Who said Gods don’t suffer? And who said that suffering is bad?
Without some pain, how can we gain? Love is made pure more by the pain than bliss. You can use your pain to know your heart. Use the
hurts of the heart to know it’s depths. The heart often finds itself by allowing itself to be hurt, over and over again until we discover what is being hurt.
Viktor Frankl, in his book "Man’s Search for Meaning," offers a penetrating vision into the realities of human suffering. Founder of the third way movement of psychology in Austria, Frankl was the only one in his family to survive the concentration camps in Germany. You will find some of his deeply poignant words in this chapter. Today’s world is seeing a flurry of new philosophies that undercut the nature of our souls and Frankl’s words offer us profundity based on personal experience. At heart and in essence these new philosophies are anti suffering philosophies that try to teach us to feel good and think positively. Some label and frame all emotions as toxic affairs to be transmuted through nifty techniques. Some of these people actually believe or live with the judgment that only the happy can be healthy. Many people want to believe that suffering and pain are not real, that they are just illusions of the ego. As such they believe that suffering can and should be controlled and transcended in an absolute way.
Suffering offers us opportunities to grow but we normally don’t want to look at it that way.
Standings against this perverse wind are some of the giants of psychology and spirituality. Carl Jung said "Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." Scott Peck said, "The tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Buddha of course said, "Life is suffering." Peck starts out his book The Road Less Traveled with these words, "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it." All of this does not mean that we are destined to suffer or that we need to suffer; but if suffering is our truth, we need to understand that suffering completely to transcend it, and it also means that us more fortunate happy ones need to understand the suffering of others or we stand to loose something important, our soul. Truly anyone who believes they can avoid all suffering in life is a fool. Not the divine spontaneous type but the serious, cold, judgmental type that is extremely dangerous to be around. It is one of the reasons, and the mark of such a person, to believe in these types of beyond suffering systems. Viktor Frankl speaks thus:
"When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden."
"There was plenty of suffering for us to get through (in the concentration camps). It was necessary to face up to the full amount of suffering, trying to keep moments of weakness and furtive tears to a minimum. But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer."
Research into the design of the brain shows that we often have little or no control over when we are swept away by feelings and emotion. Feelings are just that, our spontaneous ‘being’ responses to what is happening in our life. Emotions are sustained feelings that reflect more our reaction to our feelings and thoughts about our feelings. In normal circumstances what we can have control over is how long our emotions last and what we will learn from each experience. What must be understood though is that each person’s situation is unique and there are extraordinary circumstances that people often find themselves in that only beg us for our understanding and compassion. Frankl’s words offer a trip into a human landscape that offers us soul understanding. And it is just the too common pattern of denial, denial that the death camps even existed, that shows us mans deep tendency to avoid suffering and forget about his soul.
Every person, at some time or other, undergoes painful life experiences. Pain and suffering are universal human constants. For those who suffer the deep pains of the heart it is sometimes helpful to remember the suffering of the rest of humanity. No one really enjoys the pain of suffering and most are anxiously trying to escape through many of the ways currently available in modern society. But it is impossible to grow or change unless we embrace the darker side of our consciousness. Real growth and change almost always involves some sort of conscious suffering because the problem almost always lies inside of our own self. Anytime that we are threshed out on the floor, there is something that we are not seeing, something to learn. The conquest of suffering does not mean that we will never ever feel pain. It just means that we will know what to do when powerful feelings and thoughts overcome our inner peace. When we touch upon the full truth of who we are, which is what the heart represents, we meet both the positive and negative sides of our nature.
Frankl said about this:
"From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities, which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp."
Openhearted people seem to suffer more simply because they are more open to feel. And heart oriented people seem to suffer more because they make themselves more vulnerable to seeing their most basic flaws and mistakes. Our pride is always hoping to look a little better than we actually feel and it is this pride that separates us both from the pain, the heart, and any real growth in our beings. Pride protects us from pain because locked up behind our pride are our vulnerabilities; our imperfections, errors, blindness, selfishness, insecurities, jealousies and aggressiveness. It takes courage and a dedication to truth to look directly at our own blindness.
Suffering is central to our spiritual evolution.
Perhaps we can penetrate deeper into the nature of life and suffering if we can look at a family of word pairs that describe the bi-polar nature of humanity. Many people react to concepts like good Vs bad but they are just words/concepts that relate to any of the below dualities.
- Good – bad
- Right – wrong
- Positive – negative
- Open – closed
- Listening – non-listening
- Healthy – sick
- Decent – indecent
- Honest – dishonest
- Caring – uncaring
- Remember – forget
- Acceptance – denial
- Strong – Weak
When one side of the above dualities meets up and had to deal with the other, there is a struggle, a conflict, a mixing of contrary forces that have to work their way back into harmony and union. When the closed meets the open, the listener the non-listener, there is a challenge that must be faced. The struggle between the opposites happens both internally and externally our social affairs. In general we can reduce the above to heart Vs non-heart.
What marks a person with little or no heart, what we might call the indecent or truly mental man, is an attitude that scoffs at the suffering of others; an attitude that sees others who feel, suffer, cry and experience the occasional agony of being a being on this planet as beneath their dignity. These people loose all sense of compassion and these attitudes block all capacity for empathy. Dangerous to be around, such people truly challenge the souls of the descent people they touch. A great aspect of life and suffering is seen in the struggle between these two groups, the decent and indecent. In the bible and in most films this is framed as the struggle between good and evil. Peck uses the terms sick self and healthy self when referring to the internal nature of this battle that goes on even in the most noble of noble souls.
The issues surrounding the heart, issues of love, are painful. Many people are afraid to risk opening to the deepest feelings of the heart because the predominant experience of life, on the heart level, is the hurting of love. There is in every one of us is a child who wants to love and be loved. The nature of life in our society has forced most people to retire behind walls of emotional scar tissue and through this highly defensive posture begin to loose touch with their own basic needs. Young children have not yet built up these defensive barriers and that is what makes them so vulnerable. People who believe that all suffering is ego oriented are blind to the vulnerability of being and how that being can be hurt. Our beings can be hurt and are hurt by some of the painful circumstances and realities of life. And we hurt ourselves when we do not choose correctly in our dealings with others, and in dealing with the conflicting aspects of our own inner nature.
Ego hurt is one thing, the hurting of our being another. When we have situations that trigger our egos, we have the heart and being that suffers from the ego trips that drag our soul into the mud. But when the being is hurt then often the struggle is born by the mind and how that mind reacts and responds and negotiates the pain of the being determines everything. Frankl speaks of this when he says:
"No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. One had to give them a why – an aim – for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence."
It is difficult for the heart tuned to love to take the poverty of love that exists between human beings.
Fate has it that often decent people are confronted with indecent people and that interaction often tests the measure of our soul. And each of us has to meet up with our own indecent aspect of self. What makes a person essentially indecent is a refusal to meet up with his or her own indecent aspects of self and deal with it in ‘decent’ ways.
Our spirituality actually is a reflection of this process. It means looking at what is actually happening in and around us. To open to our pain, is to open to our vulnerability, and in reality this is the easiest and quickest way to expand our capacity for love and joy. That is why the most open beings never seem beaten or depressed by difficult life circumstances. They have learned to take the hardest knocks because they have not avoided the arduous aspects of life. Love is not always playful with those who consciously seek the light.
Those who avoid pain and suffering are not very authentic people and are not the kind of people we want to trust.
Strong are the consequences when a reasonably decent person deals incorrectly with an indecent person. Or when a descent person has an indecent one raping their way down their throat. Our confrontations with the dark side of others and ourselves are telling. We have many choices and options in this and those choices we make reflect the delicate balance inside of us between light and dark. It is exactly these confrontations that test that internal balance in our personalities and in our beings. Someone wrote me that they had a friend who was moving back in with her husband, a man who has beaten her to a pulp, stalked her and threatened to kill her many times. Obviously in her confrontations with this ‘devil’ her own devil or weakest side was winning out. We all have to face this in big ways and in small subtle ways sooner or later in our lives. Our decisions on this level often determine our fate when it comes to suffering. Often these decisions are the most important ones we make in life.
When Christ said to himself, "devil get thee behind me" he was not hallucinating a being with a tail inside of himself, he was merely naming an indecent (weak, impure, a thought, doubt, fear) aspect of self which was needing to be vanquished. It’s the same often in a social sense when we have to come up with highly intelligent strategies in our dealing with indecent people. George Bernanos, a French novelist and journalist says, "It will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction… but the docility, the lack of responsibility." There is a struggle, a confrontation, a needed action between the conflicting forces and types of energy that are prevalent in human life. Sometimes that action can be as simple as a new focus of awareness, a getting in touch with our deepest needs and feelings and communicating them simply but powerfully to others. Other times a protective use of force is necessary to protect life and individual rights. Or as therapist Helene Brun says about abuse inside of relationships, "I believe a person in an abusive relationship should be prepared to leave it. When people are capable of walking out, things tend to be more workable at home. An inner resolve not to take abuse can actually help ward it off." This entire subject of power, the ability to act, respond and take responsibility with be dealt with fully in the chapter on Beautiful Power.
How we relate internally to our own personal suffering and the suffering of others sheds much light on the basic foundations of our personalities. And it shows whether we are in touch with our being. There are many people who have not had hardships in their life, and so they simply won’t understand other people’s suffering because they haven’t been there. Feelings and emotions belong more to the territory of our beings then the accelerated thinking content of the mind. In a fast society slow emotions become extinct and this casts a shadow across the landscape of our souls. Sushil Yadav of Delhi, India says that a fast large society cannot feel pain, remorse or empathy and this lack is seen in cruel behaviors, in cruelty towards others, and toward the environment in general. In his work Yadav offers the following equation: Empathy = Sadness + Worry (for the suffering of others). He says that empathy activates the same parts of the brain (neural circuits) that are activated by sadness and worry. He sees that sadness and worry (for the suffering of others) are emotions of the highest order. But he states that in societies where visual and verbal speeds are accelerated it is much more difficult to experience the remorse and empathy of our heart and beings. What he is really saying in reality is that it is ‘almost’ impossible for the heart to exist in modern society.
When emotions are too subdued and muted, they create a coldness of being, dullness a distance, a lack of caring for what is really important in life.
One thousand years ago visuals would change only when man physically moved himself to a new place or when other people (animals / birds) and objects (clouds/ water) physically moved themselves before him. Today man sits in front of TV and watches the rapidly changing visuals. He sits in his vehicles and as they move he watches the rapidly changing visuals. The speed of visuals (and words) has increased so much during the last one hundred years that today the human brain has become bored of and thus becomes incapable of focusing on slow visuals. The past ten years has seen rapid acceleration in films and television as programmers have become increasingly sensitive to the need for more and more accelerated image flows to capture the attention, and thus money of their audiences. The problem though, as Yadav reminds us, is this all makes it harder and harder to experience our slower emotions. So he warms that in modern fast societies our slowest and highest emotions become extinct. This speaks of the death of the human soul. Today there are many kinds of fast thinking that have replaced our slower emotions. Scientific and technical thinking is fast as is industrial and business thinking. As long as the mind is doing this kind of thinking it becomes more difficult to feel emotion.
There is much to be said for the constructive contribution of suffering to creative and spiritual life; suffering can temper the soul.
– Daniel Goleman
As the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman shows, the quality of our life is very much linked to our ability to capture the meaning of our emotions. If we are not even able to feel them, we are in trouble. Many of the physical aliments of modern man are direct results of the cut off of emotions. As emotions, feelings and communication get cut off the body goes into crises of tension and stress. All the armies of doctors and medicines and psychologists have not been able to stem the flood of disease and the agony of souls that are cut off from the slow moving currents of emotion.
On this planet there is no such thing as perfect happiness and joy. There is no such thing as a life without difficulties and challenges. Even the very highest and most achieved beings have their difficulties and challenges and to pretend otherwise is to lead others astray into illusions and deceptions yet we find many of the ‘seemingly’ most evolved beings doing just that. To avoid suffering is the worst possible strategy we can have in life. We can never transcend what we avoid. The goal is not emotional suppression or artificial self-images of false happiness and bliss. Life without passion, emotion and even suffering speaks of a wasteland of neutrality; it speaks of life cut off from meaning and the impulse to evolve our beings. Both mental and spiritual health depends on our ability to feel our emotions and legitimate sufferings. The problems and challenges we all face give life its meaning and conscious suffering is part of that process.
All of this, the struggle to grow and live life calls forth our courage and wisdom; indeed, it is this process that actually demands and creates that very courage and wisdom to move through it all. We grow mentally and spiritual by confronting our problems and by feeling our feelings. In this we suffer but we evolve and grow. Of course finding a balance in all of this, when possible, is a secret to a healthy and happy life.