Note: This is part 3 of a multi-part series about the relationship between meditation and psychotherapy adapted from a paper I wrote for my Intro to EWP course at CIIS. For more information see the first post in the series. This post includes some of my personal experience merging meditation and psychotherapy.-------- * --------
Personal Experience: How Meditation Supports Therapy
One of the earlier insights into this relationship came when I was studying the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth teaches us that suffering is a natural part of human existence. This simple teaching brought about a sense of relief: “I was not chosen for special punishment, this suffering is not my fault, it’s just the way it is,” I thought. As my practice progressed and deepened I gained further insight into this teaching and my faith in the truth behind this teaching increased. As my faith increased, I found that it was easier to stay present even with difficult experiences and my need to escape lessened. This willingness to remain present was further bolstered by my meditation practice.

Through the practice of meditation I’ve developed a increased level of equanimity. This equanimity manifests as a stability of mind and a willingness to engage my experience more fully. Both aspects of equanimity are supportive of my psychotherapy process. I find that I am more willing to engage with parts of the psyche that I have neglected for most of my adult life; at the same time, I am less likely to be thrown out of balance when I engage even painful truths about myself, my history or my relationship. This willingness and ability to engage with the psyche brings healing to old wounds that I’ve ignored for far too long and even to some that I never quite knew about.

Another benefit of my meditative practice is a ongoing mindful attention to my experience as it arises. This form of attention allows me to work with habits, fears, and various other blocks as they come up. One method that I found to be helpful is engaging these blocks with kindness, compassion and understanding. Instead of ignoring or pushing these impulses away I try to hold them in kindness and to see what it is that they require. This inquiry sometimes involves some internal dialog but other times may just occur at a somatic level. Often I find that the internal entities (Jung’s complexes) behind these blocks need nothing more than acceptance and unconditional love; when I provide this acceptance myself, the need to get it from the outside world often vanishes and relief follows.

Finally, there were a few special moments when I was able to gain insight into deep psychological issues while on meditation retreat. The deep calm and stability of mind that are developed on retreat create a safe space to engage with these deeper issues. Most recently, while on a Zen sesshin, I was exploring resistance to opening the heart and in that exploration made contact with an inner child who was feeling scared and lonely. This experience was the beginning of a developing relationship with this important aspect of myself with which I’ve been out of touch for a long time. It also served as a starting point for exploring trauma from early-childhood and even later in life.

In the next post I’ll describe the other side of this relationship: how therapy supports meditation.

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