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Zen and NLP
Part of a series of short articles focusing on NLP's relevance to each of the major world religions.
"The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
– Marcel Proust
Zen points to the paradox of attaining what you already have (but don't know it). According to Zen, to seek enlightenment is to miss it. To meditate with the intention of gaining enlightenment is to meditate in vain. To pursue a spiritual path is to wander from it.
"Even to speak the word Buddha is dragging in the mud soaking wet; Even to say the word Zen is a total embarrassment."
– Blue Cliff Record
Zen considers that all words miss the mark because words are representations – that is, they are not that which they represent. Zen is about seeing directly and is therefore largely silent beyond saying the obvious. "When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep."
We can extend that simplicity of purpose to say, when you are unhappy, seek a solution. When you want something, seek it.
"If you don't want anything, NLP can't help you." – Robert Dilts
Like Zen, NLP is simple and direct. For the creators of NLP, this was no small achievement. As the director of NASA's Division of Astronomy and Physics, Anne Kinney, pointed out, "The more simple something is, the more difficult it is."
Achieving simplicity takes work precisely because we typically begin from a point of unmanageable complexity. Our natural tendency is to over-complicate. And when we are not over-complicating, we easily go too far in the other direction, making connections of meaning, association, causality and belief reflexively without adequate reflection.
NLP cuts through complexity to get to the heart of issues by recognizing something which Zen also recognizes, that we know and understand the world through our own verbal and sensory representations.
Readiness of the Mind
"It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom." – Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, 1970
From a Zen perspective, NLP might be considered a toolset for readiness.
When the mind is ready, amazing things can happen. By developing practical tools to correct unhelpful representations, clarify thinking, and integrate mind and body, NLP helps ready our minds with well-formed, functional patterns that support our health, happiness and peace of mind.
Every level of experience is addressed in NLP, from relationships to behaviors, capabilities, beliefs, values, identity, and spirituality.
The Purpose of Zen
"The true purpose of Zen is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes." – Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, 1970
"Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them." – Alan Watts
"The deer hunter doesn't see the mountains, the miser doesn't see men." – Zenrin Kushu, quoted in "The Zen Koan", Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Isshu Miura, 1965
Accurate perceiving leads to better functioning. Neuroscience has demonstrated that all our perceptions involve the translation of the world into the terms of our nervous system. NLP proposes that this translation involves three processes: deletion of information, distortion of perception, and generalization of data.
By improving the way we perceive, we come closer to observing things as they are and functioning in the world more successfully with less effort.
Internal vs. External
"Nothing comes from outside your mind." – Shunryu Suzuki
Suzuki's assertion can be useful, as a model. However, NLP does not propose that there is, or is not, an "outside your mind" from which anything can come.
What can be said is that most of us represent, internally, both an internal and external world. Particularly in the area of relationships, we may easily confuse what we are generating internally with what we think we perceive externally.
We may imagine that people think of us one way when, in fact, they think of us another way. We may interpret people's words or behaviors inaccurately.
In such cases, it is the confusion of our own internal processes with that which is going on outside ourselves that causes us problems.
Distinguishing our internal representations from that which we seem to perceive externally is a powerful skill which NLP develops.
"As one lamp serves to dispel a thousand years of darkness, so one flash of wisdom destroys ten thousand years of ignorance." – Hui-Neng
A common limiting belief is that, if a person has had a problem for a long time, it will take a long time to change it.
With NLP, in most cases that is happily not true.
"Change is easy. It's not-changing that takes time." – Dr. Richard Bolstad and Margot Hamblett
Just as bringing a lamp dispels any length of previous darkness, NLP can operate quickly to change old limitations. This is not to say that NLP is instant. It is simply profoundly efficient.
The Joy That Follows
"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows dark thoughts as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves." – The Buddha
The ability to shape what we think by addressing, directly, the structure of our thought, allows us to experience the kind of clarity and joyfulness the Buddha called "pure" thought. By "pure" we mean thoughts which are well formed and contain a minimum of deletions, distortions and generalizations.
For example, when someone says they are "depressed," they are referring to the effects of certain thinking processes. Change the processes, and the effects change. NLP provides the tools to change these processes.
Mind and Body
"Your mind pervades your whole body." – Shunryu Suzuki
"We metabolize what we think." – L. Michael Hall
The tradition of thinking of the mind and body as separate is so old it is built into the structure of our language. But this separation is purely abstract. Our brain, nervous system, circulatory system and thousands of other "body" processes are intricately interwoven. They communicate with each other, respond to each other, and affect each other directly.
NLP goes beyond merely acknowledging the mind-body as an integrated whole. It designs methods anyone can use to increase the functional connections and harmonious interactions between different parts of the mind and body for a more balanced system as a whole.
Putting Things in Order
"When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way. ...But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized." – Shunryu Suzuki
The Zen principle of attending, first, to one's own internal processes shares with NLP a focus on bringing order to our thinking and experiencing. Both suggest a connection with advanced theories of complex systems, their self-organizing actions, and their ability to attract things to themselves.
We are complex systems which organize ourselves continually in an active, ongoing process of attracting thoughts, behaviors and other aspects of the larger field in which we live. Self-organization theory isn't so much a cause and effect, linear style of understanding how we live and operate in the world, but rather a whole systems view which acknowledges that every system exists within a larger system, and contains many smaller systems – all simultaneously and mutually affecting each other.
The understanding of this principle and the willingness to put it into action with the kind of tools NLP offers can bring tremendous benefits to our lives, health and happiness.
"Once, on a cold day, Master Tanka took a wooden statue of Buddha and burned it to get warm. When the head monk of the temple scolded him, Tanka stirred the ashes with his stick and said, 'I burned it to get saint's bones.'
"The head monk said, 'How could one get saint's bones out of a wooden Buddha?'
"Tanka said, 'Well, if there aren't any saint's bones, I might as well burn those other two statues, too.'"
So often, the limitations we experience are self-imposed and unnecessary, being the result not of actual limitations in our abilities or of the world, but of our own thoughts, beliefs, and undermining patterns of perceiving and behaving.
NLP shares with Zen a practicality which seeks to directly change the things which hold us back and provide a path to that which is truly of value.
I hope you have found these few quotes and comments helpful in considering NLP in the context of Zen.
Please feel welcome to call me and discuss how NLP training, coaching and therapy can help you.
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