When I stumbled upon the works of Thomas Merton I was amazed at how prolific he was as well as the impact he could have with such a short life. His is one of the best auto-biographies because it doesn’t follow the time line you would assume from a man considered to be one of the world’s greatest theologians and mystics.
I’m particularly interested in different religions views on suffering because it seems to be part of the process for those facing a health challenge. The suffering isn’t necessarily physical, although it often is, but emotional and spiritual suffering have to be taken into account when discussing the role suffering plays in our lives.
Merton said, “Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you tryo to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” That’s a powerful quote and one that seems counter-intuitive to logic.
How could suffering increase the more you try to avoid it? I’ve been sitting with this for a while and then I just felt this deep sense of sadness. Suffering increases as you try to avoid it because the avoidance is and of itself suffering. There is a struggle that gets put into play the moment you try and keep what you think is suffering at arms length. I know the idea of embracing struggle seems absurd, but by bring it in close you take the wind out of its sails making the situation more manageable.
No one wants to suffer, especially when facing a health challenge. We each suffer in our own way and that journey of embracing suffering is highly personal. How will you decrease your level of suffering? What if you simply redefined what it means to suffer? How would you face your health challenge differently if the focus were on wellness and healing instead of what you perceive to be the obstacles to wellness.
Bringing your suffering in close allows you to acknowledge how heroic you are on your journey to wellness. Give yourself every advantage and leave the suffering to the martyrs who believe that suffering pays a dividend…we know better!
I’ve started reading the works of Thomas Merton, Trappist monk , writer and peace and civil rights activist. I finished “The Seven Storey Mountain” and now I’m reading “The Intimate Merton”. Why am I reading these spiritual works? I’m fascinated at the conversations we’ve been having about the mind and the body. If you read the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross you begin to see themes that have continued to be asked over time.
I got two pages into the book and read the following quote; “Merton became a monk by writing about becoming a monk”. I read that and stopped what I was doing, put the book down and began considering the huge implications of that statement. After I read that phrase I began thinking about the process of “becoming”. How do we get from point A to point B in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives? I know that making cause and effect connections creates a calm within and I treasure that feeling.
My next step in the process was to begin the process of generalization. If Merton felt that he became a monk by writing about becoming a monk, what can you do or become by writing about it. If you began writing about your fears could you have them dissolve? If you wrote about health and wellness can you slow down or reverse illness? If you write about becoming less encumbered can you live a stress free life? Writing about the particular is one thing. Staying with the process long enough to see results is where the rubber meets the road. We live in a world that thrives and demands instant gratification. Last week I wrote a post about emotional and spiritual dialysis. I invited a client to engage in this process. After two days she e-mailed me to say I’m not detoxed yet from the negative feelings. I was amazed and amused to think that anyone can or would be willing to believe that two written entries will eradicate years of negative energy flowing through their veins.
What would happen if at the top of the page you wrote the same question every day? Do you have the perseverance and the courage to stick with one question long enough to get to the “real stuff”? Are you willing to go an inch wide and a mile deep? Do you have desire to rid yourself of the questions and concerns that keep you bogged down? If the goal is health and wellness, can you hang out in the question and truly explore what lies beneath?