refers to a style of dharma practice that places a premium on the mobilization of the unconscious, an often overlooked feature of intensified meditation. When worked with skillfully, these mobilized energies can help us see into hidden forms of resistance that create so many complications in our formal practice and in our lives as a whole. More importantly though, this kind of inner work helps us to access the deeper healing and compassionate currents flowing through us all.
Based on more than two decades of exploration, Windhorse Zen Community now offers Zentensive Workshops and Retreats®, programs specifically designed for those who feel drawn to exploring the depths of the rich intersection between meditation and Western psychology. Zentensives offer fully accredited training for mental health professionals interested in discovering more about the ways the unconscious functions and reveals itself. Equally so, these programs offer dharma practitioners an opportunity to gain insight into these often ignored or misunderstood dynamics as they arise in the midst of meditation—dynamics that inevitably exert a profound influence on our practice and relationships.
The fact is, the more deeply and directly we enter into these realms, the clearer it becomes that we do not, in fact, have two minds, one “psychological” and one “spiritual.” Instead we find that these largely artificial distinctions fall away, and a more encompassing paradigm for deep levels of change emerges. Based on this unfolding, Zentensives offer an experientially-based approach to the unconscious, one guided by our moment-to-moment internal experience.
differ from traditional Zen retreats in that one works explicitly with these intrapsychic dynamics as they arise, and within a framework that clarifies much about the Western psyche and the role of the superego. By holding to this inner silence within the structure of a strong psychodynamic perspective, Zentensives take advantage of the openness and fluidity that naturally come about as the discursive mind quiets down.
The underlying spirit of Zentensives is one of inquiry, though not of the usual sort. Through long conditioning, most people grow up believing that understanding is gained through the intellect, and that understanding ourselves relates to the ways we think about and analyze our lives. Though this may be valid up to a point, our experience has been that it is out of engaged forms of meditation that our deepest experiences, insights, and compassion actually arise. The spirit of unconditional presence and inquiry is worked with in various ways throughout a Zentensive—and it is the non-verbal aspects of this process that add a dimension that’s often difficult to describe.
As our inner silence deepens, we come to see more clearly into the repression-based ways of thinking and feeling that cycle through our lives—habit patterns that inevitably exert a powerful impact on all that we do. Our more gradual realizations and sudden insights into these embedded energies can lead to significant characterological change, which in turn fosters more focused and sustained meditation.
For many practitioners, these mutually-reinforcing processes can add a whole new dimension to practice; for mental health professionals, these openings can also have real value in terms of one’s work with others. What also naturally emerges from this kind of work is a heightened sensitivity to the ways we are all interconnected—with each other, and the world. Because of this, Zentensives place considerable emphasis on the ethical imperatives arising out of practice, which are particularly relevant when we work closely with others.
Zentensives draw from a wide range of both ancient Buddhist teachings, and contemporary psychological and neuro-biological research. Thus these workshop-retreats offer a uniquely integrated opportunity for working on the edge, and for entering into territory that can be compelling as well as challenging on many levels. As Andrew Harvey has written, “The alchemists knew this great secret - that if you did not bless and accept fully everything that was most painful and dark in you, you could never attain the conjunction of opposites, the sacred marriage, the philosopher’s stone, because final wisdom can only flower from transformation of everything in the psyche, the bringing up into the light of spiritual consciousness and the releasing there of everything hidden in the dark depths of the unconscious. And as Jung said; ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but my making the darkness conscious.’”
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- “The Mind’s Dragons,” Sunya and Lawson’s most recent article is linked here, and is also available in the Winter 2018 edition of Tricycle Magazine.
- Read the professionally-journaled research article about Zentensives.
- Read additional relevant published and unpublished Letters to the Editor
- More information on Three-day and Five-day Zentensives.
- Learn more about our teachers Lawson Sachter, Sunya Kjolhede and our board.