This year, I’ve been deepening my research into Tantric yoga philosophy while also taking courses on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT), which is a modern psychological practice often used for anxiety and depression.
I thought at first that the rational approach of CBT could never be complementary to yoga, which for me is a practice steeped in emotion and intuition. In learning more about both approaches, however, they’ve started to show up on my meditation cushion snuggled up like best buds.
The basic idea of Tantra is that everything in existence, the good, the bad, and the ugly, are manifestations of the Divine, which in this system is called Shakti, the feminine aspect of God. You, me, your computer, your joy, your anger: it’s all made up of the same stuff. That doesn’t necessarily make it all good, but it all has energy, power, and potential. The yoga and meditation practice is about bringing awareness to the richness and complexity of life and doing what we can to engage with all of our experiences, whether pleasurable or painful, and learn from them.
CBT is not about trying to eliminate negative thoughts in exchange for rainbows and flowers either. Rather, we engage with negative thoughts directly by addressing them and asking them questions. We don’t ignore the anger, we look right at it and ask what it might be protecting us from. In theory (and certainly in practice, for me), CBT can illuminate what’s happening in your brain and allows you to catch yourself in your thought spirals and shift your perspective without rejecting any of your thoughts, feelings, or experiences. You learn that you can feel and engage with your emotions without necessarily attaching to them.
Both systems work with what I like to think of as the “And Principle.” Tantra acknowledges that in the divine play of the universe, many different kinds of energies can exist side by side. In fact, you can’t feel the deepest forms of joy without a seed of sorrow, and the deepest sorrows in turn always have a seed of sweetness in them. “I feel depressed today, but I have so much to be grateful for!” becomes “I feel depressed today and I have so much to be grateful for.” The two states of mind are not mutually exclusive. Nothing is absolute, everything changes, sometimes life is totally contradictory, and that’s the nature of the universe.
CBT acknowledges that as humans, we have a tendency to want to put things in boxes and categories. In a negative state of mind, it’s hard to imagine feeling any other way ever again. The And Principle asks you what else might be going on in that moment-- “This divorce is the worst and my best friend made me laugh today.” Remembering that sweetness can pop up at anytime and snuggle right up beside the bitter reminds us that the world is often much wider than it seems.
To meditate with the And Principle, sit or lie down comfortably, and mentally list the things that you are thinking and feeling. Add the word “and” at the end of every item so that the list must continue. No single thought or feeling can completely dominate when you continue to add to the range of things that are going on for you. We can learn to hold contradictory realities, and thus discover our own great power to change our perspectives.