Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photograph by the author
Taking in sorrow intentionally becomes a deep practice.
Intentional suffering cannot be an external action taken in external directions. It begins there; but external suffering becomes almost at once an attachment to the external, and every attachment to the external needs to be clearly seen and defined in relationship to the nature of one’s inwardness.
Even mindfulness easily becomes an external practice; we take almost everything this way, I find. It isn’t unless we discover the living nature of inwardness as it actively manifests that we can begin to distinguish the external from the internal; until then, the natural effortlessly poses as the spiritual, and a person has no hope of distinguishing the difference; there is no comparative. Perhaps it’s the awakening of this comparative that serves as the greatest shock a person ever gets, because up until then, one believes absolutely and irrevocably in the external—and the chimeric, ersatz version of the inner spiritual realm which it creates.
Yet when it finally comes alive, the inner opens into a realm of much finer vibrations; and they penetrate the body and the Being in ways that feed other, unknown parts. It’s the unknown nature of these parts and the energies that rule them that becomes interesting; one is drawn into an inner world of participation quite unlike the outer world. This inner world of participation provides an intimacy impossible to achieve or understand in any other way; one becomes a person. This is what the finer energy does; it imparts personhood through essence.
The inner energy feeds the growth of the spiritual nature; and the spiritual nature is there exclusively to receive love and sorrow. This work needs to be undertaken alongside and in conjunction with ordinary life, but is not mixed with it.
Actively saying yes, in an inner sense, to sorrow is to go towards the sorrow, to drink it as one would water. It is a kind of wine, actually; so the energy of life as it arrives undergoes a transformation as it enters us. We can participate actively in that transformation as it happens, but only to the extent that we are willing. It’s entirely capable of taking place automatically, whether I am aware of it or not. It’s my willingness that makes a difference and changes the nature of the enterprise.
The fact is that all I am speaking of here relates directly and exactly to the Presence of God. There is no need to call it any other thing, even as one attempts to define it in greater detail by particulars. The Presence of God fills us; we await it. There isn’t anything else worth waiting for, even as we see the attachment of our lower parts to the world as it is. We can leave that be; there is little to be done for it anyway, and it will have its end, in any event. What matters is this turning towards God; and there is no other worthwhile turning than the turning that takes place through suffering, and allowing the sorrow of God to enter us. Here is where water truly turns to wine.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.