Add as bookmark

Blood Washing Blood - A Zen Perspective of Psychotherapy

by by Ray Menezes

listed in psychotherapy

[Image: Blood Washing Blood - A Zen Perspective of Psychotherapy]

This is a thin book – more of a meditation than a book, trying to evoke the spirit of Zen in discussing psychotherapy, the mind, and the author's personal life experiences.

The title refers to the major therapeutic paradox – just as one cannot wash away blood using blood, we cannot hope to use our powers of reason to try to re-arrange our thought processes. A shirt that is stained in blood can never be washed clean in a pot of blood. And a patient cannot change unless he first knows who he is. Thinking is not enough; first one must get in touch with physical experience – contacting body sensations is a good start. Rationality, thought and knowledge do not help very much.

If you like to think in terms of right brain / left brain, one can postulate that the logical side cannot by itself bring about great changes in its functioning, but needs the wholeness of both dimensions. And most likely, an outside helper: the Zen teacher and/or the psychotherapist.

Menezes' book is far from the first attempt to draw parallels between the psychotherapist and the Zen master Erich Fromm's Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis explored this area back in 1970. Whereas Menezes gives us mainly meditative pieces, Fromm offered a more systematic comparative approach.

And long before this, Fritz Perls was admonishing the patient to "lose your mind, and use your senses," – a type of Zen instruction. Don't rely on your rational mind if you want to find illumination. Back in 1951, Perls applied a Zen-like paradox to therapy: if you want to get rid of a headache, for example; first you must focus on it and feel it completely. Accept your feelings and let them be expressed instead of holding them back (all in the safe environment, of course, of the therapist's office). Furthermore, the gestalt therapist – just like the Zen master, often frustrates the patient/disciple, with the goal of reaching insight or 'satori' in Zen terminology. A true satori is a state of sudden indescribable intuitive enlightenment. This is far from the verbalization that most often takes place in psychoanalysis and many other forms of psychotherapy. Perls used to talk about a mini-Satori, where the patient suddenly has a new realization about his life and his place in the larger world around him. A rare event and one that often followed a skilful confrontation of Perls.

Both Zen and Therapy try to bring the person into the enlightenment of immediate contact with reality, dropping the 'veil' of preconceived fixed notions. This dramatic re-connection with reality, a 'mini-Satori' in Perls' language, is more than the psychoanalyst's 'insight' or the 'Aha!' experience of the cognitive therapist.

The work of psychotherapy is similar to Zen in that it attempts to change perspectives, reach a new, clearer understanding of the world and avoid one's usual limiting pitfalls. The Zen master tries to teach this lesson using unusual and unorthodox methods, for example, presenting the learner with a koan (a riddle that has no logical answer) – 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?' This may teach the student something but we can never be sure what it is. Perhaps the lesson here is just – stop being so logical! Psychotherapy often has the same mystery about it, in the revelation of unexpected aspects of the patient's problem. We can never have a firm plan of where we expect the patient to end up, we can only try to open new horizons, and press on to the next resistance.

Of course, a major hurdle of both Zen and therapy is the problem of finally setting the individual free. Supposedly, neither the Zen master nor the psychotherapist has the goal of turning people into slaves, mere copies of their Master. But this too often happens. Freud was well aware of this problem, and wrote his last book on this topic: Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937). Unfortunately, this lesson is often overlooked with the result that the patient becomes unduly dependent on the therapist; as the disciple cannot do without his guru. Menezes skirts around this problem, though many other authors have taken it up (see Sheldon Kopp: "If you meet the Buddha in the Road, Kill Him").

And Nietzsche ends Thus Spake Zarathustra with this crucial last lesson: "Now, do without me."

This book can be ordered from the Positive Health bookstore. Please click the Bookshop image at the top of the column to your right, then click on Psychotherapy.

Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.
Janus Publishing Company

top of the page