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 Zen (24)

Tuesday
Jan292019

You Be You

Last Sunday I gave a dharma talk* at the Village Zendo on the matter of becoming yourself. Like many Zen practices, it's an absurd and paradoxical goal. You already are who you really are, and yet things get complicated by the mind. 

The previous weekend we had a panel discussion with two Black Zen teachers who talked about how it is to be the only Black person in a community, how it is to deal with racist projections and expectations. James Lynch spoke of the importance of caring for yourself, not defining yourself by how others see you. And Malik Hokyu talked about confronting the objectifications that arise, how hard it is to locate their source. 

For the most part, Zen practice focuses on clearing away the delusion of a separate self, and there is no doubt that the more we sit the more we can drop our dependence on identity. But when we see each other, we see the marks of identity: skin color, gender expression, clothing or hairdo, disability if visible, body type and so on. Our minds are built to categorize and predict, so it is impossible to eliminate the expectations and judgement that shape the way we interact with each other. 

When you are a person who is marked as different from others, the usual process of forming an identity gets tangled; what gets reflected may not feel true. When I was growing up, moving from army base to army base, there were no other Russian disabled kids. I felt like a misfit, and so I struggled to imitate the customs in each place. Only in the woods by myself could I feel alive and genuinely connected. By high school I figured out how to construct an identity as a quirky drama girl that allowed me to behave in odd ways and still be popular. People saw in me what I wanted them to see. 

But this sort of thing initiates a split between who we feel ourselves to be and how we are perceived by others. and that split drives us to Zen, or psychotherapy, or destructive acting out. The bad news is that healing the split actually requires meeting the aspect of self that we try to cover. 

For me, that is weakness. My disabilities are serious but not visible. I've figured out how I can adapt movement so that I can dance, adapted my household so that I can eat (hint: don't bring me a jar unless you will open it for me), adapted my personality so that I see myself as a hero not a victim. But underneath there is still an aspect that is the toddler who can't walk, the kid who can't keep up, the adult who gets tangled up trying to get an item out of my pocket without a wrist to bend. And that aspect feels shameful because I have learned that it is better to cover it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately life always serves up what I reject. This year I've developed a quaver in my voice, something sticky in my throat or diaphragm. I believe it reads as fear, which is not ok at all, right? The more I try to control it the more prominent it gets. So the good news is that I have no choice but to embrace the fear, and fear of fear. I breathe, do what I do as I am, notice how people respond, sometimes say something about it, watch it come and go. 

It doesn't seem like good news when something comes up to challenge our identity. But actually taking down who we think we are or who others think we are, over and over again, is what makes us grow, and even to become fearless. That's the paradox. Rejecting nothing, including everything, that's how you can be who you really are. 

After I wrote this, I listened to an On Being podcast having to do with just this, exposing what we are taught to be ashamed about. So, for me it's whatever a vocal quaver indicates, but it could be anything. What would our culture look like if we all had the courage to out our true selves? 

*The Dharma talk has a slightly different focus, on the matter of being alone.

January 2019

 

 

 

Thursday
Dec132018

Kabillion Year-Old Rage and Female Sexuality

Photo by Jesse Jiryu DavisIn this Dharma talk, I looked into how to work with rage so that we can atone for it all, as we promise to do in our Zen Gatha of Atonement.

All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
on account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all....

It turned out that understanding how female sexuality worked provided a clue into how we can accept the unacceptable and disintegrate.  

November 2018

Thursday
Nov012018

Something about anger

I have to start somewhere. Next Thursday (November 8th), following the midterm elections, I'll give a talk on kabillion year-old rage, intense female sexuality, and love. Might as well start with something about anger.

Last month, following the Kavanaugh hearings, our Zen community met for council practice and someone told a story that featured million-year-old rage. That sparked a flame around the circle and so we burned, kabillion-year-old rage fueled by memories of abuse, oppression, shame, helplessness, terror. Even if we can't remember what happened 10,000 years ago, our bodies howl in response to today's injury.

A line from a koan: When the dragon howls, clouds moving over the caves grow dark.

Clouds respond. Humans respond. When I asked Roshi whether Trump is the howling dragon, she said he is the tail. How can we respond effectively to the war he is cultivating? 

It is said (on bumper stickers) that if you aren't outraged you aren't paying attention. Ok, but Kavanaugh was outraged too and now all the troops are out on both sides. This country is built on the idea that adversaries will arrive at truth. How's that working? The courts are wasting time proving technicalities instead of repairing, congress is a bloody mess with fangs and ruptured jugulars, and the populace is ever-ready to bend the truth to the victor.

Is it possible to live in peace with all this? Some would bypass it, live in some kind of dissociated equanimity, but I strive to include everything, including anger.

Buddhist advice on anger ranges from the fundamentalist--cease from anger, to the aspirational--be kind, think loving thoughts about your mother, to the psychological--hold the anger like a baby or inquire into it (see for example, Thich Nhat Hanh or Ezra Bayda). 

In my work as a psychologist and in my own life, I understand feelings as being comprised of sensation, thought, and action tendency.

Anger is felt differently by people depending on what they experienced--their own anger or anger they witnessed. My own is nearly indistinguishable from fear because I grew up with disabilities that prevented me from ever winning a fight. Many women experience a mix of anger, fear, or sadness, and almost everyone experiences tension when trying not to act out. Of all the feelings, anger has the strongest action tendency that is forbidden. Well, it used to be forbidden; now it is stoked by our president.

What to do!? 

When we sit in meditation, the urge to punish can fall away, leaving clarity and determination. Fear can rise and fall, informing effective protection. The flow of sadness can open our hearts, giving us inspiration and fortitude to have conversations with those who differ from us. And maybe tension can ease as we accept the variety of experience. And then we act. We respond.

Please don't check out. Take care of yourself and those you love, have some fun, eat some food, get some sleep, and then act. Donate to someone, help get out the vote, go to a march, have a good conversation with someone on the other side. Take heart in impermanence and the certainty that every breath, every thought, every glance, every word affects the outcome. 

Next up, emergent strategy and intense female sexual desire, a response to Musho's talk: "Intense male sexual desire." 

October 2018

 

Monday
Apr302018

Upside down mother

"All I want is for you to be happy."

As Mother's Day looms, let's honor the truth coming out of the convict's mouth. This blessing, worthy of a Zen master, delivers deep love, an impossible prescription, and a promise of self-annihilation. Reconcile it and freedom is yours.

A monk asked Yun Men: "When it is not the present intellect and it is not the present phenomena, what is it?" Yun Men replied: "An upside down statement," or the convict's truth, which pairs nicely with his answer in the previous story: "An appropriate statement."

Mama, I think that about covers it. Thank you for doing the right thing when you could. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was impossible. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was possible. Thank you for wanting what I could never achieve so that I could abandon all hope and enter The Way.

How could I be happy as a child, a disabled burden to displaced parents? How can I be happy as an adult living in a culture that offers poison as happiness potion? When greed is cultivated as virtue, when difference is punished or expelled, when violence excites us so much we can hardly hear the birds sing, how can we be happy?

Mama is just telling it as she learned it, says Jacqueline Rose, writing in Harper Mag. Mama is allowed and expected to be a tiger on behalf of her child but she may not express her own despair. "What the pain of mothers must not expose is a viciously unjust world in a complete mess."

Locked into a fiction, Mama provides an upside down statement.

As a daughter I long for the satisfaction that eluded my mother. As a mother I wish I could give what I never got. My heart breaks for my daughter as it breaks for all of us who thought never again meant something we could count on, who thought we were progressing. All I can offer now is participation. I participate in the tragedy, participate in the blooming trees and sunshine, participate in the enormous moon rising.

Sometimes I even participate in the damn patriarchy. 

And I am happy. 

April 2018

You can listen to the talk on Mother's Day that followed from this post here.

June 2018

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Yanyang's Thing: Ode to Sangha

“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.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb272018

What's the Rush? Not the Finale

Here's what's happening, but not yet.I would love to declare: Done with that and here is the answer, but I've discovered that it keeps going, the inquiry never ends. What is the rush?  Every answer has something to do with not meeting reality as it is.

In a rush to get somewhere, I am not satisfied with what's happening now. Now is a transition, but it is also complete in itself. I'm aiming to make the 10:19 train, but how am I doing that? I can aim by imagining missing the train and trying to hurry up. Then, anxiety builds and steals attention from pouring tea into my thermos. I drop the cover, wasting precious seconds and getting more tense. Or I can aim into the damn thermos and have a better chance of catching the train.

I have one of those minds where the boundaries between things are not so clear. Soon leaks into Now, and I become overwhelmed. But I really appreciate this mind and I'm not going to trade it in for one of those linear compartmentalizing versions, not that there is anything wrong with them! What I need to do is keep drawing my attention to the specific reality of this moment. Of course, meditation is great for that, and then when meditative awareness meets life as it is beautiful things happen.

I've spent this month designing an Urban Retreat for the Village Zendo. At its conclusion, I get to give my first Dharma Talk and engage in Dharma Combat, which is really just a conversation (oh, please let it be a conversation!). If I survive the battle--no no, the conversation--I become a senior student. It means a lot, and nothing at all. 

Sunday
Dec242017

and a Happy New Year!

I'm off to the Village Zendo Winter Retreat, and it occurs to me that you might be thinking about intentions. I made up this form for my community, because we are studying Dogen's text on Expression, or what I think of as creativity.  I invite you to consider it, and I wish you an awesome turning. 

oh, and no tax break for me. How about you?  Comments welcome on Facebook

Till next year!

December 2017

 

 

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

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