This morning I was thinking about the difference between psychotherapy and spiritual self-inquiry. In some ways they seem compatible. In both, the person who is on a journey endeavors to discover the source of the negative in his or her life. Both require honesty, and if one is to make progress, a rejection of false solutions. So where do the two differ? Is it at the level of aspiration only? Does the person who seeks psychotherapy want to solve a more limited difficulty, like getting along with one's wife, or ending a bout of anxiety? In contrast, does the person who is self-consciously on a spiritual journey hope to find a resolution to suffering?
If this is the difference, does the difference make sense? Let's put it another way. Could the one who wants to improve his relationship with his wife be on a spiritual journey unknown to be such? Could it be that this person's spiritual question currently takes the form of conflict with his wife? If the answer is yes, it would suggest that psychotherapy and spiritual self-inquiry are compatible.
In the rhythms of life, people seem to return to their central questions again and again. With years and experience, these questions may change octave. As a child, a person's life solution differs from the solution he discovers as an adult, even if in essence the original problem may be the same. Was the CEO once the king of the mountain on a snowy mound? Taking note of this essential similarity, the similarity between the desire to be the king of the mountain and the CEO, or between running around as a happy two year old in wonderful red tights and dancing on a stage in front of an audience, may be useful to both the one undergoing a therapy and to the one on a spiritual journey. So we haven't yet found the difference.
Maybe the difference lies in the way the teacher or therapist addresses the problem. The therapist might be more willing to work within the confines of the client's definition of the problem. The therapist and the client discuss the client's "symptoms," implying that the client is whole and complete aside from some bothersome malady that clear thinking and perhaps medication could remedy.
From the vantage point of a spiritual teacher, therein lies the error. The malady is not superficial. Alienation from Self is profound. It is much vaster than any disease. Medications can't touch it. The obligation of the teacher is to help the student realize himself as Self. The obligation of the therapist is to help the client be free of his symptoms. But both the teacher and the therapist can help the individual see his complaint within the context of a journey of self-discovery.
Affirming this journey with all its ups and downs is the only true way to health. When you have clarity, even the most difficult experience teaches you. Without understanding the deeper meanings of your interpersonal patterns, the conflicts inherent to your personality, and the events that trouble you, you can not experience the relief that light can bring. The unifying theme in the work of teacher and therapist is helping the individual come to see himself. In the case of the teacher, the disorder he treats is much more severe, but the solution vast and complete. Like the teacher, the therapist helps the person redefine his problem, but confines his work to a particular manifestation. The teacher's obligation extends way beyond the brief appearing of the question in a particular episode of time.
Therapy fails when it encourages a false explanation for the problem. The language of "patient" betrays one temptation that the culture of therapist as doctor encourages. A person should not be patient. He should actively struggle to find solutions for his difficulties with unremitting intent. He should not surrender his role as seeker nor be passive in relation to a healer. Superficial explanations for problems are more likely to yield superficial answers. No superficial answer is ultimately healing. For this reason, the therapist should help the individual deepen his understanding of his difficulties.
Facing difficulty can be rhythmic. There are times when it is appropriate for a person to gather his strength. During these times yoga, rest, and play can be helpful. The challenge will remain like a dark but steady friend waiting for the next conversation. A therapist can help you identify these times. If your seeing has sufficiently deepened, even during these times you may notice who you are and sense the mystery of human being.
12/9/2014 04:29:07 am
Thanks for the interesting post juxtaposing these clearly related practices. I suppose people do often initially seek therapy (and spiritual help) when they are experiencing problems or "symptoms". However, as someone who has been in and out of therapy for many years, and who feels deeply connected to her own spiritual growth as well, I know that this is not always the case. I see them intimately intertwined, rather than as an either/or proposition. It may help to do therapy with someone who is also a spiritual teacher, which is what I have done!
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