“Water is nature’s most powerful solvent.”
The Forgotten Role Of Spirituality
Spirituality is one part of a comprehensive self-care approach to well-being. We regularly talk about the “bio-psycho-social” aspects of both conceptualizing and treating mental health and substance misuse problems. We even consider broader cultural impact caused by shame and denial. However, spiritual health is rarely discussed.
If you know a professional counselor personally, you have likely heard them say that counseling is a spiritual practice. Specifically, counselors see their role largely as having the opportunity to connect with individuals and their suffering, and providing comfort and guidance as people navigate their circumstances and change.
This notion goes against the societal assumption, supported by popular media, that the counseling role is to teach and demonstrate adaptive skill building. That is, in part, true. However, the counseling role is far more dynamic than providing information and psycho-education.
So then, how does spirituality translate into counseling practice? The answer comes from Eastern philosophy!
Healing Through Eastern Influence
Starting in the early 1990s, Buddhist philosophy started emerging as a common path with psychotherapy. One such author, Mark Epstein, MD, in his book, “Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective,” promoted the deep connection between counseling practice, mindfulness, and meditation.
Therapists that work from this perspective, understand the following:
- Their work lacks judgment, or a need to fix the client.
- There is no one personality type, or way of interacting with others, superior to another.
- Understanding etiology is not required for healing (e.g.; early contributors to depressive mood).
- Being present with suffering is a powerful healing agent.
- Suffering in life comes and goes, as does happiness and joy.
- Organically driven psychopathology (e.g.; Schizophrenia), can benefit, regardless of insight.
- Personal development is encouraged through the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Defining Mindfulness and Meditation
The primary tools of modern day Buddhist Psychotherapy are mindfulness and meditation. Each is a compulsory skill set for engaging in psychological healing:
Mindfulness – In a nutshell, mindfulness can be characterized as, “Observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself.” Mindfulness is the practice of seeing clearly what we are physically doing, thinking, and feeling, without judgement. Over time, you become the great observer of your own physical experience and internal flow, without intention to interrupt the process.
Healing with mindfulness occurs when we are able to step back and accept the actions and reactions of our own external and internal flow. Sickness is when we experience shame from our observations, and consequently, attempt to interrupt our natural process.
Meditation – You can think of mindfulness as a form of meditation. However, it is important to distinguish between the two. Specifically, “Meditation is a large umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration, to acknowledge the mind and, in a way, self-regulate it.”
Through meditation, we focus our attention, thus relieving suffering. Yoga is a good example of meditation – The practitioner focuses on poses and their physical experience through discipline. Healing occurs when we are able to harness the mind to achieve. Sickness is when our mind succeeds in taking over.
Practice Every Day – Express Your Spiritual Power
Mindfulness and meditation are expressions of your spirituality. You understand the fleeting nature of thoughts and emotion, and our presence in this world. You also grow to understand the connection we have to others. We are all experiencing the same complicated experiences and attempting to interpret them – This suffering is universal.
Whether you attend a yoga studio, or practice sitting meditation at home every day, setting aside time to engage in spiritual practice is your path to healing. Never wait for emotional and/or physical health to practice these techniques. Mindfulness and meditation are adaptive tools for every day living, regardless of where you find yourself in life.