Paradox as Therapy (and the difference between a spiritual and a psychological crisis)

The difference between a psychological crisis and a spiritual crisis is that:

  • With a psychological crisis the problem is that there is some part of the mind that is not working properly. If you think of your mind as a motor engine, and a crisis as being like one of the parts going wrong and needing to be fixed or replaced
  • spiritual crisis is a crisis of meaning. This means that it is not that any one of the parts of your existing mind have gone wrong, rather that you have a new, deeper level of mind and self emerging within you, and that none of the existing ways of thinking and feeling that you have are adequate to cope with the new, deeper level of meaning that is emerging. The ‘solution’ to a spiritual crisis is to find, grow and articulate that new level of meaning in your life.

Spiritual and psychological crises are often quite similar, and often confused with each other, and yet they are fundamentally different. One of my tasks as an integral meditation coach is to distinguish between these two types of crisis for clients and provide advice and therapies that are appropriate for the type of inner problems and challenges that they have.

The paradox of a spiritual crisis
One of the challenges of a spiritual crisis is that, even when you have identified you are having one, it can feel like it is taking an awfully long time to develop clearly. For example I spent a good year before I decided to leave my life as a monk knowing that there was something changing within me, but not knowing clearly whether it would be the right thing for me to do or not to leave and enter lay life again.

One of the ways that I dealt with this waiting period was with a technique of awareness that I have cone to call “Paradox Therapy”. This involves becoming aware of the contradictions in your life, and learning to hold them together in the same act of awareness. This creates and experience of comfort and relaxation in the mind that is able to cope with the inner stress and contradictions of life with lightness, humour and patience.

For example in the year before left my life as a monk I would notice that:

  • I was in a state of inner conflict much of the time (“Things are bad”)
  • Simultaneously there was much in my life to feel fortunate for (“Things are good”)
  • There was always a part of my mind that was separate from and observing the positive and negatives (“Things are beyond good or bad” )

So, what I would do would be to sit with these three paradoxical perspectives in my mind, holding the “goodness”, the “badness” and the “beyond good or bad” in the same act of awareness.
This did not “solve” my predicament, but it did give me the peace of mind, patience and sense of inner wholeness and wellbeing to allow my path to unfold and relax into that unfolding, allowing the crisis to teach me what was emerging, and how to start to express and embody it in my life.
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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