- What is Zapchen?
- Where did Zapchen come from?
- Why do people practice Zapchen?
- How does the Zapchen practice work?
- Where is Zapchen leading?
What is Zapchen
Zapchen is a practice lineage – that is, in Western terms, a shaped collection of exercises — designed to deepen well-being progressively and, where appropriate, to support that disjunct shift in perception from local to non-local called “waking up.” It ‘s not worth thinking about much – at least not at first – but it is worth practicing. Practicing lets us observe the effects of the exercises directly. Without a ground of direct experience, mind will only initiate a “transderivational search” for the closest possible match to its current experience. It will then decide that is what I am talking about. Almost certainly it isn’t.
The word “zapchen” is Tibetan and means something like “somebody who seriously crosses the line.” Usually, this crossing the line is considered a shockingly bad thing — like a man who has an affair with a friend’s wife and then brags about it in a bar. It is a word that makes well-brought-up Tibetan women giggle nervously in mixed company. However, we are given to understand that this crossing the line is sometimes not only necessary but deeply beneficial.
One of Julie’s closest Tibetan teachers, Gyalsay Tulku Rinpoche — himself zapchen in the best possible sense — suggested the word as the name for what she does.
Where did Zapchen come from?
In the psychological understanding of human beings, there has seemed to be a conflict — a gulf — between a humanistic view of people that addressed itself to process, feelings, values, history; and a biological view that seemed to be interesting, but lacking in grace, reducing human beings to a fascinating bag of chemicals.
In the last few years, an area has begun to arise which is the overlap between these views: an area in which the study of humanness includes relationship and physiology, touch and neurochemistry, process and functional anatomy.
This area is the one in which Zapchen has arisen through the explorations of Julie Henderson and her close colleagues over the last twenty years. The methods that she has developed have some aspects of psychotherapy, of bodywork, of sex and relationship counseling, some aspects of a yoga, of meditative practice and mind training, and some aspects of an exploratory form of research integral with experience.
Why do people practice Zapchen?
Two things appeal to many people about this work: it moves directly towards pleasure and well-being, spending as little time as possible in negative states and repetitions of personal history; at the same time, it values the qualities of relationship that make the best sorts of psychotherapy attractive.
The work applies the same approaches and skills to both inner self-regulation and outer healing or therapy. It is pragmatic and experiential but not “accidental.” It gives real and immediate access to the possibility of well-being. From the beginning, the student learns to recognize what can be done directly and immediately to increase freedom of movement, breath, and sound; to renew ground, alignment, and pulsation; and is given the holding in relationship to support well-being despite the fascinations of old habits of worry, pain, misery, depression, deprivation, and so on.
How does the Zapchen practice work?
This approach is not pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky. It recognizes the tenacity of engrained habits and structures, but without dismay, and returns attention to what can be done now that does support the well-being that is immediately possible. It places the problems of history and conditioned reaction a definite second to action in the moment that renews well-being. That is to say, we move to free movement, breath and sound, strengthen ground, restore alignment, and renew pulsation, then we consider what problem or dilemma may be felt to remain.
The means of working are playful and humorous. We identify the holding patterns — the restraints on well-being — that we are most aware of. These holdings may be muscular, visceral, neural, fluid, neurochemical, energetic, or attitudinal. We usually become aware of where we are holding by noticing discomfort.
When we have located such a withholding, we move gently and playfully to bring pulsation into the tension. This pulsation automatically dissolves contraction to the extent that we feel safe to do so. The spectrum of possible ways to introduce pulsation is flexible and extensive, involving literally thousands of possible interventions, but includes the very simple and accessible means, such as humming, rocking, jiggling, and speaking the unspeakable. What is appropriate depends entirely on the individual, the situation, and the relationship of trust. Changes tend to become stable because pulsation is the process by which living bodies structure and restructure themselves.
Through relationship and practice, we strengthen the willingness, not repetitively to explore old stories of experience (however fascinating), but to move past identification with history and, insofar as is possible in the moment, to dissolve the patterns of body, energy and mind that tell us we “are” that history and experience. This does not mean that stories are not considered or heard. Stories are felt to arise as a way of creating meaning out of direct experience. Although we prefer to support direct experience when that’s possible and desirable, stories are told and re-told and created as part of freeing perception. This includes the stories and attitudes that are perceived in body tissue and energy patterns, as well as more obvious spoken stories.
Where is Zapchen leading?
Zapchen can and does form the basis of a renewed approach to such established fields as somatics, somatic psychotherapy, relationship counseling, sexuality, child rearing, shock and trauma, visceral regulation, physical and energetic yogas of self-regulation, mind training and meditation — and story-telling. It also forms the basis of work that is (or so we feel) entirely new outside of mystical traditions, such as regulation of neurochemistry.
Practitioners of Zapchen usually emphasize one or more of these avenues for applying the principles, depending on their previous training, or they may prefer to teach the principles themselves alone. We experience that Zapchen easily shapes itself to the personal and professional needs and circumstances of anyone who takes an interest. This is because the principles arise from an immediate and practical observation of what serves to support and maintain well-being whatever the circumstances.