Resistance says: “I don’t want this. This isn’t supposed to be happening.”
Love says: “Come sit on my lap. You are welcome here as you are.”
In 1999, I left home for the first time and took my first steps into adult life as a student at Queen’s University. I would go on to completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and after I graduated I moved to Toronto, pursued a career and in aquatics and recreation, studied yoga and meditation, and travelled to numerous countries around the world. This exploration lasted for well over a decade and saw me steer away from my initial interest in psychology.
However, little did I know, that even as I was learning yoga postures, studying yoga philosophy and pursuing a seemingly unrelated career, I would eventually steer back to my roots in psychology. The regular yoga practice I developed from 1999 to 2008 provided me a solid foundation of self-discipline, strength, trust, and balance that had been lacking in my life throughout my teenage years. My love affair with yoga wasn’t instantaneous—it was a relationship that grew slowly, sometimes more intensely than others, and didn’t become a regular practice until I took my first teaching training in 2007.
A skiing accident at the end of 2008 was the turning point that finally gave way to a daily practice. In the years that followed, my daily (sometimes 2-4 hours per day) yoga practice afforded me enough space and awareness to begin to see all of the ways that I was out of alignment with my own truth. I started to see that I didn’t really know what I valued and what made me happy. I saw that the outer life I had created at the time, wasn’t giving me the kind of fulfillment that I hoped it would. My first journey to India in 2003 had stripped back some of these initial layers, but years later it was like a whole new unwinding and exploration began.
When I first started practicing yoga, I remember feeling elated. I would leave class, after a long savasana, feeling lighter than I could remember and just full of joy. It helped me find some of the pieces within myself that felt more authentic, more hopeful. But slowly, my practice then started revealing to me all of the ways in which I was not operating in alignment with my inner truth, and with the things I believed in, and with what I wanted to create in my life. To be honest, this realization was a bit devastating. It would have been easier to turn a blind eye to this unsightly truth, but it was kind of like peering behind the curtain in Oz—once you had seen the inner workings, you could never quite go back to the state of disillusionment you’d once so comfortable resided in.
I felt overwhelmed. Everything I had worked all those years to achieve, didn’t hold the kind of meaning I hope it would. I felt a bit lost and uncertain. I thought I had already gone through this process back in 2003, but little did I know that our journey never really ends. This time however, I made some changes and started moving in a direction that felt more aligned. I quit my decade-long career in aquatics to manage a yoga studio and took another yoga teacher training. I hired a life coach and began reading self-help book after self-help book. I devoured the work of Eckhart Tollé, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama, Osho, Caroline Myss, Marianne Williamson, Neale Donald Walsch, Pema Chodron,Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Gary Zukav, and others.
What I have come to call my ‘spiritual practice’—yoga postures, meditation, breath practices, journaling, vision work, studying yoga philosophy, was an extremely pivotal part of my life. As I get older, my spiritual practice continues to change in its form but consistently provides me with a stable base for self-reflection, accountability, and personal growth. However, throughout all of these practices, and for as much personal and spiritual growth I did, I always had a nagging feeling that something was missing.
No amount of meditation, studying yoga philosophy, or time spent on my yoga mat, was really able to touch certain areas of my life. There were some wounds stemming from childhood (and possibly past lives and past generations in my family), and patterns of behaviour that just didn’t seem to be touched by my spiritual practices. I still experienced anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Yoga had certainly helped—but they had not been alleviated entirely. And I still had lingering feels of self-hatred and disconnection from others.
Something I was keenly aware of is that my spiritual practices had helped become very good at bringing awareness to myself and tolerating discomfort with an increased capacity. Yet, there was a sense of keeping some of my more deeply-rooted issues at arms-length, and I was left with a feeling of not really knowing how to access or heal them. I started to sense the my spiritual practices were aimed more at transcending these things, rather than going directly into them and exploring them. And I didn’t want to just transcend them, I wanted to invite them in. I wanted to embrace my anxiety and depression, take hold of my feelings of unlovability and unworthinesss, and pull them into my lap for a good, long chat. I wanted to understand them, and hear them out, and offer them all the love and attention that they deserved but so sorely lacked. I wanted to be big enough and strong enough that I could hold enough unconditional love to heal all of these seemingly broken parts.
I realized that not only had my spiritual practices not really touched these things, but they weren’t actually designed for it. In general, yoga and meditation are wonderful increasing awareness, calming the mind, and improving overall health, but they were never intended to heal deep wounds and mend the woes of the western psyche. I think sometimes that can happen through spiritual practice, but it’s not the point, nor it is what these practices are aimed at.
I recall once hearing a story about how someone was trying to explain the concept of self-hatred to the Dalai Lama—and he did not understand. In his culture, they had no of what self-hatred was. Apparently, when he finally understood what was being explained to him, he was overcome by a deep sadness.
Eastern practices were not specifically designed to heal trauma or the patterning of the Western psyche. And it is here, where my journey back into western psychology was born.
In 2012, I attended the Hoffman Process, an 8-day residential program to address issues from family of origin and heal negative patterns and experiences from childhood. Then I began studying modern psychology, specifically the work of Carl Rogers, Wilhelm Reich, John Bowlby, Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, and Sue Johnson. I entered my own process of psychotherapy and began studying Somatic Experiencing, an approach designed to resolve symptoms of trauma at the level of the nervous system. I began reading about neuroscience, childhood development, and attachment, and finally went back to school to complete my Masters degree in Counselling psychology.
Somewhere throughout this process, I began to sense that all of the missing pieces were finally falling into place. All of my unanswered questions and unresolved issues that my spiritual practices could seemingly not touch, were finally starting to unravel.
In hindsight, I cannot really say whether it was the psychological practices alone that had the greatest effect, or whether it was my decade of spiritual practice that laid the foundation—but I do know that in some way or another, both approaches have had a significant impact on my healing journey.
It makes sense to me. We are multi-faceted beings and my experience tells me that the various parts of ourselves—our emotions, our intellect, our physical bodies, and our spiritual selves—are no more or less important than each other. Our experience is complex and sometimes it takes more than one approach, aimed at various levels of our being, to experience meaningful change.
To that end, I have become quite convinced that spiritual practices and psychology, need each other. That one without the other is like trying to choose between food and sleep. We need both, in various amounts and and certain times, to experience wellness.