Total Exertion: Zen, Psychoanalysis, Life


This paper integrates Zen and psychoanalytic concepts; introduces the Zen concept of total exertion; elaborates the profound implications that the notion of total exertion has for the psychoanalytic encounter and the psychotherapist’s capacity for maintaining an optimal attentional stance; addresses anxiety-driven interferences to both the psychoanalytic process and deepened Zen practice. Clinical vignettes, personal experiences, poetry and psychoanalytic theory serve to demonstrate the abstract aspects of the discussion.

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  1. 1.

    Dhyāna is the fifth of six paramitas (perfections) and is translated as “concentration” or “meditation.” Dhyana was originally transliterated as chan-na, and was eventually shortened to just ch’an. Zen is the Japanese transliteration of ch’an.

  2. 2.

    Shōbōgenzō: A series of Dogen’s discourses on Zen delivered or written between 1,231 and 1,253.

  3. 3.

    In Miner, An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry (1968, p. 127).

  4. 4.

    Zenki: Total dynamic functioning.

  5. 5.

    With the distinction that gūjin refers to the individual self and zenki refers to all existence or to the universe Self.

  6. 6.

    Personal conversation with Sojun Diane Martin.

  7. 7.

    Walking meditation.

  8. 8.

    Meditation cushion.


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Correspondence to Paul C. Cooper.

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Cooper, P.C. Total Exertion: Zen, Psychoanalysis, Life. J Relig Health 50, 592–601 (2011).

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  • Zen
  • Zazen
  • Meditation
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Dogen
  • Bion
  • Total exertion