Know Who You Are, Be What You Know

The column title is a Zen koan. A koan is a riddle that takes us to our deepest nature. Some koans can be understood at a rational level, others cannot. This koan is one that is rational, but takes us deeper. It takes us as deep as we are willing to go. Because it is rational, some will take it nowhere, and believe that they have understood it. They will not have. These words must be penetrated with your intuitive mind. Only intuition can take us beneath the surface constructions of the rational mind, and it is beneath these facades and constructions that we must journey to enter into Zen,to enter into our deepest nature.

Who are you? This is the question I have always believed to be at the heart of any true psychotherapy, but as always, the issue is how deep is the psychotherapist capable of, and how deep is the client willing to go? The question to those reading is,how deep are you willing to go?

No thought can take you there. Only meditation can. True meditation is the exploration of knowing who you are at the deepest level. In fact, if that question isn’t the silent mantra of your meditation, then you are just resting, relieving stress, sitting cross legged, watching your breathing,trying to catch your mind as it wanders. Yes,this is valuable. But this is not the yoga of meditation.

I have always been inspired by the late psychologist, Sydney Jourard, who believed that psychotherapy was an exploration in what it is to be authentic as a person. Note, that he wasn’t exploring what it meant to be in -authentic. Most psychotherapy is an exploration of the in-authenticity of a person, all the ways that a person is neurotic. It expends great energy pointing out the places where the inauthentic,neurotic personality creates distress and difficulty. And that’s all well and good. That information is helpful. What it doesn’t get to, however, is what it is to be truly authentic, what it is to be whole and healthy, the mind that is called enlightened.

Buddhism teaches that what is called the rational mind is the source of all that is in authentic and unhealthy in humans. The rational mind is the realm of the ego, the place of ideas, and ideas can be anything. Christianity, Islam, Judaism,Capitalism,Communism, what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong are just ideas. They are tools for conceptualizing possibilities. People mistake them for truths. While some do point to eternal truths, most do not. They are mental constructs that create a matrix of experience that we call reality and that we believe tells us who we are and what life is. We live inside this matrix mistaking it for reality. Voila! A personality is born living inside a culture. For better, for worse, in sickness and in health. This is you. This is your world. Or is it? These are the questions that Zen asks. “Who are you?” “What is the world?”

It could be said that the difference between Western therapy and Eastern meditational healing is that Western therapy agrees that the matrix image, the story you tell, is you. To an Eastern teacher of meditation this story is “illusion” or, in psychological terms, “delusion.” Ram Dass (a.k.a., Richard Albert, Ph.D.psychologist, of Stanford and Harvard Universities) has said that the difference between Western therapy and meditation is that we live inside a cell constructed by the ideas of our egoic minds and therapy helps rearrange and tidy up the cell, but we remain trapped inside the cell of these mental constructions. He goes on to say,the wisdom found through deep meditation is the door out of the cell.

Do you know who you are? What an achievement if you do! Are you living and being what you know? This is the greatest challenge. This is Zen. This is the door out of the cell. Do you have the skills and will to find and use the key? For this, a skillful and true teacher is invaluable.

Bill Walz has taught meditation and mindfulness in university and public forums, and is a private-practice meditation teacher and guide for individuals in mindfulness, personal growth and consciousness. He holds a weekly meditation class, Mondays, 7pm, at the Friends Meeting House, 227 Edgewood. By donation. Information on classes, talks, personal growth and healing instruction, or phone consultations at (828) 258-3241, e-mail at

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