Forgetting and Remembering the Self

Quotes from Zen master Mitsunen (Lou Nordstrom) excerpted from “Enlightenment Therapy,” by Chip Brown, The New York Times Magazine (April 26, 2009):

Illustration by Shout“The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me…I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed. But that forgetting was pathological. I always had some deeper sense that I wasn’t really there, that my life and my marriages didn’t seem real. In therapy with Jeffrey [Rubin] I began to realize this feeling of invisibility wasn’t just a peculiar experience but was maybe the central theme of my life. It was connected to my having ‘ability’ as a Zen student and to my being able to have a precocious enlightenment experience. In a sense it was as if Zen chose me rather than that I chose Zen.”

“One of the most important insights I got from therapy with Jeffrey is that subconsciously I want the depth of my suffering to be witnessed by someone. I want to be seen for what a strange fellow I am. As a young guy I got off on the sense of being different. There was some arrogance and elitism in it. The positive spin of the surreal nature of my childhood was that there must have been some special destiny for me. To give up tenure, to become a monk, I embraced an aggrandized narrative. What Jeffrey has done is indicate that forgetting the self is not a constructive approach. What one needs to do from a psychoanalytic perspective is remember the self.”

“As a boy I consciously constructed this idea that I’m in a situation that makes no sense whatsoever. The only meaning I can glean from it is that there may be some kind of completely different life in store for me. There will be a compensation. I am owed.”

“This abandoned life of mine is like the abandoned boy, and I am the mother I never had who returns to claim that life and embrace it. It is a source of great pathos to reflect that without the therapy experience I might have died without having been reunited with my life! And in that sense, without having truly lived.”