My fundamental perspective on life and work as a psychotherapist has been inspired by years of Zen training. In Zen we have a metaphor for a self-actualized life, it is called the hazy moon of enlightenment, which I think brings a good insight into how I relate to life and my work.
The moon symbolizes our true nature, ever-present, even when hidden from us behind clouds in the vast sky. This true nature is free and unhindered, not damaged or traumatized, it is clear, open and fully awake. It is not dependent on or affected by anything and remains untouched and undamaged throughout our entire life, it is unborn and undying. However, it may be hidden from us as long as we are identified primarily with ourselves.
When we awaken to our true nature, we realize who we are and our unique and clear purpose in this life. This also creates space for us to see where we are stuck in patterns that make us suffer. In my experience, it is not until we see this that we find true compassion for ourselves and others, as well as the freedom to be who we are. With such realizations, we begin the natural healing process. Rather than pushing and judging ourselves for not being a certain way, we discover and empower who we are. The more we judge and push, the more we contract, creating suffering and a sense of imprisonment.
In Zen-Psychotherapy we not only focus on awakening to our true nature, we also work with the self and its contracted and limited nature. When we have not yet owned, embodied and empowered aspects of the self they work unconsciously to undermine our life. We realize that to be a human being means to awaken to our human side as well as our being side.
Most Western therapies are based on working only with the relative ‘self;’ in Zen we acknowledge and work with both the absolute (the moon) and the relative self (the haze). To wake up to a larger existence beyond the contracted and limited self is both extremely liberating and helpful in the process of healing a hurting and stuck self. To see our familiar, limited ‘self’ from the perspective of the expanded Self is to appreciate with love and compassion all the suffering and effort that the self does to better its life. To look at the limitless Self from the contracted self’s perspective is humbling and liberating.
The hazy moon of enlightenment is actualized when the contracted and the true self are awakened. Here we live as who and what we truly are, a free functioning human being, sometimes free and joyful, other times appearing stuck and unhappy.
The hazy moon of enlightenment is my inspiration for what I call Zen Psychotherapy. The moon points to the fact that at our most fundamental level, we are basically awake and compassionate, which has innately all the wisdom necessary to heal us. Developing trust in this innate wisdom is a big part of the therapy and path to building a life worth living. Our innate wisdom is not something that needs to be created, but an already-present reality in our state of being. However, it can be covered over by habits and confusion, and the process of uncovering it is the basic work in Zen-psychotherapy.