Chapter 33: Suffering, Sorrow and Passion

Down the Rabbit HoleThe Crucifixion and the Resurrection, like other miracles and events, can be read as outward symbolic expressions of internal and intimate processes or experiences. The flogging of Jesus, his humiliation, his condemnation, his suffering and death are symbolic of an endurance within the sage on the way to his 'birth from spirit' or the Resurrection. We read that Jesus went willingly to his death; therefore, the Crucifixion represents a yielding to life, a conscious entrance into suffering, a letting go of that which we think we are, that which we want, and that which we fear. The image of a man nailed to a cross with arms outstretched clearly communicates surrender and says: "I submit to life and to my suffering, with all of its seeming madness and joy and sorrow and glory and mystery. I, as I know myself or believe to know who I am, yield to a greater more dynamic understanding than that which is in me. Despite all of my efforts, I am unable to change myself by my own hand." In this yielding, new life is found. This experience is replicated time and again in the personal memoirs of many mystics and artists.

Jesus' departure also leaves his disciples in sorrow. Sorrow enflames the heart in a strange mix of pain and joy. Recall the saying "Parting is such sweet sorrow." Suffering and sorrow lead to passion. It is no coincidence that the drama of Jesus is called the Passion of the Christ. Passion for life is often the flower of sorrow. That is to say, embraced sorrow expands our hearts and makes life more dynamic and passionate. In other words, when we are rejoined to our suffering and see it for what it is or are fully aware of it, we reach the nexus or burning point of our lives. Meaning in life comes from finding that burning point. In John 15:1, Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” This sorrow, which is the result of this pruning, brings us to the burning point of life; it awakens us to the experience and passion of being alive. Most of us however do whatever we can to avoid sorrow and pain. In deep sorrow, which is quite different from depression, there is always a sense of joy because we have our finger on the pulse of life. Gibran, in his masterpiece, The Prophet, wrote a section entitled On Joy and Sorrow. In it he writes: "Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."13

The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, speaks much of those who are in sorrow and includes the meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn and so forth. Sorrow is their gateway to the kingdom of the Father because of its visceral and potentially transforming powers. Moreover, the deeper the sorrow or wilderness or darkness in which the sage-to-be finds himself, prior to his rebirth, the more powerful or pronounced the experience that he suffers upon his crucifixion and rebirth. That is to say, the farther he "strays" and the deeper he is in his "darkness", the greater the need and potential will be for salvation. The deeper he wanders into "the dark forest", the more potential for treasure he can find before his return. Like a metal spring, the more it is compressed, the more potential it has to bounce back with vigor. This idea is pronounced in nature and in countless musical compositions whereby the composer sets up a theme and then strays or departs from it. The further the departure from the theme, the sweeter the ultimate return will be to the theme. Even the Apostle Paul echoes this idea in Romans 11:32: "For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may show His mercy to all." This idea is also reflected in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11. In this parable, after the son spends his inheritance and has nothing left, he returns to his father who embraces his son and rejoices in his return. That is to say, painful situations arise to evoke or inspire growth, transformation, and intimacy. The relationship of the father with his son is renewed and it is quite different than it was previously. Suffering, or sorrow, is the gravity or the glue that binds humanity to Reality. Sorrow often has compassion at its root. In the Gnostic Gospel, the Acts of John, Jesus talks about suffering as the gateway to this perception. In paragraph 96, he says: " You have me as a bed, rest upon me. Who I am, you shall know when I depart. What now I am seen to be, that I am not. You shall see when you come. If you had known how to suffer, you would have been able not to suffer. Learn how to suffer, and you shall be able not to suffer. What you do not know, I myself will teach you." We must be careful here in understanding what we mean by suffering lest we hastily tread into the realm of sadomasochism. The suffering discussed here is psychological and is the result of alienation, loneliness, and rejection brought about by the tension between clinging to a static idea or image and the will to discover the truth. In one of his sermons, Meister Eckhart speaks of this suffering: "To him who suffers but not for love, to suffer is suffering and hard to bear. But one who suffers for love suffers not, and his suffering is fruitful in God's sight."

To illustrate further this idea of awakening through suffering, I would like to give a basic example. When you walk through a well-lit room filled with objects, you can easily avoid entangling with these objects; you touch nothing. If you were to walk through the same room with the lights turned off, you may become entangled with the objects in the room. You would bump and scrape yourself and perhaps fall down a few times. Soon, you would become quite intimate with the room and all of the objects within it and you would have the bruises and scars to prove it. Of course the reference to light and darkness in this example is not in any way related to good and evil. The darkness here refers to the primordial darkness out of which all things emanate, that darkness which contains the mystery of Life. The orthodox Christian walks through the room with the light of his theology, of his faith and touches nothing; he avoids the experience of the landscape around him. He sees the landscape but does not have intimate knowledge of it. That is, he sees the symbols but does not touch them or feel them and does not see the reference to which they point. The sage, on the other hand, is the one who enters into that mystery, in darkness. And while he will stumble, get hurt and bleed, he soon becomes quite intimate with the landscape. Here he has his own experience through pain and finally emerges bearing the scars of his journey but with intimate or "secret" knowledge of the mystery. Psychologically speaking, the sage enters into the depths of his own psyche and reconciles with them. In doing so, he becomes unified in himself, a person living out of his own center, not according to some teaching or socially established norm or ideology.

13 Gibran Khalil Gibran - The Prophet

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