Monday, January 29, 2007
SUFFERING AS SOUL MAKING
“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the Shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung, Alchemical Studies, Vol 15, p. 470
SUFFERING AND SOUL MAKING
Jesus once healed a man that had been born blind. There were people who had known the sightless man from infancy. They asked Jesus a philosophical question:
“As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:1-2
Jesus indicated that there were three possible reasons for the man’s suffering, or what moderns might call pathology:
1. His own immoral choices: Personal Responsibility
2. The abuse or immoral choices of others: Abusive Victimization
3. The direct work of God: Suffering as Soul Making.
This story in the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel is fascinating because it recognizes three explanations for human suffering. Quite often, we pick just one explanation. For example:
1. Personal Responsibility : Christians typically choose the first explanation, teaching that problems come from “this man.” In other words, it is our sins which bring about our maladies and sufferings.
Christians point to a statement from the Apostle Paul which says, “The wages of sin is death.” Non-Christians are sent to hell for their sins. Christians, while saved, ruin their personal lives and ‘walk with God’ through their sins of choice.
However, this is true of the New Age followers as well. It is normal to hear a New Age adherent say, “Your consciousness created this negative condition in your life. If you keep your mind in the light, you'll be healthy and prosperous."
So both traditional Christians and modern New Agers frequently point to personal sin or ego as the cause of suffering.
2. Abusive Victimization: Modern psychotherapy tends to focus on the second explanation, teaching that “his parents sinned.” In other words, we are victims of the wrong and hurtful behaviors of others. While most therapists will encourage their clients to take personal responsibility, they often name the past abuser as the cause or reason for the neurosis, psychosis, dysfunction or disorder.
The Christian religion also says that the human race suffers disease and death because we all sinned and fell into suffering when Adam ate from the tree in the Garden of Eden. This has been called Original Sin.
3. Suffering as Soul Making: Jesus presents a third alternative which I call Soul-Making. This point of view holds that problems arrive “so that the work of God might be displayed in (ones) life.” In other words, my problems have nothing to do with the sin’s of others or my own sin. This point of view sees suffering as being a necessary and normal part of the Intelligent Cosmos. Just as icy comets smashed into the earth to supply life sustaining water, so meteoric suffering smashes into my psyche in order to “do the work of God.”
ALL THREE EXPLANATIONS HOLD TRUTH
I suspect that all three explanations are true at times, often simultaneously. Clearly, we have all experienced "past abuse” from others (often parents) that caused us suffering. Likewise, there are times our own negative thinking or behavior attracts afflictions and ailments into our lives. These two causative sources keep many Americans in therapy or church, getting healed or saved.
However, we must make adequate room for this third option – seeing that problems arrive directly from God in order to teach us. If you bristle at the notion of God (or the gods) bringing suffering, perhaps it is time to consider re-visioning your concept of the Divine. If you bristle at the term God or gods, then call It Spirit or the Intelligent Universe. The terminology is not as important as the concept.
LIVING IN THE TRIADOX
Dr. M. Scott peck recognized these three options, or what he calls a 'triadox' instead of a paradox. In a 2002 Psychology Today interview he speaks of these three options:
Interviewer: "Can you tell me more about the roots of your spirituality—about the intellectual and experiential side?"
M. Scott Peck: "All my work can be traced back to my Harvard college thesis, "Anxiety, Modern Science and the Epistemological Problem." I outlined three basic ways to try and look at things. They can be looked at as if they were caused by something external, or they were caused by something internal, or they were caused by relationships between things. Unfortunately, none of these three ways can answer all the questions we have. That is, our questions about the cause for intellectual anxiety. Increasingly, modern science is about our realization that we just don't know. Much of my life since has consisted of working out that thesis. The answer to understanding things is not one of those three, but all of them simultaneously. It's more than a paradox—it's a "triadox."
THE LORD MAKES MEN BLIND
Jesus’ third option represents a Hebrew attitude toward suffering. He doubtlessly had studied the Jewish Torah and the story in which Moses is told by the LORD to free the Israelites from Egyptian oppression. Moses was concerned about his ability to speak properly, especially to the powerful King of Egypt. Moses told the LORD he had a speech impediment:
“The LORD said to Moses, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ?” Exodus 4:11
THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUL MAKING
My personal suspicion and current position holds that even when there has been past abuse from others, or troubles arising from my own sins or negative egoistic thinking, Spirit is still the Ultimate Source and Teacher in each predicament.
Soul-Making means that all events, pleasurable and painful, are listed on the syllabus when enter life at the University of Cosmos. Each course and subject brings learning to Soul while shaping my vocational destiny. This means that pain and suffering are absolutely normal and necessary, and not always caused or chosen by me or others.
AM I ALWAYS IN CHARGE?
One New Age belief is that we humans are in charge of our happiness and achieving our potential. We are at choice. We are in control of our thoughts and can create either a world of bliss or world of misery. It is all up to me and my thoughts to actualize my potential.
A New Age friend recently sent me the following quote:
"We're like light bulbs. If bliss starts growing inside you, it's like a light; it affects the environment... and if you ramp it up brighter and brighter, you enjoy more and more of it. And that light will extend out further and further." – Anonymous
This is a beautiful and true statement. However, as we saw in the passage from John 9, there is more than one point of view to any event in life, blissful or tragic. Is it really up to me exclusively to ramp up the light? Is it only in the light that we experience bliss and positively influence the environment?
In my opinion both traditional religion, modern therapy and the New Age Movement give humans far too much responsibility and an impossible burden to bear around experiences of suffering. When the above quote says, "you ramp up the light", I can agree to an extent. There are times we can ‘ramp up’ the light and shine more and more brightly, heal disease, change the world and elevate internal and external bliss. Our minds and thoughts can co-create some pretty amazing demonstrations.
THE SELF AND THE SELVES
However, we are only co-creators, not solitary -creators. We are not always the doer that ramps or un-ramps the light in our psyches or the world.
Sometimes, suffering arrives “to do the work of God.”
Soul (God) has many faces and we are many selves. Some of these faces or selves plunge us into darkness and chaos as well as light and order. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas speaks of the one self (ego) and the mysterious many hidden selves:
Jesus said: When you see your self, you rejoice; but when you see your selves which came into being before you – these selves neither die and are invisible -- how much will you bear (suffer)? Gospel of Thomas 84
Jesus recognizes that there is the ego-self we bathe, deodorize, dress, educate, feed, polish and show to the public. It has a basic personality, a name and visible presence. We often rejoice at this obvious self image we present each day – and we ought to rejoice for our egos are sweet and amazing little manifestations of God.
But according to Jesus we also have many invisible, immortal selves that accompany us. They express in and through us each day, and especially at night. These other selves can be “hard to bear.” Why?, because they are unpredictable and a little crazy! They are perfect and fascinating, but still a little crazy. They are hard to bear.
These invisible selves rebel below the psyche’s surface - incite fears and insanities, question convention, become our unsolicited addictions, bring strange anxieties and move us to obsess on the troubling and forbidden. They stir our passions and taint our motives. They surprise us with thoughts and behaviors that we didn’t know we were capable of. They disturb our night dreams and sneak into our day fantasies. They are so hard to bear that many westerners demonize or dismiss them by labeling them disorders and neuroses. Some try to deny them out of existence. Many punish them like rebellious children or avoid them like psychotic relatives. Some go to therapy, which is a modern version of exorcism – casting out the unwanted demons!
A POPULATED COSMOS
My experience more and more is that these selves, these troubling intruders, are a necessary and normal part of the Living Cosmos. They are God’s Teachers, sometimes bringing blindness and other forms of suffering, as well as Light and Prosperity. We did not choose them and our parents did not cause them.
We in the west reveal our limited reality by capitalizing only the “I”, or sometimes ‘God”. Surely we are an important little “I”. But what of the multitudes of Cosmic Teachers, the Invisibles, the Immortals, the Other Selves that populate the Cosmos, that suffuse the stars and our dreams? Our depersonalized science has swept the living cosmos clean, replacing it with dead matter and scientific equations. No wonder we compensate by filling the sky with aliens, reindeer drawn sleighs, movie stars and space ships.
We exist in a Universe filled with many Selves, with Archetypal Energies or Invisible Teachers. These Teachers ramp it up or ramp it down, bringing on the lessons. Sometimes they shock us, our friends and families by ramping us down into alcoholism, depression, suicidal thoughts and a whole host of dark problems and pathologies we did not consciously invite or inherit from a bad parent.
They come to expand our souls beyond boundaries which neither self help nor positive thinking could accomplish. We are large and fascinating because these Invisible Selves lead us into thinking, speaking and doing insane things. We go through these times of blindness – mental instabilities, hard marriages, rapes, institutions, jail, suicide attempts, child support, rage, depressions, anxieties, loneliness, relationship despair, loss of jobs, etc - and come out as fascinating and interesting souls.
DON’T FORGET THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE
This is not to excuse, justify, glorify or encourage such painful experiences. I am speaking of those moments or years that come upon us like a tsunami, sweeping over our tranquil soulscapes with disastrous consequences. What do we do in the aftermath of such catastrophes, as we survey the debris and corpses? Our own internal voice and those around us usually ask, “Who caused this blindness in your life, you or your parents?” Perhaps both are partially responsible, but don’t forget the third perspective, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in my life.”
We are not always in charge of the lessons or outcomes of life. Some suggest that our souls choose these lessons before birth. Anything is possible, but that may just be another attempt to deny the Selves and place the ego self in complete control, which is a pretty common western attitude. We are terrified of giving up control and just being baby souls.
It is not always up to us. Psychological or physical blindness and suffering are as normal and necessary as the arrival of fall and winter after a long bright florid summer. It’s all natural and essential. Imagine walking by a brilliant orange Maple tree in October, and hearing it whisper, “I am not dying. I am not losing my leaves. I am not plunging into darkness and dormancy! Oh what did I do to cause these green lives to wilt and die?!”
Why do we romantically appreciate the darkness and death in Nature each fall and winter, but treat our own seasonal dying and dark times as intruders to be gotten rid of or fixed as quickly as possible?
ARTISTS AND HUMANS REQUIRE THE DESERT TIMES
I have never known a deep artist or human being that hasn't been led into the barren desert and through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the disorderly wilderness to spend time fasting with the Devil as his only companion; Jesus emerged as a purpose filled teacher who would influence the entire earth. So we too will spend time fasting with our devilish teachers. These times and experiences are just as much God (or the gods) as any of the light, 'love' and bliss experiences. Depth of soul comes by going into the depths. Depth of soulful education, just as in a public school or college classroom, results from being exposed to problems that cause us some anxiety and stress.
AVOIDING THE EITHER/OR MENTALITY
This is not an either/or position. Life’s challenges involve all three of the sources mentioned by Jesus in John 9 - me, others and God. Go to therapy and deal with past family issues and abuses from others. Continue your self help program, utilizing positive affirmations for healing and prosperity. However, remember that all past family issues and abuses are Archetypal Teachers making Soul and moving each of us into his or her destiny. Remember that every self help formula and affirmation is an act of co-creation, not solo creation; this means that I don’t always know what I REALLY want or need.
Be open to do your prayers and affirmations, and then fully release them into the Cosmic Curriculum of Soul-Making. There are Invisible Teachers in our midst, and They often surprise us with lessons we would have never chosen for our ‘self’.
For a sympathetic Jewish view of purposeful suffering, see Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner's articles on suffering: Why Rabbi Kushner is Wrong About Suffering.