Zen and Therapy
monk said to Master Bodhidharma, "Master, I can't
put my mind at rest. Please help me."
your mind before me and I'll put it at rest."
monk said, "When I look for my mind, I cannot find it."
said, "I've put it at rest for you."
Zen and therapy are not the same, both use the mind's capacity
to reflect upon itself to clear away barriers to growth. In Zen
meditation, people note the coming and going of their thoughts.
In therapy, people speak their thoughts out loud in the presence
of a sympathetic listener. In both practices, the act of noting
thoughts, without judging them, subtly begins a process of change.
initiates change because, strange as it seems, we don't know
Even though we assume we
feel and believe, when we actually start to observe our
minds, we are shocked to make the acquaintance of a stranger,
the person we thought we were.
recently had a patient describe what she felt was a betrayal
by one of her co-workers. "I
guess that's par for the course," she
said offhandedly. "You can't really trust people." As
soon as she heard what she was saying, she wrinkled
her brow. Until that
moment, she hadn't realized that she had been governing
her life according to a principle of generalized suspicion. "You
can't trust some people," I suggested, and she
mind's capacity to generalize is one of its most useful, and
troublesome, characteristics. Generalization
to generalization, we don't have to figure out what
color the light should be each time we cross a busy
And we know
will taste just as bad on our spaghetti now as it
did when we tried it at age six.
the other hand, there is a price to be paid for generalization:
it can keep us from the
joy that comes
with the freshness
of experience. If we are looking at a rose, generalization
keep us from experiencing
this rose, in all its glory, which is different from
all other roses that have ever appeared on earth.
If we are
generalization, all we see is "a rose" and
we miss the wonder of what's right before our eyes.
Zen and therapy loosen the grip of generalization
on the mind and, if seriously pursued, set free
the spiritual, aesthetic
and moral imagination. The difference is one of
intention. In psychotherapy, the process of self-observation
is used to free
the individual from
habitual, self-defeating patterns of thought and
behavior. It is a future-oriented process whose
goal is a richer,
Zen, the process of self-observation is employed in the service
of spiritual insight. Its goal is
instantaneous realization. Unlike therapy, Zen
is not so much a process of self-cultivation
as it is the explosion of any notion of a separate
self which stands apart from the here and now.
have practiced both Zen and therapeutic counseling for a number of years.
Both are journeys of exploration. Both
originate in curiosity
about life and the nature of the self. I am
convinced that this curiosity, present in all of us, is
where we must
start in our
quest for richer,
more creative lives.