If you’re on the spiritual path, you know that this intense journey through the veils of the ego into the essence of the Divine within you is not for the faint of heart. If you have a spiritual teacher, mentor, or therapist, your spiritual guide will probably dole out one blow to your ego after another, and it can be hard on the human to endure these blows. If you don’t have a guide, if Life is your teacher, then your circumstances are probably bringing you face to face with all the ways you’re consciously or unconsciously harming yourself and others. What is revealed can sting. It’s not easy to have the courage to stick with it.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.”
In my experience, this tongue-in-cheek advice is pretty much spot on. But oh man, where are those who can comfort us through this journey? Where is the tenderness, the soothing voice, the “I understand, sweetheart. Carry on, Love Warrior?” Why all the ferocity without the gentle touch and the warm hug?
Adyashanti says, “Make no mistake about it—enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
And . . . ouch!
The Feminine Can Be Both Fierce & Comforting
In feminine spirituality, the fierce goddesses and the gentle goddesses hold hands. We need to resist the temptation to get out of balance in how we handle our transformational growth, to value the scalpel of truth more than the comforting arms of Divine Mother energy. After all, if the spiritual path means enduring—or even welcoming—the dismantling of everything we imagined to be true, this is no small thing! Yes, we can go fiercely into the truth and bully ourselves into pushing faster and faster toward enlightenment. But isn’t that just one more thing the ego can grab hold of? Isn’t that just another way of bullying ourselves and hustling for worthiness? What about comfort? What about gentleness? What about holding ourselves in great arms of love and whispering, “Shh . . . shh . . . It’s all gonna be OK, sweetheart.”
I believe that love and growth require holding paradoxes. We need the ferocity of Kali, the goddess of death and destruction, balanced with the compassion of Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy. We need to be pushed to the limits of what the human self can handle, and then we need to be held in the great arms of Mother Mary with her beatific smile and her radiant heart. We can open ourselves to seeing the truth, and we can allow the truth to strip us like a scalpel. But then we are raw and bleeding, and it hurts, and we need each other to offer comfort. We need cuddle puddles. We need to sing together. We need to dance. We need to rock one another when things get too intense, when emotions get overwhelming, when we feel scared and sad and angry and alone.
We need comfort, and we need to let go of any spiritual bullying that suggests that comfort is for wussies.
Karen Drucker says it best in her song Gentle With Myself. “I will only go as fast as the slowest part of me feels free to go.”
Let’s Hold Space
I’m not suggesting that we need to coddle each other. Sometimes we need to be left alone to move through what is arising. Sometimes a hug can be intrusive. It can suggest that someone’s emotional expression isn’t OK, that we need to shut them up or fix them. It can feel like an expression of pity, rather than compassion.
But sometimes things just get too intense, and we need someone to simply hold space. (I love this video about how to hold space.)
Once, when I was at a silent meditation retreat, one of the women in our retreat was wailing. We were all in silence, eating our meal in the cafeteria, and she was sobbing, choked sobs, as she walked through the line. Everyone ignored her. Then she took her food outside and howled and wailed some more. Everyone kept eating in silence.
I was towing the party line, following the silence rules, not wanting to interfere with anyone’s process. But at some point, what felt like intuition prompted me to get up, approach her, break the silence and whisper, “Do you need a hug?”
She nodded. So I just sat in silence and held her for a long while as she cried.
A year later, I ran into her at another event and she said, “Thank you for holding me that time. I just couldn’t bear what I was going through alone.”
Sometimes, human life hurts too much to go through it alone. Yes, we need to be able to learn how to comfort ourselves, but we also need one another. Too many spiritual circles wield a very masculine scalpel of truth without making space for the gentle feminine energies of compassion, nurturing, comfort, and tenderness. Now more than ever, we need permission to comfort one another.
Whether you are happy about our new President or not, we are all in transition together right now. Things they are a-changin.’ And change brings uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds discomfort, riding shotgun with possibility and even excitement. When you don’t know what the future holds, anything can happen! But we need one another to bridge this transition as we midwife this planet and species into the next iteration of what it means to be human.
May these words comfort you. May you give yourself permission to receive comfort—from yourself or others.
12 Ways to Comfort Yourself
May we find small ways to tend to ourselves and one another. Try these simple suggestions.
- Have a tea ceremony with a few friends.
- Buy aromatherapy oils and empty bottles and make your own comforting scent blends.
- Exchange backrubs with a friend.
- Light incense and run a bath with bath salts.
- Make a home altar with sacred objects that have meaning to you. Sit at your altar when you need comfort.
- Try some simple comforting yoga poses, like child’s pose.
- Write a love letter to yourself, offering the words of comfort you need to hear. Read it out loud or have someone else read it to you.
- Invite friends to a potluck dinner. Everyone brings comfort food. Then you can sing, dance, have a cuddle puddle, do group hugs, get in a massage line, or meditate together.
- Read poetry. (Rumi and Mary Oliver are my favorite.)
- Make a playlist of comfort songs. Listen to it obsessively. (My favorite is Kacey Musgraves Somebody To Love. It’s SO gentle and non-polarizing and resists the temptation to devolve into a “poor me” victim story. Listen here.
- Pray for comfort. Close your eyes and call for comfort from whatever spiritual tradition best supports you. If you don’t feel comfortable praying to God, Goddess, Buddha, an angel, Allah, or Mother Mary, try praying to your favorite tree or a river or the ocean. Envision yourself wrapped in great arms of love and rest in that comfort.
- Meditate. Just get quiet and let your breath and a quiet, still mind comfort you.
Do you need comfort? Or do you feel strong enough to offer comfort to someone else? Let’s all give each other permission to seek comfort right now. Growth is coming. Change is inevitable. Truth is always welcome. But let’s do it with a spoon full of hugs.
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