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Lions Roar : March 2013
59 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 and are very useful as such. In contrast, Zen is not a technique and is not a means to an end. Zen may literally be the only use- less thing we do, and this uselessness is actually the essence of Zen being a religious practice. We experience the moment, our- selves, and life itself exclusively for its own sake, and this is the basis of reverence.” Zen is an expression of who we are. Likewise, psychoanalysis—the classical technique developed by Freud—is an open-ended process in which we stay with our experience without any idea where it’s going to lead. This is the opposite of self-help or self-improvement. Yet paradoxically, it’s profoundly transformative. Once we really give up trying to change, real change can occur. According to Magid, both Zen and psychoanalysis stir up feel- ings—good and bad—and offer a stable container in which to face them. On the analysis side, the container is the analyst-client relationship. In the zendo, the container is the structure, the set- ting, and the sitting. Zen students literally sit still with whatever comes up, whether it’s physical or emotional. Both disciplines, in essence, are about staying with a bigger range of experience than we usually want to tolerate; they just do it in two different contexts. In Magid’s opinion, “No matter what anyone says, the reason we come to Buddhist practice is that at some level we’re doing it to get rid of an aspect of the self we don’t want to deal with. We might say our aim is to become wiser and more compassionate, but usually what we really want is to get rid of our anxiety, our vulnerability, our anger, and those aspects of sexuality that are troublesome. Practice then becomes a way of having one part of ourselves fighting another—one part is trying to throw another part overboard in the name of selflessness.” When people practice meditation in this way, says Magid, “something about them ends up feeling dead. They feel like they’ve practiced for a long time, but have failed because they’ve never been able to get rid of...fill in the blank.” Yet practice isn’t intended to get rid of anything. Practice should be a way to let everything stay just as it is. In his book Ordinary Mind, Magid says practicing zazen for the purpose of affecting change is like exercising because you think you’re overweight. If your motivation is to squelch an aspect of yourself that repels you and to actualize an image of yourself that you desire, then you will have to exert continual effort. Yet if you practice or exercise because you feel that doing so is a natural part of the day and because somehow it makes you feel “more like yourself,” then no gaining idea will be neces- sary to motivate you. As Magid sees it, neuroscience has been used to fuel the idea that meditation is a means to an end, and he finds this worri- some. “If we think that what we want is to be in a particular brain state, then meditation becomes a means to get into that state, and we start asking if meditation is indeed the most efficient means,” he says. “Maybe we start to wonder if we couldn’t just bypass a lot of that really boring sitting by taking the right pill. And now we’re down a road of thinking that what we’re trying to do is get into a particular subjective state and stay there. But in meditation—and in analysis—we’re trying to learn to not prefer, to not cling to any one state. Similarly, happiness or enlightenment is not something that takes place in our brains. Happiness and enlightenment are functions of a whole person living a whole life.” Yet in the face of depression and anxiety, Magid does not eschew medication. The real issue “is what someone needs in order to sit still and stay with their own experience. If someone is obsessively ruminating or chronically anxious, that blocks any other kind of experience.” So the use of Prozac or another medication may allow some people to experience states of mind beyond the ones they’re stuck in. “I think people are often wor- ried about not being able to do it all on their own or being depen- dent on medication,” Magid adds. “But nobody’s doing anything on their own. There’s no such thing as autonomy. To enable us to practice, we all rely on the group, the teacher, the tradition—all sorts of things. If for some people medication is what enables them to practice, I have no problem with it.” Charlotte Beck, Magid’s late teacher, received the Japanese name “Joko” from her Zen teacher, Maezumi Roshi, yet she did not continue the practice of giving students Buddhist names. Magid, however, has adopted the tradition—with a twist. In a ceremony, he gives his students not a special, foreign name, but rather their real name. The one they already use every day. This is his reminder that practice and ordinary life are one and the same. ♦