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.   

Entries in Psychology (5)


Yanyang's Thing: Ode to Sangha

The diamond sword. The black snake.“Trust the process,” said my new romance, as everything converged.

The spectacular and ridiculous ritual known as Shuso Hossen became the focus that yanked my fragments together last month. Fear was a constant companion but the terror was wildest when I imagined Dharma Combat, the challenge to “Dragons and Elephants” in the Dharma Hall to confront me, to demand answers to potent life questions. Having watched a few of these, each time amazed at the deft handling of such deep inquiry, I was certain that I could never measure up.

Certainty is not usually good preparation and yet I longed for it. The koan that spoke to me seemed to have a ready-made answer for any question:

Venerable Yanyang asked Zhaozhou, “When not a single thing is brought, then what?” Zhaozhou said, “Put it down.” Yanyang said, “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down? Zhaozhou said, “Then carry it out.”

Of course I envisioned many variations that would give me the opportunity to shout: "Put it down!" But that wasn’t the process that unfolded. Something told me that the heart of the koan was the encounter between these two men, the sincerity of the second question leading to the final opening. “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down?” Now he is truly confused. He thought he had the right answer, but the fog of confusion shatters the he’s ready.

“Then carry it out.”  Bammo!  Yanyang sees it. Enlightenment follows--colors vivid, hearing animals speak, love permeating everything, you know how it is.

So I knew that I had to keep encountering teachers as I prepared. I presented one answer; it seemed to work so I repeated it, and failed. Every effort to nail it down failed.

So it is with improvisation, which was my theme during the retreat. Sneakily, I called it “Form and Adaptation,” but those in the know knew that it was improvisation. Ruth Zapporah, a master theatrical improviser, articulates my greatest fear:

"There’s always the risk of disaster—the show where nothing gels, nothing lifts off, the show where I don’t lift off. My disembodied thoughts collide into one another as they work double-time to make a good show, to make it appear as if everything is as it should be, that I’m on top of it, that it’s really a fine piece of theater. But in fact nothing is aligned—my mind is refusing to play, and my body is so far away from me that I can’t climb into it and don’t even remember how."

What is the remedy? What preparation prevents that from happening? People advised me to be 'myself,' but therein lies the impossibility, the koan. Having designed a variety of selves to coordinate with this or that context, how can I know what ‘myself’ actually is?

Says Ruth, "The fake space is the space between the doer and what is being done." Does that help?

Not the words but the doing. When there is no space between doer and doing, that is intimacy. And the only things that matters in Dharma Combat is intimacy. So all the improvisation I got to practice prepared me. My strange romance, meeting delusions, meeting the human, meeting my longings prepared me. Every encounter with a teacher, with a senior student, with a dharma brother or sister, with a person in my psychotherapy practice, every encounter without exception showed me something that I didn’t know. It wasn’t the brand new knowledge that prepared me but the refreshment of not knowing. That's how we put it down.

When I gave the dharma talk on the koan I featured the people in the room, some of the dearest people in the world to me. But now, the arrow points to you. You are helping me wake up to what is real and true. And someone is helping you. Even if you don’t know you’re doing it, especially if you don’t try, you are part of the enlightening. Buddha famously said (even though I can't find the damn quote and I don't have time to hunt for it*) that he was enlightened along with everyone and everything. 

Do your thing in this tragic world, whatever moves you to protest our poisonous culture. And as you do it, see each other, encounter something you don't know.

with love, Elena Yuuka 
*Beautiful Roshi wrote me from Kyoto with the quote and source: Keizan’s commentary of Case One of Transmission of the Light: 
“I, the great earth, and all sentient beings are simultaneously enlightened”

**please help me decide on comment options. I made a FB page to protect from trolls who were invading this site, but is FB safe? comments enabled so you can answer if you wish.




Demons and Death.  @clown

It's not all fun and games.  That ridiculous clown up there making us laugh has an inner life too, and sometimes it hurts.  In a profound and quite enjoyable workshop with master clown René Bazinet, the topic of demons popped up.  Rewarded for their failures, applauded for their most embarrassing moments, clowns are reinforced for roughly the opposite of what is normal behavior. For those who lap up attention and approval (are there really performers who don't?), such conditions can produce some mighty twisted stuff.  Amy G, photo by Ian DarsonSo in performances that invite intimacy and truth, we are sure to see clown innards

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Purpose and Politics

My Honeymoon in Chernobyl, photo by Ian DarsonDo clowns have a purpose?  Those of you who are old enough may understand what happens as you begin to glimpse mortality.On occasion at least, the inclination to cling to this narrow self drops away and we begin to consider what we transmit to the ever-changing world in which we have such a teeny cameo.  Whether or not we plan it, we do transmit, and so it is with clowns, but some use the platform to show us something important.

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Truth! What is it?

Clockwise from Left: La Cita (photo by Melibea Garavito), Giovanni (photo by Craig Behenna), Red Bastard (photo by Justin Bernhaut), Almost Definitely (photo by Julianna Rusakiewicz)
"It's not as big as I thought," observed the clown after he stripped.  This was the second time in one weekend I was treated to a naked penis on stage (no, I will not tell you which performances; it's a surprise).  What better way to reveal powerlessness beneath bravado?  It's a theme I've seen again and again in the NY Clown Theatre Festival,

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For the Love of Clowns

Love and War.  What else is there?  Ok, there are dishes to do, so we can stop and think about love, or war, or the love of war, or the war of love.  Freud famously obsessed about sex and aggression, even when all those other stressed-out Victorians tried not to notice.  Civilization depends on good manners, so you can be sure that the clown, who treads where ordinary humans are too polite to go, will usually be mucking around in love or war, or both together.  In my last post, I extolled the virtues of "Fuck You!" in freeing the clown to play.  But...Love.  Love is what powers the clown.  Love is why the clown meets the audience, well mostly, anyway.

Poofy du VeyIn the marvelous Burden of Poof, the shimmeringly vulnerable Poofy du Vey expresses her struggle with her longing for love.  As she goes into the audience to find helpers, we can see she is both terrified and compelled to connect.  Don't we often make neat little systems to contain screamingly undefinable important matters?  Poofy makes a touching to-do list, containing perfectly normal tasks, and,

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