The wine bottles were empty and crumbs had been shaken off tablecloths. L’s birthday picnic was over. As we walked away from the park in the soft evening sunlight, C asked: ”So why are you drawn to psychotherapy, why now?” I had no coherent answers then, but here are some that I've sketched during the long, leisurely days of summer.
1.) Wisdom and the life force expand in equal measure in us, and then freedom, “happiness” follows. Psychotherapy offers a way to grow wiser. Social and philosophical disciplines, religions and mystical traditions can be thought of as cups placed along the edges of a vast pool of wisdom. How those “cups” are fashioned depends on historical and cultural circumstances on the different shores. All humans are drawn to the water, and each one picks up the cup close by that best suits his hand. Some of us are keener to ponder and seek, and need to quench our thirst often and long. We get a feel for many different vessels.
All the cups or disciplines are needed, because they emphasise different angles, offer different ways to reduce suffering and wake our innate understanding. Christian and Sufi mysticism excel in exalting and expressing the spiritual realm, though they are not really interested in understanding the individual or the visible world and its processes. Psychotherapy has found very important and practical keys of liberation through studying neurological processes, transgenerational psychological patterns etc. Buddhist and yoga philosophy have uncovered understanding on the nature of consciousness and the impersonal in us, and so on.
2.) It's a great, integrative moment in time to learn. Things get particularly exciting when the disciplines overlap and learn from each other. Our times are one of the richest in the history of mankind in this cross-pollination. Take, for example, the work that Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has done with neuroscientist Rainer Goebel, and the practical implications the results have for overcoming empathy fatigue in doctors, aid workers and others constantly bombarded by human, animal or ecological suffering. Or the analytical, easy-to-access approach of Google X's Mo Gawdat to purer cognitive processes and their link to perceived happiness.
3.) As we move through life, we accrue understanding which might be of use to others, and want to share that. In order to do that effectively, we often need to drink from certain cups more deeply. Life has taught me things about the human psyche and the emotions and the patterns we are all prone to, but they are of limited use unless I understand properly how to use that knowledge to help.
4.) Accessing wisdom is linked to our destiny as a species. We learn to go from slave to master over and over again – for example, in our relationship to the internet and social media - but the real difficulty is that we always swing back and find something new to obsess over in order to gratify the ego. Psychotherapy is a very potent way to train the brain, recognise root thoughts and help us overcome identifying ourselves with the ego and the emotions. I want to be a part of that process for others as well as myself.
5.) Seeking wisdom is a pleasure. Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked how he can bear to meditate so much, whether he doesn’t get bored. He replied that he does it because he enjoys it so much. Some people are spiritually talented, like others are musical. That’s why they want to put in 10,000 hours, because they are passionate about it! It’s not such a hardship to give up financial security or social position because the other thing - life as a monastic or sadhu, say - has a more potent pull. At some point it stops being a choice altogether. On a much smaller scale, the psychotherapy studies are about that too. Some people have wondered about the “challenge” of taking up studies this late in the game, the financial and social “risk”. Some say it’s very “brave”. Well, is it courage if it is directly in line with one’s nature and interests? I don’t think so.
6.) Psychotherapy helps us trust life, Life. As we grow older and as our spiritual practice becomes more rooted, we also find ourselves stepping back. More and more often we are able to hold back and not try to control things in order to allay anxiety. As Mo Gawdat puts it, we let things find their own equilibrium. We grow more hopeful, trust the process. We stop trying to out-guess God. Psychotherapy can give replicable tools to do just that. So I say, bring it on.