18 - The Essentialness of Suffering - Part Three
There are two things in regard to the essentialness of suffering that I can tell you are absolutely true. If you can’t learn to face your suffering, you’ll never overcome it; and if you can’t learn to be loved by God – the perfect, pure source of love – you’ll never learn to love or be loved in very healthy ways. This is the basis of all our suffering. When we stop and face our suffering, we learn what it is trying to tell us. And what is it trying to tell us; that we don’t really believe we are loved. And if we don’t believe we are loved, we must then learn to hide, to protect, to play the game that looks like love, but doesn’t risk anything necessary in order to really open up to love. We can spend our whole lives in this game of distrust and disarray, running from the very thing we instinctively know life is all about, because we are not able to get out of our self-centered, protective mode in order to be free to love and be loved. But I know just how hard that trust can be to come by. It takes more than some ethereal, symbolic belief in an aloof, divine rule keeper more interested in punishing bad behavior than loving us back to life. I’ve spent a long time coming to the simple truth that God really is love, in order to begin letting down my guard and learning how to be loved. So, I’m not making light of our fears. The struggle is real. But I’m also here to tell you that I’ve suffered greatly through the process of God leading me out, and helping me learn how to let go. It is, often, nothing short of pure terror to step out of the very things we think are keeping us safe. For me, God had to go to extremes to wake me up to the reality of my hiddenness from his/her love. That’s what my breakdown was all about, and what my continued breaking is still about. It’s about breaking my dependence on self-protective ego games in order to be open enough to surrender to God’s love, and in turn, to love others into the same kind of freedom. And I’m sitting here trying to describe the process, as best I can, but feeling like I’m always coming up short. The ways God works are often mysterious. That is, I know they have worked, but I can’t always say how they have worked, or even what the work itself was. That can be a disappointing answer to our rational mind, but love is not a construct of our minds. It is a state of being. It brings us back to a wholeness of being, because it engages all of our being. That's hard to grasp, or understand, but not hard to experience, if we allow for it. We all have to come to a place where we begin to trust that God knows what he/she is doing, so we can understand our broader identity in the scope of a world much bigger than our little ego self. But it all comes back to love, and the suffering required to get us back in touch with that love. So, how do we do that, practically speaking, and what should that look like, so we can have some idea that we are at least venturing towards the right goal.
There are so many ways God has challenged me these last four years to drop my defenses and surrender to the way he/she is trying to take me. To be honest, most of the time I resist, and for good reason. Mostly, that’s because the things God’s asking me to do scare the crap out of me. No matter how far I progress in this surrendering, the call to greater vulnerability always comes as shock. What I really like, what we all really like is being comfortable right where we are. But what’s comfortable is rarely what transforms us. What transforms us is realizing the things that are keeping us from a more complete surrender to love, but the process of seeing those blockages is most often painful. It’s always the opposite of what feeds our ego and affirms that our current way is right, or best. What this process entails, without fail, is revealing the need for growth through experiencing the consequence of our unhealthy behaviors. What wakes us up is the pain of our dysfunction. That's how suffering reveals the path of healing we are on. That’s also why a big part of the goal is becoming more aware of our whole self, by understanding all our parts. Those parts, which we will always be trying to grow into in deeper ways, are the three Centers of Being, Knowing, and the God-energy that surrounds and enlivens them. Each of our Knowing Centers – mind, body, heart – all process the dysfunction of love’s absence differently, and also receive different instructions from God about the healing process. Even though, in each part, we need to learn how to surrender our control and need to self-protect, each reveals and resolves that dysfunction differently. Likewise, the way all this registers in our Soul Center, and translates to our Body and Spirit Being Centers, is also different. But the basis for all of it begins with fear. Fear is the basest result of our lack of love. Fear, though, often gets translated through the three Knowing Centers as either pride/hate or depression/self-worthlessness. This is our most common knee-jerk reaction to fear. Either we want to give up and die because it’s just too much (depression), or we want to kill every one because they’re not feeding our ego like we want (pride/hate). There are, of course, many varied and subtler forms of these. There are, if you will, spectrums of fear, hate, and depression. Mild hate may simply look like disinterest. Mild fear may just look like apathy. Mild depression may often take on the appearance of low motivation. We all deal with fear and it’s two dominate expressions differently, but they all come through our Knowing/Being Centers in one way or another. Beginning to identify the forms they take in each will help us to better recognize and resolve them. So, lets get even more practical and detailed.
As I described in the first post on this topic, I’ve been having sporadic panic attacks over the last two weeks, similar to the more severe panic attacks which initiated my breakdown over four years ago. But as I also said, this time it’s been different, because I now understand a lot more about how fear works in all my parts, what it means, how to deal with it, and how to listen, learn, and grow from it. So, where my panic attacks four years ago left me immobilized and confused, these more recent panic attacks are actually in line with the lesson I know God already has me in. What lesson is that? The lesson of embodiment. Of the three Knowing Centers, my dominate is the heart. My next strongest is the mind. But my body is the one I’m most detached from. That’s partly because of my personality, and partly because of the physical abuse I experienced as a child. Through disassociation with my body, I found a degree of security from the abuse. In other words, I learned to hide from my body by retreating to my mind, and I’m just now being led by God back to my body, for the first time. And you know what my dominant reaction as been. Sheer and utter fear and terror. Without even being able to identity a conscious thought, my body is screaming at me, “don’t go there, it’s a dangerous place to be. Don’t you remember what happened last time!!!???” In other words, I’m having no rational, mental, or even emotional reaction, just a purely visceral sensation of fear in many parts of my body. That has translated into panic attacks. My body is not liking this season of God leading my back into it. And no wonder. Can you understand how this separation was both helpful and hurtful? It protected me, but it’s also disabled me in so many ways. Let me illustrate it this way. When I was twenty, and on a ski-trip with some friends from youth group, one girl came up to me and attempted to kindly pick ice from my beard, to which I instinctively grabbed her hand in terror and stopped her. Keep in mind, I was very close with this girl. We’d even dated a bit in high school. We grew up in youth group and drama club together. I knew her, and would have easily said that I trusted her very much. But my body felt otherwise, because my body didn’t have the same level or ability to trust as my heart, or mind. I didn’t even realize at the time why I reacted that way. She was equally surprised. Now I know why. Now I’m learning how to get back to my body, and why it’s an important part of my healing journey. But I also understand why my body is struggling through this, why it's suffering back to life. For my body, the beginning of this journey has been filled with fear. It’s taken all the strength I have to do what God told me, which was “don’t run from this.” If you’ve never experienced panic attacks, it’s hard to imagine. It’s like a pure, elemental fear that's crushing your soul. It's a very dark experience. It really feels like your dying. It reminds me of that scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where Dementors are searching the Hogwarts train and end up attacking Harry. Afterwards Ron Weasley comments that it felt like he’d never be happy again. That’s kind of what it feels like. The fortunate thing for me, and what’s made the difference this time, is that I trust God enough to know that something good will come of this. I’ve grown enough to sit with my suffering in order to understand what it’s trying to teach me, and how it’s trying lead me out of isolation and into love. But more than the belief in a process, I have a belief in a higher power in charge of the process. I’ve been through suffering enough, and grown enough through it to learn that this is, indeed, how God works to heal me. This is how God works to heal all of us; from suffering through suffering. And, as I learn how to re-engage with my body knowing center, I’m just barely strong enough to let it happen instead of running from it, which is what any normal, sane person would do.
I can’t tell you how hard it’s been to simply embrace the experience, let it happen, and listen for what God wants to teach me through it. The hardest part, I think, is that lessons like this often come slow. What I’d prefer, if I have to go through any kind of suffering for any kind of good purpose, is that it happen once, happen quickly, be over with, and God issue some kind of very immediate answer as to why it happened and what I’m suppose to get out of it. But that’s not the way it works. You know why, because my body has been trapped in this self-protective mode for over forty years, and isn’t going to just let go in one quick instant. In other words, it can take time for the message to really sink in, and really begin to effect change. Transformation is almost always painful at the beginning, because it requires letting go of what seems safe to step out into the unknown before we really understand anything about what’s going on. This is what many religions call faith. In other words, do you trust God more than your own common sense, enough to let him/her work counter to your relative truth in order to break you through to the next level of enlightenment and love. Until we trust God enough, and have enough faith in Love’s to open our doors to that inflowing, we simply won’t let it happen. We’ll resist, and continuing resisting, and continue to suffer from it. It was the same kind of process with my mind and heart Knowing Centers. It took a lot of unexplainable terror to push me out of the prison and into the open, to a new space where I could understand just how unhealthy I was before. Do you understand why it often takes a kind of fear to defeat our worst fear? Because we must believe that it’s safer for to surrender to love than to protect ourselves from it. And we can only begin to trust when we realize that the one calling us out won't hurt us. It’s always scary to leave our self-protection, because we really believe that’s how we’ve survived this long, and it’s usually true. What we don’t realize, and can’t until we’re pulled out kicking and screaming like new born baby, is just how confining that womb really was, and just how much bigger the new world is that we now get to live in. We really don’t want to get born, again and again, because we only know what we know, and we have only learned how to survive in our current system. It’s always scary to step out of what you know and into a space where nothing makes sense anymore. We cannot know to where we are going when it comes to personal transformation. We can only know where we’ve been. If the drive to cling to what feels safe familiar is stronger than the drive to change, we simply won’t. Suffering is the only way we begin to open our eyes and see that there are better things out there. And there’s no way we’ll move out on our own, with no real promise that moving out will end up better, unless we know and can hear the voice of someone telling us that this is true. And that requires the kind of trust in God that only comes from experience. We cannot learn this kind of trust except by testing it, to see if it’s really true. We have to first accept God’s invitation to transformation on pure faith, before we can garner the kind of faith based on a repeated process which proves that all this really works. I told you, there is a science to spirituality. One of the basic formulas of this is that faith leads to experience, which leads to greater understanding, but understanding can never lead to greater faith. The question is, do you really believe in the divine energy flow of love? Do you believe the truth that God is love, enough to test it? All our suffering stems from our inability to believe this, but such suffering can also lead us on.
Are you ready to listen to your suffering? I know just how hard that can be. Mostly, we just continue following the path of least resistance, because that appears to be the path of least pain. But it’s not, and eventually we’re going to have to face that painful truth. I hope it doesn’t take as devastating an experience for you as it did for me. But in the end, I hope that either way you are able to step into the flow of a God that loves you more than you could ever know, but not more than you can experience. That is going to take something more than your mind to figure out, and get to. In a mind-dominated world, learning to trust our experience of God can be difficult, because that experience is rarely rational. A God in touch with all Centers of Knowing and Being must be experienced through all those centers. God must be, more than an idea in our heads, a lived experience in our heart, soul, spirit, and body. To get more in touch with that God, we need to understand how to better experience that energy flow with our whole being. And, that’s something we’re going to explore next. I know how new and strange a lot of this can sound, but I hope your still tracking with me enough to understand the value of this new journey, and to want to keep going. I also hope you’re coming to see a different kind of God than what you’ve heard about. A God that really is love. So, stay with me as we try to understand how to better experience the flow of God’s love through our whole being.