This piece is reprinted from an old newsletter published in the Fall of 2013. May you find it useful.
During this time of year, our community explodes with talk about the healing power of gratitude. No doubt about it, gratitude changes the world--or at the very least, it changes your perception of the world. The phrases gratitude and positive thinking, manifestation and abundance, get bandied around without much acknowledgement of the how hard won those words and concepts can be for some people. The holidays are often trying times for those with dysfunctional families of origin, children facing challenges, the widow and widower, the bereaved parents among us, those suffering with depression and anxiety, and anyone facing financial hardship and so many other challenges. It can feel downright cruel to have the joy and cheer of the season thrown in your face while you are suffering.
Our spiritual community teaches principles of positive thinking and manifestation. This is my job as a lightworker too, after all. We do a great job of clarifying spiritual pathways for the seeker, illuminating our soul's potential and beautiful lessons. We love rainbows and positivity and golden manifestation. But to be perfectly honest, I think the New Age and Spiritual community is lousy at dealing with the hard emotions--grief, anger, anxiety, and depression. In fact, those emotions get demonized in many circles as the reason for illnesses, set backs, unemployment...everything from acne to obesity. Never mind that you cannot control the virus raging throughout your body, if only you could think positively, they seem to say, then you wouldn't cause your own illness and suffering.
Not so long ago, positive thinking really pissed me off for just this reason. It put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the suffering for every terrible thing that happens, for every dream that doesn't come true. In 2008, my second daughter died during labor. We were 38 weeks into a healthy pregnancy and all indications showed her to be a vital, perfect little being. She was born still, and they never found a reason for her death. When she died, I felt so betrayed by my body, so betrayed by the cult of positive thinking. I did yoga, meditated, ate vegetarian, burned incense, surrounded myself with positivity. I grieved out loud, so to speak. I wrote about grief constantly, and spiritual awareness or lack thereof. I published pieces publicly about what I was feeling, and wrote a blog about parenting after, how I navigated the world after my daughter died, and how desperately sad I was. I connected with thousands of other grieving parents. Everything about me changed. And I allowed it to change. During those years, well-meaning people tried desperately to shift me out of my ugliness. Some friends tried to get me to stop writing about grief all together, telling me I was not helping myself to dwell on the loss of a child. Well-intentioned people would often say after they heard of Lucia's death, "I believe everything happens for a reason." Or "You shouldn't write about this sad topic anymore. Your daughter wants you to be happy." Deep down, I always believed those things, but it served no purpose to hear them.
By far, the worst things said were "You have a living daughter. Focus on her. She needs you to be happy. You can have more babies." It insinuated that I had no gratitude. So beside losing my daughter, they were telling me that I had lost my gratitude too. Truly, I was grateful. Filled with gratitude, actually, AND I was grieving. Those things are not mutually exclusive. Grief and gratitude often go hand-in-hand, and those grieving know that to be absolutely true. We are filled with gratitude that we had any time with them, whether it was sixty years, or six minutes.
Grief is simply another expression of deep love. We often miss our loved ones because we are so grateful for the amazing life we live. After Lucia died, I had such a deep, newly profound sense of impermanence. I clung to my living daughter, so grateful and amazed that she breathed so easily. When my normal grief was treated as unpalatable, I simultaneously knew that those people didn't really feel that my grief was unpalatable. They just were trying to fix this unfixable reality. They were trying to be positive, to help me see the bright side of my daughter's death. They were feeling helpless and ineffectual and my suffering reminded them that they, or rather, we have no control over this life.
Some in the New Age community say that all of our suffering is what we signed up for before this life--our illnesses, challenges, losses, traumas--to learn life lessons. And you know what? I completely, thoroughly believe that. But I do not think it is helpful in the slightest to tell a suffering person this belief of mine. Remember whether our suffering is self-imposed or not, we are still in pain. Whether our Higher Selves chose this particular suffering in this particular life does not matter. We have to experience the pain of it, the growth from it...we need to walk through it as humans, not as Buddhas. The amazing triumph of the spirit and human spiritual being is that despite our suffering, we manage to find the deeply intertwined matrix of acceptance and wisdom through that suffering. These are the vital soul lessons of a Spirit having a Human Experience.
The only time lightworkers should be in the role of the teacher or sage is if we are asked to be. Otherwise, we are simply equals, compassionate listeners, abiding in another's grief and suffering. To fully be present in our gifts, we need to release any ego attachments to "fixing" or "healing" anything or anybody. We are simply conduits. Remember compassion is nothing like pity. Compassion is deep understanding of suffering. Most lightworkers I have met have come by their compassion through true suffering and rebirth. We must tap into our own memory of suffering to help others. Spirit asks us to hold space, to listen, to open our heart as a conduit for Divine love to pass through us into another, to heal through our deep understanding that suffering is part of our shared humanity. We aren't here to fix anything, but we can make it better simply by letting it be without shifting. Loving without expectation. We are asked to get profoundly curious about our suffering and grief. We ask other people to get curious too. We watch. We grow. We expand our compassion and love simply by allowing the emotion to be felt, then release it. We say we are sorry. We sit with them.
When I hear healers maniacally shifting people out of their hard emotions or tears, telling them these "truths" of theirs, I want to scream, "Shift them further into it, Sister. Don't try to heal. Go deeper. Ask better questions. Get curious." It is normal and healthy to feel immense grief, anger, and depression when we have lost someone close to us, or have been diagnosed with a serious illness like Cancer or Multiple Sclerosis. Lightworkers do a disservice when we don't allow people the normal course of grief and acceptance. Those who cannot sit with death as well as life, with the dark as easily as the light, with our shadow selves as graciously as our Highest Selves have no place in the healing fields. People release all the time on my crystal healing table--crying, laughing, farting, snoring. This is part of being human. Healers remain unflappable. It is only when someone seems stuck without feeling do I try to move them. I may physically open a blocked chakra, but mostly, I ask them to go further. "Go deeper," I may push. What is the real emotion? When we go deep, these emotions stem from two places--deep love or deep fear.
Don't get me wrong--I employed positive affirmations, manifestation principles, prayer, and all sorts of magical thinking to help people create the change they want in their life, but we cannot do it by ignoring the normal, human emotions that arise in tough situations. And that is the key--suppressing your emotion makes you sick, while feeling them propels your spiritual growth. It has never been the feeling of emotion, but the not-feeling of them, that is the problem. As a crystal healer, when someone comes to me with grief, I simply help them become more heart-centered--to feel the feelings they need to feel, then move to the next feeling. Society doesn't give grieving people the permission to experience the entire range of emotions--either we expect them to swallow their grief, or be emotive and unable to experience joy. As healers and lightworkers, we need to be the ones to give our friends, family and clients the permission to grieve. The truth is that grief comes in spurts--sadness and disbelief one minute, relief and levity the next, anger in the third. When the expectation that we aren't supposed to laugh when we are grieving is there, the grieving person walks into a role already assigned them. They are swallowing another part of their experience. Take the person moment by moment, and allow them to be present in their grief.
That was the long way of saying--give the gift of abiding this season without judgment. Don't shift someone out of a hard emotion, push them into it. Get curious. Watch it ebb and flow and the emotion dissipate when it sees the light. Remember this: ALL of the time, bad things happen to good people. Any other way insinuates that I am capable of making a judgment about someone else's behavior and what they deserve and don't deserve. We all deserve love, acceptance, security and safety. We are all good people, AND bad things happen. How we deal with it, how our thinking changes, how we accept life's path, that is the pavement of spiritual growth. Allow it to happen without judgment.