Saturday, July 26, 2008

About Practice Discussion

I thought it might be helpful to explain a bit about practice discussion (individual meetings with the teacher, called dokusan in Japanese Zen practice) for new folks, and anyone else who might be a little mystified about it. Ordinary Mind Zen as we understand it is relational practice. It is about connections and the flow of energy and information in our encounters with each other, not solitary contemplative achievement or individual self-improvement. In our view, the work of zazen is in service of our relationships in and with the world. It is about enlightening concourse, the liberating possibilities in our coming together, and is not confined to a personal experience of exalted states of consciousness. For this reason, regular communication with teachers and sangha members is central to our practice. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about this process.

The rule of thumb Joko established is that her students see her once a week if they are new to Zen practice. Once they have been practicing for two years or so, they see her every two weeks. She finds that new students need a little more support for the challenges they meet in establishing their practice. Practice interviews are quite short, usually 10 minutes or so, although this can vary a bit, and they focus on the person’s practice. If the issue is complex or requires more explanation or background, however, Joko will usually recommend that the student make an appointment with her outside of dokusan, when there is more time for providing a context.

Practice discussion is not therapy, nor is it a substitute for therapy. It is not professional coaching. However, any of the issues that might also be addressed by therapy or coaching can have implications or opportunities for practice. So actually, there are no “inappropriate” topics for practice discussion. You do not, in fact need to have a topic, question, or issue: the fundamental purpose of practice discussion is the liberating possibilities of the encounter itself. Of course, practice discussion is always optional, but it can be extremely helpful, and even necessary, as it is quite possible in practice to sail confidently off in a misguided direction, or to torture yourself needlessly with self-doubt, anxiety, or confusion.

Practice discussion is available during any zazen period by request. On Sundays, Peg sees people in order, counterclockwise starting with the timekeeper. However, priority is given to those folks who arrive in time for the first sitting period at 8:00. At other times, or if you have a special need to see her, please email a request or let the monitor know. The monitor sits directly to the right of the door as you enter, and can also help handle other needs, for a chair, bench, or extra cushion, for example. Flint is at Ordinary Mind one morning a week, when he is in town. To see Flint for practice discussion, please email him or call him with a request.

The form for practice discussion is fairly simple. When you are tapped, please rise mindfully and come quietly to the door of the practice discussion room, waiting for the bell. Enter and close the door, then right from the door, make a bow toward the altar. Come to the end of the bowing mat and do a standing bow to the teacher. Then sit, and the practice discussion begins. When it is over, give a seated bow to the teacher, then stand, arrange the cushions and make a standing bow to the teacher. There is no altar bow when you leave.

I hope this helps clarify our practice discussion format. I look forward to our work together!


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