Like every other human walking this earth, I’ve struggled to step outside of the narrow one-sided view my brain presents to me. I wasn’t always aware that I was designed this way (we all were, thanks to a delightful glitch in our evolutionary code). Instead, I believed that my linear and structured perception of things was true and absolute.
This was no more evident than in my early days of graduate training when I became staunchly committed to my one and only religion: science. Though I was raised Jewish (more culturally than connected to God), I proudly proclaimed myself an atheist. I believed that nothing happens after we die. I believed that there’s no higher power somewhere out there, and that faith is nothing more than believing in magic that can’t be proven. Harsh stuff.
Focusing on Evidence-Based Practice
Science, on the other hand, was clear. Science was noble and thoughtful. It demonstrated concrete data points that could be translated into real-life adaptive changes for all kinds of human experiences—including those within my chosen profession of psychology. Science aligned quite nicely with my brain’s preference for neat structure. You either colored inside the lines or you didn’t. And from where I sat at the time, coloring outside the lines of science couldn’t work, shouldn’t be tried, and wouldn’t help anyone.
As a result, I was unsurprisingly drawn to evidence-based practices for their rigorous assessment of psychological treatments using the gold standard of randomized control trials. I was enthralled with using this data to help patients improve. I felt confident and sure that science was the one and only path to psychological improvement and development.
That is, of course, until a middle path was presented to me.
Discovering the Path of Mindfulness
I’ll admit that I found my way onto this middle path by accident. I was actually drawn in by my beloved science (as you might expect I would be). Early in my training as a therapist, I began to learn about mindfulness meditation, which I had previously held judgments about as something too out there or weird.
But the emerging science told a different story: the brain literally changed as a result of mindfulness meditation. The thickness of the cortex grew visibly on fMRI scans like biceps after lifting weights. This evidence quickly worked its way into my mind and unexpectedly, cracked open some curiosity. I found a new willingness to try what had previously existed outside the lines I colored within. And so, I chose to practice.
I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And this practice stretched into years. Along this path I opened up more space to learn and commit to yoga as well. I continued to practice and try and become increasingly willing. And here is where the story shifts.
Somewhere along the way, mindfulness meditation, awareness, and concepts from the eastern traditions of yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism began to make their way into my consciousness. I was surprised to find that something was softening the hard edges of my devotion to science: spirituality.
Walking the Middle Path
This deepening connection to a power larger than myself became hard to ignore, as did the emotions I felt when I focused on my belief in the universal connection of all beings and things. I had certain experiences that I couldn’t quantify using an assessment measure, though I knew them to be true and important.
My growing recognition of and connection to spirituality even cultivated the faith that I used to be so averse to. I found that I was more willing to let go of old negative stories I had held about myself and take more values-based risks. I began experiencing more peace and a sense of centeredness, and I was feeling more grounded and whole.
Spirituality seemed to lead me back to who I was and had always been. While science hadn’t been able to do that for me, interestingly my spiritual growth had not led me away from data, facts, or RCTs. I didn’t say I took a different path—I chose a middle one.
Science and spirituality are contradictory in many ways. While both aim to make sense of our experiences on this planet and in this universe using a curious stance, science leads with structure and standards. Spirituality leads with emotional connection and experiential knowing. By allowing myself to open up to these opposing perspectives and approaches, I didn’t lose my bond with science. I gained access to beliefs and experiences that seemed to fill in the white space outside of the structured lines I had been coloring in.
As a result, finding the balance of opposites has come to be a defining lens from which I operate. I find more truth in making room for science and spirituality, structure and flexibility, acceptance and change. I continue to encounter contradictions in the world at every turn. Only now, I don’t move away from them. I step onto the middle path, and I walk.
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