Gerald May quote

I’m oiled up…wearing my acceptance oils today – Cypress, Frankincense, and Myrrh – because I’m going through a major transition, experiencing a blend of losses that are very real to me. And with any transition and loss comes a grieving period.

Grieving is uncommon nowadays. We associate grief primarily with death, but the death of a person is not the only kind of loss we experience in life. We lose jobs, we lose status, we lose lovers, we lose dreams. And in suffering these kinds of losses, when you share the pain or heartbreak associated with it, you may find a few moments of sincere understanding followed by a quick prescription to get over it – “Let it go” and “move on” are the most familiar approaches. We have a ‘buck up’ approach to grief in dealing with these seemingly less important losses which concerns me on many levels.  One, because it doesn’t offer real compassion for the person suffering the loss, but perhaps even more importantly, simply “moving on” doesn’t leave space for the growth, healing and transformation that comes from first accepting that you are indeed losing something that was valuable to you.

Despite casual advice, I’ve chosen to allow myself to settle into the process of grieving. As a trained spiritual director, it is my duty to be able to sit with my own feelings of pain and loss so I can hold those feelings for another person. What I run from in myself, I will run from in others. You have no idea how badly I just want to move on…replace this grief with work, or television, or any sort of noise or busy-ness. I want to exchange this weakness for Power. Instead, I let the weakness overcome me like a wave…let it lead me to a place of transformation.

A proper grieving experience actually invites us to become something new. When loss and pain confront us, our first instinct is to sweep it under a rug. We can cry later. We don’t have time to be sad, or angry or resentful or whatever feeling may arise in the holding of our pain. So we just turn that channel off. We are hard-wired to resist any kind of suffering. But what we fail to understand that great contemplatives know as truth is that burying our own anger, resentment, pain or loss actually steals our joy. We carry the opposing energy we refuse to give to the other. And it builds up in us like a toxin.

What makes the spiritual life such an inconvenient commitment is, that it calls for an acceptance of all things. All things. Not just good things, like blessings and prosperity, but all things. Even sad, suffering things like loss and hurt and pain. We accept that they are present in our lives so we can accept that they are present in others lives. And in the acceptance of our losses, we come to know a deeper, more compassionate, present even in darkness kind of God. This is the God of the Psalms. This is the vulnerable God. This is the God who transforms and makes us whole. And this is the God who desires to dwell comfortably within us, and it is our suffering that makes room for Her. Suffering makes way for Grace…that grace, we might extend to others.

The un-welcomed truth about the spiritual life is that whatever we resist, persists in us. Still, we have become a people very adept at covering up our wounds. Social media affords us the luxury of presenting only the parts of ourselves we find, and believe others will receive as desirable. Nobody wants sadness, nobody wants weakness. We call that “bad energy.” But look to any great spiritual teacher and practice their way. The truly courageous spiritual person possesses the willingness to actually look suffering in the face, go to hell, war with themselves and return home anew – stronger, more truthful…shining because they’ve walked through fire.