Healing through grief, fear, and despair

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Disclosure: Links to bookshop.org below (noted with an asterisk) are affiliate links, meaning that I will receive a small commission—at no additional cost to you—if you purchase something after there clicking through to that link.

The times of brokenness in our lives inevitably come with a heaping dose of powerful emotions that we’d really rather not experience. You know the ones I mean—grief, fear, and despair. Those painful, oppressive ones that make us feel like we’ve been dropped into a deep pit with no way out.

For most of us, when we think about healing, what we really want is for those emotions to go away. We’ll do all kinds of things to try to avoid them, control them, repress them, or push them away. Anything to make it stop!

When I was going through some of the worst of my own times of brokenness several years ago, I came across Miriam Greenspan’s book Healing through the Dark Emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair* in my own desperate search to find some way to make the pain stop.

There were several things I found in this book that have changed my relationship to these powerful emotions. She changed the way I thought of these emotions, she completely changed my approach to dealing with them and how I thought of healing, and she provided real tools to help me live into this new approach.

You might notice in her book title that she refers to these emotions as “dark emotions” instead of the more commonly heard “negative emotions,” and she does this for a reason. She argues that despite the fact that we find these emotions unpleasant, they aren’t actually negative or bad. They are a normal, healthy response to certain circumstances that we are just unprepared to deal with.

She calls them “dark” both because of our lack of understanding of them and because they are more appropriately thought of as the dark, fertile soil from which wisdom and healing can grow. In fact, she specifically calls it healing through the dark emotions NOT healing from them because they are helpful to us when we deal with them properly.

By heading directly into the darkness of these emotions with the knowledge of how to transform them into something more, we come out the other side with our hands full of treasure rather than trying (in vain) to flee from that which can’t be escaped. The only real way out is through.

That changes the whole way we need to approach them, doesn’t it? It shifts from being about getting away from these emotions (even when we’re finding them unpleasant) and becomes instead about moving through them to extract all of the wisdom and healing they have to offer.

As wonderful as this possibility sounds, most of us have no idea how to accomplish any of this in practice (I know I didn’t!), and this book doesn’t leave us hanging. She not only offers personal examples from her own life and from the lives of her clients, she also provides a whole range of practical exercises to use for finding our own way to transform these emotions into healing.

Because this book has been so helpful to me and because its theme mirrors the idea of kintsugi living so closely, I’ve chosen it as our first book club selection. It’s been several years since I read it, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it with discussion partners.

If the idea appeals to you, I hope you’ll visit the new Kintsugi living book club page to learn more about how this online book club will work and how to join us!

Whether you plan to join us or not, if you’ll like to get your own copy to read, it’s available in hardback, paperback, various ebook formats, and in audiobook through bookshop.org* (which supports independent bookstores) or on the publisher’s website. It was originally published in 2003, so used editions are also available, and there’s a good chance you can find it at your local library.

I do hope you’ll consider joining us in the book club for discussion of this transformative book!


* Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links, meaning that I will receive a small commission—at no additional cost to you—if you purchase something there after clicking through to that link.

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