Drop the Experts & Let Love Lead. ~ Susan Thesenga

Via elephant journal
on Apr 8, 2013
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listen to your heart

Five steps to a healthier life; ten ways to be happy in your old age—these days the universal pursuit of happiness seems to have come down to following the enumerated summaries of experts.

I’m done with that. Ever since I left Al-Anon meetings, I feel done with the 12 (or five or ten or eight-fold) steps to liberation.

In fact, I’m done with experts.

When my daughter was in the grips of an extreme drug addiction which took her to the very bottom, I consulted many experts and followed many steps in seeking recovery—mine and hers.

In the end, I realized that everybody has their own description of what’s wrong and everybody has their own imagined solution to the problem. But nobody (at least of the many experts I consulted) considered that what was happening might be exactly what was supposed to be happening—that maybe nothing was wrong and nothing needed to be fixed.

It’s true that she was afflicted with a disease that might have killed her. It’s true that some forms of treatment and spiritual practice could and did help us. But there was no easy solution, no guaranteed roadmap to recovery.

Mostly, this challenging situation simply had to be lived through, with as much loving acceptance as possible, until it was done.

As I deepened in acceptance of myself and of my daughter, I also realized that no one knew or loved my daughter as much as I did, and that this love was the best and only life-line that I could offer her. I was able to take what felt true from every expert I consulted and every path I followed, but in the end the only thing that mattered was to listen to the love in my own heart and never to betray the bond of love I shared with my daughter.

Though I set boundaries and refrained from enabling, I never closed my heart (even though that meant tolerating many moments of intense emotional pain, shattering disappointment and stabbing heartbreak). I never broke off contact with my daughter, even though this was advised by many experts.

My daughter knew I loved her unconditionally and that she could count on me whenever she was ready to come off the streets.

She was one of the lucky ones—she came back.

For seven years now, she has lived a clean and sober lifestyle and is a wonderful mother to two young children. However, on the way to sobriety, she was kicked out of numerous drug treatment programs and relapsed more times than I can count.

For awhile, in her attempt to get clean, she followed an Amazonian shamanic path. She got clean in her own way, just as I found my own path by breaking free from the experts’ advice on how best to help her.

I was talking recently to a friend who helps families care for the bodies of their loved ones after death. She broke with all the conventional ideas and expertise about how to treat dead bodies when her own six-year old daughter died suddenly in an air bag accident. The hospital was about to send the girl’s body to the funeral home, but my friend protested.

She let her mother’s heart lead, and demanded to have the girl’s body given to her, so she could care for this child’s body after death, just as she had before her daughter’s birth and for the girl’s six years of life. She had to fight with the hospital, but she won that right—and has gone on to help other families to trust their own hearts in finding how to care for the bodies of departed loved ones rather than submit to the experts of the death industry.

Whatever the challenge—a drug-addicted daughter or son, a dying or dead child, a failed relationship, or your own terminal diagnosis—I urge you to stop and listen to your own heart.

What are you being called to do for yourself or for a loved one? Get professional advice, but then let it go. It doesn’t matter what everyone tells you should be done, or what is the expected and conventional thing to do.

Forget the experts on this disease or on that life crisis.

Just stop. Listen to your heart. You know. No one else does. Listen and then follow the heart’s wisdom. Stay true to that. Only that will bring the satisfaction of having done the right thing.

Trust the unbroken, unconditional, indestructible love that lives within you, as you.


Susan ThesengaSusan Thesenga has been a spiritual teacher for forty years. In 1972 she and her husband founded Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison, Virginia, where they still live and work. She is the author of The Undefended Self, a summary of steps on the spiritual path, and of Love Unbroken: From Addiction to Redemption, co-written with her daughter Pamela about Pam’s ten-year battle with addiction and the unusual path to recovery they both followed.





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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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15 Responses to “Drop the Experts & Let Love Lead. ~ Susan Thesenga”

  1. Kaffirlily says:

    Thank you, this is just exactly what I needed to read right now.

  2. Nicolette says:

    <3, beautiful

  3. Claire says:

    It is beautiful the way that you have integrated the essence of the 12 (or five or ten or eight-fold) steps to liberation into your life. In the end they all speak to the love and compassion you found for yourself and your daughter. It takes strength and courage to allow that wisdom to emerge from deep inside.

  4. Susan — Your story and your excellent book LOVE UNBROKEN are reminders that life itself presents a spiritual discipline if we go at it with awareness, intent, and dedication. But no discipline is meant to be easy, or mastered in a step-by-step fashion. All the great spiritual teachings were founded by visionaries who broke with tradition and cultural expectations to become their own "experts" in the struggle that life on earth presents.There's something in the Western mindset that leads us to believe that all our difficulties should be "fixed" so that everyday living is always trending upward on some internal chart of success. But as you suggest, the best we can do is stay true to the inner guidance that love can provide if we keep listening to it… and see what happens next.

  5. sweet says:

    Great article, and the last few lines sent a shiver down my spine, of understanding. Sound advice, the heart knows some things that the mind and reason don't get. People need to respond when the message is coming from their heart, it means being true to yourself. If something makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, it's in your power to walk away. No explanation needed.

  6. Susan thesenga says:

    thanks for noticing Patrick! It's taken a long time to get clear what felt right to post in this venue. I didn't feel right advocating for this or that…just for listening to the love in our hearts. Thanks for all your encouragement along the way.

  7. D Meyer says:

    In the past 10 years research findings show that addictions are a brain disease. Ingesting alcohol and other drugs reduces stress levels and the mid-brain interprets stress reduction as positive. Positive messages stimulate larger quantities of dopamine deposited in the blood stream. The alcoholic brain "likes" the accompanied stress reduction. Recent fMRI studies of addicts show that as these addicts drink or drug to excess their frontal lobes actually go dark. Long-term substance abuse does result in early death. People who have addiction prone mid-brain cells can quit but often return to drinking or drugging even after long term sobriety. Yet, "strength, courage, conviction, love, wisdom, compassion, et al. do support a sober life.12-step programs rely on inner "psychic change" and "spiritual awakening." Human beings often respond within a community of other human beings.The book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong internalizes how all of can internalize the "Charter for Compassion" developed by sages throughout human history to adopt spiritual behaviors to eliminate our many addictions including selfish bombastic egoism.

  8. I have no doubt addiction is a brain disease. It became clear to me that addicts process substances differently from others. Instead of getting the message that they've had enough, or way too much, they get the opposite message–that they just need more. It helps those of us who love an addict to realize that it is a disease and not a moral failing, or a lack of will power. A recent book by David Sheff called Clean details the research on addiction as a disease. One of the endorsers of my book Dr. Gabor Mate, has written another wonderful book on addiction called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, which details the lives of many addicts and the serious trauma that usually underlies addiction and which changes the way the brain works.

  9. thanks Claire. Yes, in the end they all speak to the same love and compassion – and that is what matters, not the outer forms of the many paths. Best to you, Susan

  10. smallgrl says:

    I love this…was just writing a piece with a similar theme, in that while it's important to be open to receiving help, we can't ever depend on it and expect it to fix us. We can use that information, tools, and resources to guide us, but in the end only we know what's right.

    I find a lot of people like to blame the (medical) system for this or that, but if we took this kind of empowering approach more often, I think we as a society would be so much more at peace.

    I applaud you for having the bravery to stick it out during these rough times and follow your gut, rather than listening to the 'experts.' And then being brave enough to write about it – wow. Super inspiring.

  11. Thanks "smallgirl" (with big heart!). You might enjoy reading my book Love Unbroken which details the journey my daughter and I took (she co-wrote it with me). See the website http://www.loveunbroken.org (or get it on amazon–it's cheaper there!). I totally agree that taking our own authority means letting go of blame and dependency…and is the only way to peace.

  12. thanks, smallgrl (with big heart!). Yes, it was quite a journey through rough times, as depicted in our book Love Unbroken http://www.loveunbroken.org (or get it cheaper at amazon!). And I certainly agree that the way to peace lies in taking authority for our own lives and releasing all blame, resentment, guilt and demand on others. thanks for being inspired! susan

  13. ggarciaordonez says:

    That's so beautiful and so true, Susan! Thanks for saying it clear & loud, thanks for sharing it with us. Well done to you and to your brave daughter. What a journey life is!

    Would love to know more about this friend of yours. Is there any blog/website/profile I could follow?

    Sending you all love xxxx

  14. Carol says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  15. MatBoy says:

    Yes, in our society there are so many experts and businesses that want to tell you how to handle something, including the death industry that wants to take bodies away immediately, at a price, or hospitals and doctors who want to tell us what is best, often best for their bottom line. Listening to your heart and doing what you think is best is not encouraged by profit-seekers. Thank you for this article, you have dealt with one of life's deep problem by listening to your heart. Bravo!