I met Diana Russo at the beginning of my trip to Brazil. Diana works as a psychotherapist in New York City. She began her early career as a professional dancer. Being intrinsically connected to the body, she continued an in-depth study of the healing arts, which lead her from the world of soma into the world of psyche. Her 30 years as a therapist is informed by her ongoing practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
I had a talk with her about human mind, psychology and spirituality.
How do you consider mental illnesses, looked from a psychologist point of view as well as from a spiritual perspective?
As children, we are mostly unaware of our edges. Everything is us and we are everything. We are pure, innocent and connected to universal consciousness. Gradually, as both nature and society shape us, we learn to experience the world of duality–me/you, inside /outside, flesh/blood, pleasure/pain. We develop a sense of those edges as we collide, find or discover what allows us to define that which is “me” and “not me”. As our awareness grows, we create resources to help us adapt to those experiences. To find meaning, we cultivate relationships, we create stories and we form attachments, deepening our awareness of self and all the worlds we’ve created.
At different points in our lives, we encounter experiences that take us out of our comfort zone. They may come in the form of trauma, loss, pain, and illness, sometimes in the form of our own physiological chemical imbalance. The lack of resources to handle these trials becomes apparent. These can be periods when people enter therapy. I find that it is a recognition of a “resourceless- ness”, not “illness”, which facilitates the need to seek help. As we are willing to consider that there is something “unknown”, something ELSE, to ease our suffering, we create a space for new possibilities that from this “unknown”, we might find a resource or new tool, to relieve our discomfort.
Being spiritual, what does that mean to you?
For me, spirituality means “I am” beyond my five senses, beyond any realm of thinking or conceptions. Spirituality helps me be aware that the constructs I’ve created (ideas about myself and others) are exactly that–mine, my small world—and that there are many more possibilities. I am brought, particularly in meditation, to the awareness that there is no duality, that I am a part of all, that I can surrender to the energy around me and allow for a new flow of energy, a shifting and healing.
Like when I visit Casa Dom Inacio, I feel I am softer. My body is more porous, my experience of others more fluid and my sense of what is “possible” for myself and others way more open and expansive. Being at the Casa challenges me to let go, to trust that I am in contact with what I would term ‘divine source’. At the Casa, I experience way fewer of my edges.
How do you use spirituality in your daily work as a psychologist?
To me, psychology is an attempt to learn the language of edges. A healthy therapeutic relationship creates a safe space which can grant us the ability to incorporate change, to discover, to recover, to redefine, to reshape our beliefs. Having an ally in the form of a therapist can help us face our fears of the unfamiliar and give us the courage to go beyond them. Hopefully engaging in a process that allows us to “be” and from that “being” experiencing a sense of wonder, a shift, an “Ah Ha” moment, a relief from pain. I use my sense of spirituality in many ways in my practice. I hold it as a loving undercurrent in the space between me and my patient. I use it to help me stay open. I lean into it as a support when the waters are rough and I’m feeling uncertain.
Since we are talking about spirituality lets move to faith. Where do you place faith in human life? Do you connect faith with religion or spirituality, or do you regard faith as something inside each human being regardless of their most deep beliefs? How do you mean faith help us humans in our life journey? Regardless of the belief system.
I believe our “essence” is connected to divine energy. Taking the step to admitting our beliefs might be limited, being willing to move beyond those limits into the unknown, I feel, requires a certain amount of faith. A movement into considering alternative choices, a willingness to be taught, to go beyond our current edges, is what helps us let go so we might be able to deal with difficulties we face. That act of faith is a step towards admitting that we are more than the stories we’ve created about our lives and the world around us. In lifting the veil of our beliefs, we allow our edges to dissolve, new experiences to unfold and the possibility of the divine to enter.