Dealing with suffering

Over the last couple of days I have come across a couple articles on the ways in which spirituality has been commercialized. Whilst I am sure those who have developed spirituality programs for use in business have had good intentions, it seems that the essence has been lost in the process.

The real problem is that at the heart of any spirituality of substance is a paradox which holds both the real giftedness of the individual and the capacity for destruction in tension. This means that when we are riding high on success we are able to recognise that the success is only partly attributable to our efforts – success is always a combination of hard work and serendipity. It also means that when we face circumstances of suffering that we are able to see that again, we are only partly responsible.

Suffering is one of the great conundrums – in Christianity we have no theological argument which can contain suffering, all we have is the image of Jesus on the cross. We have no explanation for why suffering exists that can really comfort us when we are in the midst of such circumstances.

We find the spiritualities of success so alluring. The popularity of the book The Secret a few years ago is one such example. The idea that we can create our own reality, that someone we are in charge of our destiny, if we can just think right is so appealing. (In Christianity, the prosperity gospel is very similar). When things are going well, these ideologies are so provocative and feed into our ego – Look at how well we are doing, we have got it right. And it feels like we are in control.

But when things go wrong, like losing your job or cancer or an unexpected loss, we have no place to turn because we think it is all up to us. And if that were not sufficiently confusing in itself, we discover that our companions who shared our way of thinking now no longer know what to say, and don’t want to be associated with the negativity our new position. Fearful of being tainted, they shy away.

When we are able to sit with suffering in a place of compassionate care we often discover that the suffering isn’t entirely from nowhere, but it also is not usually entirely our fault. There are elements of personal responsibility and elements of this simply being a part of life. We need a spirituality which can help us pick through the rubble effectively.

Any spirituality which emphasises success rather than compassion will be toxic in the long run because such a spirituality will not have the capacity to cope with suffering.

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