my eyelid twitches and I want to vomit or curl up and go away. But that's what they want, so I'm staying put.

I’ve written about becoming invisible when I crossed the 50-year mark, but then something even weirder started to happen. Young men who couldn’t ignore me started to hate me. An actor I rehearsed with called me controlling and told me to shut up. Another sent an email to say “Fuck you!”  Believe me, I was much nastier as a younger woman but such insults were absent.  

As the young men delivered venom, my teenaged daughter delivered contempt. It was nothing personal, just the way daughters separate nowadays. How else do you distinguish yourself from a disrespected elder? Better to be up than down. While this was happening, I saw other mothers suffering, humiliated, but saying nothing because, after all, we want our daughters to be strong, to stand up for themselves. As is my way, I started conversations with many mothers who had survived the teen years--with nurses as they were drawing my blood, with divorce attorneys as we were discussing terms, and often I would hear:  “I nearly died.”  There were stories of being hospitalized, losing hair, retreating to the comfort of this or that substance, and by the way, this is all often happening while being replaced by younger women either at work or at love or both.  

How do you think that feels?

What are the long term consequences of sacrificing my generation of women? Who benefits?

Fountain of Oldth was a conversation between older and younger women, and we put this dilemma right on the slab. How can older women support younger women when they are being obliterated?  How can younger women truly grow into their strength without models?  

When Hillary C was interviewed for Humans of New York, she told a story about men yelling at her when she was taking a law school entrance exam. Here is a glimpse of the Fountain of Oldth riff.  I haven't figured out how to make a gif yet though I have learned how to pronounce it.

Yes, I did figure it out.  Do you like it this way?

via GIPHY

We have a long way to go, baby.  

October 2017

Monday
Sep042017

On Feldenkrais

Sure there are the miracles.  Walking along one day you realize the knee twinge is no longer part of your experience.  Or the neck doesn't lock, or the electric toe is at peace. 

But the most profound effect of Feldenkrais method is pleasure. The practice of trying things, sensing what connects with what, what makes what move, and finding ease in All That is really so much fun.  I remember noticing my young daughter's attitude when she was playing: what happens when I do this?  

It is still possible to play, to engage in discovery, like figuring out how to roll like a baby or lift your neck as if it is the first time. It isn't always easy, especially if you are old, or grew up with disabillity, or both. Feldenkrais technique aims to disrupt compulsive action, or habit. In most Awareness Through Movement lessons, the teacher introduces a wierd counterintuitive thing like moving your eyes in the opposite direction of your head. Oddly, after doing such a thing, all of this spaciousness sprouts, and then there is freedom of movement where there wasn't before.  

Of course doing this again and again provides direction and practice for the mind. When I encounter something really hard, I try switching things up, like the antidote to the oft-quoted notion that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Just do something different.  See how it goes. If you don't like it, try something else.  

I think this is all tied in to listening, to improvisation, to letting go.  What comes next?

 

September 2017

 

Monday
Sep042017

The Other Narrative: Pretty women...

my mom, so prettyAt the close of a zen retreat, we have a practice called Open Sozan, which means that after a week of silence, people take turns speaking from the heart. It's almost always hilarious and touching. Gratitude spills over onto everything and there is a sort of sleep deprived giddiness that feels like bliss.  

After the Open Sozan this year Roshi commented that it was interesting which narratives were selected to be given voice. Indeed. Because I certainly had been wrestling with a demon with whom I am quite intimate--the pretty woman. As I've mentioned, I come from a long line of beauties and I am not one. Please don't pity me or compliment me. It's a good practice.  

The thing is that our Shuso (senior student practice leader) is gorgeous, really beautiful in that simple and elegant way that is completely unattainable for many of us. She is also really kind in a humble and elegant way that is disarming. So my hatred couldn't find any traction. And then, during her first Dharma talk, she proceeded to knock it out of the park, abandoning preparation and facing the moment honestly and boldly.  

What I realized after all this is that her complete and beautiful manifestation of herself takes absolutely nothing from me. In fact, I feel more free to express my own thing now. Why is this different from what I felt with my matriarchs?  Well, Shuso isn't there to approve or disapprove.  I don't need to measure myself against her. And we can co-exist, supporting each other. I don't blame my matriarchs, mind you, it's just a big set up.  

 

Photos (c) A. Jesse Jiryu DavisThat is all.  Thank you, Shuso.

 

September 5, 2017

 

Monday
Sep042017

Zen Practices that Help with Stuff

Coming home from the zen retreat, having realized the importance of non-conversational camaraderie, I was excited to try a new schedule that included working at a café. On the first day of this exciting new plan I worked efficiently in the morning, knowing my time was limited, then headed down to meditate at the Village Zendo, and then, then, my reward! I went to my favorite café, found an excellent spot, planted myself and my laptop, opened it with a deep sigh of anticipatory pleasure.  

Can you guess?  It was dead. I had no charger with me.  

Waves of disappointment and rage.  At what? At whom?  No target. I could either abandon my plan or park my stuff and walk 12 minutes back and forth to get the charger. So I walked, furious, thinking about how much time I had wasted. People and traffic lights were obstacles as I imagined how fast I could grab the charger and run back to where I should have been already.  

Fortunately the absurdity of all that alighted in my consciousness. Then I entered the fury, and the fury changed. I continued to feel anxious, and then I entered the anxiety, and the anxiety changed. Eventually, I made my way back to the café, and when I discovered that the outlet near my perfect table was dead, I just moved. No perfection, only movement and adaptation.  

These are some big things I've learned through my Zen studies.  

  • Enter here. Include emotion and everything else, without exception.
  • Let go of This so you can welcome This. Die with every breath.
  • Do it for the doing, not the goal, but don't forget the goal.

But there are also little things like: 

  • Settle in completely, even if you are only there for three minutes.
  • Clean up completely, even if you will get back to it soon.
  • Just enough is more satisfying than a bit too much.
  • Leave space between things, just enough to be able to roll a little paradox around on your tongue before you swallow.  

Now I'm having fun.  

 

 

 

Monday
Jun192017

Fountain of Oldth

This happened.  It was my first experience creating and directing and producing my own work. I will write about it soon.   

Sunday
Jun182017

Fountains and Falling

Three days after the play, I fell.

I was on my way to Feldenkrais class, the perfect place to re-connect with my exhausted body.  I was on time for a change, but the train was delayed.  ...running, running, waiting for traffic, grrr, hate that subway, gotta get there so I can relax, there’s the elevator, oh I missed it, lurch for the button...

My sandal caught the lip of the elevator and I lost my balance. My nose smashed into the door frame as I twisted, and then there was floor, lots of blood and pain, the ankles of the men helping me.

Falling is part of my history. I fell on my knees as a disabled kid, fell down stairs in graduate school, fell through a love affair. And falling is part of my legacy. My mother has fallen, and my grandmother, an uber accomplisher, would fall routinely and calamitously, putting an end to whatever overreaching was going on. Naturally, each time I fell, I cursed and vowed to learn my lesson.

This time was different. I didn’t need to vow because my opportunity was right there on the floor. I looked up, saw the kindness of the rescuers who took me upstairs for more kindness, ice and a private room to lie down. ...breathe, apply ice, shift positions, breathe, note critical disappointed thoughts and predictions, breathe, mop up blood, breathe, apply ice, thank people…  A city cab appeared as soon as I walked out the door.  The driver didn’t mind that I lay on the back seat as he drove me all the way uptown, the city wooshing by, holding my pain and gratitude.

I bled for five hours and when it was done, I noted that I was envisioning what kind of cosmetics would enable me to go to work without notice. In the next breath, the oddity of that line of thought for a psychologist struck me almost as hard as the floor...but no, I could do it...I’ve managed more...but I don’t have to...

I don’t have to. I can commit to healing, to ease, to taking my time so that when I return to work I am available to myself as well as my clients.  When something big happens, it requires the whole life to transform. The whole life falls.  The Fountain falls, and the water rises.

Wednesday
May032017

And, Rest!

Oops. I forgot the most important thing.

In my enthusiasm to Reckon, Refuse, and Respond, I neglected to include what makes it all possible: Rest.

Rest is what enables us to listen deeply to what is true, and Refuse what is false. Rest is what enables us to think clearly and Reckon with this political disaster. Rest is what gives us the energy to Respond in an effective way. Rest is what Donald Trump never does.

It is easy for me to get confused on this point. Growing up as a weakling with a disability I needed drive to keep me from collapsing into something that I understood I could not get out of. It served me well back then. When I couldn’t achieve popularity I studied hard and excelled academically. Later I studied popularity and achieved some. And along the way I pushed and pushed my body--to dance, to stretch, to keep going no matter what.

It’s taken me a very long time to understand that there is a whole other aspect of living that cannot be comprehended in the drive mode. Sitting zazen (meditation) certainly makes it clear, injuries make it clear, mistakes make it clear. Tasting creativity pulls me toward that aspect. In Feldenkrais practice there are these oft repeated messages:  Do less. Find a way to do it without strain. Let go of effort. Try it and see. And then after a series of strange movements:  Leave it alone and rest!

Oh, that.

The confusion comes when I’m doing something important, and something in me tells me it can’t be done or it is wrong or something like that. I then feel fear that I won’t be able to do it, so I start to push. But I don’t have the energy and I feel resistance, so I push harder, drink coffee, can’t sleep, have less energy, drink more coffee, don’t feel what I want to feel, push harder… You get the idea. It's a cycle.

Rehearsals for Fountain of Oldth have been alive and interesting. But when we decided to have an open rehearsal it became all about transitions and cues, ‘running through’ the whole show, getting feedback. It felt wrong to me, and that’s when I started pushing. The open rehearsal wasn’t a big failure or anything but it triggered a pretty serious relapse of chronic insomnia. And that’s when I remembered this. Rest. Listen. Follow the thing that matters, not just the thing that calls out most loudly for attention.

I'm doing my best to keep up with letter writing, petition signing, protesting with community, but I also want to bring attention to the deeper things, the things that made all this happen, like misogyny in the form of contempt for vulnerability. I want to stand up for vulnerability in all its forms--getting old, being a woman, being disabled, being poor. And that doesn’t just mean fighting for rights. It also means breathing into that soft underbelly and listening to the birds, for example, or really taking in the sight of the bright new buds sprouting everywhere now.

And then, sprout. 
 
 
 

 

Thursday
Mar232017

Understanding Trump? Running Amok

Image by Liz West“Can he help himself?” a client asked.

There is an idea out there that because Trump has malignant narcissistic personality disorder, he is not fit for office.  Without a doubt the man has narcissistic personality disorder, but don't you think most titans of capitalism are similarly afflicted?  Are they not grandiose, entitled, arrogant, driven to dominate and inflate their status?  Do they not lack empathy?  Are they not interpersonally exploitative?   

But using a mental illness paradigm to describe the ugliest aspects of human nature undermines the purpose of mental medicine.  A diagnosis should be a heuristic label, a summary that suggests a treatment, so the use of a diagnosis as an insult impedes the healing of mental illness every time.  If we find a narcissistic quality in ourselves and insult ourselves about it, narcissism defends itself and gets worse.

What to do about narcissism varies according to what theory you prefer.  Some say the narcissist has never been truly heard, never understood from the inside, so their needs for external affirmation are insatiable.  Some say the narcissist suffers from a lack of limits.  Usually relationships provide an ample supply of limits, because people are actually limited.  Unfortunately, some situations trump normal limit setting.  For example, great wealth.  For example, being a white male in a culture that disproportionately empowers and values the white male.  For example, (not quite on the point of Trump, but still…) having mothers who believe their own needs are not important.

As I was working this out, I said aloud in conversation that Trump hadn’t been properly limited and a person trying to be open minded blurted out:  "You don’t know that!"  This phrase has caught on in the Zen community.  Of course we want to encourage don’t know mind, but I don’t need evidence from childhood to know that Trump has not been limited.  All the evidence is in what he has acquired. No one stopped him.  Our culture praised and admired him.

And the same could be said for all the people who acquired great wealth at the expense of the poor and vulnerable who could not stop them, and who were entirely supported by our greed-admiring culture and the government bodies that greed has purchased.

So let’s shift focus from Trump the man to Trump the Running Amok of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance.  I understand what greed feels like, but I've been stopped from sucking up resources that don't belong to me.  I understand what anger feels like, but I also experience love and respect, which stop me from doing great harm.  I understand that I am ignorant and so I encourage myself to learn from those who know what I don't.  

Let me be clear.  We can't heal Trump the man but we can stop Running Amok.  Reckon, Refuse, and Respond. Repeat.