ASK ABDI: HOW DO I ALIGN MY PSYCHE WITH MY SPIRITUAL PRACTICE?

QUESTION: I live in Lebanon and am a yoga teacher. I came across your book, Shadows on the Path, and almost every page resonated with me. I’m not sure how/if you can help me, but I thought to try. I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 10 years now, and have made improvements in my overall life, but I didn’t take the time to work on my psyche in parallel. I didn’t realize the importance. 

I’ve recently gone through a series of experiences and losses that have brought forth an inherent anxiety, related to a deep sense of unworthiness. I can not afford to put off the work any longer, given this new information I have.

I am unable to find a therapist here who can work with me; it has proven difficult to explain the spiritual aspect to someone. I don’t know how to work through these issues on my own. Is there any guidance you can offer me?

ANSWER: The place you have arrived and the things you have discovered is a powerful event. Certainly not pleasant, but significant. Many of us have had similar experiences. We have dug deep and rebuilt one corner of our house only to turn around and see that we need a new roof or windows or floors. The shock at first can be overwhelming. But it is always better to know than not to know. What to do now that you know? You dig your sleeves up a bit further, take a deep breath, and continue the work. As you correctly have asserted, you “can not afford to put off the work any longer, given this new information”. None of us are an island unto ourselves; we all need guidance along the way. You did not become a yoga teacher by self-study; the same applies to the world of the psyche.

I have talked at length about the split between spiritual and psychological work. They are not the same, even though they can intersect. Wonderful that you have a solid yoga practice. Body centered practices are a powerful foundation for doing psychological work. Essential I would add, especially in the case of previous trauma. In our modern world, most of us are disembodied beyond belief. We are heads disconnected from grounding, which is being present in our bodies. And you are seeing the reason why in your own experience: we tend to leave our bodies because of trauma. We spend a lifetime lost in thoughts as a way of dealing with the pain that is unconscious and invisible. We are never truly HERE, only living in thoughts about the past or future. It certainly might not be a coincidence that your unconscious has wisely waited for you to have a solid structure before revealing your wounding. 

One thing that can be helpful right away is journaling. You might already have started doing this. Spend some time writing every day. Like an eager reporter, allow your unconscious to reveal her treasures and secrets to you. Let it spill the beans without you censoring the content. Beyond being a truly cathartic experience, it is a clear mirror to what has been fermenting deep inside of you. Do not judge it, and do this with utmost compassion. Read that again please, especially the part about compassion. Understand that we all suffer from afflictions, such as anxiety or a sense of unworthiness, in varying degrees. It is just that we have different ways to mask and compensate for it. Most of us have blind spots that one can drive a truck through, if not a train.

There are many competent therapists around the world that combine spiritual understanding with psychological work. I am sending you some contacts that you can work with via Skype. You have been put on notice by your own Self to dig deep. Fantastic that you feel the urgency of self-attention. But do not ever underestimate the aspect of ourselves that will indefinitely put off the work. Seize on this moment and make a resolute promise to keep digging until you hit water. Sometimes you will run towards the truth with every ounce of energy coursing through your veins. Other times, you will run away with as much vigor. Make room for these vacillations and know them to be a part of the journey. Set your course towards yourself and do your best to keep pointing in that direction.