Friday, 8 August 2014

Suffering, A Necessity for True Living

         Although I do have a strong tendency to write in theistic language, this does not mean that I am an apologist for christianity or, for that matter, any religion. To be candid, what I see as the mythology of christianity is too esoteric for my understanding. I suspect this is the same for many people: why else the descent into fundamentalism and the supposed literal truth of holy writ? I find that I hold a similar position as regards psychology, including transpersonal psychology which recognises the existence of a spiritual side to humanity's nature. For me, the healthy development of my psycho-spiritual nature must go hand-in-hand with the continued practice of maintaining my physical body in a state that is 'fit for purpose', at least as far as that is reasonably possible. To pursue the one aspect of my being without pursuing the other seems to me to be lopsided, as well as denying myself the advantages and joys of a holistic life. That is what I feel and wish for, and requires a great deal of detachment from my ego, insofar as I can achieve that. However, this life-style is not what everyone wants, and as the saying goes, 'you pays yer money and you makes yer choice'. Perhaps we need a greater desire to celebrate our diversity.
         Moving to the subject of coping, I find it increasingly difficult to define the word 'cope' in such a way that clearly differentiates between my understanding of the word, and the more vernacular usage. Or perhaps there is only one meaning, and it's simply a matter of degree. Certainly, it is true that we develop ways and means of getting over or around the humps and bumps of everyday living. That would seem to be quite acceptable. However, when coping means that actions are felt continually to be required to enable us to run at top speed in order to stand still, something is going wrong. My experience of the first fifty years or so of my life was precisely that, at least when times were manageable. When, finally, after living with another's substance addiction and I had my back to the wall, I was fighting a rearguard action to save some remnant of my sanity. I had to let go, to stop trying to cope. By that time I existed but could hardly have been said to be living. To let go gave me the opportunity to see life differently, to reassess my priorities.
         Once having let go, and having been relieved of the burden that was dragging me beneath the surface of the 'Slough of Despond', so much else fell into place; so much about my unacknowledged psycho-spiritual world began to be revealed. It needed for me to experience my suffering depths and acknowledge them before I could begin an ascent into real life, a life in which I began to respond to life rather than react to it like some latter day Pavlov dog. And it is a cause of great regret, and almost-despair, to me that everywhere I look I see a world teeming with Pavlov dogs, unthinkingly reacting to every incoming impulse, ever seeking to control and manipulate, rather than stopping and realising there are other ways of being. It is more than simply unfortunate that the lack of that realisation is what represents normality for most of us.
         Fr. Richard Rohr said recently,

         "People who have never loved or never suffered will normally try to control everything with an either-or attitude or all-or-nothing thinking. This closed system is all they are prepared for. The mentality that divides the world into “deserving and undeserving” has not yet experienced the absolute gratuity of grace or the undeserved character of mercy. This lack of in-depth God-experience leaves all of us judgmental, demanding, unforgiving, and weak in empathy and sympathy."

         Once one has plumbed the depths of psycho-spiritual suffering, at least as far as I have been there, and having that ineffable experience of 'coming to believe', or having discovered another way of being, it is almost impossible to turn back. And is this not something to be shared? I do not wish, even if it were possible, to keep this all to and for myself. Yet I recognise that, in the final analysis, it is my life and only my life that I can seek to nurture.
         It had been my intent to write in answer to the comments made about my previous post, "Coping Is Not Living." I do not know whether I have achieved that aim. I do know that in the course of writing, I suddenly had a glimpse of a spiritually healthy world that could happen. Yet I fear that world is, and will always be, a stillborn entity. I will end this essay in the same way that I ended the previous one, with all the commitment and devotion that I can muster,

         "It starts with the individual, not them 'out there'; it starts with me.....'in here'. 


  1. a perfectly thought out critique of the world around us - it is ever my frustration with people who merely react, who buy into what the marketing machine tries to sell them, who never once stop and think about who they really are and what they really want. it is terrifying, and so i surround myself with thinkers, questioners, and active participants in their own existence.

    wonderful post.

  2. I came to maybe comment on your last post. I say maybe because I had decided to no longer comment on serious matters since I don't have the vocabulary to clearly say what I intend to say.
    Anyway, I came to say:
    "Please define your 'coping'" and
    "The only thing that I am proud of is 'all the coping' that I managed to achieve', and there is a big load of it".
    Not only that, I am coping to accept who I am.

  3. Thank you Agnieszka. I am glad to be amongst your coterie. :)

  4. Now! Now! Now! Ellena. Your comments are always welcome on Gwynt. And if I misunderstand what you want to say, then correct me. Let us engage with one another.

    I hope that, without defining clearly enough perhaps what I mean by coping, you understand what I meant in my post. You, perhaps more than most people who comment here, have had a great deal to cope with. And I have long admired your courage and love. If your commitment to dealing with the problems of life is the rock on which my argument (derived from my own experience) is broken then I would freely accept my error.

  5. Tom, I can only comment from my own experience. My much younger self was intensely aware of and disturbed by the extent to which 'others' deviated from what I considered to be truth, light and love. And I naively thought it was my duty (or more grandiosely, my mission) to change these minds and a Time, reality and a deeper awareness of my own self-centered arrogance swept the reformer tendency out of me. I now know that the only thing which is in my power to change is myself.

  6. Oops, part of a sentence somehow got deleted! Why do I make so many typos? What I wrote after 'minds' has vanished. So please insert a full stop there.

  7. And that lesson in powerlessness is one that can be difficult to understand. Bless you, friend Natalie.

  8. Stopping to just say that I do still stop by and read and think....

  9. Hi Tom,
    Suffering and coping are difficult topics to take about and what your have posted is admirable!!
    Here are my thoughts: many will turn to their religions for solace to bear their suffering or to cope, as none of us like suffering. Palliative care for patients can engender welcome relief, so that the physical and here and now can make a mockery of psychological or religious applications in extreme cases, when relief of physical pain or suffering should be the primary aim. But there are also, of course, a certain pleasure to be derived from overcoming of great hindrances, or difficulties in life , which may be the equivalent of overcoming suffering, but the distinction between that and of merely coping from time to time is a very fine line.
    Best wishes

  10. What a well crafted essay Tom!
    It has the quality of a fine theorem, allowing other ideas that once seemed disjoint to be added as corollaries.
    For instance, it helps explain people who wait for the commentator in the media to tell them what their opinion on some important subject should be.
    As Natalie suggests, time spent in consideration of life experience brings many of us to a much less judgemental place. This in turn suggests that a society that worships youth is more likely to be one where ideas are either right or wrong,

    You have my juices flowing as you can tell! Thank you for this synthesis.

  11. Occasionally we catch glimpses of a different possibility: moments of unexpected forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, or a change of heart in situations where no one could reasonably expect anything but the same old cycles of violence. I wonder if they might point to something real, a more beautiful world, if only we would accept their invitation?

    After thousands of years, perhaps we're growing tired of the war on the Other in all its permutations. One can only hope the time of no enemies is coming, when we realize that we are all in this together.

  12. Hmmm. I wonder how the old Texas expression "he deserved killin'" would fit into this. Perhaps I only reach for the simplistic.

    In spite of that, I love your thought processes, Tom.

  13. Having re-read these comments, I see that I need to respond in order to correct a deficit.

    First, it has to be said that, apart from aches and pains, (mainly but not entirely in a tendon-damaged shoulder, for which I have suitable medication), and some blotted out childhood pain (resulting from parental 'correction'), I have been very fortunate in my life in that I have not had to endure physical suffering, as so many other people have. Such suffering, therefore, does not loom large in my consciousness as does emotional/intellectual/spiritual suffering. It is with the latter in mind that I share my thoughts and conclusions. Also, of course, it would be inappropriate to share that of which I have little or no experience.

    Second, and similar to the first, I recognise that we cannot simply walk away from commitments when it suits a whim. I do not believe for one moment that we can further our spirituality at the expense of another's. But some relationships must be broken if our spiritual integrity is to be saved. It probably comes as no surprise that in my case, I had to walk away from my first marriage, and the subsequent relationship with an alcoholic partner. Having said that, and knowing coping mechanisms are sometimes needed in our dealings with the outer world, there still remains a requirement, for inner psycho-spiritual health, to break out of the 'coping' state (for instance by detachment and letting go) and initiating a process of spiritual recovery.

    Although the latter process requires a willingness (eventually) to participate in the process, there is a need for an input from elsewhere, some call that elsewhere 'the true self', 'higher power', or simply God. That divine (may I use that word?) input gradually changes the way we see the world through a process of spiritual awakening, a way that steadily moves away from a purely egoistic approach. That enables us to see our responsibilities to our own recovering spiritual situation, to see a world in which there is much to glory in, and also the recognition of the agony and suffering that is being generated by pride, greed and ill-used power - and the rest. If we are to live in this world, we cannot escape that suffering, nor can we escape the paradoxes and painful compromises we are so often required to make.

    And maybe none of us deserve what we get, or ever really know what is deserved. That implies judgement and perhaps punishment, where there may only be consequences.

    Thank you all for your comments. I have found them thought-provoking.

  14. Wow, 'to break out of the coping state'. When I said that I am coping to accept who I am I could have said that I struggle to break out of my coping state.
    As I am writing this I start to think that one's coping state is formed by such and such components and if they are negative ones they need to be replaced by positive ones.
    Coping should be fired by love only and all coping done by fear or hate or lack of love for oneself should cease.
    (If I were to try writing this in a better way, I would not write it, so, here it is and here I am adding so much more to the conversation, in thoughts).

  15. "Coping should be fired by love only, and all coping done by fear or hate or lack of love for oneself should cease."

    Ellena, I do not think this can be written in a better way. You have gone right to the heart of the matter.

  16. Thank you for leading me there, Tom.