Therapy Practice = Spiritual Practice

Is sorrow the true wild?
And if it is-and if we join them-your wild to mine-what’s that?
For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?
-Excerpt from Ross Gay’s Book of Delights

Earlier this year, I was on my porch swing listening to my favorite podcast, On Being. In a bit of serendipity, one of our neighbors, poet Ross Gay, was being interviewed on this podcast about his new book, The Book of Delights.  It was beautiful to listen to this particular conversation with its rich layers of personal connections from my hometown, and my own related thought processes related to the significance of delight in the midst of painful times, individually and globally. 

One detail of the interview stood out as discordant. It was an offhand comment Krista Tippett, the interviewer, made regarding therapy. She says to Ross,  “… you developed a delight radar or a delight muscle. Well, it seems to me it’s kind of the inverse, or the opposite experience from going to the therapist every week, where you’re saving up things [laughs] that illustrate your neurosis. And you were doing the opposite.” I continued listening but felt a strong negative reaction to her characterization of therapy. 

In the midst of this lovely interview, it was a distractingly sharp note, way off key. The caricature of a person sitting for 50 minutes reporting the minutia of neurosis week after week to a detached, albeit earnest and kindhearted, individual is a tired cliche. Dismissive and destructive on so many levels! It was a client that initially introduced me to Ross’s book. She felt it was resonant of the way I moved through the world and my work. My work is my spiritual practice, the foundations of which are largely congruent with the stated mission of On Being podcast: the pursuit of “deep thinking, social courage, moral imagination and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.”

Research in neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology, attachment theory, and other spiritually-focused sciences (my term/ conceptualization) support that when working with sorrow, shame, and trauma it is essential to exercise the delight muscle, which is situated in our core along with our gratitude and play muscles.  

Once an office assistant remarked, “I’m confused because I hear so much laughter coming from your office but I know the kinds of cases you work with. How is it possible that there is that laughter?” My response was something akin to, “How can there not be? We need that joyous release to give energy and balance to the dark, painful work”. 

To be authentically engaged in the process of healing, we must include the power of delight, connection, joy, gratitude, and small moments of wonder.  Deep therapy work, or any transformative experience, is not served by collecting and reporting neurosis, but in looking at the world and our personal narratives through different lenses. Diving deep, then emerging at the surface to notice and appreciate how the light shines on the ripples we’ve created. Weathering storms because we have the shelter of connection; we sit in the sorrow together and are likewise, then, in the joy of that togetherness. 

With gratitude,