For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Dr. Barry Magid, psychoanalyst, meditation teacher, and author of Nothing Is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans. Since the 1970s, Barry has dedicated his life’s work to the integration of Western psychoanalytic psychology and Zen Buddhism.
In this fascinating conversation, Barry describes his initial encounters with Buddhist ideas and how he came to agree with some while pushing back on others. He explains how his psychoanalytic practice has allowed him to articulate his take on the project of Buddhism by making the case for “wholeness,” or acceptance of a person’s mental states as they are in any given moment, rather than “wholesomeness,” or an attempt to dispel negative emotions and “purify” the mind. Building on this distinction, Barry explains the framework of what he calls “top down” versus “bottom up” approaches to practice, and the difference between searching for singular peak experiences in meditation versus engaging in moment-to-moment vulnerability with oneself at all times, both on and off the mat.
Barry offers illuminating insights on the pitfalls of viewing zazen as a “technique” versus zazen as a religious practice, or in other words, meditation beyond the framework of means-to-end thinking. As Buddhism becomes further enmeshed within Western culture, he advocates for zazen to remain a “useless” practice to counter recent emphasis on the goal-oriented techniques of mindfulness. Furthermore, Barry points out that our worst experiences in meditation can actually become the most beneficial and that it is possible to discover the absolute in the most mundane aspects of ordinary life.
For more thoughts from Dr. Barry Magid on psychology and Zen Buddhism, be sure to check out this books, including Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology Zen Koans, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide, and Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen and Psychology. You can also view his lecture series through the Wisdom Experience.