Exploring the Common Ground of Zen and Psychotherapy
By Barry Magid
Wisdom Publications; Boston 2002
208 pp.; $22.95 (cloth)
Americans have never been much for either/or. When presented with choices, and especially when operating as consumers (which is to say, most of the time), we tend to exhibit a hungry kind of both/and pluralism, a desire to Cover all the bases. Our country is, after all, the home of edutainment, coopetition, yogilates, and the beefalo.
Ponder this trait alongside our national urge for self-betterment, and it’s no surprise that recent years have seen the publication of so many attempts to fuse various strains of Eastern and Western thought. While some of these books read like cross-training manuals for the spiritual athlete, several serious, thoughtful entries have taken a more nuanced approach, bringing this dual perspective to bear on the psychic flutterings that underlie our daily experience. Barry Magid, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and a longtime student of Zen, is one of those writers working to marry—or at least reconcile—silent meditation and the talking cure.
Magid’s addition to the literature revolves around a simple premise: “Practice may utterly transform our lives in one dimension, while much about who we are in other ways may not change at all.” As he expands on this theme, it becomes clear that he’s not really searching for common ground, which he takes as a given. Rather, he’s intent on mapping the terrain in a way that illustrates most vividly just how psychotherapy can facilitate and deepen the practice of Zen. Indeed, his arguments and anecdotes are mostly aimed at correcting common misapprehensions about both Zen and therapy, and at questioning the extent to which “just sitting” can help us unpack the baggage of a Western upbringing. It’s as if the author, seated confidently atop his
“Part of the mythology of Zen, when I began my practice,” he writes, “was that enlightenment experiences somehow would spontaneously dissolve all neurosis and that one would emerge from them cleansed of all past conditioning. Nowadays increasing attention is being paid to what might be called ‘post-enlightenment practice.”’ And further on: “A psychologically minded practice keeps us attuned not only to our usual reactions to routinized work but to our deeper expectations of how we feel or think about
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