Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

In my last post, I discussed the idea of someone finding your problem, your suffering, as pleasant. It’s a challenging notion to most of us, but, if you are going to accept it for one problem, I think you have to accept it for all of them.

Recently, I talked to a friend who seemed to be asking for help with her problems. She usually comes to me to get the hippy-dippy take on things. According to her, that’s my specialty, where she privileges reason and logic above all else. For the record, I actually am quite fond of logic and reason, when properly balanced with intuition and emotion.

Anyway, in discussing this idea with her, I brought up some examples of my own experiences of pain and suffering, like I discussed in my previous post. She embraced this reframing of problems—until she mentioned a problem of her own.

I gently suggested that she try to find a way to think of someone who would find her problem pleasant. At that point, she became defensive and certain that this problem and the suffering it has caused was something only someone who hated themselves could find pleasant. In other words, she missed the point, and interpreted that finding her suffering “pleasant” meant a kind of masochism born out of self-loathing.

Though I admit that it is a challenge to think of things that are the worst pain in the world (a loved one dying, fighting addiction, surviving terrible abuse, etc.) I don’t think that there can be exceptions if you are going to adopt these ideas as part of your spiritual/psychological practice. Kind of the whole point is that it challenges you to break out of what you think you know about your life and your capabilities and the roles you play.

And anyway, why would she get a magic exemption from having to do the tough, but healing, spiritual work that leads us to greater peace, love and equanimity? And further, why would you want that exemption, even if it existed, unless, of course, you were afraid to let the suffering go? A question to ask might be: Who do you think you are?

More and more, I think the goal of any spiritual journey (note I don’t say “religious journey”) is really the burning away of the trappings that keep you from revealing yourself as a luminous being that radiates love. The ego, the knee-jerk reactions, the devotion to material things over life, the compulsive/impulsive behavior that is born out of fear or anger. These things have to be stripped away.

So. Everyone suffers. You are not unique in this respect. It is true that everyone suffers differently, from different causes. And yet, you are not unique in what is asked of you, even in knowing that your suffering is excruciating to you.

So, on the spiritual journey, if you mean to take one: Yes, even your problem, no matter what it is, is something someone would find pleasant.

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