The Grace of Descent Part Two

I can almost hear the cries of disbelief and the snorts of indignation.  Okay, well maybe not quite.  But, I can hear your questions or concerns that go something like this:  “So let me get this straight, SWOG lady.  You want me/us to purposely live within this pain while I’m living in this pain?  Whhhaaaaattttt???!!!

Yes, I admit, this will not be the path many of you will choose to take.  And that’s totally understandable and okay.  Our western culture does not encourage it, recognize it or support it.  Who even teaches you how to do it?  Rohr is the only one I know, although I’m sure Merton, Bourgeault, and other wisdom teachers hit on this theme.  So, for those few who are intrigued with the idea of pushing to a new life understanding, let me take excerpts from Rohr’s “The Grace of Descent” that I posted the other day.


“…the mystery of transformation” and “taken where he would rather not go”  Why in the world would you want to change if you think something isn’t broken?  When things are working okay from our point of view–meaning–we’ve got things under control OR, they’re going according to our plans, OR day-to-day living is at least satisfactory, OR day-to-day living is predictable for us even if not great–why in the world would we put energy into changing?  Unless you truly feel the pain of something that is broken or lost (“taken where you would rather not go”), it is difficult to motivate yourself to do the work necessary to transform your way of thinking and behaving.

“…we must go inside the belly of the whale for a while. Then and only then will we be spit up on a new shore and understand our call, our place, and our purpose” and “Unless you have gone down, you do not know what up is! ”  This is harder to explain, but let me try.  It is hard to change!  We have ingrained ways of thinking and behaving that have developed and solidified over many years.  Even though we may know being a perfectionist isn’t a healthy way of living, if it has served us well in the past–meaning we’ve gotten promoted, we’ve achieved success in our profession, we’ve received affirmation on our appearance, we’ve built the perfect home, birthed the “perfect” kids, and so forth–we are not likely to change until the house of cards falls down.  When the house of cards falls, if we scramble to rebuild the same house of cards back up, we will not have learned from the experience and tackled the perfectionism that will ultimately hurt us again.  We will keep repeating the same potentially destructive patterns.  It’s only when we allow the descent…don’t medicate from it by re-creating the same as before, by being busy to ignore the pain, by avoiding thinking about the questions of “what led to this happening,” or “why do I feel this way,” and so forth that we stand the chance of changing our path.  This is why so many second marriages fail.  We jump from one failed situation right into another relationship to avoid the pain of self-examination and learning what went wrong in the first marriage.  No surprise that the pattern that existed in the first marriage often shows itself in the next one.

In addition, it’s hard to know what a different way looks like–even with a health issue that perhaps won’t get better–it may only keep deteriorating.  But, if you live with the questions for a while, it’s amazing how the answers begin to present themselves.

We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times in our lifetime. There seems to be no better cauldron of growth and transformation.”  Georgetown taught us something called Adult Stage Development.  There are nine stages altogether and they’re organized into three overarching periods:  pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.  Most of the adult population is housed in the three conventional stages.  To move to those post conventional stages (which include “self-actualization” and “unitive” that Rohr and other mystics discuss) a person generally must “let go” of present ways of making meaning of life.  If we allow ourselves to embrace the pain, we can move to later stages of adult development.

“We seldom go freely into the belly of the beastUnless we face a major disaster such as the death of a friend or spouse or the loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go thereAs a culture, we have to be taught the language of descent because we are by training capitalists and accumulatorsThese dark periods are good teachers.”  If you examine literature from greats like Shakespeare, Austin, Dickens, even Rowling there is always a tragedy–some major crisis, disaster, or descent that the main character(s) experiences.  The author, poet, or playwright uses that difficulty to get to a deeper stream of consciousness…to learn some vital life lesson.  The same holds true in real life.


“We would prefer clear and easy answers, but questions hold the greatest potential for opening us to transformationWe try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the perilous dark path of contemplative prayer. Grace leads us to the state of emptiness—to a momentary sense of meaninglessness—in which we ask, “What is it all for?” The spaciousness within the question allows Love to fill and enliven us.”  I think Rohr says it best–no need for me to elaborate.


“Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, hibernation, initiation, and transformation. Yet we avoid this sacred space. When we avoid such darkness, we miss out on spiritual creativity and new awareness.”  This is powerful.  We are a pain avoidant society.  We medicate mostly through busyness, action, and we often avoid the pain of self-reflection and the hard work of change.  And, in all fairness, I get it–there is no short cut on transformation and it is grueling, at times thankless work.  I have a feeling Rohr will discuss the rewards of this hard work in later posts.  Peace, joy, patience, self-love and self-respect will likely be noted by Rohr…but we shall see!  Please join me for upcoming posts and don’t hesitate to throw your perspectives, experiences, insights out there for all of us to learn from!!




CATEGORY: All Posts, Lessons Learned, Other SWOG Blogs Referenced


Learning is my passion and life is my classroom of lessons I experience along the way.

Comments (2)

You make some great understanding available to us, Bev, through this post about “Falling Down to go up.”.
So much of this is about context and each individual’s conscious approach to stay in the pain, to learn from it while choosing to be there rather than running from it. The choice of being there is one of hypocrisy in our society but it is exactly what is missing and one of the pointed reasons our Christian religions and society in general is unable to truly grasp what spirituality is, in my opinion.
The contrast that is experienced when one chooses to fully be present in, and learn from, their discomfort is what cultivates the ability to live non-dualistic.
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” Pema Chodron

This is great Ivy! Would you be willing to elaborate on what you mean by your phrase “choosing to be fully present in and learn from their discomfort cultivates the ability to live non-dualistically?” Is it about–how do we minimize looking at things from polar opposite ends of a spectrum (right versus wrong, good versus bad, perfect versus screwed up, etc.) by staying in the present and experiencing what life brings us with all its ups and downs?

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