Lamentation of Christ
Colijn de Coter
Photograph by the author
For us, on our level, suffering has three aspects. The first level of suffering is suffering on behalf of myself. The second level is suffering on behalf of others and my community. The third level of suffering is suffering on behalf of God, which is what Gurdjieff was referring to when he discussed human beings evolving to the point that they could take on a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness.
All three levels of suffering are absolutely necessary. Nothing can be skipped here; it reminds me of the old AA saying, "The elevator to sobriety is out of order. Please use the steps." We live in a world where everyone wants to avoid suffering — and how can anyone blame us? We have surrounded ourselves with technological comforts that allow us to minimize it; we have invented new religious practices that deemphasize it; we want to use logic to understand it. This was the mistake my friend made when she suggested we can become zero and let the love through. (See the last post.) This is an entirely theoretical prospect arrived at through logical deduction about our nature and the nature of God; and while one can reach completely correct theoretical understandings by such methods, they are utterly useless in practical understanding of what we are and what is necessary for us. It's actually a wrong kind of thinking, because it takes on very lofty subjects and pretends that they can be divorced from the realities we live through.
There is a deep and absolute requirement for the confessional in the Catholic Church. Any individual that believes we can do without confessional as part of the religious process — that we can somehow do an end run around our sin and the need to own up to it on the most intense, intimate, and deepest emotional level — is just kidding themselves. There is nothing egoistic about confessional; it is part of the most necessary dissolution of ego. The Buddhists — the real Buddhists, not the feel-good Buddhists — have a similar understanding, as was pointed out in this essay in Shambhala Sun January 2013. I keep referring readership back to that article simply because it doesn't pull any punches and gets us back down to the ground floor practice, which is the same in every real religion.
When connects with a real emotion regarding inner suffering, and true religious feeling arises, all three levels of suffering take place at the same time. They correspond in their own right and in their own way to body — suffering of self and one's physical being and embodiment — emotion — suffering of desire in regard to community and others — and intelligence — suffering on behalf of a higher principle. These three types of suffering, taken together, form a single whole suffering of Being, which is not personal.
Suffering of Being touches on the lowest levels of anguish that are experienced in true religious ecstasy. It is, in its own way, a minor preparation for the complete anguish that is necessary if one wishes to truly surrender. Because it is what one would call three centered suffering, it creates this fourth mind of suffering which is an objective, not subjective, suffering. The three sufferings of our own level are all subjective, because they do not take place at the level of being — each one is just a component of objective suffering, and cannot by itself attain objectivity. This is in the nature of all three centered activities; each of the centers functions in a subjective manner, and it is only when they combine their work at the objectivity can arise, because the combined work passes across the barrier from the natural to the spiritual world, in which a trinity is at work, and the note sol is embodied.
Will talk a bit more about the suffering of being in the next post.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.