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Life, Death & The Space Between

Dec 15, 2022

“Real freedom is not being enslaved by any thought or feeling.” – Zen teacher Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison






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What does it mean to be tangled?


Today we talk with Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison, MFA, LMSW, DMIN, a Zen teacher, Jungian psychotherapist, ACPE Certified Chaplaincy Educator, and author of “Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage, and Compassion.” After more than a decade as a chaplain and psychotherapist, Koshin co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which offers contemplative approaches to care through education, care-partnering, and Zen practice.


Listen in to hear what Sensei Koshin believes is the foundation of belonging and how to show others compassion.


Topics We Discuss:

  • [2:08] To be tangled is a story we all know; it’s when we’re living in a story and situation where we feel anxious, overwhelmed, and have a sense of unease. Many of us live like this just under the surface of what we think is going well.


  • [7:22] In the Zen tradition, they often say that if you want to work with a practice to do it fully for 30 years and then evaluate how it’s going. This view says it takes time to undo our habits. 


  • [9:38] Another Zen teaching is: you’ll never be free until you can be still with your pain. Once you are able, you learn to relax in the face of pain and discomfort.


  • [13:59] Epigenetic trauma – including Holocaust trauma - being passed down over generations. For a long time, Koshin identified as a victim of abuse, resulting in a lack of trust, and a lack of alignment between his actions and his words. 


  • [20:00] Compassion is about connecting to others and suffering with one another. It is the beginning of love: to realize it’s amazing that we exist, that we all struggle with things, and it’s a miracle that we can look at each other and be alive in this world. This is also the foundation of belonging and an antidote to loneliness. 


  • [22:18] Dr. Amy observes it’s increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to be truly vulnerable and who are willing to say, “I’m not having the best day today.” The facades seem to keep going up and up despite these feelings of loneliness and disconnection, which feel disingenuous. 


  • [24:40] Find your five. Ask yourself who in your life will show up for you no matter what. If you don’t have five, start with one. Practice how to have relationships that are meaningful with these people in your life.


  • [26:29] Seated meditation in the midst of our lives is very powerful. Practice meditation to feel grounded all the time, so that everywhere and every time in your life can be a place of practice. The posture of how we hold ourselves creates the container for living clearly and in the time of our lives.


  • [28:29] Enlightenment means to bring in light. The path of mystery. Ask yourself, “What am I engaged in that brings in light, clarity, courage, and compassion?” For Koshin, it’s when his values and actions are aligned and he is feeling clear.


  • [30:45] Koshin’s experiences with people who are approaching death. What he finds most amazing is that each person’s passing is unique to them. What causes the greatest end-of-life regret is a lack of courage and compassion in life.


Find Koshin and the programs he offers on his website or on Instagram.


His new book, “Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage, and Compassion” is available on Amazon.  



Life, Death and the Space Between is brought to you by:

Dr. Amy Robbins | Host, Executive Producer

PJ Duke | Executive Producer

2 Market Media | Sound & Video Editing

Mara Stallins | Outreach & Social Media Strategy

Claire | | Podcast Cover Design