You’re walking out to your car after work and there you see it. That little white paper tucked under your windshield wiper, gently flowing from the breeze.
Immediately, the thoughts start swirling around in your head.
“They seriously gave me a parking ticket??? What is wrong with them!!!”
“This entire day just sucks, the world is out to get me!”
“I completely forgot to move my car, how could I be so dumb!?!”
From there your emotions follow lead as you’re flooded with anger, frustration, and total annoyance. After a couple hours pass you start to simmer down about the whole situation, but not without an added damper to your day and the lingering thought of the extra $40 you now have to spend.
Whether it’s a parking ticket, missing an appointment, an ended relationship, or anything in between, the tendency to ruminate and focus on negative feelings and emotions happens to most, if not all, of us many, many times throughout our life. We let our thoughts get the best of us, causing ourselves greater or unnecessary suffering and distress.
But what if I told you that a therapy practice rooted in mindfulness, Zen Buddhism, and remaining in the present moment could reduce and even eliminate the suffering caused by difficult experiences in your life?
What is Zen Therapy?
According to the American Psychological Association, Zen Therapy is “psychotherapy that is informed by and incorporates the philosophy and practices of Zen Buddhism and that… is concerned with the unique meaning of the client’s life within the universal context, rather than with simple adjustment to or removal of symptoms.”
In other words, Zen Therapy strives to eliminate the “conditioned psychological illusions that cause suffering” through the understanding that there is no inherent meaning to anything in life. Instead, we, as individuals, choose and attach meaning to experiences, oftentimes subconsciously, based on ways in which society has programmed us to think and feel.
With Zen Therapy, the focus is on practicing not to attach meaning to life’s experiences and practicing this non-attachment by stripping away everything from an event or situation outside of what is actually happening. In doing so, you can alleviate suffering by developing an “internal and everlasting source of contentment” from which you can always draw upon.
Take the parking ticket scenario mentioned earlier, for example. Through the practice of Zen Therapy, you begin to realize that it wasn’t the actual parking ticket that put a damper on your day but, rather, the thoughts and meaning you attached to getting the parking ticket.
Someone who practices Zen Therapy may walk out to their car, see the ticket tucked in their windshield wiper, and instead think, “Now I know to watch my parking meter more closely next time.” Because they didn’t attach meaning to the situation, the feelings they experienced about the situation were much different, and they were able to move forward with their day without the suffering caused by self-criticizing and lingering feelings of frustration.
This same concept can apply to all of life’s experiences, even the more difficult ones. If you remove the need for meaning from a situation, your thoughts about the situation change, which can therefore alleviate the suffering and distress caused by the thoughts.
How Zen Therapy Can Help Patients
For many patients experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression, Zen Therapy can be a helpful tool in reducing symptoms and suffering by bringing your mind and body into the present moment and changing the way you think about your experiences.
Many studies show that depression is commonly rooted in thinking about the past and wishing it were different, while anxiety tends to be rooted in the future and worries of what is to come.
With Zen Therapy, the focus is on the present moment and noticing what’s right in front of you – the feeling of your feet on the ground, the sound of birds chirping through the window, or the smell of coffee as you make your morning cup. It’s about fully embracing your current surroundings both physically and emotionally.
Over time, this practice brings your mind’s natural state from the distressing past or worrisome future to where you are currently in the present moment, alleviating some of the suffering caused by stress, depression, and anxiety.
Meditation and mindfulness practices like Zen Therapy have also been shown to have a variety of other positive effects, both mentally and physically, such as promoting feelings of calmness, improving sleep and immune function, reducing feelings of stress and increasing self-awareness.
Zen Therapy In Orange County
At Orange County Health Psychologists, therapist Jason Blakemore, LMFT, utilizes Zen Therapy as an end-stage therapy for some of the patients he’s been working with for some time.
“After supporting patients in exploring, processing, and healing from their traumas, Zen, in a sense, becomes the final reframe” shares Jason Blakemore. “Once you realize that your thoughts are what has been making you unhappy and that your thoughts are influenced by the meaning you attach to situations, you begin to experience life differently. You begin to choose new thoughts, navigate difficult situations with more ease, and really let yourself live in the present moment.”
For more information on Zen Therapy or to schedule an appointment with Jason Blakemore, contact Orange County Health Psychologists by calling 949.528.6300 or emailing info@OCHealthPsych.com.
-Written by Jason Blakemore, LMFT and Cassie Cipolla for Orange County Health Psychologists
About Jason Blakemore, LMFT
Jason Blakemore is a License Marriage & Family Therapist with over 15 years of professional experience. Using his unique approach of “Explore, Process, Heal, Challenge, Reframe,” Jason works closely with his clients to help them develop awareness of new possibilities to redefine their history, move out of deep pain, depression, or anxiety, and create a new, healthier, happier, peaceful life. In addition to his professional expertise, Jason has taken seminars from Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and Tina Payne Bryson, and is well studied in Zen, Mindfulness, and existential philosophies – fusing those beliefs with core childhood work to achieve a unique and effective approach to healing and therapy.