The Secret to Achieving Success as a Therapist Series: Walking a Path with Heart by Christos Dorje Walker

Photo by John Mccann on Unsplash

The following story is an excerpt from our compilation book The Way of the Natural Therapist (published in 2010 and now out of print). This personal story is by psychotherapist and meditation teacher Christos Dorje Walker.

At the tender age of 19, I found myself burnt out and empty. I was suffering panic attacks, acute anxiety and depression. My diet was terribly poor, mostly processed food and takeaways, and I had an irritable bowel. To top it off, I was far too active without enough rest or nourishment. The diagnosis was chronic fatigue syndrome.

This “gift” in the form of an illness stopped me in my tracks, almost dead, and as a result sent me in a totally different life direction to where I thought I was heading. It marked the beginning of the epic “search for health” that so many must go on in their lives without choice or reason. It led me on a journey that spanned more than a decade of travelling, seeking and learning. My quest was to understand the body-mind paradigm and to understand why I got sick. Using ancient eastern healing practices from China, India and Tibet, I discovered the necessary healing I so deeply required.

In my desperate search for health and wellbeing, I willingly embraced a wide range of foreign practices, regimes and exercises—including fasting and herbs, portions and potions, and practices like yoga, meditation and qi gong.

I visited countless practitioners, healers, spiritual sages and plenty of quacks along the way. I threw myself into “the healing crisis” with every part of my being.

I quickly realised there were a wide range of modalities that claimed to lead to healing, yet alas they did not deliver what they promised.

After some months of hit and miss, I was incredibly fortunate to find sound guidance in my meditation mentor, Gloria, and qi gong master, Wolf. Using Chinese herbs, exercises, a complete psychological realignment and a severely needed health education, my condition started to improve. I was finally on the path to recovery.

It was at this point that I decided to see how deep the rabbit hole of healing is. This enquiry naturally led to another. Wolf encouraged me to learn about herbs and to help teach qi gong at his school. And from Gloria, I learned about energetic, emotional and mental balance. Then a few years later, when my strength had returned, Gloria took me to India. The rest, as they say, is history. By the time I was almost 23 years old, I took ordination as a Buddhist monk. I lived in a monastery for five years in an attempt to uncover some of the deep secrets of the mind and body healing.

During my time at the monastery, I undertook an in-depth study of Buddhist philosophy, psychology and meditation, seeking the philosopher’s stone.

I experienced long periods of study and retreat—learning about silence, how to live in isolation at times, and how to live in a community of different folks with different strokes. All of this proved provocative with many attachments, reactions, releases and revelations to follow. Some of my experiences I understood at the time, but most only came to bear fruit many years later. My time as a monk, in my early to mid-20s, was full of failures, fantasies and fanaticism. My monastic days had the usual ups and downs with periods of illness followed by psychological and emotional breakthroughs. The climax for me was a seven-month solitary retreat in which I spent 22 hours a day in a small room with only myself for company. That was intense. Fortunately I had been given a copy of the book, A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield. It was during those months of solitude, reading, meditating and reflecting that true healing began for me. Only then, almost 10 years after the start of my healing journey, did I truly begin to uncover some of the mysteries of my health and perhaps the health of others too. Kornfield’s book and the solitary retreat were a turning point in my life. Shortly after the retreat, I left the monastery and headed home to Australia.

At the age of 28, I arrived back in my hometown. At this point, I stopped to ask myself, “What do I do now?” This question fuelled further learning and travels. Over the next decade, I studied myotherapy massage and somatic psychotherapy; explored the integration of eastern philosophy into western life; spent time in India with an amazing yogi saint; and undertook further Buddhist studies in Bhutan, the “land of happiness”, with another Buddhist Lama.

Today, I have a busy private practice and have witnessed countless healing success stories over the past 10 years of working as a therapist in the wellness industry. Some people seem to think my background as a Buddhist monk is the secret to my success and a worthy qualification. But for me it was after I left the monastery and started to do the work back home in Australia that the real learning and merit to my process developed.

In the modern context, working as a therapist of any description is to be part of the wider community. It requires an ability to function outside the realms of perceived “normality” to deal with the parts of being human that most people don’t like to face.

Sitting face-to-face with the adversity of life in a clinic setting is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sickness, loss, even death is a daily adventure in the treatment room. As a therapist, for me the focus is to work with the negativity, suffering and pain that most people would rather turn a blind eye to or suppress. Facing these experiences is in fact our path to living a happier, more fulfilled life. Sometimes the path comes to us in some kind of disguise like an illness. For others, it is the manifestation of various life situations that lead to a deep reflection and harnessing of intention. Essentially it does not matter how we find ourselves as a practising therapist. Whether we are a novice practitioner or a seasoned, war-torn general who has stared in the face of adversity for decades, what makes us therapists is our willingness to deal with human fragility, pain and suffering while offering a loving healing response.

Now, in my late 30s, I am still young enough to say, “I don’t really know”, and old enough to say, “I have seen a lot of stuff.” Getting started is very hit and miss. Some of it is luck, like meeting the right people, for example. Of most importance is being a product of what you do. “Walk your talk”, as they say. A deep and honest self-enquiry is required to stay on the path. Where do I hide from my pain? How do I avoid life? What is my path with heart? At times, there may be many offers to go for the money and wander off the path. There also may be times when you are faced with terrible circumstances and situations and, if you’re lucky, times when you experience praise, a solid practice and immense joy from your work.

If you feel you can’t help someone, tell them and refer them to someone you feel is more suited for the job. I remember receiving a call from a well-known Sydney boutique hotel in Kings Cross telling me a famous American hip-hop group were in town and they wanted to do some yoga. I was asked if I could go there and take a yoga class for them. I told them that I practise yoga but I was not a qualified yoga teacher. I referred them to a friend of mine who is a fully qualified yoga instructor. Having a good list of referral practitioners is as important as a cupboard of herbs and accreditations hanging on the wall behind you. This industry depends on integrity. People come to us vulnerable, scared and confused. It is our responsibility to help them find their way, not to keep them as a client.

When you feel overwhelmed by a client’s situation take it to a supervisor or your peer group of practitioners. Funky things can happen in this field. People may be experiencing intense emotions and frustrations when they finally come to you looking for help. Therefore always have a network of friends in similar fields who can support you. Talk confidentially with them (not your partner) and find an older practitioner who has “seen it all” to mentor you. Mentors are essential and, in times of chaos, can ground you and reassure you in your assessment of a treatment plan for a client.

Work for the love not for the money. If it is money you want, go and get a job as an investment banker. If you are good at what you do, and your heart is in the right place, money will come naturally to hand.

Really, you need not worry about the money. There is a bond in the universe that goes something like this: “If you dedicate your life in service of others, then food and resources will come naturally to hand.” Trust this—you can take this to the bank. I have tested this one down to the line and I am still here and have never gone without. If your mind is on the money, you’re not seeing the person in front of you. Live to serve and you will be supported.

Live with purpose. Keep asking yourself, “What is my path? Is this my calling? Can I be more creative and dynamic at what I do?” Above all, enjoy your work. Someone said to me once, either have plenty of vacations or choose a vocation that you love. If your passion is your profession you will excel beyond your wildest dreams. There are no obstacles on your path just more gifts in disguise.

To give an example, one day I was walking a client out of the clinic and I noticed an envelope under the door. As I waved goodbye to my client I bent down to pick up the envelope and as I opened it I was surprised to find it contained money and a handwritten note. It was from a former client who had moved overseas after we had worked together consistently for a few years. They were still feeling the connection and benefits from the work we did together. The note simply said, “I still feel you working in my life and even though I am now on the other side of the world, I just wanted to give you some support to say thank you.” One thing you start to find in this kind of work is when you make a deep connection that changes a client’s life, you make a bond that deeply nourishes both the client and yourself for many years to come. If you are thinking about them, they are feeling it. Believe me, the benefit and healing that is created by holding a strong loving intention for someone is unlimited by space or time.

Over the past 10 years of private practice I have almost seen it all. I really can’t imagine what the next decade has in store for me. My greatest faux pas was when I was sitting with the entourage of a very famous American female singer-actor-director and songwriter. I was being interviewed to see if they thought I would be suitable to work with her. Her name was never mentioned during the interview. She was simply referred to as “Madame”, though I had been briefed prior and knew who the interview was for. By the end of the meeting they were all in agreement, happy and convinced I would be suitable. During the wrap up I said, “OK, just get Barbara to give me a call when she’s ready.” Their reaction was, “Oh no! (Gasp) Don’t call her that! Call her anything but that!” I had used the wrong name, and not just any name, but the name of a similar aged celebrity in the same music/acting genre. We all laughed it off but it was probably one of the biggest faux pas I made under pressure. Things worked out though and it was a great experience. I learned there is no need to be perfect; it’s enough just to be yourself and do the best job you can.

One of the weirdest gigs I ever had was being paid to sit in the ground floor cosmetic section of a major department store in the city centre of Sydney. I was basically paid to sit on a little platform and take appointments with passers-by who wanted to learn meditation or qi gong. I was part of a promotion offering 30-minute sessions to promote health and wellbeing for a well-known cosmetic brand that wanted to include this as part of its ethos. I remember doing some really in-depth sessions with general consumers as well as some of the people at the various retail counters in that section. What a day at work!

Meditation is one of those things that people believe can achieve the impossible and in some cases it can.

Sitting with someone with cancer, who has just been given a terminal diagnosis, is really hard, but it also can be beautiful to journey through the last few months or years with a client who is dying. It is profound, heartbreaking and deeply moving. I have been invited by families to speak at funerals, to plan and hold a funeral, and to be with a client and family at the time of the client’s death. I still see some of the partners of my clients who have passed away. The failure and the uncertainty leading up to a terminal illness is a tough road. Get support and surrender to the acceptance of your limitations as a therapist.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and give more of yourself when it is needed, if it feels right. When young people are experiencing an acute crisis, if they are met and supported correctly, it can result in a change that remains for the rest of their life. I was working with a few young guys individually who were in need of help and a home to live in. Although they didn’t know each other, I encouraged them to get a place together—an extension of my own home as it were, but I gave them the responsibility of rent and living in harmony. Dealing with issues like drug addiction, depression and severe emotional wounding, the boys experienced a deep healing through creating a positive home culture. Much of the childhood wounds of sorrow, sadness and grief started to heal. I observed how this home, based on mutual respect and responsible and loving behaviour, provided a deep transformational, luminal space where the boys’ extended adolescence could be outgrown. I watched them manifest into mature adults who now approach life and live from such a different place. This was an amazing gift to be part of and I am truly grateful.

I also have seen countless recoveries from chronic illness and personal transformations on so many levels. Working in the field of relaxation and meditation combined with somatic psychotherapy, my clients are incredibly varied and diverse.

I have seen marriages repaired; women, who could not previously conceive, fall pregnant and go full term; and recoveries from cancer and other chronic illness. I have experienced individuals become drug-free after more than a decade of dependence on medication for anxiety.

One Vietnam veteran said he found peace for the first time since the war using my guided meditation tape while sitting on the beach one morning. I feel part of so many lives and families and have made lifelong friendships that bring so much joy and happiness to my life. I have seen destructive patterns and addictions unravel, and hurt and lost people find purpose, structure and rehabilitation. As I said, it is not everyone’s cup of tea sitting day to day with people’s problems. But I have to say I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do this work. I experience so much fulfilment, nourishment and joy from interacting with others individually in my clinic and with many groups at conferences, retreats, workshops, boardrooms and department stores across Australia and the globe.

The stories keep on coming and it really is a mixed bag when you open your door to strangers who are in need of some love and support. The mixture of joy and sadness keeps your heart alive and I feel it makes life really worth living. If you are somewhere on the path of studying or treating others in any practice, my advice is simply this: “Keep an open mind, don’t expect to have the answers to everything, and just love the people you come in contact with the best you can.” At the end of the day, to be a true and loving friend to someone who is in pain is one of the greatest healing modalities of all.

Copyright © Leisa Golding and James Golding 2010