What is Practice Discussion?
It might be helpful to explain a bit about practice discussion (individual meetings with the teacher, as part of Zen practice) for new folks, and anyone else who might be a little mystified about it. Our Zen practice at Appamada as we understand it is relational practice. It is about connections and the flow of energy and information in our encounters with each other, not solitary contemplative achievement or individual self-improvement. In our view, the work of zazen is in service of our relationships in and with the world. It is about enlightening concourse, the liberating possibilities in our coming together, and is not confined to a personal experience of exalted states of consciousness. For this reason, regular communication with teachers and sangha members is central to our practice. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about this process.
The rule of thumb Joko established is that her students would see her once a week if they are new to Zen practice. Once they have been practicing for two years or so, they would see her every two weeks. She found that new students need a little more support for the challenges they meet in establishing their practice. Practice interviews are quite short, usually 10 minutes or so, although this can vary a bit, and they focus on the person’s practice. If the issue is complex or requires more explanation or background, however, Joko would usually recommend that the student make an appointment with her outside of dokusan, when there is more time for providing a context. We follow this model.
Practice discussion is not therapy, nor is it a substitute for therapy. It is not professional coaching. However, any of the issues that might also be addressed by therapy or coaching can have implications or opportunities for practice. So actually, there are no “inappropriate” topics for practice discussion. You do not, in fact need to have a topic, question, or issue: the fundamental purpose of practice discussion is the liberating possibilities of the encounter itself. Of course, practice discussion is always optional, but it can be extremely helpful, and even necessary, as it is quite possible in practice to sail confidently off in a misguided direction, or to torture yourself needlessly with self-doubt, anxiety, or confusion.
Practice discussion is available during any zazen period by request. Sunday mornings, there will be an announcement at the start of each period, so that folks who want to see a Peg for practice discussion can come and sit in line in the side room, then see her in turn. If you have a special need to see Peg, please email a request or let her know before the start of zazen. Senior students who are Zen mentors also see people for practice discussion by appointment.
The form for practice discussion is fairly simple. When it is your turn, please rise mindfully and come quietly to the door of the practice discussion room, waiting for the bell. Enter and close the door, then right from the door, make a bow toward the altar. Come to the end of the bowing mat and do a standing bow to the teacher. Then sit, and the practice discussion begins. When it is over, give a seated bow to the teacher, then stand, arrange the cushions and make a standing bow to the teacher. There is no altar bow when you leave.
Any topic that is meaningful for you is fine for practice discussion with the teacher. You may not have a particular question or issue; it is still important to meet even to just maintain and support you in your practice. Often, something will arise in the course of meeting that is relevant to your practice path. Please use this precious time of meeting wisely.
We hope this helps clarify our practice discussion format. We look forward to our work together!