Psychoanalysis is usually criticized for its rigid rules referred to as the setting. A patient meets his psychoanalyst 5 times a week for 50 minutes always at the same time and place. Meetings cannot be canceled, extended or moved. If the patient does not come, his psychoanalyst waits for him and expects the payment anyway. The rationale is that the patient cannot destroy his psychoanalytical space.
Violations and whatever the patient does or thinks in relation to the setting are analyzed and used to better understand the patient’s internal world. The setting itself has a therapeutic effect.
Similarly, Zen is often criticized for its rigid rules referred to as the form. Especially for western people, Japanese order and obedience are difficult to accept. In most monasteries, there is a known fixed schedule. The system of bells and drums helps practitioners follow it. Everything is formalized, e.g. how to ring the bell, how to enter zendo or how to prepare bowls to eat. There are a few reasons for this.
One of them is creating a sacred space. For example, ringing a bell before and after meditation helps to differentiate the time which is devoted to certain special efforts. It helps cut off the thoughts we had before the bell. The second benefit of having the from is that you do not have to make decisions or choose options when everything is already set up. It saves a lot of anxiety, time and energy which can be used in other ways.
It’s not possible to adhere to form all the time and you will find yourself always doing something wrong. This is the third benefit because every form violation is an opportunity for you to learn something about yourself. For instance, I had problem to stop a work practice after the end of it was signaled. I had noticed the violation of the form and I asked question why I cannot stop it. This helped me realize that I was afraid of being blamed that I hadn’t done enough.
Psychoanalytical setting and Zen form are not meant to be systems of oppressions to maintain discipline but they are rather opportunities for discoveries. In fact, both are not as rigid as they used to be considered. An exception from the rules is allowed when it is rational. But it is always difficult to evaluate if an exception is justified or is just another expression of our aggression.
Finally, defined and repeatable rules give a feeling of stability and security. They lower anxiety and fear to help face a difficult truth about ourselves and improve creativity.