If you or someone you love is experiencing, or has experienced, deeply challenging times marked by pain and grief, this is an important message. We don’t need to deny our problems to experience peace, love, hope, and happiness. We need to face them, and the spiritual insights shared here can help you.
“In avoiding our sadness we avoid our lives. Learning from our sadness can bear great fruit, and avoiding it can have hidden costs. Our choice is between feeling the sharp pains of self-discovery or enduring the dull ache of unconsciousness that will last for the rest of our lives.” – Marianne Williamson
Happiness is genuine when it includes everything—not only our joys but also our struggles.
This post is based on the insightful discussion between Marie Forleo (motivational speaker, author, and life coach) and Marianne Williamson, who is, as Marie describes, “one of the most gifted writers, speakers and spiritual teachers of our generation.” I couldn’t agree more, and that is why I found it necessary that I relay to you the powerful messages shared in this video (which you can watch here).
The discussion this post references is based on Marianne’s new book Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment. In the book, Marianne offers an enlightening spiritual perspective on today’s epidemic of depression. She addresses the issue of overmedication in America and, drawing from over three decades of counseling work and her own periods of grief, she calls for a different approach.
There is a “spectrum of normal human suffering,” Marianne says, and deep sadness is a part of that.
In this video, Marie and Marianne discuss the spiritual problem that calls for a spiritual solution.
Spiritual Insights to Transform Grief and Pain
Sadness is not wrong.
It’s as if we’ve begun to make being deeply sad wrong. Yet Marianne believes these pains are not a mental illness, but a normal spectrum of human suffering. A “dark night of the soul” provides some of the most transformative times that we could go through in our lives. They are “sacred initiations” where we must look at painful things in order to learn from them.
When we feel like we are bruised emotionally, we are. An interesting concept from this conversation is that the psyche has an immune system, just as the body does. “Humanity would not have evolved if we were not imbued with the capacity to take a hit,” emphasizes Marianne. That is true not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well.
Rather than trying to override the immune system, we must do the painful work and allow the natural grieving/healing process to unfold. We must take our time. We must factor in the soul when treating a person. We must be more sober about how and why we get on medications, and how we get off them.
Depression means something is off.
In her book, Marianne tells of a story of a troop of chimpanzees in Africa. Anthropologists found that a small segment of the chimpanzees seemed to express depressed behavior. They didn’t play, eat, or sleep with the rest of the chimps. They found this interesting, for it seemed to mirror the human population. So, they took the depressed chimps away for 6 months to see what would happen.
The anthropologists came back to the village to see what the effect was from taking away those depressed chimps. What they found was that the whole chimpanzee troop had died. What they concluded was that the “depressed” chimps were their early warning system–they could discern the threats (e.g. snakes, elephants, storms) that were coming.
The point is that people being depressed means something is off. If we look at modern civilization, however, it’s as if we’re saying the canary in the coal mine (the one who would warn of danger) is the one who is wrong, yet this repudiates our spiritual nature. If we listened to the very organizing principles that dominate life in the modern world, we would hear this message:
We are separate, not one. Short-term economic gain is more important than community, fostering care for each other and our children. Everything external is more important than that which is internal. We should actively pursue those external things that will bring us happiness, yet we realize over and over again that they don’t.
When we recognize what is deeply wrong, both in our own individual lives and in the whole world, we are awakened to what we need to do to change it. Even if everything is “technically” okay in our own lives, people may be suffering elsewhere and we feel it. We grieve looking at the world today, for there are terrible problems with no easy answers. That contrasted with the fact that everything could be so beautiful… that is tragic.
The fact that you feel that something is off doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.
We must navigate these times and not shun them.
The best way to go through this storm is to face it, not run away from it. If we don’t look into it, do some deep forgiveness, and take responsibility for the things we find, we will come out of this bitter rather than better, and cramped rather than expanded. If you allow your grief, then when it ends, it ends. But if you don’t allow it, or you suppress it, it’s going to come back in other undesirable ways.
When you fall flat on your face, you’re probably going to be depressed about this for a while. If you have dealt with loss, you have to grieve the loss. Of course you’re sad, because you’re human. The goal is not to eliminate your emotions. Your grief is permitted.
Grief is a call for mercy and creates the merciful.
Sometimes, the fact that we’re sad is a sign that we’re sensitive human beings. Psychic pain brings a message, just like physical pain does. We must heed that pain, too. If you break your leg, you have to reset the leg. If you have psychic pain, you need to reset your thinking in order to reset your emotions. Then you can move forward from a better place, with a heart more open.
Being sensitive enough to our own pain makes us sensitive to the pain of others, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s when you come to understand the word mercy. When you feel life’s mercy on you, you’re more likely to be merciful with others. “The universe is like a GPS,” states Marianne, “You took a wrong turn—it’s just going to recalibrate.”
Give yourself time to understand mercy.
We must request to see things differently.
A prayer for a miracle is not a request that the situation be different but a that we see it differently. We must see that this is a painful time, but that it will pass.
This is where Marianne suggests that religion—not esoteric dogma or doctrine, but the genuine religious experience of faith–can help. For “the altar is in the mind.” Put something on the alter, and you are saying that you’re willing for the situation to be reinterpreted by your internal guidance system, which is within yourself yet not of this world. What you place on the alter can be altered.
So, when it comes to losing a loved one, for instance, we can adopt these thoughts: I am grieving. Life is over. I will never see them again. Physical death is the end… All of which is a torment that never ends.
Instead, there is an alternative way of thinking that we can request to see. We can call on God, the Universe, Life, or any other name that we connect with for assistance. For instance, we can say:
This being with them in physical incarnation is over. My grief is understandable. This is not a sign of a lack of mental health; it is a sign of love. The book of life never ends. A chapter has ended. Physical death is not the end but a continuation. I will see them again. I have more to do while I’m here. They’re still here. Death does not exist. What God created cannot be uncreated. They’re still broadcasting, my set just doesn’t pick that up. I still grieve during the season of my grief, but with peace, not with barbed wire around my heart. I apologize where I need to. I make amends. If I do not forgive, I do not move forward. During my tears, during these sacred times, I have deep work to do.
Rather than asking yourself, “How can I end this grief immediately?” try asking, “What is the meaning of this pain? What does it reveal to me? What is it calling me to understand?”
The questions we ask ourselves become tools to reset our thinking.
Spiritual principles can deliver us from our pain.
A radical application of love and forgiveness is the key to treating the fundamentally spiritual illness that is sweeping society. These three principles can be applied in even the most catastrophic situations to deliver us from our pain:
- Love is real and nothing else exists.
- Love is all that matters.
- Forgiveness is the key to happiness.
Love works miracles, and love is who you are. Marianne says, “You can’t be comfortable in your own skin when you’re not standing in the space of who you are. Who you are is Love.” If I’m withholding love, if I’m not rising to the occasion, if I’m not practicing mercy, compassion and forgiveness, I can’t be happy.
Happiness is not of this world–it’s an internal source that’s not of this world. You could live in a palace, but if you’re attacking people, holding onto resentments and grievances, living in the past or future instead of the present, you can’t be happy.
Society tells you that you should be happy, and that you have a disorder if you’re not. The Buddha, in contrast, actually taught that life is suffering. Suffering is a part of life, and if we believe we need things to be happy, we set ourselves up for despair, for things of this world can only bring temporary happiness at best.
We must look to things that are not of this world–love, compassion, forgiveness, gratefulness, presence–in order to heal the world. These are necessary for happiness. These are the spiritual insights we must learn and experience ourselves, and practice during times of grief, if we are to be delivered, in right time, from the pain.
To support someone who is grieving, simply show you care.
When someone you love is grieving, how can you support them? There is nothing fancy to do. Just be present. It’s not what you say or what you do that matters; it’s that you are there. Being there means you care.
The interesting thing, when we’re showing support of a loved one during difficult times, is that the gift is shared. The gift of our presence to that person is received, and they are going to teach us and serve us in the same breath. Your being there and showing up is as much a gift to you as it is for them.
If you’d like to listen to a beautiful prayer from Marianne’s new book, Tears to Triumph, you can come back to this downloadable audio anytime, as often as needed, courtesy of Marianne and Marie.
Which of these spiritual insights touched your heart or inspired you to think differently? Please share your own lessons learned through grief, any insights from your own experiences, and any healing words in the comments.
Share these spiritual insights with someone you love.