Alumni/ae Tuesday – Emily Lauren Burg
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I enrolled in Vanderbilt University Divinity School planning to become a hospital and hospice chaplain. Upon being graduated, I realized in large part, due to the amazing opportunity I had to create a yoga program at VDS under the auspices of the Office of Women’s Concerns, that I would not be satisfied working solely as a chaplain. I had long felt like the chaplain who was sneaking yoga and meditation into her clinical work, and similarly had become a yoga and meditation teacher who drew heavily on pastoral care techniques to create a healing and restorative self-care environment for her stressed-out classmates. I sought to combine the most rewarding aspects of both roles into one, and drawing from my previous career in the corporate world as a strategic analyst and advisor, decided to create my own postgraduate job as a counselor working primarily with people with and affected by cancer, using the therapeutic aspects of chaplaincy and the healing modalities of mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. After earning the master of divinity degree from VDS and returning to Los Angeles, I went into private practice as Guru Em. Additionally, I joined the staff of several nonprofit community cancer centers, innovating and facilitating support groups, and becoming a speaker at cancer conferences. All of this work was informed by my theological studies, especially my field education and pastoral care courses.
I enrolled at VDS with an idea to pursue one career but left to embark on another; however, I am ready to change careers again. I have found that I miss working on a larger scale than individual and group counseling allows, and that the part of me that was in the business world for so long yearns to rejoin it as a refined version of myself: one who experiences everything relationally and sees the world through a spiritual lens. I don’t know what this will look like, and I write this in a moment of profound uncertainty, yet I draw strength from lessons learned during my “informal” education at VDS about how to find peace amid what one of my yoga students called “the blessed ambiguity” of life, in addition to my personal spiritual practices.
The friendships I forged with my classmates at VDS also remain influential and supportive. I was embraced with compassionate acceptance from the VDS community while I wrestled with culture shock, disappointment, and despair. The agape love that was showered upon me has significantly informed my work as a counselor, and as a person walking through the world, knowing that everyone is wounded and that there always is an opportunity to be of divine service in bearing witness to, and holding space for another person, wherever they are on their path, and wherever you are on yours.
Emily Lauren Burg, M.Div/13, E-RYT 200, Founder of Guru Em, Mindfulness & Wellness Counseling Practice