Updated: Nov 3
Three things we dive into in this episode:
How psychotherapy differs from contemplative practices (and how the two can complement each other)
The power of having compassion for yourself, how to cultivate it, and everything it heals in your life
How to create your personal practices in a more aligned way to create a deeper sense of overall wellness
Release restrictive dieting, break free from body shame, & create habits that help you live fully! Sign up for Caitie’s nutrition coaching program and community, Whole, Full, and Alive, and get a FREE 20 Minute Discovery Call!
[05:53] Who Is Kirat Randhawa?
Kirat is a visionary. She is drawn by the creative spirit.
Her moon is in Libra. It describes the balance around her and how it translates to her value system.
She has a close affinity for nuance and complexity.
Kirat is a contemplative guide and also currently a therapist-in-training.
She works at a youth clinic, hosts group workshops, and creates written content for brand partnerships.
[08:38] The Difference Between a Contemplative Guide and a Psychotherapist
Meditative philosophy and everyday life don’t have to be separate.
A contemplative guide is rooted in spiritual tradition. It is a good tool for unpacking developmental trauma and unprocessed pain.
Psychotherapy is beneficial for its emphasis and training on diagnosis, traumatic imprint, and clinical methods.
A therapist will help you make meaning of your experience.
A contemplative guide will remind you there’s no need to make meaning of everything. Finding meaning can be a source of suffering itself.
[11:10] Bridging the Gap Between Contemplative Practices and Psychotherapy
Kirat has had the privilege of working with therapists in the clinical realm and Buddhist mentors in the contemplative realm.
The experience has given her a rich understanding of how to facilitate both for somebody else through one session.
The two realms’ collaboration holds a developmental understanding of who you are as an individual and the philosophical imprints of your past lives.
The goal of the contemplative realm is liberation.
The goal of the developmental route is to feel more joyful and fulfilled.
Feeling more joyful and fulfilled is the pathway to liberating yourself from suffering.
[15:22] Deciding to Combine the Two Realms
From the Buddhist perspective, any story is suffering. Meanwhile, therapy is about rewriting a life narrative you’re proud of.
Kirat has seen both environments neglecting the other side. But she believes both are essential to feeling well.
The spiritual community fosters the conscious decision to negate the real mechanism of what it means to be human.
It’s important to acknowledge the material aspect — or the biology and neurochemistry — of trauma.
Kirat: “To be truly spiritual is to embrace your humanity, and to embrace your humanity is what it means to enhance spiritual growth—and you can't have one without the other.” - Click Here To Tweet This
[19:56] Acknowledging the Usefulness of Both Sides
If it’s not useful, then you don’t need to be doing it.
People often get attached to the means of achieving their goals rather than letting the path take them there.
The rhetoric around mindfulness and spirituality creates the narrative for people that it is the only means to be well.
Engaging in wellness methods when you have no idea what they do is counterproductive.
You’ll know something is helping when it’s making you feel better. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter.
Kirat: “There's a lot of hesitation around being honest and taking a sovereign stance over our wellness journey. But that's the only way that we can all individually experience what it means to be well.” - Click Here To Tweet This
[24:01] The Biggest Challenges Kirat has Overcome in Her Journey
She’s constantly working through rejecting psychotherapy only for spirituality to become a more sophisticated form of suffering.
Falling into the traps of a solely spiritual experience herself is the primary reason she feels vigilant about how she teaches.
She has to constantly permit herself to be flexible in what it means for her to be well.
The Buddhist tradition is a religion with a dogma - a definite authoritative tenet. The prescribed Buddhist method for practice didn’t work for Kirat without the combination of nuanced, precision care.
Both practices have a part to play in processing human suffering. One method alone will not be adequate in making sense of it.
[29:49] How Kirat Decided to Become a Psychotherapist and Work with Adolescents
Kirat used to work in fashion in London. She loved her experience in the industry, but it distorted her idea of beauty and led her to a period of self-aggression.
She fell into the Buddhist practice effortlessly as she was leaving the industry.
Working in the wellness and creative spaces allowed her to understand how much benefit these practices can offer in highlighting what needed to be processed.
She felt compelled to create access around contemplative traditions. But she thought she didn’t have enough tools to teach about what was coming up in the practice.
She decided to get a second undergraduate degree in psychology. Along the way, her continued community work led her to focus on adolescent communities.
[35:43] Walking People through Contemplative Practices as an Up-and-Coming Psychotherapist
The meditation component and contemplative practice component allow people to develop intimacy with themselves.
When people experience that intimate relationship with themselves, they can begin to identify the texture of their experience.
It allows different tools and skills to unpack, navigate, and digest what’s coming up.
Kirat’s primary intention with whomever she works with is to meet them where they are.
The modalities for different individuals and specific populations differ. Listen to the full episode to learn more!
[41:35] Weaving Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy and Contemplative Practices
Self-compassion is the North Star of being well for Kirat.
Being in harmony with yourself has nothing to do with external persona.
Self-compassion is the ability to hold yourself in affection no matter the circumstance, like how a loving mother would.
Accepting that making mistakes is inevitable has given Kirat permission to feel more freedom and cultivate radical care.
The Buddhist tradition says that every single human being is perfect as they are. The psychological realm shows that things can adjust to reflect this.
Kirat: “Both perspectives offer an understanding of compassion. The Buddhist saying, ‘It's already there. You don't have to cultivate it.’ And the therapeutic setting saying, ‘Okay, but here are the steps to get in touch with what's already there.’ That's kind of the way it comes into play.” - Click Here To Tweet This
[47:58] How Kirat Navigates Her Relationship with Social Media
Not knowing how to do things she doesn’t want to do is a gift and curse for Kirat.
She has no interest in trying to attain an idea of what she’s supposed to be on social media.
She measures her work based on (a) whether she can trust herself to offer adequate competent care and (b) if the community can trust her to do that.
Being clear about why she’s doing this work is what helps distance herself from social media metrics.
[53:20] Kirat’s Morning and Bedtime Routines
She loves drinking a matcha latte upon waking up in the morning.
It brings her joy to be part of the community of the Turkish cafe near where she lives.
Before teaching, she pulls a tarot spread for herself every morning. She asks, “What would being in my peaceful personal power look like today?”
For her bedtime routine, she takes baths before bed almost every day.
Before going to bed, she looks at the New York skyline from her window and contemplates for about 20 to 30 minutes.
[55:26] Processing Prompt and Actionable Experiment
What does standing in your peaceful personal power look like today?
What tools and actions can you take today to stand in your power and align with your values?
For your actionable experiment, give yourself space and time to contemplate in blank space at the end of the day.
The most underestimated experience in the modern world is being bored.
Kirat Randhawa is a meditation instructor and a contemplative guide inspired by the Buddhist tradition. She is the founder of A Kind Rupture, a methodology that utilizes exploratory and compassion-based practices to facilitate a gradual return to the self. She offers clients guidance in personal development and transformational practices to get in touch with a greater spiritual experience.
Kirat is also presently a psychotherapist-in-training and a graduate student at Columbia University. Through her experience and training, she aims to bridge the gap between contemplative training and the field of psychology. She wants to identify how these practices can be used as instruments for individual and societal change.
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Kirat Randhawa: I often find that feeling more fulfilled or feeling more joyful is the pathway to ultimately awakening, to liberate yourself from your suffering. So if we're not able to send to ourselves, offer ourselves a compassionate touch, take care of ourselves in the way necessary, which is what therapy helps us do, then it's not possible for us to even understand what lies beyond, just the life that we experienced now.
Caitie Corradino: Welcome to Whole, Full and Alive, a podcast exploring the art and science of falling in love with your life, with your story and with who you truly are underneath your titles, your resume, your relationship status, and your bank account. I'm Caitie Corradino, a registered dietician nutritionist, certified fitness and yoga instructor, eating disorder recovery coach, Reiki healer, and founder of Full Soul Nutrition, but underneath my titles and resume, a big fan of kitchen dance breaks, early mornings, all things chocolate truffles, world traveling and serendipity.
I'm here to share no bullshit stories and actionable tools to help you feel unshakably worthy. You have everything you need within you to feel whole, full and alive right here, right now. Let's get into it. Hey there, welcome back to another episode of Whole, Full and Alive. I am so grateful that you're here. I'm so excited that you came back for another episode or that you're here for your first episode, and I'm so excited for you to be introduced to today's guests, Kirat Randhawa.
Kirat is a contemplative guide inspired by the Buddhist tradition. To be a contemplative guide essentially means to be someone that helps people identify and get in touch with what's going on in their internal world, so helping people cultivate a sense of mindfulness and kind of noticing what's going on inside of them and start to detach from rumination and over identification and narratives that are playing out inside their head and sort of get in touch with a greater, wider spiritual existence.
At the same time, Kirat is a psychotherapist in training, which is different from being a contemplative guide. A contemplative guide is more of a spiritual guide and focusing more on practices like mindfulness meditation, and like I said before, it's inspired by Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Being a psychotherapist is more about making meaning of your life and understanding why you are the way you are and exploring very concrete sort of human things.
What's so amazing about Kirat is that she is looking to bridge the gap between these two worlds. She's looking to help people recognize the ways in which they can use contemplative practices that are inspired by Tibetan Buddhist traditions to identify what maybe needs to be worked on in psychotherapy.
She's helping people balance creating meaning from their life in things like psychotherapy, while also detaching from meaning and not over identifying with these things that they explore and come to understand about themselves in psychotherapy. She is just a fascinating human as she's training to become a psychotherapist. She's hoping to focus mostly on adolescents and young adults and also to focus specifically on eating disorders and her work, so super close to my heart.
She is such a great person to be connecting with on this show for that reason. I'm so excited for you to hear her speak more about how she came to recognize that there needed to be a gap bridge between contemplative practices and things like psychotherapy, and a little bit more about the specific practices that she implements in her life and how she has cultivated a sense of self compassion.
Self compassion is a big idea that we talk about very concretely in this interview. Yes, stick around for the whole thing. If this concept of contemplative practices sounds a little bit intimidating for you, I definitely encourage you to stick around because I think you're going to recognize that it isn't quite as complicated or perhaps as esoteric as it sounds. Also, Kirat does an incredible job of very openly, candidly and humbly explaining why she decided to ultimately bridge the gap between spiritual and developmental psychology.
So excited for her to be here on this show today, and without any further ado, I would like to introduce you to Kirat Randhawa. I am so excited to be here on a Monday morning drinking my coffee with Kirat Randhawa. Kirat, thank you so much for being here today.
Kirat: Thank you so much, Caitie, for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Caitie: So my first question for all of my guests is who are you. I really want to hear about what you do in the world, the work you do, the things you create, and I also really want to hear about who you are, what makes you who you are, what do you value, what lights you up beyond your titles and your resume. Who are you?
Kirat: What a question. Who am I? The first thing that came to mind was a visionary. I feel like I love to daydream, and I have so many ideas. I am really drawn by the creative spirit, and I think, I mean, you notice whether it's making my cup of tea, or whether it's organizing my space, or the work that I do. For me, it is all very ritualistic, and it comes from a desire to organize things in the most harmoniously beautiful way possible.
I think that explains how my moon is in Libra, which describes just the balance that I see all around me and objects, and it translates really well into my value system too. I think I would consider myself very fair. I like to make sure that things feel fair and just and balanced. So I think that's given me a really close affinity with nuance. So whether it's in my social relationships, or whether it's with work, I really like complexity.
I like reading. I love writing. I love speaking with people, and I just love any arena where we can explore things that are complex.
Caitie: I am the queen of nuance. I love nuance. I love when we can make things a little bit more gray area, a little bit less polarized, and I believe that you do such a beautiful job with that in everything that you do. Like you're saying the nuances of making your cup of tea in the morning, the nuances of speaking with a friend and living your life and breaking things down and not taking things at face value, I think, is such a beautiful gift. What do you do in the world? What do you create?
Kirat: So I am a contemplative guide, which basically just means that in all facets of my work, I help people navigate their inner experience with more ease, so it's sort of like a guide to explore your psyche. So I'm really comfortable with the underworld and all things unconscious, and I really like to go deep with people. So I am currently training to be a therapist, and I work right now as a contemplative guide for one on one clients.
I also work at a youth clinic with adolescents and young adults, and also host group workshops and create a lot of written content for the different brand partnerships I have to bridge the gap between meditative philosophy and just what it means to live everyday, really to show people that the two don't have to be so separate. Meditative philosophy doesn't have to be so intimidating or so isolating.
In fact, it's just an adjustment of how we are with each moment as it is. So that's kind of the essence of the work I do.
Caitie: What's the difference between a contemplative guide and a therapist? So as someone who helps people explore their inner experience and kind of make peace with it, how does that work differ from, I guess, let's say psychotherapy or being a therapist?
Kirat: I think that's a brilliant question. So I think a contemplative guide is rooted in spiritual tradition. So first and foremost, it's really clear to me who I'm unable to work with through this lens. So if it’s unpacking developmental trauma, if it's working with a lot of unprocessed pain, that is disrupting one's flow day to day. A contemplative guide might be a good asset or tool, but it should not be the primary destination for support.
I think that's why psychotherapy is particularly beneficial, given their emphasis and training on diagnosis on a lot of traumatic imprint and a lot of the clinical ways that we can begin to explore on patlak and digest really challenging experiences. A contemplative guide, I think, can be useful to absolutely anybody, but I think whether it's a destination or simply just a stop on the way really depends on each individual's goals.
So the contemplative perspective holds both this idea of wanting to be well, but also at the same time has an interest in releasing the need to be anything at all, which is very philosophical. So the easiest way that I could really make the distinction between the two is that a therapist will help you make meaning of your experience, and a contemplative guide will remind you that there's no need to make meaning of everything.
The attachment and needing to make meaning can be a source of suffering in and of itself. So that's sort of the clearest distinction.
Caitie: Wow, that's beautiful. So you are a contemplative guide currently working with a lot of people in that aspect, but you're also a psychotherapist in training. So when you become a psychotherapist, how do you combine those two things? I mean, I'm sure you're planning to combine some of your practices as a contemplative guide into your practices as a psychotherapist.
So yeah, how do you hold space for those two things to be true at the same time that you can make meaning of your experiences, and then at the same time making meaning of your experiences and over identifying is a source of suffering? Yeah, that's very beautiful. Yeah, how do you intend to do that together?
Kirat: It's in fact, and I think, I've had the privilege of working for so many years now with my psychotherapist and different therapists. I've had her very much in the clinical realm, and then also, my Buddhist mentors and teachers who are very much in the contemplative realm. So on any given week, I might have a session with a therapist and my greatest mentor.
So I'm, in real time, experiencing the gift of both perspectives, and then, I have the role just as the consultant, the individual to merge the two together. So that's given me a rich understanding of how I could facilitate that for somebody else, but just through one session. so rather than somebody seeing two separate individuals, how can I bridge the gap between the two.
The collaboration of the clinical realm with a contemplative realm really has this ability to hold both the developmental understanding of how you came to be who you are and what you're experiencing today as an individual, and simultaneously, what are the imprints that you might have inherited from. This is where it can get really philosophical from past lives, from different arenas of life that are now coming into play to what has happened to you in this life.
So the contemplative realm is connected to the goal of liberation, of awakening, whereas the developmental route is connected to the goal of feeling more fulfilled, or just feeling more joyful day to day and feeling like you can really navigate life in an easier way. So I often find that feeling more fulfilled or feeling more joyful is the pathway to ultimately awakening, to liberate yourself from your suffering.
So if we're not able to send to ourselves, offer ourselves that compassionate touch, take care of ourselves in the way necessary, which is what therapy helps us do, then it's not possible for us to even understand what lies beyond, just the life that we experience now. So that's where it can get very philosophical. On any given day, I'm, of course, not speaking about liberation with a client, but what I'm holding as a placeholder for that is their potential to be anything that they want to be. That's what's always present in the therapeutic dynamic from the contemplative lens.
Caitie: So what inspired you to ultimately kind of have your hands in both? Have you seen a lot of people who are skipping over the developmental side, skipping over the psychotherapeutic realm, and kind of trying to just dive into the contemplative, stuff dive into more of the, yeah, just feeling free of an identity sort of thing, and then vice versa? I can speak for myself even.
I feel like for a long time, I was stuck sort of just in psychotherapy, and kind of over complicating the meaning of my life in some ways and over identifying with the story at some point and recognizing that I needed to add something in like mindfulness meditation, something that had an aspect of spirituality that allowed me to sort of break free from an identity a little bit and break free from the stories now that I understood them.
So I'm curious if that's a similar experience for you. Have you seen that there's a need for people to have both? Is that how you decided to combine them?
Kirat: Exactly, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience, because I've had something very similar myself. From the Buddhist perspective, any story is still suffering. Even if it's a positive story, you're still attached to something that isn't your true experience, which is very different in therapy, when it's about rewriting and crafting a life narrative that you're proud of.
But the contemplative tradition would argue that any narrative is still distancing yourself from the truth of your experience and getting in the way of you ultimately feeling. So I think that from my experience, I've seen a lot of both, a lot of both environments neglecting the other side, and I think both sides of the coin are essential to feeling well. I think the most harm that I've seen though is within the spiritual community, where there's been a unconscious, perhaps even conscious decision, to negate the very real mechanisms of what it means to be human.
The actual genuine expression of human suffering, whether it's something that has happened to people in childhood or just the experience that we've had now and COVID, losing security of having the world quite literally fall apart, of not being able to rely on the structures that we once relied on for some semblance of support and stability.
I think we can collectively see in the past couple of years the way that spiritual communities have stepped in and try to bypass the very real suffering of millions of people across the globe of not having financial security, of not being able to take care of their family, of not having adequate care to restore their health and at the cost of that, potentially having to compromise their life, not even just the quality.
But now, we've seen the rise in numbers of people who didn't have access to care, whether it was in this moment or moments before. I think where the spiritual community has gone haywire is that they have forgotten how important it is to use the material of what it means to be human as a pathway to spiritual growth and development. It's not separate. It's not that if you are having read traumatizing memories, you're not meditating hard enough.
It's that your nervous system has been constructed to perceive the world in a certain way, and it's not that you're not thinking positively enough and that's why you keep receiving threat. It's because your body thinks as though you're in a war zone. It's really important to acknowledge the material aspect of trauma, the biology, the neuro chemistry, what's actually going on just underneath emotions, and thoughts.
I think the surface level experience that a lot of spiritual communities tend to stay on, which is ironic, because to be truly spiritual is to embrace your humanity, and to embrace your humanity is what it means to enhance spiritual growth. You can't have one without the other.
Caitie: You're onto something so brilliant here. I actually didn't expect to be talking to you about this exactly. I mean, that's some ideas I wanted to talk to you about. But I'm so fascinated by what you're sharing here, because I see a need for this in so many different areas of life. Even in nutrition, there's a need to sort of bridge the gap between these sort of rigid diet protocols, and then this food freedom sort of world where people aren't able to acknowledge any sort of structure and nutrition anymore and feel like they're sort of on a freefall.
They see this coming up in what you're saying too, and that also, of course, there's a lot of polarity just in politics and in science and in so many different areas right now. I feel like what you're saying right now can be applied to so much so I'm excited that we're talking about it because it's just this idea of nuance in general and acknowledging the beauty and the usefulness of both sides and not negating either one but saying we have to bridge. Like, we have to be able to acknowledge what's useful in both of these areas.
Kirat: That's the key word, useful. If it's not useful, then we don't need to be doing it. I've had a lot of clients come to me who deserve to have access to really supportive mental health care, and for whatever reason, haven't been able to receive that kind of support. So they turned to meditation apps or they turned to meditation videos at the gateway to at least offer themselves some semblance of comfort or relief.
I've experienced this enough times to know that people have become attached to the means of achieving their goals, rather than committing to their goals and letting the path take them there in their own time, in their own way. What I mean by that is because of this rhetoric that we see all around us with mindfulness and spirituality and what it means to meditate and be healthy and be well, so many people think that if they're not meditating, that they won't be able to achieve the kind of goal state that they're looking for.
So people grasp on to these methodologies, because they think that this is what it means to be well. But what I'm really focused on is inviting people to lift their hands and ask, is this useful? Is your meditation practice allowing you to feel more spacious, more present, more aware of the nuances of your experience? Or is it actually strengthening the egos dominance over you?
Is it actually strengthening these maladaptive tendencies because you're accidentally fixating that on them in meditation practice? So because we haven't, in the West, had the structures that the East had at one point of facilitating skill for practice, having a teacher constantly check in, evaluate your practice, which is the missing link, someone to look and say, no, you're doing it wrong. People have no idea what seeds they're planting.
They think, well, I'm going to do this for 10 minutes a day, and I should get better. But if you're ruminating for 10 minutes a day, you're just planting seeds of rumination. If you're getting re-traumatized for 10 minutes a day, that's the only thing you're strengthening. You're actually not strengthening a new neural pathway.
Kirat: So that's why the word useful, I think, is so key because people know if something is helping because they feel better. If they don't, then it doesn't matter if meditation isn't working. It's not helping you, and that's okay. But because we have been told that this is the way to feel well, there's a lot of hesitation around being honest, and taking a sovereign stance over our wellness journey. But that's the only way that we can all individually experience what it means to be well.
Caitie: Oh, my God, that's so good. That's so good. I feel like I have a lot of clarity now around why you are a contemplative guide and not a meditation teacher, for example, because I was wondering that because I was like, doesn't Kirat just teach people how to meditate? Like, isn't she just a meditation teacher? Like, doesn't she just used to teach classes that mindful or whatever?
This makes so much more sense because you are helping people navigate their inward experience and making sure that they are contemplating things that are useful, and that they are going to a useful place when they do go inward. It's not just that you're teaching them how to breathe and how to sit there. It's like when you breathe and sit there, what is coming up for you? Are you going to a useful place when you go inside?
Yeah, very cool. So can you speak to any challenges that you've overcome in your own journey when you're trying to practice mindfulness and wellness? How you recognize that you needed to bridge this gap between – sorry, what were the terms we were using here? We were saying there's like the psychotherapeutic developmental realm, and then the contemplative spiritual realm.
Kirat: Yeah, I think that my biggest challenge, which I'm always working through, is this, I think where I switched when I left, like a more clinical understanding of just my own experience, so when I started really entering into the Buddhist realm and reading and studying and finding places to practice is that that became a new obsession. I think that the rejection initially of psychotherapy, and clinging on to spirituality became a more sophisticated form of suffering, it feels suffering, but it was just packaged in a much more beautiful way.
So it was easier for me to convince myself that I was on the right path, and that I was still really doing what was necessary for me to do to feel well, and I think, one main reason why I'm vigilant about the way that I teach and how I speak about what I teach is because of my own experience of falling into the traps of spiritual practice, when you relate to these practices in an unconscious way.
Where I think my biggest challenge has been to, time and time again, give myself permission to be flexible in what it means for me to be well, because therapy has its own understanding of what it means to me to be well, and the Buddhist tradition definitely does. I mean, first and foremost, this is a religion, not a philosophical school of thought as it's often communicated. In the West, it's a full on religion.
So with every religious structure, you have dogma. You have a way of things that you're supposed to be doing, and if you don't do it, it's not considered right or ethical. So the traditional prescribed method for practice, it's very much prescribed in the Buddhist tradition didn't work for me. I think I was still grappling with a lot of my developmental experiences, and adequately process those with trained psychotherapist and psychiatrists.
So without that nuanced, precision care, I was just being re-traumatized in spiritual practice. I was just stuck, and I was really getting myself more and more stuck, because I was told, just keep practicing, just keep practicing, just keep practicing. But when I would get off the cushion, I felt more alone, more confused, and more, I think, ungrounded. I felt like I had opened up a Pandora's box and had zero idea of what to do with what came up.
So I think that's why I really value immensely the usefulness of both traditions, because they both have a part to play, and it's not for everybody. But for a lot of people that I know, if you've had your own fair share of experience of human suffering, meditation, likely, will not be adequate to really process that alone.
I think it's important to have some degree of care in a more psychologically sophisticated way that can help you make sense of it, so that you can begin to release the need to make sense of it, which I know that sounds ironic, but once you feel comfortable enough within yourself, then you can start to open up your plan. But if your nervous system feels as though you're under attack, it's actually very dangerous to tell someone to just surrender to their experience. It's not a safe thing to do.
Caitie: Thank you so much for your openness and in sharing that. I think what you just shared is going to help a lot of people and it really speaks to me, for sure. Even just that little nugget of adjusting being flexible and what it means to be well is so important. Also, I have never really thought about how important it is to have a regulated nervous system in order to surrender in those exact words before.
But I talk all the time about how you need to have a regulated nervous system in order to be able to hear your hunger and fullness cues, and so you can't expect to be an intuitive eater or to have more freedom with food if you can't hear what your body's saying to you. You have to regulate your nervous system first before you lean into that surrender.
I'm really jazzed about how that is such a beautiful parallel to what you're saying about spirituality and how you can't just sit on a meditation cushion and let yourself, let go of your identity and freefall a little bit unless you're feeling regulated because that experience will feel so dangerous for you and your brain will do nothing but try to just feel safe and kind of ruminate in that moment. That's what you're saying there.
Kirat: Exactly. That's so beautifully said, and I really love the parallel of the intuitive eating. That's really brilliant.
Caitie: Yeah, I'm so excited about it. Cool. So many beautiful three lines on this podcast in the different episodes, so I'm really excited. But anyway, with that, I guess I just want you to be able to share for a moment on how you arrived where you are now. So how you decided to stay in school, I guess, to become a psychotherapist and also to focus specifically on adolescents and to also center more specifically on eating disorders recently?
Kirat: I used to work in fashion, and I initially studied buying and merchandising in London. I absolutely loved, and have loved at the time the industry. I think that it still rejuvenates me to a great degree. I think that, like I was mentioning to you before at the beginning, the creative spirit that I have has pulled me into those spaces time and time again, and I think there's something really beautiful about the innovation and the creation that continues to happen from there.
But at the same time, it really distorted my idea of beauty, or I should say, it actually continued to exacerbate these unrealistic or harmful standards of what we are taught to think is beautiful. I found myself really struggling in that space, and any disordered eating that I had picked up in high school became sort of solidified in that time in college. I knew immediately that this just made me feel awful, and the quality that I can think of for that time in my life is just a lot of self aggression.
It felt like I was very aggressive towards myself and mean the way that I would expect myself to performance specific ways or internalize a lot of these standards of what it means to be well, what it means to be beautiful, and I understand that. Of course, this wasn't a conscious decision. We live in a society that has been teaching us from very early on, this is what the way is.
But I think that I wasn't able to create enough spaciousness around that to decide for myself. So I think, as I was leaving the industry, I kind of fell into Buddhist practice, and I say fell into because I don't really remember a moment where I was like, I'm gonna meditate. I don't remember anything specific happening with the switch. It was just like a gradual wandering, and then I sort of came across books and podcasts.
I felt and feel as though to this day that it is very much my calling, because I had just effortlessly met anyone that I needed to meet to learn more about these practices, and to this day, still keep in touch with the teachers that have changed my life. So I think, from leaving the industry and working in the wellness space, working in both the wellness and creative spaces, when I left London and moved to New York, I was able to understand how much benefit these practices can offer in terms of highlighting what needed to be processed.
That's my favorite thing about the practice is that even though it might not be able to help you process everything, it can at least show you, oh, this keeps coming up, which means I should go processes somewhere. I should go use this material and recognize that it's part of my experience. But I had never slow down enough to know what that was. The meditation gave me a gateway into understanding what that was for me.
At the time, I felt compelled, and this is when you and I connected to teach in women's shelters across the city and to really create access around these contemplative traditions. Class after class after class, it became increasingly clear to me that the practice wasn't enough, that there was so much more coming up in the context of meditation practice that I didn't feel like I had the sufficient tools to hold it.
The last thing I wanted to do was inflict more harm. So that really guided my decision to go back to school to become a psychotherapist. So I had to go back first and get a second undergraduate degree, since I had no necessary credits to enter into a graduate degree in psychology, and throughout that time, continued working in a variety of community settings, experiencing personal practice through the contemplative guide perspective, and also partnering up with different brands.
Then, that has led me really to focus on a lot of the youth and adolescent communities that I was working with throughout my first degree and before that, as well as just through meditation. Now, through having the framework of mental health care and psychotherapy, I can offer more specialized and nuanced care.
Caitie: Beautiful. So you're saying that you felt really called to bring these contemplative practices to a variety of community settings. As you started teaching these classes, what you recognized was that these practices bring up the stuff that needs to be then taken into psychotherapy and processed a little bit more so even if someone isn't necessarily experiencing the freedom or the bliss or the loss of identity from meditation or contemplative practices, they are at least getting the ability to highlight what then needs to be processed and psychotherapy, but you want it to be able to say, hey, I have the skills and the tools to be able to do this part with you as well.
Caitie: So do you intend to, when you eventually are completed with your degree and certified as a psychotherapist, walk people through contemplative practices to help them identify what needs to be sort of worked on, and then give them the space to do so? I mean, of course, we're not going to implement rigidity here, because that's like the opposite of what we're saying. But is that kind of how you anticipate it will work?
Kirat: Yeah, I think so. I think that for me, the meditation component and contemplative practice component is developing an intimacy with themselves. So if they can start experiencing more of that intimate relationship with themselves, they can start to get a better understanding of what is the texture of my experience, what is it that keeps coming up time and time again.
Then, that can allow us to use a different set of tools and skills to unpack navigate and digest what exactly what's coming up for them.
Caitie: For someone who has never done contemplative practices at all, any form of meditation, what do you see as the most accessible modality when you are going to different community centers that perhaps never had any exposure to this before or any opportunity to experience it? Where do you start?
Kirat: That's a really great question. It's incredibly different. I mean, I'm thinking about when I would work in high schools, I would start with maybe something that was going around on social media, or I would start with a video. With community centers, maybe we would first begin to unpack an incident that might have happened locally in the neighborhood.
But I think my primary intention with whomever I work with is to meet them where they're at. Whatever that happens to be, it's important for me to be malleable enough to meet them where they're at. For us, when it's appropriate to introduce the practice, it'll happen. We’ll get there, will practice but it's not my job to climb into communities or to connect with individuals and say, right, this is what we're going to do today.
In community settings when I teach group meditations online today, it's a little bit more like that. We have a group themes, for instance. So if you're going to practice mindfulness, people will come in. We'll do a practice. But if I'm actively working with specific populations or one on one with clients, my job simply is to see okay, what's coming up? Where are you? What's going on? How are you feeling?
There have been countless times where I've gone into a workshop or a one on one client session, and we haven't even meditated. The conversation was much more essential, or spending some time discussing something else, or whatever else might have been more useful was just necessary. It's coming back to this idea of being flexible. If it's not useful, there's no point in meditating. But of course, if it's useful, my intention is to bring it in as best as I can.
Caitie: Yeah, that has been one of the biggest learnings for me as a counselor is learning to meet people where they're at and dropping the agenda and dropping the fix it mentality, and recognizing that a tool is going to be medicinal or it can be the same tool can be kind of harmful, depending on when you implement it.
So it's so important to look at the person in front of you and recognize what do they need in this moment, what can I do, how can I let the moment unfold sort of as it is versus coming in with like this grand agenda. So I appreciate you sharing that. I think it's been the most valuable thing I feel I've learned as a counselor.
Kirat: Totally. I'm glad you resonate.
Caitie: Yeah, and I resonate with so much of what you say. I wish I could just kind of have you by my side as I'm doing a lot of sessions because I also wanted to make sure I talked to you before we have to wrap up about self compassion. It's a theme that I explore on this podcast a lot, because I feel it's such an important piece of being able to nourish yourself well.
If a person does not have the ability to tap into a sense of self compassion, it's very rare that they will be able to eat well. I love that you always talk about self compassion as a key theme in a lot of your content, and I see you talk about it in a way that's very different than how I've seen it explored in a lot of clinical papers and in a lot of the tools and resources that are accessible to my clients that I work with.
It's always like treat yourself the way you would treat a friend, treat yourself the way you treat your new puppy, and that's beautiful. It's true in its essence. Also, because you're so good at unpacking and exploring the nuances of things, I feel that you've really tapped into a very valuable and meaningful definition of self compassion.
I kinda want to, even though it seems like a hard left, to be able to shift into talking about that a bit, because that was one of the things that inspired me to reach out to you, as well, to have this conversation because I remember, I saw something that you posted on Instagram that said something along the lines of self compassion is the ability to view ourselves as whole, despite the misperception that we need to be something else in order to be loved in order to be worthy.
You also just spoke about self compassion of that at the beginning of the story you just told about how you were very, very hard on yourself in the time that you were in the fashion industry in London. So can you speak a bit more to how self compassion is woven into both sides of your work, psychotherapy, contemplative practices? Maybe how this came to be a major theme that you talk about? Yeah, take it away.
Kirat: Well, thank you for that question. While compassion feels very palpable, I think in my life, I think, for me, it's been sort of the north star of being well, and that's because my experience that drew me to looking inward and exploring more of myself was the complete opposite, like I mentioned. So when I could see people who just exhibited this radiance of being in harmony with themselves, it was very foreign to me, very foreign.
I was so envious of people who just liked who they were, and it had nothing to do with external persona, because everybody I met that had this radiance was so different, different jobs, different ages, different cultures. It was just this ability to be on their own team, and I hadn't seen that growing up, that wasn't something that was modeled to me. I think that for me, self compassion is this ability to hold yourself and affection.
Model loving mother would which means even when I respond to my moment to moment experience reactively, even when I really make a mistake, and when I really mess up, I'm no less worthy of care than if I showed up with grace and sophistication, not at all. That has been the practice for me, even when I cause myself harm, even when I accidentally cause other people harm.
I still hold myself in that same tenderness, as if I just showed up exactly how I wanted to show up. Because if we can't offer ourselves grace, when we make a mistake, then what are we practicing. Because there is nothing else that is guaranteed, especially in the spiritual path, in the spiritual realm, on the spiritual path, then continuing to come back again and again and again, your mind will wander. You will react.
You will say the wrong thing sometimes. You will make mistakes. You will get afraid. These things are going to continue to happen. So it has nothing to do with trying to diminish their existence and everything to deal with being in right relationship to that. That for me, time and time again, has given me permission to feel more freedom, where I don't feel like I'm policing myself so much, and it comes up.
It's going to come up, but even when the policeman comes up, I don't have to police the policing. I can notice, oh, okay, I feel super critical today and turn towards a criticism with care which that, for me, was a whole nother level of radical care. So I think in my work, one thing that I really resonated with from the Buddhist tradition is that you are perfect as you are, and this is every single human being.
Even human beings who have committed atrocious things, that wouldn’t make sense, that they are perfect as they are when, of course, there's so much adjustment that needs to be made and healing needs to be done. That's where the psychological realm comes in, and x, y and z can be adjusted so that you can actually reflect the genuine purity of who you are in a much more peaceful way.
So both perspectives offer an understanding of compassion. The Buddhist saying it's already there, you don't have to cultivate it, and the therapeutic setting saying, okay, but here are the steps to get in touch with what's already there. That's kind of the way it comes into play.
Caitie: That was so awesome. It was great. I love how you underlined that it has nothing to do with reducing the amount of mistakes you make, but about changing your relationship to the mistakes that you will inevitably make as a human being. That is so important because I feel that it relates to what you were saying about wellness earlier, where the goal of pursuing a wellness practice is not to become perfect. It's not to be rigid.
It's not to believe that it needs to look one way, it's being willing to be flexible in what it means to be well and knowing that despite any practices you implement, you will still be an imperfect human. In any phase, in any stage, in any change that you're going through, you're so worthy of care. You don't lose your worthiness of being taken care of because you've made a mistake, because then that derails the whole idea of wellness to begin with.
It's like, oh, you make a mistake in your wellness practice, then you're no longer able to practice wellness. You no longer deserve care and nourishment. Yeah, you're right. When you think about it that way, it's like what are we even practicing? What are we even doing if we're not implementing self compassion into the practice? Okay, so I have two more questions for you. Do you have a little extra time to go to like more?
Caitie: Okay, cool. So, I mentioned that I did find this beautiful definition of self compassion that you had written out on Instagram, and I wanted to ask you about social media for a moment, because I feel that you have a very unique social media page. Social media is a place where nowadays, I go on Instagram, and it's just like, noise, noise, noise, noise, noise. Someone is doing their makeup and giving me advice while they're doing their makeup, and then another person is dancing to really loud music.
I get to one of your posts, and it's just quiet, just a nice little work of authentic art. I'm curious how you navigate your own relationship with social media and how do you balance being active on there with being mindful and with practicing what you preach. Also, you're very clearly not giving into the trend of noise on social, which I think is very beautiful, because I can't say that for a lot of the people that I follow on there.
Kirat: This might be a gift. This might be a curse. I think sometimes it's both. I don't know how to do things I don't want to do. I was never good at that. I had a really big problem with authority growing up, and that's just translated into an easier way to be a sovereign individual as an adult. I don't know how to do something that I don't feel like it's in my best interest to do. Even if I try to do it, my body has an incredible physical resistance to it.
I'm incredibly sensitive to not trusting what feels good to me, so that sometimes is a curse, of course, because we will have to compromise and be flexible even just day to day, right? If we want to go here instead of here for dinner, I mean, that's good. It's got an easier but I think that with social media, I just have no interest in trying you to attain an idea of what I'm supposed to be and don't get me wrong, I've had to have a lot of conversations with myself about this because I have friends who are so smart in the marketing area and super tech savvy and just way more advanced than that way that I think I could ever be.
He will just replace of love say, you need to make more reels or you need to add more links or you need to do this and it's like, I just can't. I cannot do it and I won't. I do think that maybe sometimes that comes to a disadvantage of whatever, maybe limiting the community that I can build with people that I can connect with.
But I also just trust that I'm going to meet everybody that I'm supposed to meet and anyone that's supposed to come into contact with anything kind of right will and the way that I measure the work that I'm doing is, A, can I offer an adequate competent care in the community's best interest? Do I trust myself enough to do that? B, do they trust me to do that? Then, I'm good.
If I don't trust myself to show up, whether I'm teaching or writing or speaking, or they don't trust me to do that, then something is wrong. So just being really clear about why I'm doing anything I'm doing helps me distance myself a little bit from the metrics of, well, you should have this many followers and this much. I can't do it. I feel nauseous. I don't like it. So that's kind of my relationship to it. I really don't, yeah, I really don't know if it's the right way, but it feels good.
Caitie: I really appreciate you even acknowledging the complexity and nuance in that. You're saying, this is one of my strengths, and here's how it serves me, and here's how it doesn't serve me so much. That's a really beautiful thing to be able to say, because I think that applies to every single one of the strengths and air quotes, weaknesses, lesser strengths that we have as people.
Yeah, I think what you just said is gonna resonate with a lot of entrepreneurs that listen to my podcast, because there are so many people that need that permission slip to just not do things the way that everyone's telling them to do and not given to the noise when it doesn't sit right, because ultimately, the most important thing is can I provide adequate care to the community I'm trying to serve, the person or people that I'm trying to serve and B, do they trust me.
Showing up on social media every single day might not foster that sense of trust, and it might not foster your ability to be able to serve the people you're working with adequately. It might take away from that, and I think that identifying your values and standing in them and not wavering in that sense is such a beautiful strength. You can acknowledge, hey, here's the ways in which it might be limiting me, but I know that it's allowing me to honor my personal values.
That is so much in alignment with what I talked about in terms of nutrition and wellness, too. It's understanding a few key things that are most important to you and using that to build your wellness routines and your nutrition habits, because that means you're gonna have to have some cost benefit analysis to do. Maybe make some sacrifices in certain areas, but ultimately recognizing that, this, this and this habit is honoring this value, and maybe I don't really value going to the gym every single day, because this thing is more important to me, and that's okay.