Uses of Sorrow

I am suspicious, I must say, of too much of the “positive thinking” trend nowadays, as if there were no point to true melancholy or utter sorrow. I don’t think life can be without them, nor do I think I would want life without them. This is a world of opposites, and you can’t have one without the other, one can’t exist without the other. Buddha calls for the middle path, but there is no middle path without experiencing fully the opposites. These thoughts have been with me in recent experiences of deep grief.

Rilke wrote in a letter to Madame M.R.:
“What you say of your life — that its most painful event was also its greatest — that is, so to speak, the secret theme of these pages, indeed the inner belief that gave rise to them. It is the conviction that what is greatest in our existence, what makes it precious beyond words, has the modesty to use sorrow in order to penetrate our soul.”

I was reading today about initiations in the Mithraic mysteries and other forms of initiation. The intent of these rites is transformation, as from caterpillar to butterfly. To achieve the metamorphosis, the initiate passes through tremendous ordeals, and through them experiences otherwise unavailable ecstasies and wisdom. I believe life works this way.

I don’t invite sorrow, nor do I wish it upon anyone, but when it is delivered I respect it as itself. Sorrow is not a problem to solve but a great power.

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2 Responses to “Uses of Sorrow”

  1. Joy Parker Says:

    This is such a powerful statement: “Sorrow is not a problem to solve but a great power.” Just last night at out monthly Joseph Campbell Roundtable Discussion Group, we were talking about how grief has no place in our culture. One woman talked about how excruciating it was when her mother died of cancer several years ago. No one dealt with her illness or her death well at all. It’s so painful that she and her siblings can’t even speak of it today. All the unprocessed grief that got pushed away!

    Fortunately, she said, they all learned from that experience and with each subsequent tragedy became better at grieving, sharing, and looking at their feelings to see what was being communicated to them.

    I was very fortunate following the September 11th tragedy. A couple of weeks following this terrible event, I was in the redwoods at Camp Gualala in N. California, participating in a two-year, every three months, five-day workshop called Spirit Dreaming. As soon as we got there, the facilitators said, “Change of plans. No way we can do anything this week until we do a grieving ritual for 911.” We went right down into the meadow next to the trees and began to set up ritual space, build a shrine, and light the fire. After we ate, we spent several hours in extreme grief, wailing, screaming, weeping, throwing ourselves on the ground in front of the shrine. No holds bared, whatever it took. And we did it as a community.

    Since the, I’ve come to realize the importance of expressing grief.

    Thank you for writing this blog. We should not run from grief or cover it over with positive thinking. We need to see it as a divine messenger.

  2. Tayria Ward Says:

    Awesome that you had the situation to do this ritual just after 9/11. There is so little precedent for doing this at the times that we need it most – tremendous that you had the right ritual at the right time. Your friend’s story about her mother’s death is heart wrenching, and way too common. The grief stays locked in the cells and goes into generations to come if we don’t work it out.

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