Sample from the Spring 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Gerry Shishin Wick, PhD and Ilia Shinko Perez
By Padma Wick

Padma Wick, an Integral Yoga teacher and Zen practitioner, interviews Shishin Roshi and Shinko Sensei about their new book, The Great Heart Way: How To Heal Your Life and Find Self-Fulfillment. With over 60 years of Zen Buddhist practice between them, they have developed the Great Heart method and discuss how to heal inner wounds and transform difficult emotions.

Padma Wick: Is there a tendency in our spiritual traditions to bypass psychological issues?

Shishin Roshi: Zen and many other spiritual practices were developed in monasteries and practiced almost exclusively by men. They did not have to deal with emotional issues since they had “left home.” When I started teaching I discovered that most of what was preventing people from advancing in their practice was their emotional issues. In this country, most of the practitioners are lay people and they should be able to use their meditation practice to deal with issues that arise in their workplace and their relationships. On the other hand, when people use their meditation to avoid dealing with their personal issues, they can become numbed to life.

Shinko Sensei: We felt our Zen training had not been able to liberate us from the issues of our personality and we felt it was our job to incorporate practices for dealing with personal issues as part of our Zen training.

PW: Reading the book I was struck by what an intimate process this is, and that you were able to do that together and ultimately with your sangha.

SS: When working on our personality issues a lot of shame and secrecy can come up. But since we are dealing with this from the larger perspective of meditation and Zen training we can actually allow shame, insecurity or whatever feelings we have to arise and dissolve without being completely identified by them. That is why we are actually able to share these things; because once these issues are liberated we are not defined by them. When we do our Great Heart Retreats and a group of people is working together, one element repeats: what people thought to be their individual secret is shared by almost everyone in the group and that is a big revelation. One person starts sharing her or his intimate secrets and another gets the courage to do the same. There is joy and humor in it because it shifts from being our individual personal mind to being The Mind, which is not our mind but is shared with everyone. A lot of joy and liberation arises when we do this practice as a group.

PW: Would you please summarize the Great Heart Way method. Is it based on meditation?

SS: Yes. The basis is meditation because, without having a mind that can settle down and be focused, it would be very difficult to get into these very deep unconscious issues.

SR: The Great Heart Way method is informed by all of our years of Zen practice. The main thing we talk about is to notice one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them. We call it non-judgmental awareness, and that is probably one of the most important things to develop in this practice. The other is to differentiate between thoughts and feelings. It is amazing how many of us confuse those two. Feelings are sensations that we feel in our body. The thoughts we have are our ideas about them. I have had many students come in and say they are depressed or sad. I ask them what that feels like. They usually give me a story, “My girlfriend left me.” That is not a feeling; that is the story about it. So it is important for us to learn how to get in touch with the real feelings. It requires us to expand the mind through meditation so we can be the observer of our lives rather than the main actors in our unconscious dramas. We can expand our context of who we are so we can use our awareness to notice our true feelings without judging. Then amazing things can happen.

PW: Included in the practice of Yoga are the different aspects of a being. Bhakti is the Yoga of opening the heart. There is Karma Yoga, and Jnana Yoga, and of course Raja Yoga or meditation, the royal road to the unconscious that Carl Jung referred to. Is it possible to do the Great Heart Way without a meditation practice?…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.