As spiritual practitioners, we commit ourselves to practices, lifestyle choices, and courses of study that facilitate the growth of our interior being.
There are, of course, incredible benefits to our spiritual practices, particularly meditation. This practice on its own has the power to improve our day-to-day well-being simply by allowing us to be more present. However, many wisdom traditions rely solely on these disciplines to heal and reach new levels of consciousness. The practices of these traditions, whether they be Buddhist, Judeo-Christian, Islam, or Hindu, often draw from a monastic way of life, where the practitioner is isolated from the world at large.
Meanwhile, the majority of us work with what is sometimes called the layperson’s journey, meaning we practice our spiritual life in the context of the secular world. What is unique to Higher Self Yoga is the focus on practical applications which provide tools to live a spiritually-supported life in the regular world. One such tool for spiritual development in Higher Self Yoga is engaging, ongoing psychotherapy.
Psychology and Teachings of Higher Self Yoga
The teachings of Higher Self Yoga draw from a legacy of ancient Eastern wisdom traditions, including Theosophy, and Agni Yoga. In this lens, yoga is practiced in a traditional sense, meaning, “protection, method, meditation, harmony, and technique,” which shifts the focus from the physical to the mental, spiritual, and emotional. With this definition in mind, it is easy to see how Higher Self Yoga Founder and psychotherapist Nanette V. Hucknall seamlessly incorporated elements of Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Development as first seen by Roberto Assagioli.
Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Development can be described as the study of the psychology of the self. These conventions expand the boundaries of the traditional field of psychology. Conceptually, this is the exploration of the deepest levels of our identity. In practice, this suggests each individual has a unique set of tools and a distinct purpose in life. Here you’ll see the root of the tradition’s focus on the exploration of personal potential.
The integration of spiritual practice and psychological development in the Higher Self Yoga tradition emphasizes the power of pairing these often separated practices.
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Moving Beyond Psychology as Soley a Diagnostic Tool
But what makes psychological exploration such a powerful tool for our spiritual journey? If we are having trouble making this leap, it may be because of our associations with the practice. The past 50 years of the field of psychology can be categorized as somewhat clinical, diagnostic, and prescriptive. Those moving the field beyond this definition, have used the practice to ask critical questions of the self that can be used to reach a deeper understanding of what makes one happy and fulfilled.
Psychotherapist and Higher Self Yoga practitioner, Susan Lord frames the questions in this way:
- What is contentment to you?
- How would you describe a fulfilling existence?
- What ordinary aspects of life elicit the greatest positive emotions for you?
- How do you experience healthy engagement with others?
- Describe a pursuit that brings meaning to your life.
Psychology has the power to provide us with a framework for understanding ourselves and others. These questions may seem obvious; however, you may also feel they remain unexplored. The power of therapy lies in creating a dedicated space and time to unpack these questions to better understand ourselves. It is through this understanding that we can lead a more thoughtful, intentional, and meaningful way of life, usually with less existential suffering.
Psychology and the Spiritual Body
It’s possible that we consider psychology to be a primarily mental exercise. In many ways, the dialouge of talk therapy does operate on a verbal level, but these language-based interactions are only the means to express the many shapes of our accumulated experiences.
You no doubt know that our waking consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a wealth of information below the waterline. This unknown information stored in our subconscious significantly impacts how we feel about ourselves, how we conduct our lives, and the stories we tell about ourselves. More often than not, these stories are limiting and cause us suffering.
Therapist Susan Lord shares, “We are psychologically complex creatures, full of paradox, contradiction, and mystery. We are capable of amazing acts of transcendence and the deepest acts of darkness. Everything we have ever experienced is recorded inside us, in our mind, in our body, and indeed in every cell. By necessity, the nervous system must sort through billions of bits of information in order to decide which to bring to the conscious mind and which to store in the unconscious mind.” In order to truly understand ourselves, we must sort through these “forgotten memories” and bring the most pressing to the attention of our waking consciousness to unpack them.
How to Use Psychology to Cover the Basics
As discussed above, it is certainly the role of a therapist to assess and diagnose their patients. A therapist can determine illnesses and pathologies so their patients can be treated clinically. It is always possible that a person may be attempting to treat common psychological conditions such as clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or attention deficit disorder with spiritual tools like meditation. While these can be helpful, they may not be a holistic approach to tackling these issues. In that lens, it can be very helpful for the spiritual practitioner to check in with a therapist.
Beyond diagnosis, a good therapist is a partner in the exploration of our psyche and where we may be holding trauma. Our ego, whose role is to protect us from difficult emotions for the sake of keeping us functioning in a difficult world, may be hiding trauma from our day-to-day view. However, that does not mean it is not with us, affecting the decisions and behaviors of our life. While it may be a harrowing assignment to approach, addressing the traumas that have accumulated over our lifetime will liberate us from the past and give us a great range of motion for the present.
Therapy can help you to develop your ability to solve problems. It offers practical and supportive ways to manage stress and other difficult parts of your everyday life. Through the accountability and partnership that a therapist provides, clients become practiced in creating processes and practices they need to elevate the ways in which they relate to and transform the circumstances of their life.
Self-Awareness as a Spiritual Goal
Higher Self Yoga founder Nanette V Hucknall often comments on the importance of self-awareness as a key aspect of spiritual development. As she says, “When you really know who you are, you also know that you are one with others. This oneness comes from the spirit.” This quote showcases the direct link between self-awareness and our connection to universal oneness by pointing out that we cannot know the greater world we are a part of if we remain hidden from even ourselves.
When we lack personal awareness, we are not able to see how our old narratives, unconscious fears, personal biases, and childhood insecurities are very much informing the way we behave in our current life.
It’s no wonder self-awareness is the first step on the journey to choosing the most enlightened version of our life. In many ways, it is the work of the spiritual practitioner to uncover our internal obstacles to evolve past them. To attempt to circumvent this process may put us in danger of using the lens of spirituality to avoid spiritual work, as evident in our tendency to engage in spiritual bypassing.
Avenues to Psychological Support
The most practical approach to gaining access to psychological exploration is to find a therapist whose practice, style, and approach work for you. Start with therapists that are covered by your insurance so that the cost does not become prohibitive to you. It is a common misconception that therapists who take insurance are not as effective. In many cases, therapists who do take insurance are those willing to work within the realities of the world at large and are, therefore, more than equipped to guide us through the challenges we are facing in our day-to-day lives.
Don’t be afraid to try a number of therapists in order to find one that works for you. Most therapists will encourage you to be sure you’re confident about the pairing before moving forward. You may begin by sharing your goals and intentions in these initial sessions, to be sure that you have the same mindset around the project at hand. You can discuss this process in these initial sessions and prepare any other questions in advance.
While you want to feel secure in your connection on an intuitive level, prepare yourself for some level of discomfort in terms of how vulnerable it is to do this work. You should, on some level, feel challenged by the work especially as new and more delicate subjects arise.