While in graduate school for Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University, I was lucky to meet a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who taught his students the way his teacher taught him, and so forth, back as many generations as we could fathom. Over the ten plus years of studying and practicing with him, I began to realize how we were on a journey of healing and self discovery and that there was an inherent wisdom in how this sequential path of practice and study was laid out. No wonder it has been done this way by so many devotes for hundreds and hundreds of years!
The Buddhist spiritual journey is fundamentally healing and available to us at any time in our lives. It is an experiential process of contemplating and practicing the Buddha’s teachings, which altogether are known as “the dharma.” As we progress through the teachings and practices we learn step by step how to free ourselves from self-limiting beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. It is a healing journey that goes deeper and is more profound than anything we can imagine. At every step of the way there are tools for developing awareness, insight, and compassion that create the very foundation needed for the next inquiry and exploration.
This process of trying things out, having direct experiences, and reflecting on them is how can we discover with unshakable confidence the truth about who we are. We have discovered it for ourselves by trial and error, and learning from our direct experience. It is one thing for someone to tell us, “You’re good…You’re free…Everything is okay…” but if we don’t really believe it for ourselves it doesn’t go very far or last very long.
I can remember the moment when I realized how, despite everything that had ever happened to me, my inner light had remained untouched. Having been dragged through the hell realms of extreme trauma in my childhood, I couldn’t believe how pure and bright the light in my heart was still radiating. It had always been there and was totally unharmed. This discovery went far deeper than anything I had experienced in psychotherapy. Now I knew for sure who I am and that knowing came from deep within. Since that time on retreat there has been such a peaceful relaxation into my naturally joyful self.
All the Buddha’s teachings talk about how our basic nature is open, luminous, loving, and wise. This warmth and peace is understood to be the very essence of who we are and so therefore we are never separate from it. The reason that we suffer is that we forget this central point. We forget the truth of who we are. We have either become identified with what happened to us as small children, how we look on the outside, or feel on the inside. Healing childhood wounding and learning to take better care of ourselves is important, and we can work on that in psychotherapy. Realizing the truth of who we are takes the happiness available to us to a whole new dimension.
That is why, in my opinion, the two together— psychotherapy and mindfulness practice—are the magic elixir. It is a synergistic relationship; psychotherapy helps our dharma practice and dharma practice helps our journey in therapy. They are both about learning how to work with our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – internally and in relationship – so that we realize our essential goodness and capacity for love. It is all about remembering and coming home to who we truly are.