Here we have the second contribution on the newsletter theme of ‘Zen and Therapy’, this time from Suzanne Adey, one of Stonewater’s monks and a counsellor and therapist
I’ve been a counsellor and therapist for over twenty years and a Zen practitioner for fifteen years. I have always recognised an overlap between the two in terms of how our perceptions and interpretations of events and circumstances create our experiences. This is another way of saying that we create our own reality. This powerful mechanism is so normal to us that we are usually completely unaware of its influence on our emotional and behavioural reactions in our daily lives. The fallout from our instant and automatic reactions to the things that happen to us can be hellish, both for us and those around us. You could liken this to karma.
If the unfettered mind runs the show, and given the chance it will, then this beloved servant becomes a tyrant and a monster. This is fight or flight induced, knee-jerk reaction mind as opposed to rational, calm, creative mind. The fight or flight mind is driven by survival instinct. It looks for danger, scanning our environment for potential threat. This danger is not restricted to dinosaurs in bushes, it includes what other people think of me and whether or not I’m being ridiculed, rejected or judged negatively by other humans. As social animals I believe these tendencies are hardwired in us. Historically, to be disapproved of by the group or tribe to which we belonged could mean banishment or execution. These days, in our society at least, we have a little more leeway in terms of expressing our true selves without it necessarily ending in death. Although there may still be consequences in terms of getting the sack if our boss hates us, or dumped if we offend a lover.
Navigating this rather tricky path on a moment by moment, day to day basis is a full time job. That’s where I come in as a therapist. I’m not saying I have all the answers but in the protected and focussed therapy hour we can cover a lot of ground. The more we can learn to stand back from and examine our reactive mind objectively, the more we can see it for what it is and become skilled at managing it better. Then options become available that we were not aware of before.
I find that zazen helps to still the turbulent pond that is my mind and allows a deeper wisdom to emerge. I recommend that my therapy clients meditate to help them with their therapy work. The two practices work well together. My own and my clients’ experiences of doing this include: better relationships, increased emotional wellbeing, enhanced self-esteem, more empathy for self and others, better quality of life, playing a bigger game and a collapsing of barriers between themselves and others.
The Buddha said that delusion leads to suffering. Examining and challenging assumptions while also actively seeking out the truth, as far as we can see it, results in a sense of relief, of freedom and joy.