Turn Toward It

“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness”
Walt Whitman

For a long time now, I have been keenly interested in the relationship between psychotherapy and mindfulness meditation. The practice of mindfulness applied to therapy is about helping the client learn to see more deeply into their gifts and wholeness, as well as, the causes of their suffering. In my view, psychotherapy, and in fact the therapeutic relationship, is not so much about focusing on pathology but seeing that underneath it is a basic goodness or wholeness. This wholeness is part and parcel of our being human and discovering it opens the door for many possibilities for growth and healing. Our pathology and our difficulties are not the deepest part of who we are.

One of the obstacles in reconnecting to our intrinsic wholeness is how we judge ourselves. Often, judgment comes out of fear. We feel something or have ideas about ourselves or our lives that we are uncomfortable with or have disowned. We also judge others when we are not comfortable with our own feelings, or when life does not go the way we have thought it was going to. When things seem to fall apart – our partner has an affair, we experience a great loss or illness that changes the course of our lives, we often experience the idea that something is wrong with us. We are not good enough or deserving enough or these kinds of things would not happen. In the face of our hurt, self-blame and anger we close up our hearts.

It’s hard to accept at such times that things do go wrong. Things occur out of our control or which we have no power over. People do wrong things, make mistakes, some of them horrible and painful. This does not make us “bad” or “evil”, but that we all can easily lose our way at various points in our lives. At times, life presents us with something we are not prepared to work with. When this occurs, we may act on feelings that are powerful or which we don’t have a skillful relationship with. The bottom line, however, is more about what we choose to do with the feelings and emotions that occur.

For example, if we feel a sexual desire for someone other than our lover or spouse, but judge that the feeling is bad and we shouldn’t have it (as opposed to acting on it ), we may push the feeling under the rug, try to avoid or deny it exists. The pile under the rug may become very big after a while. Just because we deny or try to avoid this feeling does not mean it is gone, but that we have, out of our fear of it, attempted to cordon it off, push it out of consciousness. Rather than reducing this feeling, judging it just makes it larger and harder to avoid. Because we haven’t been willing to meet this energy, we do not know how to work with it. This can end up causing us to act it out in ways that are harmful to us and to others. Regarding his affair, one client said to me, “I knew in my head it was the wrong thing to do, but I ended up acting on it anyway. I felt controlled by the feeling and now feel so ashamed.”

A more healthy and healing option to judging and attempting to keep it in exile, is to turn toward the feeling. Again, being in touch with a feeling or emotion does not mean acting on it. It is more a practice of mind-full awareness. It is through acknowledging, embracing, and looking deeply at what it is about that gives us more power over how we work with it. It shows us where we have work to do. This work is in the service of deepening a connection with ourselves and discovering more about who we are.

In the case of my client above, we began to explore the feelings he had rather than suppress them, and as a result, realized an emotional longing for love he had shut down in himself. He saw how his model for how he “should” be, blocked him from acknowledging his longing for love and an emotional connection in his relationship with others. He was able to begin to forgive himself for how he felt and explore the feelings that unfolded inside of him. As a result, through embracing rather than condemning himself for them, he began to feel more whole and see his life and feelings as a journey of discovery to be curious about and to share.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *