Must spiritual growth be painful?

The subject of no pain, no gain in spiritual healing keeps coming up recently. It seems that we have programmed ourselves to believe that if we are not feeling something with extreme discomfort then we are not working hard enough.

I first noticed this general phenomenon when I began working at an office. Every Monday morning people would talk about their weekend. But they would not be talking about the fun things they did. No, they would try to outdo each other in how hard their weekend was. It is as if there was an unspoken contest about who gets less sleep, who has to drive their children more, who has more errands. And if you shared that you had an amazing worry free weekend, people would judge you. They would say something like, well, not everyone is a lucky as you, or no everyone’s life is as simple as yours, or my favorite – oh to be young again.

I’ve seen this with clothes too… My friend once came into the office wearing a designer dress. Instead of admiring her dress, people started to make comments about how not everyone is as rich as she is and not everyone has as much money to spend on themselves, so on, so forth. Meanwhile, the truth was that the said dress came from a basement store and cost twenty dollars.

I often received a similar reaction during lunchtime at the office. People would come up to me commenting about how my food was too healthy for them. Or how they hate vegetables. Meanwhile I was just trying to enjoy my tomato salad and remember to chew with my mouth closed.

This my-life-is-harder-than-your-life, I-have-less-than-you, my-habits-are-worse-than-your-habits competition seems to be quite prevalent in the 9-5 world.

And it is also prevalent in the spiritual healing world too. But here it is more about the deepness, the harshness, the pain experienced while healing. Especially with plant medicine, people compare notes about the darkness, the mind loop, the abyss, the projectile vomiting. And the bigger the purge, the more people feel they accomplished. I have had people walk away from ceremonies quite disappointed because spirit did not smack them over the head with a proverbial shovel.

This does not just apply to pain. The more intense the experience in either direction, pain or utter joy, the more people feel they have accomplished.

This makes me wonder: are we addicted to receive a sensation during a healing? Any kind of sensation: positive or negative? Have we numbed ourselves in this everyday life so much that we must chase a feeling, any feeling? Must a healing be intense in order for us to feel that we got something out of it. Are we looking to win the my-healing-was-harder-than-your-healing competition.

And is there an alternative; can spirit work subtly, gently, lovingly? Without the headaches, without the vomiting (the spiritual term is “purging” but lets call a spade a spade.) Without forcing us to leave our bodies in order to experience joy?

Lately, so many women share with me stories about their experience with Hapé or Rapé, a non hallucinogenic and legal plant medicine from the amazon. They share how hard an uncomfortable it was and how they fear doing it again. Most of the time this medicine was administered by men. Guys, I am not knocking on you. I had sat in Hapé ceremonies with men when medicine was administered and used very softly and lovingly. But for the most part, men (and us women trying to be like men) adopt the very masculine approach of no pain no gain, fight fire with fire, go to the deep end of the universe to get to the deep end of your soul.

Sometimes this approach is necessary. But at other times, it’s counterproductive. It causes people to run, to turn away to retreat into numbness. Or to keep looking for intensity, getting caught up chasing a feeling – any feeling.

I’d like to offer you an idea that there is an alternative – a middle ground between numbness and experience. A reality where life does not have to be complicated and healing does not have to be hard.

One where we can go inside (with or without medicine) in the most gentle and sacred way. Where new pain is not required to deal with old pain. Where softness and power are not mutually exclusive. Where intuition is a soft, almost unnoticeable feeling that that you know was birthed by the divine. Where a hug is more powerful than a whip…

To quote one of my favorite poems: “a flower cannot be opened with a hammer.


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