Randall Eiger LCSW
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Getting Your Nose Pulled

The great master Baso and a monk were walking along the river when some wild geese flew overhead. "What are those?" asked the master. "Wild geese," said the monk. "Where have they gone?" asked the master. "They've flown away," said the monk. The master grabbed the monk's nose and gave it a hard twist.

"Where are they now?" asked the master.


This was the first Zen story I ever came across. I liked it because it reminded me of the Marx Brothers, and because it seems to be saying that the truth we are searching for is right under our nose.

Although Zen and therapy are not the same, both teach us to trust ourselves and to stop searching so wildly for solutions outside ourselves. We enter into therapy in the faith that we can connect with our own native wisdom. Gradually, we learn to let go of the self-defeating behaviors and mental processes that keep us from connecting to the wisdom that has been in us all the time.

People usually enter therapy because life is twisting their nose in some way. A spouse has walked out. A bad mood won't lift. A sudden disaster opens a trapdoor in the daily routine. Or perhaps they simply become aware of a pattern that thwarts and frustrates them — the exciting relationships that never turn into intimacy, the self-sabotaging acts that keep them from success — and they want help in getting off the treadmill.

Although it is never pleasant to have your nose pulled, it can be enlightening. Suddenly, something has got hold of you, and it won't let go, and none of one's habitual evasions, bluffs, defenses, or ways of putting a smiling face on pain seem to be working. Although such times can be painful, even overwhelming, they are also times of tremendous opportunity. It is an opportunity to let go of ways of thinking, feeling and doing that don't work, and to begin to learn new ways that can lead to growth.

The great British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott said that the goal of therapy is to allow the patient to live creatively. By this, I think he meant it is to free the patient from the conditioning that causes us to cling to the same old patterns of behavior and the same shopworn beliefs.

Our stereotyped ways of dealing with things, our distorted concepts, reflexive fears and kneejerk responses, keep us from living imaginatively in the freshness of each moment, and keep us from truly being free. To the extent that we react blindly from our conditioning, we are missing our lives in the present moment, which is the only place our lives happen, and the only place we can do something about them.

Painful situations are invitations to wake up and change. Good therapy assists the process. It guides us across the threshold, from the familiar and failed, to fresh new ways of being.