Refuge as Therapy, Therapy as Refuge

Welcome. Each moment is precious. Welcome to your moment. Be here now, with the fullness of your heart.

Take this moment to breathe… breathe in… out… Take feeling – how are you going right now? What is arising for you? In you? In the you of you?

Are you, the littler you, overwhelmed? If so, by what? A cloudy thought? A feeling? A sensation? A desire, or repulse, or absence? A grief or loss?

Is your energy – as you breathe again now – in, out… Is your energy linked to some phantom past? Or to some unknown future? Are your thoughts like clouds that cover your heart-mind? Or like storm-clouds over a windy mountain?

Early this morning we caught this image of our website. 7777 visitors! Heartfelt compassion! Thank you for visiting our little corner of this cosmos. Just imagine all the precious once-lived moments, from every person who came by this place? If this sense of gratitude is not enough to knock your socks off, maybe the following insights will help bring relief.

20190625_063911Refuge in any culture means seeking safety from harm, shelter from violence, warmth in the cold, cool air in the hot, drinking water in the desert. The type of refuge is defined by what is harmful or destructive. Yet the concept of refuge is universal.

Because refuge is also universal, refuge is a therapeutic concept – indeed refuge can be a therapeutic process, strategy, and method. Refuge can be equated with social, emotional, psychological, and physical relief from suffering. Refuge may also involve spiritual release, emergence, awakening, and transformation.

In western mysticism, refuge is found through the four pathways or virtues found in the sermon on the mount and expressed by a concentrated method that includes chastity in heart, poverty in spirit, obedience in heartfelt listening, and humility in practice of the spiritual life. These four pillars are sometimes used as ‘vows’ of monastics and solitary desert or forest practitioners to focus personal intentions towards the goal of refuge. The western monastic pathways include the disciplines of ‘centering prayer’ and ‘contemplative practice’ of reflection towards awakening moments of grace and mercy – of living within the presence of spirit.

In eastern mysticism, refuge is found through the four noble truths and eightfold path, as well as through prayers and devotions in Hindi pathways, and concentrated in the solitary dedication of forest and desert monastics. In parallel and similar ways, the eastern teaching on the noble truth of suffering, the origination of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the extinguishing of suffering provide practitioners with focused personal intentions towards the goal of refuge. The eastern monastic pathways include the disciplines of ‘meditation’ which is called many things, and ‘contemplative practice’ is also sometimes used as reflection towards awakening moments of insight, stillness, and peace – of awakening within the Cosmos-mind.

In modern day psychotherapy, refuge is a practice and method of healing and personal awakening and transformation. We are particularly interested in helping people release from suffering through therapeutic approaches to trauma recovery, addressing chronic stress and anxiety, and working with internal mental and emotional states. We often see and hear spiritual teachers misunderstand and perhaps overlook the relevance and importance of therapeutic issues that prevent their students or followers from taking up the practice of the spiritual life. On one hand, issues might become naturally resolved but this often takes many, many years, and is a very uncertain process when left to its own devices. On the other hand, therapy can be a very helpful adjunct and partner to discipleship and training and to spiritual awakening.

On the spiritual path, many of the issues that arise in terms of social, emotional, psychological, and physical suffering or blocks to capacity or understanding can be addressed in psychotherapy. Wholistic and ecological therapy provides a great deal of methods to help in healing, recovery, and restoration of balance in the psyche.

Sometimes these approaches run parallel to the use of medications – we often work with people who are medicated by a psychiatrist. Medications can help to level out the chemicals of the brain and to ease symptoms of mental illness. But we know that even today many spiritual traditions do not acknowledge, or they fear and tend to marginalise mental illness, mostly due to ignorance of the normative nature of these phenomena.

Likewise, psychotherapy in combination with medications is shown in the research to be the most effective in treatment of these kinds of issues. Though in many other cases, medications may be a temporary help along the way towards finding personal, ecological, and social ways of living that promote and sustain health in mind and body.

Refuge comes in many forms. Refuge is often defined by what issues arise that require relief from suffering. Refuge provides a framework or model for working with many issues towards healing, education, awakening, gaining new capacity – all towards helping people become more independent actually. Perhaps we can say “interdependent” because we are all part of a family, society, culture, ecology, and an earth-based environment. Being a part of a whole we are not alone. We are held up by the world around us in many ways, even when we cease to be aware or have forgotten our birthright.