Pain must come

In sudden and chronic experience, in large and small doses, pain is bound to come. Ours is the pain planet. We were born here to feel and deal with pain’s discomfort, to endure its seemingly infinite permutations, to confront its huge force.

Until we attain liberation, each turn of the karmic wheel can be counted on to include painful episodes by the hundreds or more. And for humans of highest consciousness, namely those of saintly ways, the tests of mettle only seem to increase. No doubt by celestial design, our most extreme trials are often saved for last. Consider, for example, the long list of Catholic saints who were persecuted severely by the Church itself. Those of deepest faith, like Padre Pio, are often the ones who seem to pose a threat to conventional ways, and are the most abused.

As the lives of these spiritual heroes reveal to us, however, suffering is not a required sequel to pain, persecution, or even terrible loss. Suffering is ever a choice. When we endure it, it’s because we allow it: for days, for years, for lifetimes. Can you imagine a more ridiculous and wasteful practice?

The familiar adage, “No pain, no gain,” can be applied throughout nature. Birth, survival, and death are painfully demanding. But notice the absence of any reference to suffering. Pain from which a gain is won, like the grain of irritation that produces a pearl, is hardly a cause for misery. Anguish is added merely of unconscious habit.

When a loved one dies, especially if unexpectedly, the pain can seem intolerable at first. Slowly it subsides into mourning, and for some it may often return in visitations of missing what used to be or might have been. But even here, suffering need not steep like leaves of tea in memory’s cup. Only in the taint of self-pity does it find a fertile soil for its bitter seed.

To suffer is to misunderstand the mission before us

God’s love and God’s joy are the qualities we are here to express and become. As we sink into suffering’s dark embrace, a single question should come to mind, even if we are unprepared to answer it honestly at the time: Is this not a vanity disguised as a wound?

Suffering is, after all, an egotistical, subjective response to a cosmically neutral event. The soul does not demand, invite, or desire it. We, alone, provide the charge to every moment’s occurrence that undercuts its otherwise impartial nature. Out of anger, fear, envy, or some other caustic reaction, it is we who ordain that suffering must ensue.

But here’s a story that never fails to inspire me….

In the early days of Ananda, a fire destroyed the temple at what is now the Meditation Retreat. Much time and effort had been spent on its construction, and to lose it so soon and so swiftly was a real blow. But only a day or two later, Swami Kriyananda was singing merrily as he strolled the aisles of a local retail store, shopping for basic supplies. The store’s owner asked in amazement, “How are you able to sing after such a personal disaster?” Swamiji replied without hesitation, “Madame, I lost a temple, not my voice.”

Thank God for the few like him, who reveal to us the courage, wisdom, and grace that abides in giving pain its due and no more. Giving it a place to nest is the only mistake.