When we humans face directly into suffering we do what animals do – we do what Kai-the-dog does. We pull away. If Kai sees a vacuum cleaner he runs into any other available rooms and sits there looking at the world out over his glasses with a very stern look. When a dog threatens him from behind a gate he pulls away, grabbing the leash and pulling me across the street. We do that too, we humans. When something happens which harms us be it cancer, betrayal by a loved one, a job loss or a costly mistake; we humans tend to pull away and argue with reality. “That should not happen!”
But in my experience it does. It happens. Reality says that it will happen. We will suffer. Bad things will happen to good people and to bad people. It’s just that we react when it happens to good people – especially when that good person is you or me.
The truth is that we must choose between believing in an all-knowing God or not believing in one. A third option was the one chosen by our forefathers who believed in a God who wound us up like a clock and then left the compose for an eternal happy hour in some other part of time and eternity. And if we have the courage to choose to believe in a God who is all-knowing then we must also allow God to be held responsible for our suffering and that of others even though most of the suffering on the planet happens either at our hands or because we have believed our thoughts.
“Is it true?” asks Byron Katie in www.thework.com . And if it is, can you be absolutely sure that it is true? And if not, how do you react the you think that though – the one which makes you suffer so from anxiety? And if not, who would you be without that thought? Peaceful?
In the stunning meditations by Naomi Remen we read over an dover again in Kitchen Table Wisdom that people who face adversity emerge from it having learned something important, even life-changing. Too often I have seen people face a job loss or a divorce only to say later that it was painful, yes! But it was also the harbinger of a new and wonderful life. To face suffering with curiosity is the best way to live but it takes training to resist the temptation to pull away and warm yourself by the fires of your own resentments. Its a cold fire.
One trick I find helpful is to was up every morning after a terrible heartbreak (a diagnosis, a betrayal, a terrible disappointment, a horrible loss) and, when you are able, begin to count on the fingers of one hand, five things for which you might even be grateful that this “terrible thing” has happened to you. I know. Its hard. This is very advanced spirituality and most people with low emotional intelligence will linger and languish in their sorrow and grief rather than try to face a turn-around. But the thing is that we contract, pull in, withdraw in the face of adversity and suffering as a normal and effective means by which to survive. And yet, that is a survival position – not a way to live your life. At some point we need to look at the suffering in which we find ourselves and stop laying blame or voicing outrage in exchange for getting curious about what life has brought this to us. What is the cosmos or God trying to teach us?
I have a friend who was betrayed by his brother in Wyoming. His inheritance was taken away and he was left penniless by a sinister brother. After a needful time of grief and resentment he began to ask questions about what this could mean for him and for his life and he began, at my insistence, “the five fingers curiosity test.” Here is what he came up with on his first try:
1. This may bring me and my partner closer together as we work on this grief together.
2. This may mean that I become better and more strategic at earning a living. (…starting with a memoir!)
3. This may inspire me to have a new compassion for the bother who betrayed me by stealing our parent’s inheritance since he must be suffering a lot from guilt and shame.
4. This may have been brought to me so that I might learn to rely more on my faith and less on my income.
5. This experience is humbling. It happened without me even anticipating it. Perhaps this humbling experience will teach me to be more resilient when I feel shame or guilt. Perhaps I am being forced into whole-heartedness training? (See brine Brown’s book Rising Strong)
Sure. I get it. None of us wants to suffer – not a stubbed toe, not cancer, not a lost wallet and nota lost friend. But we do suffer. That is a reality. So might it be a better strategy, when we are able, to get curious – filled with questions rather than filled with acidic anger? The former inspires from the outside in. The latter burns and corrodes from the inside out.