Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Grieving Unmet Needs

I had an epiphany last night at a meditation gathering. The topic of the evening was exploring the Buddhist approach to anger. At one point in the evening, we were paired up with a “buddy” to share something we felt angry about. With the support of our buddy, we were encouraged to look beneath the anger for the hurt underneath – the shame, the fear, or the sadness.

I related a “stuckness” I’ve been experiencing over a long ago situation with someone that has been stirred up recently. My efforts to forgive, to feel compassion, have tripped over my still simmering anger. After so many years of spiritual practice, my inability to release the anger and bitterness, especially over things that happened years ago, seemed silly and embarrassing. I mean really, I know better.

My buddy listened and then observed that I was patting my chest as I spoke. “Is that where you feel it?” he asked.

Yes, I realized. My heart hurt. Something softened.

“Perhaps,” he suggested gently, “you need to grieve your unmet needs.”


I saw so clearly then that up till that point, I had experienced the situation as an either/or choice. Forgiving the other person meant the dismissal or devaluation of what had been so hurtful to me. Recognizing the importance of releasing the anger, I had rationalized that what I had wanted and needed was insignificant, and that in any event, I didn’t get it, and I wasn’t going to get it now, so I should just get over it.

And how was that working for me? Hmm, not so great.

As acknowledgment of my deep hurt bloomed in my heart, anger at the other person melted into grief. The well of grief filled up and spilled over, spreading out and soaking into the parched ground as forgiveness and compassion. It didn’t even take any effort.

Recognizing and honoring the hurt didn’t increase the anger – it released it.

Today I feel sad, a good sad. And free.

And so humbly grateful.

[Note to buddy: Thank you for being a blessing to me.]

16 thoughts on “Grieving Unmet Needs”

  1. "Recognizing and honoring the hurt didn't increase the anger – it released it."
    Oh, Galen, how powerful, how cleansing, how restorative are these words! We do need to grieve the hurts of the past, weeping for ourselves as we forgive the one who inflicted them. As Jesus admonished, we need to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, an analogy, in my view, to endlessly. It is then that we can truly live.
    And yes, your buddy is a blessing!
    Blessings to you, dear friend!

  2. Thanks, Martha. I have spent this day still amazed at how simple and yet how profound this shift was last night. It changed everything. Now I'm focused not on what the other person did or didn't do, but on how to properly and effectively grieve. As I said, sad, but a good sad.

  3. That is beautiful. I'm sure I have some old anger and hurt that I could release, but after I read this and tried to find something to focus on, nothing happened. I suspect that now, after pondering for awhile, I'll find something and will also be healed. Thank you for sharing this, and I too thank your buddy. 🙂

  4. Thanks, DJan. If there is nothing there, that's great. I do not spend much time in anger at this point in my life, so I was surprised and dismayed that this issue got stirred up again. Clearly, I was not as finished with it as I thought I was. And that was because I had not fully acknowledged how hurt I was. I hope now I can truly let it go.

  5. Perhaps this is a continuation of the inner spiritual work that you have been going through, as you have expressed in other posts. This inner work is uncomfortable but rewarding. Thanks for sharing your story, Galen. I have been going through some inner work myself lately and I can relate to what you are saying. I read a quote recently, (can't remember who said it) that 'we are already spiritual beings but we have to learn to be human beings'. This is the challenge for our higher self, we have to learn how to live in these temporal biological dense energy bodies. One day we will flee the mortal form and move into true freedom and bliss. All this hard inner work somehow prepares us for even greater growth. Perhaps we never stop growing in spirit.

  6. That's a great quote, Brian–thanks for sharing it. Yes, I think I'm handling this better than I would have years ago. One of the traps of spiritual practice is the delusion that we won't still have challenges. Then we are disappointed in ourselves when we do — another trap. Releasing layers and layers. And even more layers.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experience and this wise insight. It led me to ponder my own experiences of being stuck in anger and not knowing how to move beyond.


  8. Glad this was helpful to you, and thank you for commenting, Jude. I'm still processing this insight for myself. What does grieving unmet needs look like? How do I even identify them? And how do I give myself permission to go through this process? Hmm, having the epiphany and allowing it to fully manifest seem to be two different things, at least for me. Stay tuned….

  9. 'Releasing layers and layers. And even more layers.'

    This is the spiritual life, its all about growth and becoming a better human being.

    It seems the spiritual practice is all about, the moving past the illusional and the delusional aspects of life. Challenges take us out of our comfort zone, where we can't control the outcome. We are forced into radical humility and we learn to trust in the power of love behind life, that is greater then the little 'I'. We all have to go through what Richard Rohr calls 'necessary suffering of being a human being' in his book Falling Upward. This suffering is what allows us to awaken to a greater awareness of who we really are at a deeper level. Challenges are what creates growth. If every day had sunshine and we never had clouds and rain, all growth would stop. We need the challenges and the struggle to grow to maturity. The greatest sign of spiritual maturity in people is the evidence of love, compassion and humility. It most cases it will be found in those among us who have had the greatest challenges in life.

    When I first started on the spiritual journey 40 years ago, I naively believed that life was going to be all a bed of roses , later I found that hidden amongst the roses were the thorns. Now, I realize that it was the mix of the thorns and the sweet roses that were all part of life as a human being; we can't have one without the other.

  10. Brilliant, Galen! I can go with that turning around of the problem, seeing it 'differently' makes all the difference and gets to the core of what is causing the trouble. It's more powerful and goes much deeper than trying to somehow 'superficially' forgive. It is the hurt that causes the anger, so dealing with the hurt makes perfect sense! Interesting also regarding the physical gestures we make when talking about something that goes deep, they can reveal so much. Counsellors look out for those with good reason – they can be worked with to get to the 'heart' of the matter. Many thanks!

  11. That conversation I had with my "buddy" was really an opening for me. I do see things differently and I feel unstuck. Not sure where this is all leading, but it seems to be a needed direction. As one author titled his book, a path with heart.

  12. I loved this one Beth. The truth is we may all bury that kind of anger resulting from true insult or demeaning hurt. I am working on rewording your post to meet my own personal need. Acknowledging the reality of the hurt is a good start for me. Thank you.


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