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Written by Sarah Kirton

East meets West in Zen - Roshi Al Rapaport

East meets West in Zen - Roshi Al Rapaport

MysticMag has the opportunity to talk with Roshi Al Rapaport, the Director of Open Mind Zen Meditation International, where a unique form of Zen practice thrives, blending ancient traditions with modern modalities. Open Mind Zen’s core belief is that Zen Practice revolves around the realization and actualization of the Awakened Mind in everyday life. In this practice, one’s life experiences serve as the laboratory for spiritual exploration, encompassing the mind, body, and spirit to understand the unity of the Self for a profound journey of freedom and awakening. Open Mind Zen offers both traditional and non-traditional Zen practices, centered on the timeless tradition of zazen (seated meditation) and a harmonious fusion of effective methods from both Eastern and Western schools. Additionally, they provide Online Zen Training, leveraging the power of video conferencing for effective practice.

Open Mind Zen offers a unique blend of traditional and non-traditional Zen practices. Can you tell us more about how these methods work together to foster spiritual growth and realization?

Traditional Zen, similar to other traditional Eastern modalities, most of which came to the West in the ’60s or early ’70s, involved for the most part a monastic or at least highly disciplined, time consuming training. However, nowadays most Zen practitioners are lay people without the luxury of spending a lot of time in a monastic setting.
Zen came to the West primarily from Japan and to some extent from other Asian countries. However, my training was almost exclusively in Japanese Zen. Originally, it was oriented toward a Japanese mindset, which was patriarchal and highly structured. Over the years, especially in the US and Europe, Zen transitioned into a practice where both men and women could participate, and now there are just as many women teachers as men. Moreover, many practitioners are psychotherapists, social workers or educators, so Zen has evolved to incorporate Western psychotherapeutic ideas.
In our approach at Open Mind Zen, we blend traditional and modern Zen while maintaining its core essence. This fusion ensures we preserve the traditional flavor of Zen while embracing psychological insights and ethical considerations that may not have been as prominent before.

Online Zen training has become increasingly popular. How has Open Mind Zen adapted traditional Zen practices to effectively deliver teachings and guidance through online platforms?

I began using video conferencing quite early on as a means of connecting with my students who were located at a distance. Most of my students are not based in Florida where I live; they come from various parts of the world. I continued to teach locally, but we also used video conferencing to engage with remote students. However, we didn’t rely on Zoom conferencing as a group until the Covid pandemic hit.
Because of the pandemic, we had to make a relatively swift transition to an online only format, enabling us to broadcast our talks, Sunday meetings, workshops, and retreats via Zoom. We installed a sound system at our center in Melbourne which involved a considerable investment of both money and time. Keep in mind that our center isn’t a residential facility; it’s set up for non-residential practice, so we host retreats and events at other venues. Broadcasting those would be a much more complex undertaking. But for anything occurring at our Melbourne Center we offer a Zoom option these days.
We currently have affiliate groups in Europe, Naples/Ft. Myers, Florida, Bloomington/Columbus, Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky and Pasadena, CA. Members of those groups can now join our Sunday meetings online.

Zen Dialogue appears to be a unique fusion of Eastern and Western practices, combining elements of Zen and Mindfulness with Western psychological techniques like IFS and Voice Dialogue. Can you elaborate on how these different traditions come together in Zen Dialogue and the benefits it offers for individuals seeking personal growth and integration?

Zen Dialogue is rooted in methods pioneered by the Voice Dialogue Institute in California. Zen Dialogue builds upon this method, focusing on accessing parts of ourselves with a psychological and spiritual perspective. It’s important to note that the line between psychology and spirituality can be quite blurry, and in many cases, it might not even exist.
The core principle of Zen Dialogue is the recognition that we are not monolithic beings but rather collectives of different parts within ourselves. Some of these parts are conscious and aware, while others are subconscious or unconscious. These parts influence our behaviors and our state of mind at any given moment. Zen Dialogue facilitation helps us connect with these unfamiliar or not clearly understood parts of ourselves and integrate them into a more conscious ego structure. This can revolutionize the way we interact with our inner self as well as how we relate to others.
In Zen Dialogue, we work with various parts of ourselves – some are related to our psychological aspects, while others are more aligned with what people commonly view as the spiritual dimension of their being. It’s a method for achieving integration among all these facets of who we are, and it brings into awareness parts of ourselves that often developed in response to early-life traumas or challenges. We become conscious of why these protective parts formed and why they may no longer serve us as adults, as what’s valuable for a child is not necessarily so for an adult.
Typically, Zen Dialogue is conducted in a facilitated session, either individually or in a group. However, it’s a technique that can also be learned and practiced internally during meditation or contemplation. An interesting contrast is that many Eastern meditation modalities tend to view the ego as an adversary that needs to be subdued or eliminated. In Zen Dialogue we work with the controlling ego—the part that seeks to control ourselves, others, and our environment. Instead of opposing or eliminating it, we engage with it. This approach allows us to delve deeper into our inner world, and it’s more aligned with Western psychological methodologies, which didn’t exist in traditional Eastern meditation practices. This highlights the Westernization of Zen, as I mentioned earlier.

One of the key aspects of Zen Dialogue is working with the controlling part of the ego and uncovering unconscious aspects or “voices” that may hinder personal growth. Could you explain how Zen Dialogue approaches this process and how it contributes to self-discovery and a renewed sense of purpose?

In our early years, typically around the ages of 3 to 5, we establish patterns of responding to trauma, pain, and obstacles. These patterns are usually survival-based because young children in that age range are still developing their sense of self. At this stage, these patterns often serve as a form of self-protection. For instance, a very young child lacks the physical ability to protect itself or leave a challenging or traumatic situation. In response to such difficulties, there’s often a decision to disassociate from the experience or manifest certain behaviors that, at the time, the child intuitively feels will prevent further emotional or physical harm. It’s crucial to note that these responses are appropriate for a child of that age and are often the only way they can psychologically cope with what’s happening.
As we grow older, these same patterns of protection and control that were effective for a child begin to influence our psychological and spiritual development as adults. Unless we become aware of the parts that are functioning in our lives and their underlying agendas, it might seem perplexing why we act in certain ways. Often, people struggle to understand why they behave in a manner that appears contrary to their conscious desires and intentions.
The reason behind this is that we’re trying to use our adult mindset to reach a part that is deeply buried in childhood, and the adult aspect can’t fully comprehend or relate to the motivations of that child part. The Zen Dialogue method helps us connect with these parts, understand why they function the way they do, and uncover the decisions we made at that young age that still influence our current behavior.
The process of clearing and healing occurs through mindfulness of these parts and their agendas. Rather than actively trying to change them we instead focus on gaining awareness of which parts are active at a given time. Through this awareness we naturally release the strong grip these unconscious behaviors have on us. It’s not about denying their existence, but about developing a more conscious and aware adult self that can function without being so strongly influenced by these unconscious behaviors.

For those interested in becoming facilitators of Zen Dialogue, what does the training program entail, and what qualifications or backgrounds are suitable for individuals seeking to guide others through this practice? How can Zen Dialogue be applied in various professional settings, such as counseling, teaching, or religious leadership?

The training process spans three weekends, and it also involves online sessions between the weekends. An essential requirement for those wishing to participate in this program is either having an existing meditation practice or being open to starting one. A connection to a deeper aspect of oneself is necessary to effectively facilitate this method. To guide others in connecting with their deeper selves, facilitators must first have that awareness within themselves.
Participants don’t necessarily need a background in Zen, but it’s beneficial if they have some experience with meditation or similar practices. The ideal candidate for this training program would be a psychotherapist with a meditation practice or someone working in a counseling or helping profession. However, this isn’t an absolute requirement, and we consider applicants on a case-by-case basis, taking into account their life experiences, goals, and personal qualities.
The training process is divided into three weekends. The first weekend is entirely a group process that alternates between meditation sessions and facilitated Zen Dialogue work. In the second weekend, the focus shifts to training individuals in the specific technique so that they can work with others on an individual basis. Psychotherapists, for example, can often start using this technique with clients right away, while others might need to practice with willing friends to gain experience. In the third weekend, participants engage in one-on-one sessions with each other within a supervised group setting. Everyone observes and provides feedback during these sessions. In between these 3 weekends there are Zoom sessions too.
Before starting the training, participants need to be familiar with the Zen Dialogue method. Ideally, they should have experience with both individual and group work. Individual sessions can be conducted via Zoom or in person, while group work must be in person, as we do not broadcast these sessions on Zoom. In summary, the training program combines both online and in-person components to provide a comprehensive understanding and proficiency in the Zen Dialogue method.

If you would like to find out more about Open Mind Zen, visit https://openmindzen.com/

We rank vendors based on rigorous testing and research, but also take into account your feedback and our commercial agreements with providers. This page contains affiliate links. Advertising Disclosure
MysticMag contains reviews that were written by our experts and follow the strict reviewing standards, including ethical standards, that we have adopted. Such standards require that each review will take into consideration independent, honest and professional examination of the reviewer. That being said, we may earn a commission when a user completes an action using our links, at no additional cost to them. On listicle pages, we rank vendors based on a system that prioritizes the reviewer’s examination of each service but also considers feedback received from our readers and our commercial agreements with providers.This site may not review all available service providers, and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
About the author
Sarah Kirton
Contributor
Contributor
Sarah is a keen and passionate advocate of the spiritual and healing components within the mystical realm of the world we live in. She resides in Cape Town, South Africa, where she enjoys spending time in the outdoors, kite surfing, and playing guitar.