God, Mental Health, Seeking

Suffering, Part 2: Good Suffering

This is what happens when someone tries to lead me through a guided meditation. They’ll want to start in a field — not physically, though; I’m not an Outdoorsy Kinda Guy — and they’ll say something like, “Breathe in the clean air of this meadow,” and I’ll breathe in but I’m not sure what “clean air of this meadow” means, or how to pretend it so it makes sense to my body, and while I’m struggling with what that might feel like, how the air would smell, what I might be hearing around me– unless it’s a terrifyingly silent meadow, and what might cause all the birds to be silent? Is something stalking them? Has there been some sort of environmental disaster? What would I do if there were an environmental disaster? I’d immediately get Zach, of course, and the cats, but we only have one cat carrier and three cats. Is this meadow I’m in near a store, maybe? God, if my therapist heard me musing about stores he’d be very frustrated because I just sent him an email a couple of days ago that said, “I’d rather not talk any more about shopping — what I can buy, where I can buy it, why it’s good to know where buyable things are. It takes me out of the appointment. And you may see this as an Issue to Be Solved — but I’m asking permission to maybe leave that problem, if it even really is a problem, until a much later time. There is so much else I’d like help with, so many other wonderful things wrong with me; and I’m sure there are complementary things within my set of traumas that could be used to get at the kernel of the problem without also making me frustrated.” And I wrote an email that said that because at our first session I said, “Sometimes being in a store can trigger an anxiety attack for me.” And then — this is an actual sentence he said aloud to me — he said, “You might be in a store, like Costco, and you’ll see a lot of people with appliances, but you won’t be in the market for an appliance, so you’ll file that away, and then later, maybe you need an appliance, and because you were at Costco, you’ll think, ‘I saw a lot of people at that Costco with appliances. I bet they sell appliances. I bet they have good deals on appliances because so many people had appliances in their carts.'” And by that time, dear reader, I was ready to Girl,Interrupt myself and I am now as far away from the idea of meditation, literally, as I am, metaphorically, and this is what it’s like when I try to meditate, and it’s suffering.

beautiful meadow during sunset

There are two kinds of suffering: useful and unuseful; momentary, and ongoing. There is some suffering we can learn from. And there is some suffering that is merely performative, done in some misguided sense of purpose. The suffering Margaret puts herself through is what I would call Stupid Suffering.

Communion_BreadWineI love Margaret with my entire heart and soul. I love her love of God. I would lay down my life for her. I think she is wrong about what Christ wants from us. He tells his disciples to do two things in memory of him: eat, and drink. He doesn’t say, “Oh, and also, I need you to suffer.”

Suffering is something we do to ourselves, but it’s not something we should do for God — except I’m about to go back to that “two kinds of suffering” argument and play it out for you.

Sitting mindfully, in quiet, so that you close out the noise and thrum of not just the physical world, but of your own self, is useful. It’s restorative. It allows you to be in touch not only with your Very Self, but with the Still Small Voice of God, too, if that is what you are listening for. (You don’t have to listen for it. “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” — Mary Oliver.) But there is some suffering, initially. Sitting quietly is alien to us. Actively trying to silence everything inside and outside of us goes against everything this chattering world has been built on. But the suffering one goes through to reach peace is a Good Suffering. It is building callouses. It is working metaphysical muscles. It is suffering in the pursuit of eventual peace and comfort. Even if it only lasts 15 minutes. Even if it only lasts 15 seconds. Especially if it’s just for one brief, glowing moment.

Margaret’s suffering — her discomfort in the heat, the pain she feels in her body — these she wants to offer up to Christ as if that will somehow lessen his own suffering. She may think her suffering is in pursuit of peace, and it would be hurtful and wrong for me to take that from her; it’s not my place. But that thinking is so deeply misguided to me as to be alien. It’s the Parable of the Hole done wrong. Once there was a man, and he fell into a deep well. His calls for help were answered by a woman, passing, who lept immediately into the hole with him. “I am here with you, and now we are both in this hole.” And nothing changed except for the math.

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