The Alchemy of Dharma and Psychotherapy

When I was in school to become a psychotherapist, I was simultaneously deeply immersed in Yogic and Meditative practice.

Zen was my first taste of the Dharma. It was a wild ride and not at all the easiest way to begin… but would I have gravitated towards it, were it easy? One will never know.

What I was drawn towards – magnetically and in a no turning back sort of way – was the palpable sense of the potential of waking up from conditioned mind and it’s attendant crowd of (often avoidable) sufferings.

By the time I started grad school for psychotherapy, I had already been marinating in the Dharma for more than a decade and had begun to gravitate more toward the Vajrayana, alongside the Non-dual Śaiva Tantra. And even though my master’s program had an emphasis in Buddhist Psychology, the program was broad reaching – we dabbled in a wide variety of lenses and therapeutic modalities. I was overwhelmed by what I experienced as a dizzying array of distinct approaches to healing with no cohesive practice at the center.

The approaches were compelling, some even amazing, because hey, the human mind is cool. I was stunned by the incredible creativity of the mind in designing techniques for healing. And some of the modalities included contemplative, somatic, meditative components… But not all did.

I never understood how one could approach transformation without a contemplative or meditative practice as a foundation.

Some techniques didn’t even include grounding practices, and I really felt the discipline of therapy as dangerously unmoored in those instances. How do you heal the vexations of the mind-heart without a contemplative, meditative practice, and without a view of Self as already infinitely whole?

It’s taken me many years to feel into the overlap between meditative traditions and psychotherapeutic modalities, and to find the clearest places of alchemy. And I’m still learning.

I recently announced the 7th annual Power of Meditation Summit, and the topic really has helped me to deepen in my understanding of how these disciplines support each other. The tagline this year is: How to Heal Trauma and Build Resilience Through Dharma and Psychotherapy.

I’m so grateful for the chance to explore how to heal trauma and build resilience with some of the greatest minds in these two overlapping fields.

Not every psychotherapist in the world has ground in the dharma, meditation, or any foundational mindfulness practice. But all of my therapist guests in this summit have some contact with these practices and teachings, which deeply informs their approach to working with clients.

And, every expert who is a healer or meditation teacher has respect for the process of psychotherapy, and the profound human need to be witnessed and supported by others.

Suffice it to say, we have an especially powerful alchemy this year.

Human existence is so rife with suffering, and these last couple years have asked all of us to tap our deepest resources of resilience and willingness. The world stage is so full of devastation. And as much as we all pray for peace, I personally cannot pretend that this coming year is looking like it will be any easier.

However, if we have a ground in practice, we are so much more likely to see the good in each small moment. And we are more likely to contribute – each of us in our own ways – to a more peaceful world.

When we remember the profundity of our interconnectedness with one another, which is what the dharma, and the best psychotherapeutic modalities emphasize, we find the fortitude and grace to know ourselves beyond the pressures and fluctuations of life’s endless changes.

When we remember interconnection, we remember who we are, beyond conditioning, and find ourselves more able to hold space for the cycles of change we are invariably moving through.

When I was a kid, my dad used to have us listen to Joseph Campbell. There was a great deal of emphasis on the fact that when we are on the right path, we are held by some invisible means of support. I find the web of interconnectedness, and our remembrance of it, to be the most profound invisible means of support that exists.

In this new year, The Power of Meditation will help you experience yourself as part of an invisible web of support.

You’ll feel held inside the depth of the dharma and the ground of the sincere wisdom of the best minds in psychotherapy. And perhaps even more inspiration will come from the collective field of practice in the sangha — the international community of practice that comes together for the event.

Give yourself the support of viśrānti – a sacred repose – in this timeless wisdom. Get yourself more deeply resourced, so you can heal, and grow in your own practice.

My mom is visiting me right now and it’s a delight. She likes to go on little walks around our crazy neighborhood, and do yoga on the living room floor with me. She is a playful sprite of a being. And last night we sat together and looked at an extensive spreadsheet of her to-do items, which included “preparations for death”.

Amongst her projects, which include dog walking at a local shelter, sitting with her sangha in Colorado, skiing occasionally (at 80!), and camping almost constantly, is another important line item: “Make my kids’ lives easier when I go”.

To some, that kind of planning brings up a lot of resistance, and the superstitious might even consider it ill-fated. However, after a long time of being nested inside dharma traditions, one really can take in the guidance that life is precious, and if we don’t meditate on the fact that we will die, our other practices won’t yield their full blessing energy. Meditating on death is core to being awake right now. Especially ego-death, by the way. Death of the identities we cling to. But also, death of this body.

As I sat with her, looking over her printed spreadsheet, and all of her notes in the margins — including handwritten passcodes from her daytimer (because yes, my mom is a Luddite and still uses a daytimer) — I had a few little flashbacks to imagery I’d taken in earlier that day. Scenes of the devastation in Gaza were haunting me.

In this moment, it occurred to me that there are probably so many people out there, like me, who have a lot to be grateful for, and who are also intermittently wracked with distress around what’s happening to others far away. War has always been hell. There is no righteous cause that merits this. And no matter what grace our own lives are filled with, most of us are deeply caught in the mesh of this war’s most toxic arisings. Trying, as best we can, to keep filling the world with our creative essence. Our love. Our light.

Each December, I lead a session called Blessing Energy for the New Year where we begin to explore how we can ground ourselves as we approach holidays, time with family, the intensity of greeting the new year, etc. The planning for this event is really around how to meet the new year with grace and equanimity. How to sit with our loved ones in a place of ease. How to creatively conceive of where we’re headed in the new year that’s coming… But, now, here we are. Global crisis.

In some ways, there’s not that big of a gulf between the ways that we ground ourselves for family, frictions, and complexities within, and the way that we create strength and expansiveness as we watch the world roil with conflict. In all cases, we’re dealing with our own minds. Our own analysis. Our own capacity to listen, to take in, to drop our own projections. Everywhere, we get to watch where we shut down into old patterns. And to ease towards the places where change is possible.

Questions we discuss are…

What are the dharma practices that most ground us and generate resilience, but also expand us, and open up our hearts toward what is happening now?

What are the places in life where we get most triggered, where we need the most support?

What are the stories that get the most fixed in our minds?

And what are the obstacles within, that keep us from our spontaneous essence, the only place from which we can take liberated action?

We have conversations about how to become resilient and resourced enough in ourselves. We take ourselves into silent practice, so that we can awaken to our natural, spontaneous essence. And we write, and share, and allow for the release of tensions we are holding.

Visit here if want to join us in December.



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