Reflections on a Year of Suffering

December 29, 2011

A year ago my marriage crumbled very suddenly and I started a year (so far) of asking why.

It’s taken me a year to realize that the Universe has given me exactly what I was asking for. I already had a good marriage, a wife who loved me, a strong relationship with my kids, a business I enjoyed, and a fresh spirituality that connected me in an intimate way with the Mind of the Universe.

Having all these things, and being satisfied, I asked for understanding. I asked for wisdom. I asked for growth. Those things came through trials, suffering, and reaching inward to find the inner strength to overcome my outer circumstances.

The Universe, in Its infinite Love for me, had granted my wish. It’s like a comic tragedy:  we almost never seem to understand the price we must pay for the valuable things we seek. There is always a trade; there is always a balance—or so it seems to me.

I asked and the Universe gave. Just like the Master promised. If I had known the price of my wish, I would not have wanted it. But I am a function of the Universe myself, and that Guide always knows best. Always. How do you suppose the desire for wisdom appeared in me in the first place?

My heart is better now. It has ached, broken, healed, and expanded. Now it radiates more love than before, without trying to pick flowers instead of smell them, so to speak. Now it encompasses more, enabling me to see more love and goodness in the world, people, creatures, and circumstances around me. My new heart allows me to enjoy without taking, to preserve life and freedom instead of trying to keep it for myself.

Frankly, that lesson is worth a very great price, and I am thankful that the Universe has blessed me with the measure of strength that I needed so I could learn the lessons I wanted so much to be taught.

In this moment, I don’t believe that being “happy” at all costs is the most important thing in each moment. I believe that the pains of life are a necessary part of learning to create our own happiness, despite circumstances.

Acceptance of all circumstances seems to be a key to happiness.

Acceptance of circumstances means harmonizing with the Universe.

The key to harmony is to not see self as separate from the Universe.

The answer is self-awareness: attention to the inner world.

I love my life, and I love the circumstances and turns of events and relationships and personal connections and reflections and interactions that occur and show me that this web of fabric of life and existence is a unified, united, conscious Whole.

Why do I doubt? Why do I turn away from Truth, even after It proves Itself to me, repeatedly, in my experience? I have a powerful and old, deeply-ingrained wrong idea about the current situation that I haven’t yet located. I’m very close, though!

The solution seems to be to face my fears and discomforts by placing them directly in my Path and enduring them with focused attention. I feel so powerful!

The powerful “me” is steadily growing, strengthening, and becoming the dominant part of my being. I like that!

(written in 2009)

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I Can Relate

December 16, 2011

I’m so happy and grateful that I can relate. I can relate because I have suffered (and caused harm) and overcome.

Have you been hurt by someone, on purpose? I can relate. Watched a loved one endure pain you can only imagine? I can relate.

Stood by your mother and watched her breathe her last? Been the victim of senseless violence? Lost the love of your life? Fallen into depression, addiction, or self-mutilation? Been divorced? Lost your role as a parent to your own kids? Watched your current or former mate fall into someone else’s arms and bed? Had to give up on someone you love because only they can help themselves? Realized—too late to fix it—the immense pain you inflicted on someone close to you, who trusted you with his or her heart? Had two close friends die in the same way, on different continents, before age 25? Had a young friend take his or her own life? Been violated or otherwise abused? Watched somebody you love die from injury or illness? Carried your mother’s body to the funeral home vehicle? Been homeless for months? Had your heart and sense of self-worth stomped into the ground when you were little?

I can relate. We all can. We all share human life. Life isn’t always fucking peaches and cream.

Suffering is all the same, but it’s different. It all involves loss, it all makes us change the way we see ourselves and the world, and it’s all temporary. You can never lose that which is most important. As someone wise told me this week, “The pain goes away, but you keep the lessons you learned.”

We are strong. We are made of stuff so powerful that we can’t imagine our own strength until we are tested. Life throws pain and heartbreak in our direction so that we can become better because of it.

It’s like being refined in fire. How do you suppose steel would feel as it becomes stronger, better, and more beautiful and useful in the foundry? A samurai sword is bent, folded, hammered, and heated to intense temperatures to make it a worthy weapon in battle. And it is beautiful.

We are powerful, you and I. True power is beautiful. Take that fact and instill it in your bones. Weakness is temporary. Our strength endures.

We are Beauty, incarnated. We are Spirit, caught temporarily in the visceral, gritty web of this physical existence for awhile. We are here to endure, and overcome, and be better than we were yesterday, last month, or last year. We are not here to succumb to the storms of life. We are here to learn to navigate our vessel through every kind of weather, squall, gale, and hurricane—and to return our vessel to shore, whole and complete and functional.

We have the skills, the talent, the ability, and the will to overcome whatever Life throws at us. As another person said, “You will not be tested beyond what you can endure. But when you are tested, you will also be given the power to kick life in its ass.” (I Corinthians 10:13, paraphrased)

(Your King James Version and New International Version New Testaments use the word “tempted” instead of “tested” in this verse. The Greek word peirasomos can mean either “temptation” or “adversity.”)

Time does not heal. The unimaginable power of the human Spirit heals. It just takes time to do it because…well, because we’re human.

And we can do it over and over again, getting better and stronger every time.


It’s Not About Me

December 14, 2011

I blind my eyes and try to force it all into place,

I stitch them up, see not my fall from grace.

I blind my eyes, I hide and feel it passing me by.

I open just in time to say goodbye.

—from “That Was Just Your Life” by Metallica

The New Year finds me at or near the end of a long, underground tunnel where I’ve spent months digging through muck, gathering nuggets and gems, and seeking the light that I hoped I knew must be at the end.

It was both an exercise in faith and a lesson about faith. It sucked, horribly—but it was a profoundly meaningful experience for me. I recently arrived at the end of that particular tunnel, and it takes a little while for my eyes to adjust to the newfound light again.

But it isn’t all about me. I’m just the guy writing and sharing, the guy who has gone inside and plumbed his own depths a little and told others what he found down there. I’m not a bottom-dweller, but I think that to ride the river it helps to know where the rocks are. You can see them a lot better underneath the surface.

If my words seem to be loaded with heaviness or melancholy or “sludge,” it’s only because my time below has been so recent. Like a miner who emerges from a long day’s work, a nice shower and some rest makes everything better and shinier again.

I don’t intend to live in the darkness of pain and suffering. In fact, I’ve emerged from it now anyway. At this point, I’ve reformed my inner world so that it’s more in harmony with Life. Now I’m taking steps toward celebrating life again.

And I’ll share that part of the journey, too. Why? Because I don’t see anybody else doing it in quite the same way.

Like I said, it’s not about me. It doesn’t matter what I have endured to reach a point of greater understanding. All that matters is that we learn from our experiences and don’t get dragged down (emotionally) by life experiences we can’t control.

My life is the same as yours: a function of the Universe, a point of Consciousness, a lesson, a wave to be ridden for all it’s worth. And to go back out and ride again and again and again.

I’m not special. I just learned in 2008 to surrender to the Will of…Whatever You Want To Call It.

And you got to have a ringside seat.

(written in 2009)


2008: A Look at a Year of Suffering-and-Healing

December 13, 2011

At the end of 2007, I was stoked about 2008. Gleefully, I said: “2008 is going to be my year!” I had many exciting plans for 2008, and in a short time I had set them in motion.

As it turned out, 2008 was the most challenging year of my life. I won’t get into the reasons why. As a result of 2008, though, I’m bringing in the New Year with no one to kiss at midnight.

At the beginning of 2008, I was in a very good place—and a very bad one at the same time. I was very confident and optimistic about the plans I had made. Things were going well, and I felt like I was on top of the world. This is the bad part: From my lofty (mental/emotional) position, I felt that I could look down on the rest of the world, separate from its ills, pains, and tragedies. I almost felt superhuman.

My intentions were good, but my thinking was foolish. I didn’t yet understand that there is no insulation from the ups and downs of life as long as we are still in it. Life will continue to throw us curveballs and present challenges, even though we have overcome many of our problems and solved some of the riddles of Life.

As they say, pride cometh before the fall. This is because the Universe loves us.

Because of the events that happened in my life in 2008, many of my wrong ideas about life and my part in it were destroyed. That’s not a bad thing, but it hurts. If we aren’t able to let go of the hurt—if we cling to the wrong ideas we had cherished for so long—we stay in the pain and our life begins (or continues) a downward spiral toward depression, ill health, and early death.

This is the “normal” way of human functioning, unfortunately.

I was determined not to follow this downward spiral that I recognized in so many people, so I learned. I studied. I got introspective and dug into myself. And I suffered, consciously and willingly. 2008 has made me an expert (if there is such a thing) on pain, suffering, and healing. My recent writings are evidence of my search for understanding and relief. I’ve made a lot of progress.

I’d be proud of myself, if I hadn’t become so humble from the experience.

In 2007, I thought I had killed my ego. As it turns out, I had killed only a significant part of it, and another part rose up in its place. 2008 was the year I killed that part.

So, I suppose 2008 really was my year, in a way. I didn’t accomplish a lot of the plans I had made, but Life knows better than I do. It didn’t want me to go out into the world, prematurely, with a half-baked idea of what life is all about. It wanted me to endure a bit more, to share in certain sufferings that I had never shared before, so that I had a better understanding of other people’s pain—and greater Love, compassion, faith, strength, humility, and patience because of it.

Life wanted me to lose so that I could gain from my loss. I think it also wanted to prepare me for more challenges to come. More importantly, I think it wanted me to see that it’s not all about me. It’s about me, and you, and him, and her, and us, and them—the Whole Ball of Wax.

An important lesson, with a heavy price.

(written in 2008)


Attachments: On Suffering and Healing, Part II

December 6, 2011

In the essay “On Suffering and Healing,” I wrote these words:

Is there a way to thrive, meeting life openly, yet without suffering when difficult events happen? Is this even a desirable goal, or is the process of suffering and healing an integral part of the human experience? Is “suffering-and-healing” the essence of human life, or is it a major problem to be solved and prevented? Answering this question seems to be my next task in unloosing the threads that keep the secrets of life hidden from my view.

I think I can answer that question now.

In life, we form attachments. These attachments can be to people, ideas, places, habits, sensations, feelings, and just about anything else you can imagine. This is a safety mechanism, enabling us to survive and function when we’re little. It also serves to chain us to exterior circumstances as we accumulate attachments.

This is because attachments are real things (not just concepts) on a higher level of our being. Most of us can’t see them, but we do feel them, here in the physical.

Attachments always limit our experience.

This is not to say that all attachments are bad, or even undesirable. For example, I have kids and I have no intention of breaking my many attachments to either of them. Nor to Metallica’s music or the Internet.

So, attachments can enrich our experience.

If one of my kids were to die, though, those attachments would become a ball and chain—a wrong attachment, which is always accompanied by unexpressed negative emotion. I would have to grieve (break my attachment and release the emotion associated with it) in order to live freely again.

I did this after my mom died, and I’ve done it more than once when relationships have ended. I’ve even made new attachments to the same people or ideas after I junked the old wrong attachments!

Attachments are always accompanied by emotion when formed. Breaking attachments always releases negative emotion. The negative emotion is as strong as the positive emotion that accompanied the attachment previously: it is the previous positive emotion’s “flip” side.

After we release negative emotion, “new” positive emotion fills its place. The positive emotion was always there, but hidden from our view for awhile by the negative emotion.

Positive emotion surrounds our core; negative emotion surrounds our positive emotion. We see this from the “outside,” looking “in.”  If there is much negative emotion in us, that’s what we see when we turn our awareness inward.  If there’s little negative emotion, then we naturally and effortlessly see the (deeper) positive emotion.

To release negative emotion is to allow access to our natural positive emotion. To release negative emotion is to become free, because unexpressed negative emotion affects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior—always for the worse. It possesses and controls us, pretending to be us. It makes us act like someone we are not.

We are all good underneath, at our core.

If we understand attachment, then when we experience loss (an attachment that no longer has a valid object) we can move more quickly to heal, thus minimizing our suffering.

So, to answer my previous question, the process of attachment, loss, suffering, breaking attachments, and healing is an integral part of being human. But we can reduce our suffering and quicken our healing if we understand attachment. We can escape the process, though, if we really want to break all of our attachments. We have that choice. Personally, I don’t want to break them all. Many of them enrich me.

But now my wrong attachments have targets on them.

The good, beautiful, and true attachments enrich my life. But any attachments can be broken because they are exterior to myself. It’s my choice. Understanding that I have that choice is one aspect of true power.

Only what I carry within myself, at my core, cannot be broken. It can only be hidden, for awhile, until I uncover it by releasing wrong attachments.

What are attachments, by the way?  Attachments are “only” ideas with (positive or negative) emotion holding them in place. And oh, how powerful they can be. Even the wrong ones.

We can have both right and wrong attachments to the same thing, at the same time. Only the wrong ones hurt.

(written in 2008)


On Suffering and Healing

December 1, 2011

I want nothing more than to understand the best way to live my life, and to do my best to live it that way. This has been the driving desire of my life since I was a teenager. Much of my time since then has been spent in the pursuit of understanding, with the intention of living my life as well as possible—that is, as truly and correctly as possible.

What does that mean?

Is there some standard by which I am to conform, as I was taught to believe as a child? Is there a potential for growth (whatever that means) which I should try to achieve—some inner mold I should try to fill to capacity so that I’m fulfilled someday? Or am I truly to enjoy every moment as fully as possible, or perhaps simply to appreciate the gift of being alive, no matter the circumstances?

If so, to whom or what do I direct my appreciation, if anywhere?

I’m moving toward the idea that the ideal is acceptance of life events and circumstances, without fighting the often uncomfortable or painful changes that they bring. This does not imply a powerless attitude and submission to fate, but rather a shortening of the healing process by immediate acceptance of change.

Healing begins with the process of adjusting one’s thoughts to change: realigning one’s concept of reality with reality itself so that there is no conflict, no suffering.

It’s a strange fact that experiences often seem extremely intense and emotional while they’re happening, even though years later we can talk about them without feeling any emotion at all.

Why is this? 

Perhaps with time and experience we are able to put past events into a context and see how the events have affected our lives since then, which takes the “sting” out of the events after the fact. We see later that things weren’t as bad as they seemed at the time. This implies that, at the time we are going through a difficult situation, our negative reaction to the situation is caused by our fear of the possible negative effects that the situation will have on us, rather than by the situation itself.

In other words, in the present extreme circumstance we fear loss, harm, pain, or death—we suffer. Suffering means fearing the loss of our own survival potential, which includes our ability to enjoy our life, since our emotional state is intimately linked to our ability to survive and thrive.

Suffering is the mental and emotional state that results from our belief that we have lost, or will lose, something necessary to our survival potential and/or enjoyment of life.

Is it possible to experience every life event with the same lack of emotional involvement and attachment that we have years after the fact—that is, without suffering? If indeed we suffer because in the midst of difficult circumstances we fear losing our survival potential, and if our fear is itself a reduction in our future survival potential, then what good is suffering in the first place?

It isn’t rational.

Is there a way to thrive, meeting life openly, yet without suffering when difficult events happen? Is this even a desirable goal, or is the process of suffering and healing an integral part of the human experience? Is “suffering-and-healing” the essence of human life, or is it a major problem to be solved and prevented? Answering this question seems to be my next task in unloosing the threads that keep the secrets of life hidden from my view.

The Buddha already answered this question for himself, with his Four Noble Truths about suffering and his Eightfold Path that describes the way to end it. I intend to see if he was right.

(Written in 2008 and freshly edited on December 19, 2016.)

The Dark Night of the Soul

October 4, 2011

The Dark Night of the Soul is a period of spiritual “downness,” or even depression, that people frequently experience before an increase in understanding or spiritual growth. Put simply, you increase your understanding by solving problems in your own life. When the problem goes away, your burden is lighter and you can see a bit more clearly. Sometimes when problems leave, they rear their heads one last time before going away completely. Thus, the Dark Night of the Soul.

Another explanation is that an increase in understanding often comes hand in hand with releasing an attachment you have to something or someone you’ve been holding on to unnecessarily. It’s a kind of grief you have to go through as you give up that attachment. When the grieving is over and the attachment is gone, understanding comes.

I wonder how many people these experiences have turned away from the Narrow Path.


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