The Nourishing Opposite

Yogic psychology says there’s more. Encountering these stuck and painful knots is the path. This perspective teaches us that we aren’t stuck, we’re only identifying with less satisfying “things.” One remedy, Patanjali tells us, is to look for the opposite (II:33). I think of it as the Nourishing Opposite (Fay, 2010) not just any opposite, but something that will actually invite more nourishment into our experience. Pain, then, is a process of pointing out the way to remember and return ourselves to our true nature. In integrating opposites, holding these opposites simultaneously (Bryant, 2009; Miller, 2014), a third higher synthesis occurs (Patanjali 2.48), in which suffering is eased.

Fay, Deirdre. Attachment-Based Yoga & Meditation for Trauma Recovery: Simple, Safe, and Effective Practices for Therapy (pp. 16-17). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

The prescription to nourish the opposite when feeling stuck is the same process as identifying presenting issues and corresponding client goals. In seeking the opposite of what pains us, we seek joy. Treatment plans that include objectives, interventions and modalities chart the path of the nourishing opposite. Together we seek ease for the anxious, joy for the grieving, elevation for the depressed, reality for the delusional, focus for the inattentive. Therapy invites the nourishing opposite.

What pains you? What is this pain’s opposite? Can you invite the nourishing opposite?

As a therapist-intern, I find myself sometimes wobbly having absorbed client anxieties, fears, angers, sadness and confusion. Why am I angry? Is this anger even mine? Is this pain mine? Am I mirroring client feelings? Or maybe my feelings are responding, like a song?

I have been feeling irritable this weekend. What is the nourishing opposite? Feeling agreeable? How do I feel agreeable? Accept what is, accept that for now I’m feeling irritable, sensitive, overwhelmed, cranky without shame.

Writing helps me. Sharing with you nourishes me. I already feel a bit more relaxed, allowing myself to feel irritable and agreeable at the same time.

Now you try it. What feeling is bothering you? What is the opposite? How do you invite the nourishing opposite? How can you sit with the contradiction?

This takes practice, doesn’t it…

May we return to our own nature by listening to our discomfort (over and over again),


Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Production

Anticipating Restriction

Anticipating the lean back
Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Production

You know the feeling when you wait for the person in front of you on an airplane to lean back and restrict you even further in to the the tight small seat?

You know that feeling, right? Wishing and hoping they won’t but at the same time realizing that they are perfectly right do so. Should I lean back too? Let the seat backs cascade down the aisle? This anticipation of discomfort to come is not the best feeling. (For a fuller account of airplane discomfort you can read, Inflight Therapy: For those traveling far and within on amazon kindle.)

For now the question is simple, how do you brace for impact, for being leaned into, for constriction, for discomfort?

As Thanksgiving travel and associated anxiety approaches in a few months, what are your strategies for coping? Music, breathing exercises, reading, meditating? Anticipating and thinking of coping skills ahead of time can reduce our anxiety response. Accepting and addressing the discomfort to come helps ironically ease it. Just recognizing discomfort without a related alleviation attempt, I imagine would increase anxiety. So, it might be worth taking the time to think ahead to this moment and find your empowered coping strategy. Resist the lean, at least emotionally 🙂

Wishing you ease,


Self-Aware Ease

It is not surprising that I’m drawn to Existentialist Psychotherapy in the lineage of Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Vicktor Frankl practicing the philosophies of Kierkagaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Husserl and others. The basic premise as Irvin Yalom explains below is the humble defense of the ancient belief that self-awareness leads to a meaningful fulfilling life even if the process of self-discovery is painful:

Wisdom does not lead to madness, nor denial to sanity: the confrontation with the givens of existence is painful but ultimately healing. Good therapeutic work is always coupled with reality testing and the search for personal enlightenment; the therapist who decides that certain aspects of reality and truth are to be eschewed is on treacherous ground.

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 190-192). Kindle Edition.

In working and volunteering at different contexts such as hospice, domestic violence shelter, food pantries, community health, grief and loss counseling, my role and mission is simple: To invite self-aware ease in myself and in others with me. Sometimes that means asking gentle guiding questions, sometimes breathing, sometimes guiding meditations, sometimes just sitting in silence and making space for self-inquiry.

Self-inquiry is painful, as Plato describes in the Republic, the released prisoner is blinded and stumbling, heading out of the cave. The turning towards truth or meaning is daunting and frightening. The journey inward can only be sustained by moments of ease. Self-awareness rests on self-care. This is the balance I’m trying to learn and practice. Each person sitting with me teaches me a different version.

The existential position emphasizes a different kind of basic conflict: neither a conflict with suppressed instinctual strivings nor one with internalized significant adults, but instead a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence. And I mean by “givens” of existence certain ultimate concerns, certain intrinsic properties ties that are a part, and an inescapable part, of the human being’s existence in the world.

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 107-109). Kindle Edition.

I hope to practice the humility of the Existentialist perspective: I can never know your experience, your suffering, your confrontation with life, however, I can guide you to map your internal valleys and mountains, joys and sorrows, to know yourself . I am able to do so because I walk with self-aware ease despite the sufferings of my own life. This of course leads to concerns of therapeutic transference. That exploration will have to wait for another post.

Whether you are a counselor, therapist, teacher, creative, what is your mission? Why is it your mission? How do you confront the givens of existence: death, isolation, freedom or meaninglessness?

Bring self-aware ease. Seems so simple, yet it is a life’s work. Mine.

Wishing you self-aware ease,


Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Productions