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
Nov292017

Winter Retreat

It’s winter, cold and dark. You think nothing would be better than to lie on the beach day after day, soaking up the sun and drinking things with cute toppings. Before you go too far, let me remind you of the return rebound—the dread that can only be relieved by the agony of beginning work again.  A Zen retreat turns that around. You spend a few days practicing Zen meditation and ritual in community—tasting delicious food in silence, greeting a few demons, walking a little and sitting a lot. And when you return to your ordinary life, it reveals itself as a miracle!

The schedule is rigorous, with sitting meditation interspersed with walking, chanting, eating, dharma talks and interview with teachers, and also luxurious, with time for naps and contemplation. Everyone is doing the same thing without being able to talk about it. It's brilliant, really. Like working in a cafe or library, or exercising in a gym, the company of others strengthens resolve, which is helpful when your mind wants to go off in its gazillion little fantasies that seem preferable to real life.

Here are some of the practices and benefits that accrue:

  • You get to give up control. The schedule and assignments are in control. You are given a job and you do it, whether you know how to do it or not, and whether you like it or not. No decisions! The executive function and the worker function of the brain get to take a break from each other, making it possible to really focus on what you are doing.
  • You get to survive a lot of mistakes. You will likely be assigned a little job that you haven’t done before, so you get to mess up and truly realize that it is ok, and then the moment is gone.  
  • You get to realize that you can do without things you thought you needed. Do you remember the experience of life without jumping up and checking something every five minutes?  
  • Because there is NOTHING else going on, you become acutely aware of tiny variations in lived experience.  A bead of sweat rolls down the neck, tickles a little, and then the fan whooshes by and cools it.  A hot flash comes and goes. A thought about performance runs its course, from humiliation to rage to hilarity.

How does this all benefit everyday life?  in 10,000 ways. Here are some of the cool things that upon re-entry suddenly seem so easy:

  • Switching attention completely, letting go.  
  • Seeing people as they are.  
  • Being clear about spheres of influence.
  • Enjoying the taste of food.
  • Making decisions.

Not to mention the pleasure. 

It’s really a blast.  Come join us!

November 2017

Monday
Nov272017

A Dangerous 'Me Too'

Me too. 

Is he a villain?The revelations have prompted a potent and welcome challenge to the patriarchy. It's time for men to take responsiblity for mis-use of power, for sexualizing professional exchanges, for crossing of boundaries, and for just generally acting entitled to take what they want. It's time for men to claim their emotional life

But they can't do it alone. Women have been colluding in the patriarchy all along, and it's time to stop. Bell Hooks calls out mothers who reinforce gender norms, is disappointed when they give up and buy the guns. But mothers can't do it alone. I know from experience how it is to go against the prevailing culture. It's damn lonely, you make mistakes, and the kids won't thank you.  

As Pema Chodron says, Start Where you Are, by acknowledging what we do. Weinstein claimed he was playing by an earlier set of rules. I have perpetuated the patriarchy by playing by those rules. I have said no when I meant yes and said yes when I didn't know what I wanted or how to trust myself. There were times I would have gladly volunteered for the casting couch, not just to get the job but also because playing with power can be fun. 

Boundaries and power are confusing to navigate. Once, I jumped into someone’s arms and they considered it a violation and cut off contact forever. Clearly I mistook friendliness for permission to play. Once, I flirted with a young man whom I was employing. Did he think he had to flirt back to keep the job? Probably I underestimated my power. More than once, I made sexual innuendos in public settings. Possibly people were uncomfortable but felt even less comfortable saying so.

Someone I know has been sexually harrassed. Someone I know has been accused of sexual harassment. Both situations are saturated with trauma. Each situation has a particular configuration of variables whose combination and intensity differentiates a mistake from a crime.

To stop these tragedies, we need to go beyond casting out villains and learn a new civility, learn how to talk about power dynamics, boundaries, and consent. Start here. 

November 2017

Tuesday
Oct312017

Conversation

I used to say that I was on a mission to shift perspectives through art and conversation, but then I realized that I can’t stand conversation. The older I get the less obligated I feel to participate in what seems to be artifice meeting artifice. Even in ‘talkbacks’ that supposedly encourage audiences to process what they have witnessed, all I hear is people trying to be clever or praising things that actually could have used a little bit more of this or that.

Recently I heard the great Zen master Norman Fisher give a talk about friendship, and it was very powerful and encouraging, and of course he was talking about speaking from the heart, so I asked him: 

"Hey, it’s all well and good to speak from the heart when those are the rules of the game, for example in council practice (no crosstalk etc), but what about chatting? Chatting is all about breaking the precepts," I argued.  "We split people into good and bad, elevate some, dismiss or mock others; we forget to bear witness, give inappropriate advice right and left; we pretend we are doing better than we are; and so on and so on on."

And he said: "You follow the precepts."  And I said:  "Oh. Right."

I was doing exactly what I was complaining about. I was blaming conversation itself when I could have been changing its nature by attending to my own sense of morality.  Since then, I’ve been trying but it isn’t easy.  I really prefer a structure that gives permission via restriction.  Almost anything shakes up a bad habit.  In Fountain of Oldth, improvisational structure led to truth and communion, every now and then.

Friday
Oct202017

Weinstein's World

What don't you see?

We all live in Hollyworld, even Weinstein.  For sure, the man was wrong to abuse his power, to use beautiful women to address whatever deep dissatisfaction he couldn’t live with.  And I am heartened to see women coming out about their experiences, but just as we don’t fix hatred by killing off Trump, we don’t fix misogyny by getting rid of Weinstein.

Click to read more ...

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.