Early grief is terror. Its dark, dank, putrid odor fills our lungs, and traces of its acerbic rancidity remain in our mouths. The torpid way it burns caverns in our brains and claws through the tender of flesh of our hearts makes us wish for something else. Anything else.
We resist being dragged into the belly of the whale, where we await liberation in the vomitus. It is the place where the darkest night is also the longest night.
Why would we not seek to escape such horror?
So, escape we do, at least temporarily. But these temporary distractions do not satiate. They, rather, make us thirst more for the ineffable and they add to our suffering.
We seek relief in drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Gambling. Infidelity. Food. Exercise. Television. Work. Parties. Spirituality.We seek relief in seeking.
Yes, we seek relief even in seeking.
We become enamored with the pursuit of spirituality, meaning, purpose, answers, certainty. And there are many 'false prophets' (spiritual leaders, gurus, psychiatrists, mental health providers, coaches, even those within the grief community ad nauseum) willing to take your money and promise you what they can never give you: Peace. Happiness. Joy. Love. Relief. And spirituality, meaning, purpose, answers, certainty.
My friend came by this afternoon and told me a story of a spiritual teacher who was "so powerful" that just being in his presence moved people to tears. He healed "many from grief and from a traumatic past." Of course, there was a significant price to pay for such a healing. And of course, he was so holy that you dared not touch him.
Call me skeptical, but I ain't buying it. A holy person who can heal suffering but whom you cannot touch? And one who promises to heal just by being in his presence?
Here is what I know about grief, false prophets, and distractions (gosh, how I loathe "lists" and here I am creating one):
1. No one can "heal" us. No one else has the answers for us. No one can bring back our child or our husband or our parent. There are no drugs, prescription or street, no magic pills or potions, no G-ds or goddesses or divine beings, no short cuts through this. If we do not soon learn this lesson, we will spend many years ping ponging our way through grief, forsaking our authentic self out of fear and the unwillingness to surrender.
2. If someone promises us a quick remedy through grief, we should engage our inner skeptic. Even if we feel some temporary relief, this state is not likely to 'stick' and any spiritual bypass is likely leading away from transfiguration. Brass only turns to gold when consumed by fire.
3. True spiritual leaders are humble servants. They do not expect others to wash their feet for 'healing'. They, rather, wash the feet of others. No one kisses their robes to receive redemption. Rather, they kneel at the sight of a small child or a wounded animal or a leper.
4. A person who is willing to endure the putrid odor and rancidity of grief, the person who will walk with us into its fire, in our own time and in our way is a rare treasure. We should recognize and honor this person as a touchstone. And realize, too, that one day it will be our turn to help another. This is our sacred duty, and we should never forget this. If we do, we may experience tremendous dissatisfaction in our lives later. Ironically, once the dissatisfaction from this process hits, we may find ourselves distracting yet again.
5. Katherine Porter said, "The past is never where you think you left it." We can run - we can distract - we can lean on false 'prophets' who have built their own lives on the sinking sand, but unless we confront the pain that lies within us, whether dormant or not, we will never have real peace.
6. Whitman said to dismiss anything that insults our souls. Yes. This. Someone else said that the best way to be deeply spiritual is to be deeply human. Yes. This. Too.
7. Remember that from which we run is within us. We seek and chase and pursue and grasp all for naught. Both the beauty and the pain and the suffering and the healing are exactly where we are in this precise moment.
I admit I am concerned by all the 'expert' counselors, doctors, spiritual leaders, gurus, coaches- etcetera promising to cure grief, anxiety, or depression. I've even heard one claim to cure grief within 90 days! Another 'expert' charges $35 for a two-minute question, and about $2000 to spend a day in counseling with her. Many of these charlatans hijack others' work- their sagacity, experience, and compassion, claim the teachings as their own, and then charge others for what isn't theirs. I've seen this happen time and time again and it is very naughty.
Medicine has its repugnant maneuvers too: Let's not forget that according to the DSM5, you may be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (a purported mental disorder) after only two weeks following the death of a loved one if you continue to have symptoms. Of course they can ensure you get the "care" you need if you'll just listen to your doctor...
There are so many who are vulnerable and deeply wounded who seek relief from this bottomless pain. I get it. Truly, I do. Beware though: What you so desperately seek is not to be found in a spiritual leader or guru or doctor or in a bottle or a needle or a sex act.
Everything you have to become you is within you.
And only you.