“What is a Word?”: Language Beyond Language, Wisdom Mind Poems, and Zen Koans with Gail Sher


In this episode we meet Gail Sher, an award-winning poet, writer, teacher, psychotherapist, and Zen practitioner. We discuss Gail's cross-cultural spiritual and artistic life, including forty years of her Zen practice, the way of poetry, and more recently learning clawhammer banjo (she was a serious student of harpsichord before becoming a Zen student). The conversation discusses aspects of constructing a non-monastic contemplative lifestyle through conscious daily practice. Gail reads her late wisdom mind poem, The tethering of the mind to its five permanent qualities and we consider her writing practice as an exploration into the nature of what a word is, and how she has attempted to activate "language beyond language" in her poems.

Gail has authored over thirty books of poetry, six book-length haiku sequences, three books on writing as a practice and a book on bread-making. Her work has appeared in over 40 literary journals, and her haiku have won awards both in the United States and Japan. Gail received lay ordination from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1970. She practiced Zen at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and San Francisco City Center alternately for 11 years. She is also a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, and has taught and supervised students in the ICP program at CIIS. Gail is currently offering weekly dharma talks on Zen practice for lay people at gailsherdharmatalks.com


East-West Psychology Podcast Webpage

Connect with EWP: WebsiteYoutubeFacebook

The EWP Podcast credits

Produced, Edited and Mixed by: Jonathan Kay

Music set to Gail's poem recitation, Yaksha, by Jonathan and Andrew Kay from the album Forest Dwellers, released on Monsoon-Music Record Label

Music at the end of the episode Butoh, by Jonathan and Andrew Kay from the album Forest Dwellers, released on Monsoon-Music Record Label

Your Host

Stephen Julich and Jonathan Kay

Stephen Julich has worked as an adjunct instructor in History and Anthropology at the City College of New York, as a lecturer in Jungian Studies at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles, and as an adjunct instructor at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he has taught classes on ensouled writing and Western Esotericism.

Jonathan Kay is a professional musician, and is currently a PhD student in the department of East-West Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco under the mentorship of Dr. Debashish Banerji.

View Profile