I need more than energy.

Yesterday when I wrote about my grief, I had started out to write a critique of the book I quoted from. Being my sweet self I had begun my essay not with what I didn’t like, but with something I appreciated about this grief counselor’s message. Immediately I realized that I wasn’t competent at that time to do anything requiring intellectual focus, because the quote helped me to see that I was scrambling to find my bearings without my “landmarks,” and that can consume all of one’s inner resources. So I wrote about that.spiral staircase

The fact is, I recommend the book with great reservations. It is Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping With Loss, by Sameet M. Kumar. The author presents several helpful metaphors like Landmarks and (traveling up) a Spiral Staircase, and important warnings about not trying to relieve the pain and depression with drugs, because that prevents you from doing the work of grieving.

All of those good things, and even the advice I didn’t find useful, could have been presented in a book half the length. The author is very repetitive, as though you are consulting him in his office for a year during which he has to reiterate the prescription every week.

Kumar is a clinical psychotherapist and grief counselor, and a Buddhist who credits the Dalai Lama with giving him the tools to find his career path and change his own life for the better. I mentioned some major concerns I had about his philosophy in my post on Changing Views, so if you like you can read them there; today I have thoughts on other aspects, though I haven’t the time, and maybe not the ability, to treat all of the problems I find.

I just read over that article and find that back then I unknowingly used a phrase that I hadn’t yet encountered in Kumar’s book: emotional energy. On the day I was writing about in August, I was surprised to find that I lacked emotional energy to do simple everyday tasks that should have been easy and even fun. But Kumar says that we should “use the tremendous influx of emotional energy that comes from experiencing loss to nurture life.” This labeling of the debilitating pain of grief as just another kind of power we can use to drive whatever activity we want is very odd, if not ludicrous.

Kumar writes a lot about compassion, and how we can turn the energy of our grief to compassion for others, but the book is short on concrete examples of what this looks like. From what I can tell, it means telling people, “Everyone suffers. Get used to it.” Can compassion be cold? Buddhists say yes.

Recently I read a brief account of a Buddhist who converted to Orthodox Christianity and became a monk on Mount Athos. He was questioned by a visiting priest about his reasons for leaving “such a great cultural tradition,” and he answered,

“Divine companionship!…In Buddhism, my Father, you are very very much alone. There is no God. Your entire struggle is with yourself. You are alone with yourself, with your ego. You are totally alone in this path. Great loneliness, Father. But here you have an assistant, a companion and a fellow-traveler in God. You are not alone. You have someone who loves you, who cares about you. He cares even if you don’t understand Him. You speak with Him. You tell Him how you feel, what you would have hoped for – there is a relationship. You are not alone in the difficult struggles of life and spiritual perfection.”

I can well understand this man’s natural desire to be with God, a Trinity of three persons in love and community, because it is a desire instilled in us by that God, who made us in such a way that we can’t be fully ourselves until we are pulled into that love relationship.

But Kumar says, “The acceptance of emotional hardship is the core of radical acceptance—simply being present with your feelings in the here and now, rather than longing for something different.” [italics mine] Acceptance, I realize, is the path I am also on, but I think of it as being something like full contentment. My favorite word on contentment is in the book of Hebrews,

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

For many of us, being with God is something different and well worth longing for. To accept and be content with our lot is only proper and possible if we have found the One who will never leave us or forsake us. Divine Companionship is the very Presence of the Almighty God who has many names, each one speaking to one aspect of our heart’s longing.

Names_of_God

This brings me to the last point of disagreement I will address, which is the form of mindfulness and meditation that is taught in this book. I don’t think it hurts to “simply be present with your feelings,” or to “come in full contact with yourself,” at least as a starting place. But I don’t believe that those encounters are likely in themselves to reveal “how capable we are of containing and healing the grief we carry.”

Jeffrey Brantley tells us in the Foreword that “…the benefits depend not upon trying to change anything, but instead mainly upon one’s willingness and commitment to reside in the present moment, while making room and becoming intimate with the texture of unfolding experience – whatever that is.”

And Kumar goes further in describing the intended results of this activity: “Mindful attention does not try to change what is happening. Instead, it reflects— accurately and precisely.” This idea of the accuracy aHolyTrinity new sketend precision of our thoughts that float by also seems to me lofty and unrealistic.

What we need is PRAYER, People! I am no expert on it, except to know assuredly that I need to do it, and that it is work. It doesn’t spontaneously generate from my random thoughts, but it comes from finding God in the present moment, in spite of our thoughts. Just google Orthodox and Prayer and you can find all the resources you need for getting started. My spiritual father told me early on to read anything that Anthony Bloom writes on the subject. It is in real prayer, in Divine Companionship, that we will find healing and contentment and a truly spiritual kind of energy, the Energies of God.

13 thoughts on “I need more than energy.

  1. I wish I could ponder things and figure things out the way you do. I loved that quote from the man who had converted to Orthodox Christianity. I think that is why I am a Christian. I don’t like being alone. Also, in my earlier comment, I think seeing life through the lens of Christianity, God give us purpose in our suffering. Getting up off my my face and cooking dinner for someone or doing laundry or any of those things that seem mundane at the time, I have found are turned into a Holy Offering. Because we have someone inside of us who is with us. I am glad you said the man who wrote that book was a Buddhist. While that quote you used sounded wonderful, I am too weak anymore to do things by my own bootstraps.

    That is also one of my favorite verses from Hebrews. Thank you for continuing to ponder. It makes me ponder as well.

    Have a lovely evening.

    Like

  2. Excellent commentary on Kumar’s book. So many persons are desperate for help with grief. Sadly, some writers capitalize on that and make an expensive book out of a simple idea. That seems like preying on people’s tragedies. I hate that because so many are so vulnerable in times of loss. We need more reviewers like you who recognize the limits of non-faithfilled consolation. There is no such thing. Focusing on how one feels about loss is like picking at a sore or scab. (My opinion – – I shouldn’t castigate those who try to help or belittle anyone who seeks help. But I am glad for thoughtful–helpful–critiques.)

    P.S. If I were an editor at your blog, I’d recommend dropping the final paragraph, and developing that point in a second post. As it stands, the ending – – with its refreshing, but possibly off-putting first sentence — feels more like a beginning. But fortunately we don’t have editors. Keep writing!

    Like

  3. Yes, YES. I really appreciate this article. Your writing about your time of loss and the grief, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. It gives me courage and also good reminders of how God is with us in ALL things. I love Met. Anthony Bloom and need to revisit his books. I am re-reading Kh. Frederica Matthewes-Green’s book on the Jesus Prayer and am appreciating this book all over again also. May the Lord continue to comfort you in this first year without your dearly loved husband. (HUGS). Still praying here.

    Like

  4. I now live surrounded by persons professing and pursuing the Buddhist way. Christianity is the sole religious practice that recognizes God’s reaching DOWN to man. All others strive to reach up and bring themselves up. A most selfish pursuit. They can’t really give anything out from a self aware state. It’s too all consuming! When they try it is from selfish motives: to make myself “good.” Self is lonely and hungry. Your quote of the former Buddhist was so good! Thank you for that!

    Leslie

    Like

  5. It is interesting to me to consider your article here and the link you put in, “Buddhists Say Yes,” in light of my having read (well, I proofread that book for him) Father Damascene’s book, “Christ the Eternal Tao.” In that book, detachment from desire, both Buddhist and Christian, is seen as the way to remove oneself from the temptation to sin–a “practical” way to teach ourselves to “let go and let God.” I have found it very helpful.

    But what you are saying here (although I have not read the book you are referring to) seems to me to bring forth just as important and deep a truth–that without love, we are nothing. It is one thing to emotionally divorce yourself from your own emotional temptations towards self-pity and anger, but quite another to actually try to live without emotional empathy for others. The link you put in seems to be saying that Buddhists do also have a way to develop compassion for others, so I am not quite sure that I understand their approach. But–is that so we can learn to love them (and God) better, or for some other reason? It’s a compelling topic.

    Like

    1. As Christians, we aren’t aren’t trying to have no desires at all. We want to desire God with our whole being. So that is the huge difference I see. If we could truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then it seems that all other desires would fade away. The focus is so different. In Buddhism, you try to have no desires because you want to escape suffering; God doesn’t figure into it. The Christian focus is all on the positive: loving God, and being warmed by His love.

      I don’t understand what question you are trying to answer at end of your comment…?

      It was this idea of “cold compassion” that I read about on that linked website that was most surprising, and set the two ascetic traditions into stark contrast for me.

      Like

  6. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this book and topic — and Kim’s comment above. As part of our small group’s study of Job, we had long discussions about suffering and how soundbites like the one you quoted/summarized do so very little to assuage or comfort or even be of any use.

    Like

  7. I’ve struggled with reading pedantic writings on grief since my husband’s death. I’ve returned to an in depth study of the Bible. All the answers are there. All Comfort from the Comforter. All Compassion in Jesus.

    I personally am using a very mild dose of a serotonin thingy. I was one of those women who cried at weird times. Grief had me in anguish, uncontrollably. After 8 mos. of that my doctor (a widow, believer herself) suggested a very low dose. I still grieve, I still feel the loss, I’m just not wrung out like a dish rag. She did not give me those other things like alpraz something. I also convinced myself the time of one year would heal, Ahhhh Baloney!

    Conclusion, in confidence, in concordance with Madam J, PRAYER is the answer!

    Like

  8. I’m a Christian because I was tired of being alone; for me, a return to Jesus and my born into faith was the answer. Emotional energy…a phrase I began using when Dave got sick and I was lacking sorely with emotional energy. Everything was used to take care of Dave; since his death, everything is used to keep up…emotional energy doesn’t exist for me. I’m happy simply to still be standing.

    For me, grief is a solitary journey but that could also be attributed to where I live.

    Like

  9. This was an interesting read. A New-Age-y, Buddhist perspective seems to permeate many self-help books. There’s a lot of subtle and not-so subtle un-truths that can pull us away from our Source of true comfort — Jesus. It’s very hard to tease out the truth from the un-truth in these books, and sometimes not worth it. And I agree with the priest in your story — being alone and dependent on your own self for salvation seems very lonely. So thankful we aren’t alone.

    Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s