Psychological And Meditative Growth

“In order to be at peace with the world, we have to accept and welcome it as it is, with all its confusion and pain. It is only through doing so that we can be skilful in our attempts to change things.”

Buddhist meditation and psychological understanding are complementary streams of knowledge that offer great potential for personal and spiritual transformation. But each of these approaches can sometimes be used as a way of solidifying and protecting oneself, rather than cultivating deeper opening.

When meditation and psychological growth are both practiced, the strengths of each discipline work together to help us keep opening up, to explore ourselves and our world with increasing awareness. They help us bridge the gaps in consciousness that separate our mind and body, and help us see beyond the limitations of our individual lives.

Meditation practice teaches us that we can breathe our way into things moment-by-moment without being hobbled by fear or distracted by thoughts and fantasies. Psychological exploration teaches us that we can work with the rawness and confusion of our lives and move towards wholeness and well-being. But to take these teachings deeper we have to get up from our meditation cushions and off the therapeutic couch, and enter fully into the intensity of the world.

One of the major obstacles to this process of transformation is the deep layering of beliefs and values that we have accumulated and stored away. Meditation practice and psychological growth teach us how to work with ourselves as we are, free of the judgments that cloud our vision. By relaxing in the moment we can learn to accept the chaotic nature of our lives.

Another obstacle is that when we begin to look at ourselves we tend to find many things we fear and dislike. Acknowledging these aspects to ourselves is very difficult, and the idea of exposing ourselves to others is even more threatening. We see that we have built up various types of defensives throughout our lives, and we have become so familiar with our mask and costume that we mistake our exterior identity for what is genuine beneath the surface. Step-by-step through meditation and psychological exploration, we discover that we do not need to hold on to these defenses so strongly, and over time we begin to relax into being as we are, with all the uncertainty and vulnerability that is part of being human.

The third major obstacle is the recognition that we have to let go even deeper. We have to let go of the sense of self as the solid and independent entity we think it is. We begin to see and understand how everything is interconnected and co-evolving. Perhaps most difficult of all, we have to come to terms with death, with the fundamental nature of impermanence. This is where the psychological blends into the larger world of spiritual understanding.

As much as we might wish to jump to the head of the line, to get to some imagined place where we do not have to struggle, we know that this is an illusion. In order to be at peace with the world, we have to accept and welcome it as it is, with all its confusion and pain. It is only through doing so that we can be skilful in our attempts to change things.

As we continue to practice meditation and explore our inner and outer lives, we begin to let go of the need to achieve any particular goal or marker of success, for we recognize that growth is a continual work in process and the goal moves with us. We stop struggling to become something else, and relax into simply being.

Most importantly, we see that we are not alone, that everyone else struggles with the same general issues and experiences similar joy and pain. We begin to open our hearts more fully and become more receptive both to the teachings of those who have traveled before us, and to the experience of our companions. Our individual path of growth eventually brings us out of ourselves and into a more inclusive reality.

Dr. Martin Rappeport
Copyright © 2009