An excerpt from Tears to Triumph
All of us yearn for happiness and love, and sometimes we find it. Yet, most of us are visited at some point by sorrow, as well. A relationship, a job, a particular circumstance brought us happiness — but then something went wrong. At other times, we can’t put our finger on why, but we feel no happiness and we feel no love.
Life, in fact, is not always easy, and dwelling gracefully within the space of deep sorrow can be very hard. Emotional torment, overwhelming grief, physical agony, screams from the very depths of our souls: Why is such suffering a part of our experience? What does it mean? And how can we survive it and even transcend it?
A spiritual worldview does not skirt such questions; rather, it responds to them. In fact, these questions are at the heart of all great religious teachings, ranging from Buddha’s first encounter with suffering when he left his father’s royal compound, to the suffering of the Israelites when they were slaves under Pharaoh and when they wandered through the desert, to Jesus’s suffering on the cross. The universal spiritual truths at the core of great religious teachings are a balm for the heart sent straight from the Mind of God.
Ironically, these truths are often more obscured than revealed by organized religion, concealing the extraordinary powers of comfort and inspiration they are meant to provide. Those principles are coded messages pointing not only to the source of our suffering, but also to its healing. Healing the heart is, in fact, God’s specialty. Spirit reorders our thinking upon our request, in so doing bringing peace to our hearts. Inner peace does not emerge from an intellectual shift, but from a spiritual process that affects both body and soul. This shift is produced by a divine intercession that is far from metaphorical, as we align our thoughts with those of God.
Theology alone does not bring comfort. But spiritual principles, when practically applied, are gateways to inner peace.
Simply waking up in the morning and going through the daily routines of a normal existence can be emotionally or even physically burdensome. Excruciating pain can weigh upon the heart for months or even years, obliterating all joy and making the slightest comforts impossible. Traumatic memories can cut the psyche like razors. Suffering can overwhelm all else, and even if we think there is a God, He can seem at such moments like He is very far away. But God is never far away, because God is in our minds.
We are free to think whatever we wish to think. The door to emotional deliverance is primarily a mental one. By aligning our thoughts with His thoughts, we can awaken to Him in the midst of our suffering. We can find Him in the midst of our darkness. And we can walk with Him into the light that lies beyond. The universe is wired for God’s light the way a house is wired for electricity, and every mind is like a lamp. But a lamp must be plugged in for it to shed any light. With every prayer, we plug in to the light. With every realization of our mistakes and willingness to atone for them, we plug in to the light. With every apology we give and receive, we plug in to the light. With every act of forgiveness, we plug in to the light. With every five minutes of meditation, we plug in to the light. With every thought of mercy, we plug in to the light. With every moment of faith, we plug in to the light.
The search for God is a search for light, and outside that light we are sorrowful indeed. Within it, we are healed and made whole.
A deep, dark valley
I know something about suffering, as twice I’ve been diagnosed as clinically depressed. I’ve also experienced personal tragedy and the deaths of loved ones. I’ve suffered through devastating betrayals and disappointments. I’ve felt on more than one occasion that I had lost any chance of happiness I might have ever had. I’ve been up close and personal with suffering, not only in my own life, but also in the lives of many others in the course of my career.
Nothing gives you X-ray vision into the suffering of others like having suffered yourself. I know the face of depression and I know it well. As someone who has always viewed things through a mystical lens — even before I really understood what that meant — I’ve always seen events in my life in the context of a spiritual journey. I’ve viewed painful times in my life as part of a mysterious unfolding, as dark nights of my soul for which, no matter how devastating, I needed to be fully present.
However deep my suffering, I didn’t want to be anesthetized as I went through it. Like an expectant mother who wants to give birth naturally, rejecting drugs during labor because she wants to experience “natural childbirth,” I wanted to be fully available to the depths of my pain. Why? Because I knew it had something to teach me. I knew that somehow, in some way, my suffering would lead to a blazing new dawn in my life — but only if I was willing to endure the deep, dark night preceding it.
None of this is to romanticize suffering. Sleepless nights, obsessive thoughts, extreme mental and emotional pain are nothing to view lightly. But my journeys through deep sadness have ultimately shown me as much about light as they have about darkness — for in coming to understand my suffering, I’ve come to understand myself more deeply.
On the other side of my suffering, I’ve seen things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I’ve seen ways I have contributed to my own disasters. I’ve seen that love isn’t a game and that it should be taken seriously. I’ve seen that other people’s feelings are as important as my own. I’ve seen that external things are not what matter. I’ve seen that life lived with any purpose but love is a life that will lead to sorrow. I’ve seen that love is more powerful than evil. I’ve seen that nothing but the love of God can be guaranteed. And I’ve seen that life does indeed go on.
Regret, remorse, humiliation, physical pain, grief, failure, loss — all of these can be excruciating. Yet, as difficult as they can be to endure, they can also pave the way at times to illumination: conscience, forgiveness, humility, contrition, appreciation, gratitude and faith. Sometimes we end up looking back on times of deep emotional pain as having been the crucibles out of which emerged the truth of who we are.
I’ve learned a lot from the midnight blues, as agonizing as they can be. It is often during sleepless nights that we come face-to-face with monsters too easily shooed away during daylight hours, carrying with them not only sorrow but information. That which is difficult is not always that which is bad. We might see something that needs to change within us, what we need to atone for, how our character defects or neurotic patterns are ruining our lives, what trespasses we need to forgive, and what amends we need to make. We might at last come clean with God, asking His help in forgiving ourselves, and then realize His mercy as we pray for another chance to get things right. We might grieve loved ones we lost, and finally come to feel the eternal bond that keeps us one with them forever. On such nights we often cry tears that we simply need to cry.
At times the light derives from realizations that we come to while we are in the darkness. Periods of suffering are not always detours on the journey to enlightenment but can serve as significant stops along the way. Personal demons that emerge from the dark cave of deep sadness cannot just be “treated”; they must be dissolved through the light of self-awareness. Everything that needs to be looked at must be looked at; everything that needs to be understood must be understood; and every prayer that needs to be prayed must be prayed. And this can take time. A period of emotional suffering is often not simply a symptom of our depression as much as a necessary factor in healing it. It can be what we need to move through, and best not avoid, in journeying to the place where we suffer no more.
Sometimes, therefore, we have to make room for our emotional pain.
Months of grief might be at times what we need to go through, processing the mysteries of love and loss in order to finally see that in spirit there is no loss and that in God there is always hope. Such mourning is a sacred journey, and it cannot and should not be rushed. If we have 45 tears to cry, then crying 17 is not enough. Deep sorrow is a fever of the soul, and within the psyche as within the body, the fever breaks when the fever breaks.
The tendency to repair — an inborn immune system always moving in the direction of healing — exists in the mind, as well as in the body. We simply need to give it time. The potential for heartbreak always exists; it is part of the human experience. Where there is love, there is happiness. But where the bonds of love are broken, there is pain. Given the fact that the world is so dominated by fear, and so resistant in many ways to love, how could our hearts not be torn at times by the pain of simply living here? And once you’ve lived enough, you know this. You come to live with it, and to live with it gracefully. You learn to take the hits, and to know that they’re simply part of living.
“Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again” is more than a song lyric by Simon and Garfunkel; it describes an attitude of acceptance that this week, or this month, or even this year might be hard — but you know you will live through it. And in some ways, who we become because we lived through it is someone more alive — perhaps even more beautiful — than who we were before. In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, “Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”
Depression is an emotional fall, sometimes into a very deep, dark valley. That is true. Yet, a life of spiritual triumph is not one in which we never fall into that valley; it is one in which, if and when we do fall, we’ve learned how to get ourselves out of it. We need emotional muscles in order to rise up emotionally, just as we need physical muscles in order to rise up physically. And developing those muscles is the work of the soul. It is the search for God and the finding of our true selves.
God is not outside us but within — the Love that is the essence of who we truly are. We live within God and God lives within us. The pain of the world is the unbearable suffering of living outside the circle of our relationship to God, for outside that relationship we are separate from ourselves. What could be more depressing than to live in separation from who we are? And what could be more natural than the fact that we seek wholeness in places where our hearts have been torn?
Falling to our knees in pain has been, for many of us, how we first fell to our knees in prayer. At moments when the pain is simply too much to take, the body itself is wired for humility before God. No matter what problem has entered our lives, no matter what pain has seared our hearts, the one fundamental answer is the attainment of the peace of God. A Course in Miracles teaches that we think we have many different problems, but we only really have one: our separation from God. I’m writing about the alleviation of our suffering: sometimes through prayer, sometimes through forgiveness, and always through the surrender and release of all our thoughts that are not of God.
Therein lies inner peace.
Changing our mental filters
Surrendering thoughts that are not of God means surrendering thoughts that are not of love. Each of us has a spiritual immune system — a system that exists to heal the injured psyche just as the physical immune system heals the physical body — but it takes conscious effort to activate its power. It’s not always easy to surrender our lovelessness, especially when we’re in emotional pain. Yet, in order to heal, we must.
Spiritual healing is work in the sense that it isn’t passive, but active. It is a medicine we co-create with God. This medicine is a miracle. It is a shift from primary identification with the suffering self to identification with the spiritual self. This mental illumination lights the fire of God within us, a fire that will burn in time through every thought that causes us pain. It guides us to a reinterpretation of everything that has occurred in our lives, replacing a mental filter that ensures our pain with a mental filter than ensures our deliverance from pain. It does this by guiding us into the radicalism of forgiveness and love.
Miracles are thoughts, and thoughts produce everything. Thought is the level of cause; the world as we know it is the level of effect. A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love, changing an effect in our lives by changing the thinking that caused it. Most of our suffering is due less to our circumstances than to our thoughts about them. In fact, the world is merely a projection of our thoughts. Everything we go through is filtered through either the mind of love or the mind of fear; love creates peace, and fear creates pain. Fear is not a thing in and of itself; rather, it is the absence of love.
Since the thought system that dominates the world is one that repudiates love, it is a prison in which we are bound to suffer. The only way to escape our suffering is to rise above the thought system that creates it.
The pain we experience while living in this world should not be denied, of course, but it can be transcended. Miracle-minded thinking does not suppress our emotions; rather, it brings them up so we can place them on a path to true healing. Healing occurs when we identify our painful feelings and then place them in His hands, praying that the thoughts which produced the feelings will be realigned with His.
Releasing a situation to God means releasing our thoughts about it, that they might be changed on a causal level. That which is placed on the altar is then altered. It would be a violation of our free will for God to rearrange our thoughts without our consciously having asked Him to do so, but once we ask, our prayers are answered. Our suffering having been surrendered, an alchemical healing process begins immediately. Situations are miraculously transformed as our thoughts are divinely shifted.
Where we’ve been holding on to bitterness, we are guided to the ways of forgiveness. Where we’ve been holding on to the past, we’re gently shown new possibilities in the present. Where our general outlook has been negative, we begin to see things through a more positive lens. The point is that once we are willing to see things differently — to conspire with a God who, in the words of A Course in Miracles, “outwits our self-hatred” — then the healing begins. Your consciousness is illumined, at first perhaps just slightly, but the tiny crack of light you allowed into your mind will expand into a miraculous blaze. A softening in a relationship will become inevitable; every book that would help you falls at your feet; a friend who might have helpful insight just happens to call. Realizations about how your own behavior might have been different start to occur to you.
A spiritual perspective does not deny your pain, or any aspect of your human experience. It simply denies its power over you. It gives you the strength to endure when the tears are falling, and the power to invoke miracles that lie beyond.
Illusions to truth
A miracle changes how we view the world, piercing the veil of illusion that keeps us trapped in pain and suffering. A prayer for a miracle is not a request that a situation BE different, but a request that we see it differently. Only when our thoughts are changed will the effects of our thoughts be changed, as well.
Only when we see beyond the illusions of the world will we be lifted above the sorrow they produce. And what are these illusions? They are the manifestations produced by fear that would hide the face of love. The material world is a vast matrix of illusion created by the mortal mind.
The point of spiritual seeking is not just to realize that the world is filled with illusions, however; it is also to realize the ultimate truth that lies beyond them. To say that the world as we know it is not our ultimate reality is not to say we do not have an ultimate reality. We do have an ultimate reality –which lies beyond our bodies, beyond our mistakes, and beyond this world at all. We are not small specks of dust — simply short-lived, finite, imperfect mortal beings with no greater purpose than to grasp pathetically for some happiness before we inevitably suffer and die. And while we hold ourselves hostage to such an insane perception of what it means to be human, we are doomed to mental and emotional anguish.
Instead, we can embrace a deeper truth: that we are spirits, not just bodies. That we are great and glorious beings on this Earth with great and glorious missions, and having forgotten this, we have been cast into an outer kingdom of pain and despair. Our task, then, is to find a way back to this nobler vision of who we really are, that the pain of our forgetfulness might cease.
Our existential pain results from living within a hallucinatory experience and thinking it is real. The three-dimensional plane of experience is very real to our mortal selves, but something deep within us knows that there is something more. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t suffer through this or that human experience; but it does mean that the “you” who suffered through it isn’t the real you. As our thoughts are rearranged regarding who we are in relation to the experience, our experience of the experience transforms. This doesn’t invalidate our mortal suffering, but it validates our capacity to rise above it.
You are love
The real “you” is love, unaffected by that which is not love. Your spirit — God’s creation that is your ultimate reality — is unalterable and unaffected by the lovelessness of the world. The human mind is basically split. Just as part of the mind knows who we are, and sees clearly beyond the worldly veil of illusion, part of the mind is delusional and blind. Learning to dismantle the delusional mind, the fear-based ego, is the path of enlightenment. Just as darkness is cast out by light, fear is cast out by love. The ego is ultimately dissolved and replaced by the mind of spirit, which is love.
Love is the Truth as God created us; when our thoughts are not loving, we are literally not being ourselves. Psychically, every loveless thought is an act of self-annihilation. A world that neither recognizes the primacy of love nor fosters its expression is a depressing world indeed.
Enlightenment, which is infinite compassion, is the only true antidote to our suffering. This cure does not necessarily happen quickly, or without deep and even gut-wrenching work. For the world can be hard, and our resistance to love can be very strong. But our willingness is everything, and God responds fully to our slightest invitation that He help us see things differently. A spiritual reinterpretation of events gives us miraculous authority — to command the winds, to part the waters, and to break all chains that bind us. The power of God cannot and will not fail. We begin to feel peace where before we knew agonizing anxiety, to feel hope where before we saw no possibility of breakthrough, and to learn to forgive and to feel forgiven.
Seeing our lives through a spiritual lens is not a less sophisticated but a more sophisticated way of interpreting our experience. The love that saves us is not an abstraction or a gooey, wimpy sentimentality. Compassion is the greatest power in the universe. The mind that minimizes the power of love to release us from our suffering is the mind that creates our suffering to begin with, and then vigilantly maintains it.
The divine self
The loveless mind is the ultimate cause behind every disaster and every tear. The only thing to be saved from, really, is the insane thinking that dominates this planet. Aligning with the divine self, then, is our salvation. For we suffer to the extent that we identify with the brokenness of the world, and our power to heal lies in knowing that we actually are not of this world. Because we are children of God, we need not suffer the world’s insanity as we do.
By expanding our thinking beyond the confines of three-dimensional reality, we free ourselves of those confines. We forge new pathways in our brains, and in our experiences. We avail ourselves of quantum possibilities that otherwise would not appear. This process is not an instantaneous “Eureka!” moment. A depressed person doesn’t just say “Oh, I get it now” and then quickly move on. It isn’t easy, for instance, to forgive someone who did, in fact, betray us; to remain optimistic that the future can be better when the past has been tragic; to embrace the possibility of an eternal connection with someone whose abandonment or death has devastated us. But when we are WILLING, with the help of God, to see what we do not see now, then our inner eye is opened. We extend our perceptions beyond the veil of worldly illusion and are delivered to a world beyond.
None of this is easy, for our prison walls are thick. They’re fortified by the appearances of the material world and by the mental agreements of our species. Humanity has been dominated by a fear-based thought system for ages, and enlightenment is a radical repudiation of the basic tenets of that worldview. Few things are more revolutionary than finding true happiness in a suffering world.
Search for wisdom
Enlightenment involves a retraining of our mental muscles as we go against the emotional and psychological gravity of the fear-based mind. The ego seeks to preserve itself by luring us into loveless thoughts at every opportunity. And make no mistake about it: it seeks not merely to annoy us, but to make us suffer greatly — not merely to inconvenience us, but if at all possible to kill us. From addiction to warfare, the ego seeks not merely to withhold love, but to destroy it.
Fear gives rise to a variety of negative emotions, some of them relatively harmless and some genuinely insane. One confluence of fear-based emotions is commonly called depression. Depression is an implosion of negativity that suppresses, at least temporarily, our ability to “just get over it.” It is like an emotional muscle spasm in which we are unable to move out of a fixed and painful place. Given the state of the world today — given the fear and destruction all around us — depression among any of us is understandable. Life on Earth can indeed be heartbreaking. But deep sadness, even intense emotional suffering, need not break us. It is part of the human experience, part of our spiritual journey.
Even the happiest life can have deeply sad days. Once we accept this fact, making space for it in our consciousness, we stop seeing every bout of depression as an intruder that has to be shooed out of the house immediately. The fact that we can BE heartbroken is part of our deep humanity; it is not a weakness in our character. A weakness, if anything, is our fear of looking at our suffering more authentically and our resistance to dealing with it more wisely.
The wisest question when we are deeply sad is not, “How can I end or numb this pain immediately?” The wisest question is, “What is the meaning of this pain?” or, “What does it reveal to me? What is it calling me to understand?”
An honest inquiry into the spiritual significance of our pain does not prolong it, but rather hastens its end. Whether we grow from our suffering or succumb to it lies primarily in whether we succeed in finding a spiritual lesson in even the most excruciating of circumstances. Searching for those lessons is the search for wisdom, and the search for wisdom is the search for peace.
In the words of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” In today’s world, the search for wisdom is trivialized and often undervalued. Yet, while reason can analyze a situation, only wisdom can deeply understand it. The search for wisdom is not some philosophical amusement without practical applicability. The search for wisdom is a search for how to live our lives more responsibly, both as individuals and as a species. Without wisdom, we often make terrible decisions. We become emotionally unsteady, routinely plunging headfirst into self-destructive situations. And then, though we’re forced to spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to fix situations caused by our lack of wisdom, we spend comparatively little time on learning how to live more wisely in the future.
That’s why learning what our pain has to teach us is so important: so that on the other side of it, we’re less likely to experience the same pain again. The mind that led us into hell to begin with is always more than glad to welcome us back.
Seeking the light
How odd that we spend so much time treating the darkness and so little time seeking the light. The ego loves to glorify itself by self-analysis, yet we do not get rid of darkness by hitting it with a baseball bat. We only get rid of darkness by turning on the light. In searching for God, we do enter the darkness but only in order to expose it to the light.
Like Isis roaming the countryside to reassemble the scattered pieces of her beloved Osiris, we must retrieve the unintegrated pieces of our self. And from that act of love, we bear new life. When we emerge from times of deep sorrow and pain, something much more significant occurs than our simply becoming happy again. Having glimpsed the deepest darkness, we start to see the light of God more clearly.
Truly, if God is anywhere, He is with us on our darkest days. And when our darkest days are no longer with us, we do not forget that He was with us when they were. Your torment during this process is not just a cold and clinical occurrence, but a holy process leading not only to the end of your pain, but to the beginning of a new sense of self. You will suffer, perhaps, but in time you will heal. A new chapter of your life will emerge from the ashes.
As it says in Revelation 21:4 and also in A Course in Miracles, “God Himself will wipe away all tears.” Our civilization has an immature and neurotic obsession with always trying to be happy. And yet, sometimes it is through having cried our tears that we can see, at last, our blessings. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” The real question, for anyone who suffers, is whether we want to be one of those who are strengthened by the experience.
It’s a psychological art form, mastering the balance between permitting ourselves to honor our suffering and making a simultaneous commitment to surviving the experience. To say, “I know this is a terrible time. But it is not without meaning, and I am committed to finding out what that meaning is. I am committed to opening myself to the lessons to be learned here.” And the lesson is always, in some way, the expansion of our capacity to love.
There is only one real problem in life: that someone turned their back on love. Yet, no matter how intense the ego’s demonic hold on the mind — from mild annoyance to outright evil — God’s love is so great, and His mercy so infinite, that He will always have the final say. The universe is always ready to start again, to send another opportunity for love in a never-ending wave of “Try this, then.” The universe of love is incapable of exhaustion. It is always creating new possibilities, new varieties of miraculous opportunities. There is nothing that we could ever do or that could ever happen to us — nothing, no matter how sinister — that can ultimately prevail against the Will of God.
Knowing this is the dawn of understanding. Believing it is the beginning of faith. Experiencing it is the miracle of new life.
This mindset lifts even a painful experience to a higher emotional frequency, creating a sense that angels are holding us even while we cry. In the words of the Greek playwright Aeschylus, “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”