by Kahlil Gibran

Original Language English

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

-- from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Monday's poem sparked some fascinating discussions. Many of the notes and comments I received were responses to Rumi's emphasis on suffering in that poem. Several people argued that suffering is not required for spiritual growth. Others found a certain comfort in the idea that suffering is part of the spiritual process, giving meaning to their own sometimes terrible struggles. So many wise, compassionate viewpoints.

I don't want to suggest that I believe pain is necessary. I do believe, however, that suffering can be used. Difficult experiences can serve a profound purpose -- when we approach them with awareness and with heart.

I would like to look at this question of suffering and spirituality from a slightly different angle today. What if the suffering is the suffering of the ego?

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

When we believe that we are that ego, then we experience the ego's suffering as pain. We take it personally, and fear it could lead to death and, worse, nonexistence.

But-- when we carefully, elegantly free ourselves from the notion that we are the ego, not merely as a philosophical idea but as a directly experienced reality, then what does the suffering of the ego mean to us? What is the ego exactly? When we come to see the ego as nothing more than a phantom, a mental construction, then the suffering itself becomes phantom-like. It is more like the unfolding drama of a movie being watched. It can be intense, heart-breaking, occasionally beautiful, but we no longer experience it as personal. It is no longer seen as an attack on our being.

Suffering, from that perspective, is not about pain or loss of being; instead it is seen as a form of alchemical pressure. When we keep our awareness engaged, we can use suffering as a form of transformational intensity, turning the crushed grape into wine...

Let's also keep in mind that mystics often use the language of pain to describe spiritual opening, often in a shockingly positive light. They may refer to a "sweet pain" or a "healing pain." This "pain" has a few levels of meaning and types of experience.

On one level, the pain can be quite literal and even physical. But it might be more accurate to refer to this as "intensity" rather than "pain." It can be as if the senses and the perceptual mind's ability to process it all gets overloaded. The mystic then experiences a searing, cleansing sort of intensity, that might be called pain.

Through profound opening, one feels everything more completely, a sort of universal empathy. There is a lot of hidden suffering in the world and, at a certain point, we feel it as our own. (Actually, we always feel it anyway, but the walls of denial fall away, and we become aware of it for the first time.) In a directly sentient way, we become aware of the interconnectedness of life. Initially, that flood of feeling is intense, even painful, but that is the pain of the heart breaking open. It becomes a sort of wound one carries, but it resolves itself to a beauty and sense of unity that manages to integrate even the most terrible suffering.

Other mystics speak of a wounding in a more metaphorical sense. The pain experienced is the perception of one's separation from God. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

In the past, I've written--

Your most secret wound
is the doorway.

Ultimately, all of these forms of pain are the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being sweet or joyful or beautiful. It is, in fact, the beginning of bliss.

Sending much love to everyone!

Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
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