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Ideas Generated on ZT Course in Berriz, Spain, October 2012

Submitted by Dharmavidya on Fri, 26/10/2012 - 23:32

Action involves negation. If we truly and completely accepted things just as they are we would never do anything. It is in the nature of life to be discontent and for things to turn into their opposite. Although all acceptance is a positive ideal it is not part of actual life here in samsara.

In a new group there is a tendency for an ideal of harmony to dominate other considerations. Differences are over-looked and if the group discerns a difference or inequality this is perceived as a problem and the group will, mostly unconsciously, adjust to restore the sense of harmony.

This tendency toward achieving the perfect circle effect, however, supresses the real differences between members and ensures that nobody is seen in their individuality. As harmony is achieved it tends to have a parallysing effect on the group members as it becomes difficult or even dangerous to do anything that might be seen as disrupting the perfect state. This seems ideal but is actually a collective delusion.

This state of stasis which denies the reality of individual difference in the service of a rational perfection gradually becomes more and more intolerable until one or more members feel compelled to do things that break the spell. If these are carefully judged they may initially avoid opprobrium, but fairly soon such action is likely to attract criticism and what is sometimes called the "stroming" stage of group development is thus initiated.

Much of this process remains unconscious to the individual group members unless the group is the kind of training group in which there is a deliberate agenda to expose it. It is possible to see many of the things people do as serving the needs of the group while the individual who acts has no knowledge of this. The skill of the facilitator includes being able to read the language of unfathomed purpose and unintentional effect that betrays the hidden meaning and collective desire of the group.

In Zen Therapy we are more concerned with absence than presence, with space than with substance, with the unintended than the intentional. There is a meaning, a power and a process that is deeper than superficial rationality. Much rationality is actually rationalisation. Also, all rationality, because it treats unique beings as uniform units, involves a denial of truth that is also a cruelty and this dukkha provokes recoil. The measureless, unique individual is sacrificed on the altar of an ideal. Rationality applied to human subjects is thus a form of idolatry. Whether the recoil converts into dysfunctional solutions or opens up a path to wholehearted encounter with truth hangs in the balance.

The skill of the facilitator thus includes both a conscious and an intuitive dimension. It is valuable to be able to read the language of signs that hint at the true reality under the surface of apparently ordinary acts, and to be able to operate in this language at several levels. It is useful to be sufficiently discerning and fluent to be able to talk and reason about what is happening in an intelligent way. However, much of the time when one is in actual therapeutic interaction with another living being there is simply not the time to think things through. In the heat of the moment of encounter one must act and rely upon intuition. It is thus of great value to have an educated intuition that may come up with a valuable response that can then be later analysed at leisure.

Mindfulness is essentially the art of educating the intuition through attention to experience. Training in ZT involves, theory, skills and practice, but at the core is the deepening of actual experience that provides a direct route into the springs of intuition. Knowing is not just knowing about.

Nor is mindfulness simply awareness of what is. It is also, and more importantly, awareness of what is not. The Buddha taught us not to be taken in by surface appearance or carried away by ideals.

From this perspective, personal growth, learning to become more therapeutic, and following the spiritual path are simply three dimensions of the same process. All three involve pra-jna, seeing-through the superficial in order to encounter the deeper reality; paramita, "going beyond, always going beyond"; and all in a spirit of wishing the best for all sentient beings while appreciating the very real limits to one's ability.

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Dharmavidya's picture

We also looked at the way in which intentional action has a recoil effect. If a person asserts something, their intention is that others believe it, but the very fact of assertion may raise doubts in other people's minds. Much of our intentional action inadvertantly creates such a recoil which produces subtle painful effects for the actor. This unintentional effect causes a gradual build up of distruct and alienation which can only be overcome by a return to spontaneity. However, spontaneity cannot come about intentionally. It is thus easy to get caught in self-defeating loops.

This alienating effect is part of the process by which an ego is created. A person would rather be judged on what they take to be the purity of their own intentions than upon the actual effect of their action in the world. This, however, leads to a shrinking away from the world and the creation of inner centres of consciousness that are in one sense more ideal but are less in touch with reality. These inner cathexes tend to coalesce into an ego structure under the power of a felt need for consistency and stabiltiy. The creation of therapeutic space means generating an arena in which the person feels safe to expand out of their internal centres into a zone where they can examine their own subjective material without fearing censure.

The client is afflicted by unintended consequences of intentional action. However, the therapist can also fall foul of the same process. The therapist intends to create a safe space for the client. This intentionality is vulnerable to the very same recoil effects and this may be the more so dur to the sensitivity of the client who is, after all, already suffering from their own experience. The therapist intends to make the client feel safe, but the client senses the intentionality and this may generate wariness. Thus therapy can become a waiting game in which there is no room for pro-active intervention. The therapist must then await some spontaneous development that allows and unforeseen entry point.