Learning from Zen: Withdrawing from a way of thinking

‘Brushing off thoughts which arise is like washing off blood with blood. We remain impure because of being washed in blood….’

–Bankei, Diaho Shogen Kokushi Hogo, quoted in Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

‘The new DSM would have everything right were it to forget such words as ‘diagnose’ and ‘treat’.’

–Zen Master

One learns from a certain practice of Zen that one must confront one’s way of thinking in general. And then, after the despair that comes from actively, persistently seeking to overcome this way of thinking, one acknowledges that the only way out is to withdraw. So that once one perceives that one has grown up in Shame Culture, one would acknowledge all the ways in which one has collided with and sought to overcome this way of thinking, only to be numbed by the impossibility of doing so of one’s own accord. After one is exhausted and completely relaxed, one might, in the form of a blessing, receive a new way of thinking. It would be as if Shame and its framework–secrecy, powerlessness, holding back, estrangement, solitariness, shame-releasing ritual, etc.–were to vanish for good. So that–to take another example–if one were to grow up with a set of diagnoses from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the newly published volume is DSM-5, out on May 22) one would finally let oneself withdraw from the categories of ‘mental illness,’ ‘diagnose,’ and ‘treat.’ The withdrawal, the unnaming, the forgetfulness would, after all these years, occasion a day-long belly laugh. And the subsequent belly ache would be well worth it.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, Chapter 2. ‘Confusion,’ The Art of Inquiry