Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Suffering, and Becoming

I had a sudden realization recently, that I felt compelled to share. But, I feel like I need to lay some thought-groundwork first to set up where it's coming from. So, what comes first are some possibly-disjointed thoughts and philosophical snippets which tend to bounce around in the rattling bingo cage that is my mind. . (Bibliography and inspiration/sources available on request. Likewise, If you want to skip this part, scroll down to cut to the chase.)

The natural state of the human being is open, curious about the world, and actively compassionate. Anything that deviates from that standard indicates an emotional wound that lies unaddressed, and unhealed.

"In the presence of Love, that which is unlike Love comes forth to be purified."

The ego's job is to protect the self against all attacks--real or imagined.  Yeah--it's the imagined part that's the problem. The ego takes everything personally.   It can't grasp that it's not the center of the universe.  All the cool kids know this:  Buddha, Jesus, Buber, Khan, Rumi, Tolle, Walshe...that whole crowd. They say it a lot better than I do, but the bottom line is always:  "You're not who you think you are--you have no limits, and we are all One. The same. God."

Decisions we make about our lives--to be more patient, to eat less chocolate, to finally write that novel--are often met, almost immediately, with a host of obstacles that seemingly come out of nowhere.   If I say, "I'd like to be more patient," that intention is not rewarded with a sense of serenity and a feeling of calm as we move through our days. On the contrary, it's as if Life itself is conspiring to give us opportunities to work on that very skill.  That is, our patience will be tested. Constantly.  The thing is, this isn't personal. It's just the way it goes.  Were given plenty of chances to say, "On second thought, no thanks. I'm good."  This is what free will is about. We have the option to say, "No, thank you" to what we know is in our best, highest interest. And, in the end, in the largest sense, it's okay if we do. The chance will come again to grab (or not) for the gold ring. Maybe not in this lifetime, but eventually, we'll make the choice to go for our highest, greatest vision of ourSelves.

Some schools of thought phrase it in terms of a "Breakthrough/Breakdown" cycle. After a "Breakthrough" (a powerful, profound realization combined with an intention for some sort of transformation in one's life), comes close on its heels, a "Breakdown" (life circumstances, events, and personal resistance that challenge one's resolve to follow through). It's a constant cycle, and though it's easy to take it personally, even to the point that it appears a super-human battle on an epic scale--a fight against "temptation" and even "The Devil" himself--it's just not. This gives an outsized amount of personal authority to this impersonal cycle. It also allows us not to take any responsibility for saying "Never Mind" to what we say we want as our higher good.

Every religious and spiritual tradition teaches that we ultimately are here on Earth to recognize our identity with God--to realize that there is no separation, to become One with All That Is. At the core of these teachings is the commandment to love each other as oneself. To practice compassion, to be our brother's keeper, to break down the walls that make us think we are separate and apart from each other--in short, to live in such a way that we are the very embodiments of the holy spirit of Love and Compassion. The Kingdom of God is Within, and there is no Without.

God is the impersonal energy of Creative Love, manifested personally. God creates in order to know Itself. It just creates, and creates, and creates again. Because that's what Love does.  It really doesn't care about who wins a football game, or what the building looks like which we have built to honor It. It is the Great What-Have-You. The Ineffable Mystery of Everything. It honestly doesn't care what you think, say, or do. It has no need to take offense. Does a river care if you throw a stone into it? Or curse it? Or even look at it? It's the same with Love. It simply Is. It will continue to flow and do Its work whether you "put in" or not.

Cut to the chase:

So, why do we suffer? Why is there so much suffering and pain in the world? I've been thinking on this a lot lately. And something finally gelled for me, which leads me to share this post.

I came to this inquiry about suffering on learning about the family of a child who passed away recently. This child had a recurrence of cancer, and their home was burglarized while he was in treatment. Throughout it all, they steadfastly refused to be anything but loving in their viewpoints and their approach to their circumstances. They were active in philanthropic organizations, and raised some $300,000 dollars for cancer research in the past six years; and, the father's eulogy was a love letter and a promise to the children who knew and loved this valiant young man. They chose powerfully, deliberately, to live and cultivate Love, and that radiance was, and still is, palpable. 

I sat with my heart torn open by the beauty, perfection, joy, pain, and loss that is inherent in this worldly life, and I felt like some puzzle pieces started fitting together, helping me understand in a new way, this piece of the picture.

What if--just what if--we really did come into this world, charged with the Self-initiated task of realizing ourselves as Love Itself? (This is not a new idea, of course.) But to extrapolate from other teachings, what if the very act of being born is a Breakthrough in the soul's evolutionary cycle?  We make a resolution to stand for Love (and it's not enough to know ourselves as Love, we have to choose to experience it as our Truth) Then, from the moment we get slapped by some guy in a mask, we're in Breakdown--the basically impersonal process by which we can take responsibility for defining and creating ourSelves as Love.  And this includes no less than giving it, allowing it--recognizing (at long last) our own inherent worth to receive caring and love from others.

So, you wanted to come here to practice Love, eh? You're on: I'll give you plenty of opportunities to be Loving.  Try this on for size: You're born into unimaginable poverty. Or maybe you're born into unimaginable wealth.  You have a genetic disorder. Your nerves don't work. You can't walk. Your child has cancer. You will be a target for other people's pain. You'll be used,  abused, attacked, emotionally extorted, and bullied. What do you stand for?  In the face of the "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," how will you move through your days? Will you still Love? Do you still want to do this? Really? How about now? What about this? Or this?  

Pain, the despair of feeling isolated, disease, strife, world tumult, it all shows up in our awareness; and every time, it's as if Life itself is asking us what we stand for. 

I think, when all is said and done, suffering is a test of our resolve to Love. In the face of suffering, Love can be a fierce, defiant choice.  All the things that befall us in our lives, all that we witness and help (or not), every injustice we ignore or wrong we seek to right, is a challenge to our pre-birth resolve to be Loving.  So if we take the viewpoint that we are in agreement with this spiritual task in our lives, we are in choice, and we are not victims. We can start to recognize that it's not personal, though we often experience it that way. It's about what we choose, putting us in charge of our capacity to love.  We choose to stay with our Big Task, or not. Every moment. We're in choice, all the time. There's no "have-to" and no punishment awaiting us if we don't go along. At any point, at any given moment of the day, we have the option to say, "You know what? No. I don't wanna." We can give in, it happens all the time. Most of us live our entire lives this way. But if, in our spiritual prep-time, we'd already made the pledge to come here to find, express, and be Love, maybe we can start seeing suffering as a means to prove ourselves and what we stand for.   Maybe we can afford to see suffering as part of the process of becoming Love.

Now, I'm finding myself--when confronted with some ego-trigger or I witness someone's painful circumstance--starting to reframe events and circumstances in these terms. (It's not that huge of a shift, really--just taking a slightly larger view of what I already know.) I'm feeling more inclined now, to remind myself, "This is a test. This is only a test. What do you stand for? Be that."  The result: it's not only making it easier to transcend the "bad stuff", but it also has the unintended happy side-effect of deepening and clarifying my experience of the "good stuff.".  Even if I'm wrong about all of it, everything I've written here--so what? It's enhancing my experience of my life.



  1. Thanks, Vince. Your depth and perspective inspire.

  2. Bingo! Today I was ready for this message.