Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some Thoughts On Our Waking-Dream State

Several years ago, I bought a copy of "The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud" (Random House, 1938) in a used book store for $5.95. As I am often inclined to do, I set it aside and ignored it until recently, when my unconscious mysteriously propelled me toward the bookshelf where it had patiently been waiting for me. I dusted off the book and then opened it randomly to exactly the place that my thoughts had recently been occupying: "The Method of Dream Interpretation."

In this piece Freud outlines his views on the state of mind one must have in order to gain an understanding of the content of their dreams:

"For the purpose of self-observation with concentrated attention it is advantageous that the patient should take up a restful position and close his eyes; he must be explicitly instructed to renounce all criticism of the thought-formations which he may perceive. He must also be told that the success of the psychoanalysis depends upon his communicating everything that passes through his mind, and that he must not allow himself to suppress one idea because it seems to him unimportant or irrelevant to the subject, or another because it seems nonsensical. He must preserve an absolute impartiality in respect to his ideas; for if he is unsuccessful in finding the desired solution of the dream, the obsessional idea, or the like, it will be because he permits himself to be critical of them."

What caught my eye, of course, was the fact that Freud's observations do not differ at all from the instructions you will get if you walk into our zendo for the first time to sit in meditation: "Do not judge your thoughts as "good" or "bad," instead, just let them pass through your consciousness, unobstructed."

Freud, as far as I know, never sat zazen. I don't care. He had caught on to something that looks and sounds very much like the age-old practice of mindfulness that has been assiduously passed down through the ages and which we continue to study and utilize today. Thus, as far as I'm concerned, his work and his writings put him in the same lineage as our Zen forefathers: Master Rinzai, Master Dogen, Master Hakuin, and Master Sigmund.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Lately I've come to deeply appreciate the beauty of people leaving and returning to our practice at the zendo. Sometimes people come and go on a regular basis. Sometimes they leave for years and then find their way back. And sometimes, of course, they never return.

What is this about? I know that in my case it took me approximately 15 years to find my way back. I started at the Long Beach Zen Center in 1985, left for Japan in 1987, and didn't reconnect with Sensei Bob McNeil until 2001. I will never forget rounding the corner of Sensei's old driveway and telling myself, "Aah, I am home again. Time to sit!"

Freedom means putting to rest the notion that it is always "good to stay and bad to leave" or vice versa. Only our discriminating consciousness tells us this is so. In actuality, our coming and going is of no more or less significance than our next inhalation and exhalation. As simple as in, out, in, out. Who knows if the next breath will come? In the meantime, stop the mental masturbation and just sit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Therapist's Life

Sometimes I feel
and start to
Who do I think
I am?
I'm no one's
I'm not a
I just do what
I can for others
then I
go home
Still, I want
I get lost in
the fog of
other peoples'
I stay there
for awhile with
no better
no worse
just sharing
some of life's
ups and
Sometimes we
sometimes we
It's a special
kind of
a special
kind of love
This is what
I do
and this is what
it's like
to be a

Truth Test

The true zen way
in Japan
is not to
tell you shit
You find out
on your own
You are
not coddled
or babied
Why are
you here?
What do you
hope to achieve?
How badly do
you want to
Of course
no one but you
can answer these

My first night
at a temple
in Tokyo
they threw down
a musty
old mattress
for me to
sleep on
It was full
of dust and
They were

I awoke in
the middle of
the night
choking and
I went to
my dorm neighbor
Help me
I can't breath
He had no idea
what I was
trying to
tell him
and probably thought
I was
I went back to
my room thinking
It will be
much easier
just to

At breakfast
the next morning
I was hungry
and loaded my
bowls with rice
and vegetables
When I looked up
everyone had
They got up
to leave and
left me sitting
in the dark
with my bowl
and chopsticks
in the air
learning important
of humility
and restraint

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pick Up Lines

Sometimes I feel
that this is
the end
Sometimes I feel
we won't be
meeting here again
We will
just drift
slowly away
to some unknown place
where there be
nary a billboard
a flower
or a

But I don't
pause, worry
or think
this place
could be worse
for the universe
contains all:
the living
the dead
even the rhymes of
this verse

I'm not being morbid
It's not a
big deal
It's just what
I'm thinking
It's just what
I feel
Now I'll
move on
move on with
my day
treasuring the wisdom
I pick up
along the

Old Man

I will never forget
this old man
I once met
He gave me new life
and encouraged me to try
for in my head
I was not well
At twenty-two
I already felt quite
old myself

He was smart, strong
and full of energy
He wore the dignified
robes of a zen priest
With just this word
and that word
he'd help me greatly
I did not understand
my own father
but somehow
at first glance
I knew this man
very well

He taught me
the practical ways
of meditation
Straight back most important!
he'd roar
Good advice
for I was
mentally weak
and had no spine
at the time

Young, dumb and blind
I'd show up
everywhere high
but I felt no need
to do that with
this man
My father tied me
to a tree so
I'd learn!
he'd often tell me
I learned so much
from this kind
old man

Then one day
he was gone
but I want his spirit
to live on and on
I try my best
to compassionately follow
advice sometimes
difficult to swallow
Keep your back straight!
Don't dare be late!

These are the things
I remember
about a kind
old man
who wouldn't
send me away
when everyone
else did

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Letting Go of Your Inner CNN

I had a moment of insight recently while watching CNN. The news, like a river, moves incredibly swiftly. On and on it goes, from one story to the next. We are absorbed for a moment by the latest school shooting, terrorist bombing, or political scandal, and then the story begins to move down the river and around the bend, so quickly that we lose sight of it and forget about it. Occasionally a commentator will ruminate on the ruthless nature of "the news cycle." I say let them go, just like your thoughts. Let them pass through your consciousness, unobstructed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So I've Read...

Flipping randomly through Peter Matthiessen's classic zen journal "Nine-Headed Dragon River," I came upon this passage:

"Under the lid of a golden box containing the Buddha's ashes is the inscription Atha dipa, Ana sarana, Anana sarana: You are the light, You are the refuge. There is no place to take refuge but yourself."

What in the world is all the clamoring about? Someone left the gate wide open, and a thief has entered the garden. Shall we chase him out, or let him stay awhile?

Happy sitting...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Uncomfortably Numb

"The Bridge" is a recent documentary about people who have committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. The visuals are dramatic, thought-provoking and graphic, and instantly created a storm of controversy upon release. The film crew spent months with their cameras trained on the bridge, waiting patiently day after day for people to jump. With the bridge being the most popular spot in the world for suicide jumpers, they knew they wouldn't have to wait long. In 2004 twenty four people died in this manner. One young man in the documentary miraculously survived, and a few jumpers were caught on film being saved by passersby or law enforcement.

As a therapist, I am intimately familiar with suicide. I am trained to inquire up front about suicidal thoughts and plans, and to monitor continuously for signs that might indicate the potential for a suicide attempt. From what I know and have seen, hindsight usually provides multiple clues, signs and reasons for someone wanting to end their life. My guess is that there are very few people who just suddenly wake up one day and say, "this is it, I'm done, goodbye." Usually a suicidal person is chronically depressed, psychotic, abusing a substance, or suffering from a major physical illness or the loss of a loved one.

From a Buddhist perspective, suicide makes perfect sense. It is not a mystery. It stems from compulsive desire, which is the root cause of suffering. We all suffer from it. Desire is like the arcade game "whack-a-mole:" you can never get all of them, and they just keep popping up. After awhile the futility just drains you, so you give up.

And as human beings, it seems that we are hardwired to seek out contact and connections with people. Maybe that's why it feels so embarassing and shameful to be the person at the party wandering around with no one to talk to. What reason is there to live for a person whose whole life is like that, who no longer feels, or never felt to begin with, any connection to the world?

Our perceived separateness from the world can cut like a knife. It can push people over the edge, literally. The Buddha realized that our discriminating consciousness that separates "you" from "I" and "us" from "them" is the core mechanism behind all suffering. I myself have at times in my life keenly felt this tremendous sense of isolation, of a-part-ness. Zazen has been provided to us as the inner work that we do in order to recognize how empty that separateness is. Without it, I very well might have gone over the edge long ago.