Day One: Qwan Shi Yin practises deeply
Introductory remarks about Buddhist psychology, Zen Therapy and about the sutra.
Introductions by individuals. Three particular themes emerged
- the challenge of living the Dharma life, whether as a person in the robe or as a layperson
- the question of all acceptance
- the matter of space and emptiness
- Do not criticise, but accept everything
- Do not be proud of oneself and devalue others
- Do not seek personal advantage
- Do not advertise one's own virtue, nor the faults and failings of others
- When one finds that one has done these things (as all of us do) tery to avoid becoming defensive or self-punishing and, instead, learn how it is to be a human being.
- Two main characters: Quan Shi Yin and Shariputra
- Two main concepts Prajna and Paramita
Quan Shi Yin and Shariputra as two different kinds of intelligence that need to be in communication with one another, the heart and the head. In helping others, the heart leads the head, but must not try to do without the head. Quan means to look deeply. Yin means tears, crying. Shi refers to generations of people. Quan Shi Yin looks deeply into the tears that have come down through the generations. The therapist attends carefully to the distress that has come to the client, knowing it as an instance of the suffering of all beings.
Prajna is cognate with “diagnosis”. There is a surface presentation and a deeper meaning. There is an immediate manifestation and a longer term process. Paramita refers to the other shore, beyond the rushing torrent of emotion and karma. The therapist has confidence that together they will reach the other shore, and that the way to get there will actually be revealed within the torrent itself.
Then the group divided into small groups to discuss the material presented.
Then we did an exercise: each person made a list of who they would choose from the group to represent different members of their family or other significant people in their life. After the break there were a series of pairings exploring the relationship between projection and reality.
Day Two: Emptiness
The process of recognition (the vedana of rupa) knowing what something is a matter of seeing that something is similar to something known previously. As such it evokes the will and feeling of the previous object. Yet the object, in reality, is empty of our projection. When we experience love at first sight or instantly dislike somebody these are strong cases of such projection. Sometimes projections are complementary and sometimes they cut across each other and these accommodating or disturbing projections can account for much that happens in a relationship. This is how we get involved with other people. Yet all of this is fantasy. Some meditation practices are designed to bring us to see things in a fresh way, and this is very useful, but we can never completely divest ourselves of the past. The present is permeated by the past. We only “know what something is” by past experience. However, the thing in itself is not what we see it as being. The process of recognition is also, to a large extent, one of dismissal. Knowing what things are we pay them no special attention. Yet our attention can be brought more strongly to an object and it then stands out from the background as special. We start to see it as a unique case. This is what is needed in our relation with the client. However, the client is seeing us through the lens of his projections. We will feel ourselves invited to play a part in his drama.
The skandas are the process by which we recognise and internalise objects. When we see deeply (prajna) and when we go beyond the presenting appearance (paramita) we realise that the object is empty of our projection.
The group discussed in small groups
After the break we had sharing and questions.
Q: Does acceptance mean accepting the reality or accepting the ego?
A: Both. What is happening is happening. We looked at the example of a couple who argue all the time. The therapist should not immediately assume that this is a problem. It is simply the reality of this couple. Their script is to argue. Somehow the universe has brought them together to spend their time fighting. How interesting! The therapist is interested to understand but does not reject the present situation. This means that the therapist needs to be convinced before she sees the situation as a problem. Another example: a person wants to do something but somehow can never succeed. One part of the person wants to do it and another part sabotages. The therapist does not assume that one of these parts is right and the other wrong. The therapist accepts and loves both parts. Each has its own wisdom. We hope to understand that wisdom in due course.
Q: In a marital situation one party has had an affair. The other is suffering. The first says to the second, “The suffering is in your mind. It is your problem.” The second party is Buddhist and recognises that there is truth in this statement but still suffers. How should we regard this?
A: The statement is true but it is not the whole truth. There is also love and compassion to consider. If the couple do basically love one another, then each will be concerned for the suffering of the other, so it is not solely one person's problem. The therapist hopes that whatever the situation may be, people will emerge from it kinder and wiser.
Q: How to deal with greed.
A: There are two approaches. One is to apply an antidote. Many Buddhist practices are like this, eg. charnel ground meditations to combat lust. The other approach is to redeploy the energy. In this case, we turn greed into love, hate into compassion, indifference into wisdom. This latter is a more tantric approach: transforming adverse things into the path of enlightenment. This is also the way of therapy, to see the positive potential in whatever is presented, even if at first it appears negative.
After lunch there was more input on emptiness, especially as relating to flexibility and changeability. A person who is empty allows the other great space to be whatever they are. Our projections are empty, but, nonetheless they happen and although they are based on our own experience more than n the objective truth, nonetheless they are triggered by the physical reality.
We then did an exercise about our physical reality. The group arranged themselves on a spectrum from tallest to shortest, broke into small groups and discussed the influence that their physical appearance has had on their life. Afterwards we did another spectrum based on pulse rate and broke into groups to discuss vitality, a less obvious aspect of our physical reality.
Q: At the end of the day a student shared that her husband had received a diagnosis of cancer likely to have resulted from his own actions consuming alcohol and smoking. She asked how complete acceptance of the other applies in this situation.
A: This man is killing himself. Probably part of him wants to live and part wants to die. There will be reasons why in each case. Ideally, one loves all the parts of the person, both parts. Here love will be easier in proportion to how much one understands.Acceptance does not preclude one from saying honestly what one's feelings are, such as “I love you, I hate to see you doing things that will kill you because I do not want you to die. I want to understand how it is for you, but I cannot disguise my sadness seeing you like this.”
Day Three: Skandhas not different from emptiness
Input: The theory of he skandhas as the way we introject objects. Ego is made up of introjected objects. With each there is a will and a feeling constellation. In sleep we rerun the challenges of the day until they go 20 times faster, forwards and backwards. Then we feel we have mastered them. This means that in the day time the mind can run programmes appropriate to situations. The mind thus runs ahead o the body. Action is largely the body catching up with the mind. A special case is suicide where the person kills himself because psychologically he is already in the realm of death. So we try to master situations but some we cannot master. They remain unfinished business in our mind and demand attention. These demands distract us from concentration. A person can only concentrate fulling insofar as other things are at peace. Some things can only arrive at peace when we are willing to die. PTSD symptoms are the rerunning of life threatening situations with the aim of arriving at mastery, but this mastery eludes one because one can never arrive at conviction that one will always survive.
Skandhas form a cycle because once something is mastered we seek such situations. Vijnana is our unconscious tendency to seek the situations in which we feel mastery. These are familiar and we have a routine. Areas where we do not have mastery remain troubling and “radioactive” in our mind, absprbing energy. If too much energy is siphoned off in this way we become depressed. If we get sucked into this area completely we go mad.
We then had some questions
- clarifying the difference between the traditional way of interpreting the skandhas as separate elements of personality and this way of interpreting them as parts of a single process.
- clarifying the dream process as a means of integrating the events of the day and the past: this is probably not the only thing that dreams do; the process may sometimes be so powerful that it keeps us awake - a kind of wakeful dreaming in which the mind is still acting compulsively.
- clarifying that this is not the only thing to do with experience: it is valuable to realise that this process is “empty”, which means that the way that one is internalising experience is just one way, there could be others, it is valuable to have some perspective or distance, then life is not just compulsive.
- clarifying the role of concentration: concentration (samadhi) has very high status in Buddhism. This is because one can only concentrate fully when one's life is at peace. Ultimately this includes being at peace with not surviving. When we are at peace with not surviving (physically and psychologically) we do not impose conditions on the process of integration, conditions that in some cases cannot be met. The reason that we are not at peace is because we impose unattainable conditions on our mind.
- clarifying the idea that “suffering is the gateway to enlightenment”: we suffer from the things we cannot integrate and we cannot integrate them because of the conditions we cling to. When suffering arises it highlights the area where we are stuck. This can enable us to find and resolve the difficulty if we have good help. Equally, there are times when it works the other way round - if we reach peace in our life many sufferings do disappear.
After lunch the class divided into four groups to discuss:
“The problem of life is will.
Some want to live. Others want not to live. Most want to live but only on certain conditions.
Buddhism teaches unconditional life.
When life is unconditional, samsara is nirvana.”
The condition of living is often related to love and is probably always related to it in a subtle way. Implicitly the person has a script that says “I will life as long as such-and-such person loves me” or “My life is only meaningful if I am popular,” etc.
After the break we did counselling practice in threes. After 20 min the clients retired to make some notes on their issue and counsellor and observer discussed the case for ten minutes. Then the client went back for a further fifteen minutes of counselling.
Day Four: Prajna as deepening, paramita as the leap beyond
In the morning we had a demonstration session. the client began from a dilemma about whether to attnd the course on the last day or go to another competing event. This progressed into whether to cease their employment and do other activities and then into a concern about being a certain age and not having infinite amount of time left. A cushion was put out representing the future and the client went to it and stood looking back. From this ut emerged that there was a pre-occupation with the past and with certain regrets.
This illustrated a number of points in relation to counselling practice:
- The client may start from a point that initially seems trivial, but one should treat it with the same care as anything else.
- The interventions and responses of the therapist hold and intensify the tension in the conflict of will of the client. New layers of the koan then emerge spontaneously.
- At some point the client is likely to challenge the therapist in some way in order to test him; she needs evidence whether he is reliable. If the encounter goes well the client feels more trusting, if not, not.
- It is important that the therapist not get drawn into trying to solve the dilemmas that the client presents, but rather appreciates the power that they have in the life of the client.
- The manner of the therapist should give the message that whatever the client decides in her life the therapist will not reject her because of it.
- The therapist should not pretend to knowledge or certainty that he does not have.
- The therapist does not criticise.
There was an interaction in the sessions as follows:
Th: You are talking about having two options. This is just a hunch, but I sense that perhaps one of those options is more risky than the other.
Cl: How did you get that idea?
Th: I saw a change in your facial expression between when you mentioned one option and when you mentioned the other.
Cl: That could just be your project.
Th: It could, that's true.
This interaction is a challenge by the client and it resolves successfully because the therapist does not become defensive so neither party experiences humiliation.
In the discussion we looked at
- the step-wise progression of information coming from the client
- how the counsellor is neutral but active
- the difference between the client being in report mode or encounter mode
- how the encounter is still going on even when the client is in report mode
- how the nature of the encounter also tells us things about the client's issue
- how to dramatise content in a way that allows plenty of scope for differences of expression or story
The events of life, birth, ageing, decay and death are empty. We each our our own meaning and story onto them. The therapist does not know in advance what story this client is going to advance nor what conflict of will will be demonstrated by the story. Thus the therapist cannot have a plan for the whole session, only proceed bit by bit, gradually getting a more comprehensive picture.
There may be sexual feelings or regression. It is important that the therapist is not embarrassed by this material but simply looks at it for the meaning that it reveals about the client's life.
Small group discussions of “In emptiness, no old age, death; no need to destroy them”
Looking at how the problem of the client is always, in one way or another, an attempt to deny or cheat death.
Then we did counselling practice in threes.
Day Five: Nothing to attain
We started with a question and answer session.
- it is sometimes necessary to interrupt the client's story in order to maintain focus, encourage depth of exploration and simply to keep the therapist tuned in. Sometimes a client needs to be able to finish their long story, but sometimes it is more profitable to cut into it and say “Let me see if I have understood this so far.”
- in therapy there are two movements: prajna=deepening; paramita=lateral leap; The client poses a dilemma. The therapist shows careful interest while avoiding seeking a solution. The client then reveals more about the dilemma (motives, influential factors, etc). Thus there is a deepening. At some point the client spontaneously reveals an unexpected but related matter, a lateral leap. The process then repeats, with further deepening until a further shift occurs.
- ZT is accompaniment as the client penetrates into his/her koan. This involves empathy, compassion, sometimes confrontation, careful attention to detail, active neutrality and so on.
- ZT is different from positive psychology in seeing the important part plays by negative qualities. The penetration into the koan brings a person to an awareness of their greed, hate and delusion. Deepest faith comes through this path. The sense “even I am accepted” brings true gratitude which is different from a sense that “I receive because I deserve it.”
Then in small groups the class discussed the line “With nothing to attain, bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita”
After lunch we did a demonstration interview.
The client, a sunim, has a temple in a village and has a difficult relationship with the head of the village. Some goodwill has been established, but there is also some conflict. The client told the story of some incidents. She thought about whether she had been perfectionist or made mistakes. She is working up to a project to try to help the village members to come closer, but realises that this might not work out as planned. Part of the interview revolved around the difficulty of the client in looking directly at the counsellor, feeling overwhelmed facing a big man, and there was some experimentation with distance and the different feelings. Another part focussed on an incident in which the client felt rejected by the head of the village - she had wanted to approach him but picked a bad moment when he was just emerging from a difficult discussion with other people.
There was discussion of the session and the difference between ZT and other forms of therapy. We talked about the practice of prajna (deepening) and paramita (lateral leap).
Q: How do we make emptiness practical?
A: Through practising prajna paramita
Q: How do we bring the client to understand their emptiness?
A: There is no emptiness to attain: emptiness is form.
Day Six: Dukkha is a truth for noble ones, therefore, always be going beyond
Talk: “Dukkha is a truth for noble ones” - Dukkha is an essential truth for noble ones. It is through examining our own case that we come to have greater sensitivity to the client. It is by going deeply into the life of the client that we come more and more to understand our own case. The koan arises naturally in daily life and manifests as symptoms. The most obvious symptom is emotion or feeling.
Feeling is a function of the relationship between the will and the object. If we make having the right feeling the goal and we are unwilling to change our will, then the only recourse is to change the object. Thus, an approach that puts feelings in the highest place may simply encourage delusion.
Feelings are important because they give evidence of the activity of the will which is a sign of the “soul” or deeper part of the person. Reflecting feeling can therefore sometimes be useful but it carries the risk of encouraging the client to become preoccupied with feelings.
Reflecting the will is closer to the root of the problem, but it also has a pitfall, which is that responsibility may shift from the client to the therapist. The client then seeks advice and may even become dependent.
Reflection of the object may be beneficial in two ways:
- it may invite an exploration of the reality of the object in a way that dispels illusion.
- it holds the client in the position where the conflict of will operates and thus increases the tension in the client. When this happens more emotion will generally be apparent. The point, however, is that the increase in tension will generally lead to some kind of resolution of the conflict of will because the client cannot stay in such tension indefinitely. The resolution might happen in the session or afterwards, perhaps even in sleep.
By studying our own case we understand how such conflicts occur, what they feel like, and how they progress naturally. This gives us confidence and sympathy in relationship to the client. Sympathy for how the process feels to them and confidence that resolution will come in a natural, though often unexpected, way.
Psycho-therapy means soul-accompaniment. The will is an expression of the activity of the soul. The soul is on its journey. The ego tries to present a neat, tidy and perfect appearance to the world, but the soul is always disrupting this. From the point of view of the ego this is a problem but such problems are to be treasured because they give evidence of the hidden work of the soul.
As a psychotherapist matures in their practice they are learning more and more, mostly in an intuitive way, about this soul activity. The soul is always going on beyond the present situation. Where the ego wants something definite and fixed, the soul is always opening up new possibilities. The soul is on the side of liberation.
The “soul”, in itself, is a great mirror. In itself it is completely empty and because of this it is able to reflect everything in the universe. But this means that it is always actively responding to the endless change going on. This is felt by the individual as intuition or will. To be a therapist one sets the ego aside and allows the soul-mirror to function.
After lunch: Counselling practice in fours, with two counsellors in sequence.