The Danger of Spiritual Sound Bites

One of my least favorite things is the spiritual sound bite – that little saying with a bow on top that sounds deep and meaningful, but is really just something we say in the face of great loss or heartache that might actually make things worse, like “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose everything that happens to you” or “when the universe takes something away it’s making room for something better.”

The truth is, heart-shattering things happen to beautiful, kind, incredible people every single day. Spiritual sound bites make me twitch because while they may be stated or posted with the intention of helping, they’re going to alienate people who are truly suffering, and possibly compound their pain. Imagine a grieving parent seeing a post that says “everything happens for a reason” or “you choose what happens to you.” Even if you believe those statements to be true, it must be clear how painful it would be to read something like that when a whole person has been ripped from your life and it’s the very last thing you would ever want or choose.

It’s my passionate belief that a worthwhile spiritual practice ought to be there for you when the ground falls out from beneath your feet. That’s the point of practice. It’s not to make everything okay. Everything will not always be okay, and that isn’t because there’s some master plan “the universe” has for your life or mine. There are 7.5 billion of us here on planet earth, and we’re talking about one solar system in a vast universe. You think “the universe” has time to be concerned with the weather on my wedding day or yours? Or that if something incomprehensible happens it will make sense one day?

A meaningful practice will give you some kind of ground to fall down on and grieve. It will give you a place to rest when you’re done shaking your fists at the sky. After a while, it will be the foundation you walk on when you start putting one foot in front of the other and are ready to feel the sun on your face again. But it won’t make everything okay, it will just offer you the soil to grow beauty from your pain and rise from the ashes like a phoenix, or from the mud like a lotus flower.

Please don’t let spiritual sound bites get you down or make you feel like you’re failing in your practice. Sometimes the only work is to allow your heart to break fully and to keep breathing. That’s as spiritual as it gets.

Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

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2 thoughts on “The Danger of Spiritual Sound Bites”

  1. That was such a helpful reflection Ally, and deeply resonated with me. For so many years I have heard such spiritual sound bites in situation which were not okay, senseless, heart breaking or unfair, and those statements left me even more in despair and pain and left me feeling more inadequate. I appreciate that it is caused by the discomfort those situations create and the desperate attempt to find meaning to deal with that. However, an open ear, a hug and a simple “I don’t know what to say” feel more supportive for me. Some of those spiritual bites even imply sometimes a kind of responsibility that those things happened in someones life. One I really struggle with is “you reap what you sow” – no I didn’t. So thank you.

    1. Hi Martina! I also think people mean well when they say these things, but offering empathy and a hug are better options. I think many people have a hard time sitting quietly with someone else’s pain. Sending you love and a big hug.

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