Note: This is the last part 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. In this post I describe how undergoing therapy supports my meditation practice and offer a brief summary.-------- * --------
How Therapy Supports Meditation
Just as there were moments in which I’ve gained psychological insight through my meditation practice there were also moments in which I felt that I am denying myself a meditative insight through psychological blocks. The clearest examples of that are related to my fear of letting go that would block me even while in deep meditation. Working with my therapist I’ve learned that this fear is related to fear of death or more deeply a fear that I do not really exist. By slowly coming to terms with that fear and also building up a sense of safety and substantiality that does not depend on external conditions I was able to let go more and more and experience states of greater freedom and openness in meditation and in life.

Through psychotherapy and reflection I’ve come to reframe my view of myself as broken and in need of fixing; instead I recognize my potential for wholeness and am able to participate in an ongoing process of healing. This recognition allows me to find a felt connection to teachings that speak of my Buddha nature or True self. As long as I considered myself broken, it is very difficult to accept that there is some transcendent part of myself that is whole and beyond harm. Once I allowed for the possibility of wholeness, however, it became easier to catch glimpses of this core that is at once me and beyond just me.

As I described before, there were long periods of time when I found myself driven by a craving for awakening. While this particular craving mostly fell apart during a longer meditation retreat, I’ve found that there was an even deeper urge behind it that still exerts some influence; this urge is the need to be saved. Even as I sometimes discover glimpses of my true self, at other times I still feel unworthy of spiritual attainment and instead wish for some external savior to swoop in and fix everything that is wrong with me and with the world. This internal battle between the belief in wholeness and the belief that I’m not good enough is still ongoing. It will take more work, both psychological and spiritual, for this rift to heal but I’ve learned to trust the process enough to let it work through me in its own time and pace.

To summarize, I’d like to mention that although I tried to describe the way each practice affects the other as though these effects are separate and discrete, that is not my experience. The interactions I described above are recursive in nature. As I find more space through my meditation practice, I’m able to heal more through psychotherapy. And as I find healing and integration through therapy, I’m also able to let go deeper into my meditation practice, creating more space and equanimity. It has been my experience that the two practices are deeply intertwined and that it impossible to separate them clearly. As Epstein (1986, 1990) describes, I’ve found that some stages of meditation practice require a certain level of ego maturity and stability as I described in my experience of learning to let go further by resting and trusting in my own stability. And similarly to the model of the relationship between emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence proposed by Wigglesworth (2006) I’ve found that my spiritual practice both requires and, in turn, supports emotional maturity.

Epstein, M., Leiff, J. (1986). Psychiatric complications of meditation practice. In K. Wilber, J. Engler, & D. Brown (Eds.), Transformations of Consciousness (pp. 53-63). Boston: Shambala.
Epstein, M. (1990). Meditation and the Dilemma of Narcissism. Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy, 7, 3-19.
Wigglesworth, C. (2006) Why Spiritual Intelligence Is Essential to Mature Leadership. Integral Leadership Review, 6(3), 2006-08.