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Suffering and spirituality

Discussion in 'Spirituality and ME/CFS' started by Nielk, Aug 17, 2011.

  1. Wayne

    Wayne Senior Member

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    Some Thoughts on Eckankar

    Hi Nielk,

    An interesting thing is that when someone comes in contact with some of the basic tenets of Eckankar for the first time, they often find a lot of similarities to their own religion. The reason that is given as to why this occurs is because Eckankar is an ancient spiritual teaching, with a history that goes back as far as 6 million years. Most religions and spiritual groups of today are generally no more than a few thousand years old at most, which each one reflecting various aspects of the original teachings.

    Of course this should all be taken with a grain of salt. But a principal tenet is that Soul always has an opportunity to prove things to itself. For instance, when Eckankar says it offers an opportunity for spiritual freedom in this lifetime (no more karma and no more births and deaths), and escape from the rounds of reincarnation (which can be somewhat of a Hell), it hands the responsibility for proving extraordinary concepts like this back to Soul.

    Other examples: If a person is unsure of the concept of reincarnation, techniques are offered to help a person access their own past lives and prove it for themselves or not. If a person is unsure of whether they can begin to work through elements of their personal karma at a quicker pace (and expand awareness and love in their lives at the same time), then techniques are offered to help make this happen. If a person is unsure as to whether Soul can attend advanced spiritual education classes on the inner planes, then they are offered ways to see if it is indeed a reality.

    A key principal Im attempting to describe is that only we can prove things of a spiritual nature to ourselves. Our criteria and experiences will always be at least somewhat different than anybody else. Some people require direct experience which I described above, while others require verification of their beliefs in a certain scripture of one or more religions. Some require both. Were all so different, and in the end, we can never prove anything to anybody else (nor should we try).

    Regarding your first question: I dont believe Souls are created with karma; theyre assigned certain karmic conditions to get them started in the worlds of positive and negative (the higher planes, or heaven, only consists of the neutral force which is Divine Love). And I believe everybody is given somewhat different circumstances.

    Regarding your second question about Souls asking for the challenge of suffering. I dont know that I can give you a succinct answer on that, but I think it ties in with your third point about why do bad things happen to good people. I dont pretend to be an expert on this, but my understanding is that as Soul goes through its many incarnations, it acquires new karma and resolves older karma, all the while gaining valuable experience and insights into life.

    If Soul is unready to work through certain karma at any given time, its given the opportunity to grow and prepare beforehand (perhaps several lifetimes), so that when these karmic effects show up in their lives, they are much better prepared to learn from the valuable experiences it offers, which can include certain amounts of suffering. So a more mature Soul (good person) has reached a maturity and strength leading up to facing certain karmic conditions. So did Soul ask for this suffering? I guess I would say possibly. :Retro smile: The Lords of Karma always have a say, but Soul at all times can take the initiative to move forward spiritually and work past their destiny that karma may have set up. This often involves a speedup of their own karma, and some of the suffering that can accompany it.

    My understanding is that Soul at any time can say something like, Ive had enough of this living in these lower worlds, I want out! This is where Eckankar and the Eck Masters come in. Their spiritual responsibility is to all mankind, but a special responsibility is to assist those Souls that are preparing to make the effort to finish up their karma, and their lifetimes in these worlds. They will readily assist anybody who asks for help on their journey back home to God. Many Souls just want to go back home after being stranded in somewhat of a wilderness in the worlds of positive and negative for so long. They cant necessarily put words to this longing, but it is there nonetheless. This point is apparently eventually reached by everybody, and the spiritual destiny of all Souls is to make this journey.

    Can I prove any of this? Of course not. Can I prove it all to myself? Clearly no, but I feel I have been able to prove a lot to myself. The one thing that makes me so certain that Eckankar is the path for me, is because of the great love Ive discovered and experienced by doing the Spiritual Exercises they recommend. I was never able to discover this love from either prayer or meditation or reading certain books or scriptures (and I tried). So thats my criteria for determining what is truth; it wont be the same for others. We all learn to discriminate in our own ways, and thats the only thing that is valid.

    Hope this wasnt too rambly. :rolleyes::angel:

    Best to All, Wayne
  2. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    I have taken bites out of many spiritual traditions, and spit out most before swallowing. :Retro tongue::Retro tongue::Retro smile:

    Oh the stories I could tell about all the assorted insanities I have been witness to in the various spiritual groups I flirted with! Hypocrisy (in large doses), abuse, manipulation, sexual impropriety, blazing egos, raging gurus, alcoholism, even violence. Starting with Catholicism (which I was "born" into), on through all the spiritual traditions I investigated on my journey in the spiritual realm--Buddhism, Sufism, Kabbalah, Native American teachings, and less known others--I really had my eyes opened wide :eek::eek::eek: to the darkness lurking in the shadows of so much "love and light." What comes to mind is this quote of Jung's, (especially the part I've bolded), which validates my own experience:

    "Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the Shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular." (CW 13: Alchemical Studies, p. 265)

    After rejecting much of what I saw, read, and heard in all the spiritual traditions I tried on, I came to the conclusion that my spiritual path was very simply about living a conscious life with an open heart.

    I have no gods, no beliefs, no prayers, no book to follow. Just my conscience as my guide, and Nature as my unofficial "guru." If I need guidance, I ask my dreams for their input. If I need release and relief from the various agonies of illness, I use creative expression---art and music--for that. If I need inspiration, I read Jung, Joseph Campbell, the Transcendentalists, and lately Japanese haiku.

    After many decades I am finally comfortable with "not knowing" and just being willing to find out. That makes life MUCH easier. :Retro smile:
  3. Recovery Soon

    Recovery Soon Senior Member

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    Thanks.

    AMEN. So many people get off-track by avoiding the pain- when in fact facing the pain is itself the path.

    Even if you look at the story of Jesus as simply metaphor (I see it as more- but for purposes here) you'll see an example of a person surrendering to and completely accepting suffering at the most excruciating level possible- and gaining a spiritual rebirth in the process.

    That's the roadmap.

    If you want the Angels, Love, Light, etc. you better get ready to face some demons.
  4. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    I hear you Recovery Soon.

    What I have found to be most useful to my own spiritual/emotional sanity is not resisting what is. So easy to say, and so challenging to do! By this I don't mean just passively giving in and submitting to being a victim of my circumstances, but rather being willing to be fully present with whatever is happening and whatever I am FEELING about it. Because I am rather passionate and have such strong feelings about things, I often hit a wall of just not wanting to feel what I do. I don't want to feel angry about this and that, or depressed, or anxious... but inevitably I do feel these feelings anyway, whether I want to or not. And when I fight those feelings with my resistance to them, I make them HUGELY worse. "That which you resist, will (definitely) persist."

    I have found the same thing to be true with symptoms. When I resist and fight my fatigue or some of my weird neuro symptoms, the struggle to MAKE THEM go away depletes me even more. Whereas when I let myself be with the symptoms and notice them, without reacting to them, or going into complete identification with them, I find a sense of freedom from them and often even a lifting of their intensity. It's really a weird thing to experience. It has impressed upon me the simple fact that I cannot change reality, but I can definitely have an effect on it with how I react to it.

    In observing myself over the years through meditation, psychotherapy, contemplation, I have come up against this monster of unwillingness to be where I am and to feel what I feel, over and over again. The most pragmatic tool that I have used to work my way through that resistance has been art and creative expression. I find that allowing myself to be exactly where I am, and to express in color or music what I am feeling in that moment really helps me move through it. There is such relief and catharsis for me in the act of painting especially. It gives me a feeling of enormous validation and freedom and even joy. That's why I often say that ART is my personal savior. I highly recommend it.
  5. Nielk

    Nielk

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    DB - Did you read the book "How to be Sick" by Toni Bernhard ? She talks a lot about not resisting, just observing and just bring. It must have been hard for you to get to this place because you are a reactive person. I am too and am still struggling with getting to the place I want to be at. I think I'm improving with baby steps.
  6. Recovery Soon

    Recovery Soon Senior Member

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    Yes- Totally Agree- Well said. That's the Human Condition- so in a way every step on the path is upstream and counterintuitive. That's why few people stick to it- It's HARD!

    I did. She practices Vipassana/Insight Meditation- the same form I practice within the same community.
  7. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    Hi Nielk--

    Yes I did read most of How To Be Sick. There were some things that rang true for me: the importance of being in the present moment, of questioning the mind if something is really true or not (as the mind does certainly jump to conclusions), of cultivating compassion, and of recognizing that moods (and symptoms) are like weather--they come and they go, because nothing is permanent and "this too shall pass," including the physical body.

    On the other hand, there are some things that really did not ring true for me and which I found to be rather tedious, rule and concept driven, and counter-productive. On the top of that list is the all too common belief that illness is some sort of "blessing," and an opportunity for enlightenment. This is not and has not ever be the truth of my experience. (Illness JUST IS. You have it, you find ways to cope with it, and you are who you are in spite of it.) Yet it seems such an entrenched concept in the spiritual thinking of so many (both traditional and New Age) spiritual seekers. Maybe it is contradictory to "the image" of one who considers themselves spiritual to just say: "THIS SUCKS..." which having a chronic neuro immune disease really does. So I always question the sincerity and the validity of that view.

    There's a bunch of other things in that book, and in Buddhism in general, that I found unhelpful... lots of rules about HOW TO: feel, live and respond to others. This is just too reminiscent of Catholicism, and I question how much of came from The Buddha and how much got added on after the fact. The main quote that I know is attributed to Buddha is BE YOUR OWN LIGHT, and that I can embrace. While all the other lists of how to's and what not to's I just toss out.

    I don't see myself as so much a "reactive person," (in that I don't lose my temper or freak out very easily), but I do have strong feelings about things, and strong preferences about what is right for me. These have been incredibly useful to me in my life, especially during my illness. They are like the compass that guides me and helps me discern what to move towards and what to steer clear of. The hard part was/is embracing and accepting my feelings AS THEY ARE, and not second guessing them and myself, which is usually a guarantee of trouble. I don't ever want to lose or "neuter" those instincts, and I would not be willing to entertain any belief system that encourages that.
  8. laura

    laura Senior Member

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    Nielk, I decided to PM you.
    Maybe later I will feel comfortable sharing more details in public. And I don't want to hijack the thread...
  9. laura

    laura Senior Member

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    Thank you Dreambirdie for saying that! I also have difficulty with people who profess to be spiritual and then want to whitewash suffering. It feels like a denial of reality. Maybe on some ultimate reality level everything is a blessing; but for me, living in this material world, being sick really does suck! Sometimes I think the denial of suffering is a sneaky way to bring judgement into spirituality, i.e. if so-an-so were *really* spiritual she would be positive 24/7 and see all the silver linings to her clouds (oh, and heal herself, of course). And I agree with you about facing the shadow, it is the recognition and integration of the darkness that paradoxically expands the light...
  10. Ember

    Ember Senior Member

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    Open mind, open heart. Thanks!
  11. Nielk

    Nielk

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    I have re-read this thread and noted some tidbits that I have found interesting and a learning experience for me. I will note here some of the tidbits that you have all kindly shared with us:

    -illness propels you to re-define who you are as a person

    -connection with nature

    -heightened empathy for other people

    -illness helps set priorities

    -I've become more religious

    -the rebuilding things that illness took out

    -change in compassion, gentleness, kindness, patience

    -things can look quite different when viewed from an eternal perspective

    -open mind - open heart

    -face your suffering

    -you are seperate from your suffering, despite of it

    -accepting feelings as they are

    -be your own light

    -cultivating compassion, mindfulness meditation

    -searching for meaning (Victor Frankl)

    -the possibility that the unconscious being able to radically alter the body in ways conscious mind cannot

    -why is this happening FOR me

    -holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned

    -if we only use 10% of the brain, what is the other 90% doing?

    -"you need to reboot your system"

    -death is not an extinction, it is a separation

    -"collective consciousness"-what we tell our conscious mind percolates through to the subconscious, then to the universe to be picked up with other thoughts by other "souls". If we tune in and listen, we will have a knowing...

    -my life has been a journey from my head to my heart

    -I know that no one is guaranteed a healthy life

    -Those who wish to sing, always find a song

    -yes, illness can help us gain certain insights, but, I don't think it's some kind of prerequisite

    -suffering was what moved me toward a spiritual path and has been the raw material for much of my spiritual exploration, as that is what I had to work with

    -and actually, I think a lot of it is about learning humility

    -I do find it useful to hold onto the thought that the meaning of suffering may become apparent in hindsight

    -It's hard to say if I'm more spiritual now. I would say, I try to listen to God more now. I try to do what I feel I'm being pushed to do

    -My experience has always been that I don'y change into someone I'm not, I just become more of who I really am.

    -Early on, I decided that since I had no choice about this illness, I'd choose to use it as a spiritual teacher

    -I still get joy from listening to the birds sing and touching the earth. That will never change


    Thank you all for your tremendous contribution.

    Nielk :hug:
    ahimsa likes this.
  12. Recovery Soon

    Recovery Soon Senior Member

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    DB- I agree with much of what you said. I don't understand your point about Buddhism or Toni Bernard's book giving rules about how to feel about anything (mind you I am not a Buddhist). Non-reactivity is about feeling things just as they are, like you said- Certainly not contriving feelings. I'm not sure where you got that idea. It is definitely not about neutering anything- except unexamined reactivity patterns.

    Embracing feelings does offer an opportunity for spiritual growth. In the case of illness the opportunity is that much greater because the resistance is so much stronger. I think that is what she was referring to about the opportunity for enlightenment. Calling it a blessing may be a bit over the top- but I kind of take that as more figurative than literal.

    The idea of "Being a Lamp Unto Yourself" which is the advice the Buddha was giving on his deathbed to how his followers should live after his death seems to be exactly what you have described yourself doing- and what the book advocates for- following only that which has shown to be true in your personal experience upon an open-minded, experiential investigation.
  13. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    Your welcome, Laura. This belief of illness as a blessing is one I encountered so much on my journey through the New Age self-help realm. In some circles this idea seems to be set in concrete as a sort of unquestionable "LAW of the UNIVERSE," along with the belief that everything happens for a reason/aka you "CREATE YOUR OWN REALITY." This is prevalent in traditional religions as well. The odd thing is many people just believe it without questioning. And many of those who have questioned it, have reported being shamed for doing so--even accused of "not being spiritual enough," and told they need to "do more work on themselves."

    This is something we discussed on Facebook one day, after the following article was posted:
    TOADS: Ascribing benefits to the experience of devastating illness or trauma is fraught with hidden dangers. http://the-scientist.com/2011/08/01/toads/

    "Casting an illness or other trauma as a special opportunity for growth trivializes the adversity...After all, isnt disease an opportunity, even a gift? For patients, it imposes a tremendous pressure to capitalize on this opportunity, to be happy about it, or to feel like failures when they are not. Illness is not a special blessing. Its not a visit to an Emerald City. Its just a toad."

    I think it's always a good idea to investigate the alleged "TRUTHS" presented by spiritual traditions, to try them out and try them on, to see if they fit and how they fit, and to be willing to throw them out if they don't resonate in your heart as really true. I think that sometimes people are so afraid of uncertainty, that they cling to beliefs that are culturally accepted, just so they will have something to hold on to. And they don't always like those who open the Pandora's Box of doubt, and rearrange the reality that they were so sure of (or maybe not so sure of!) It is scary, but also very liberating, to be willing to just NOT KNOW any of the answers to the big questions about life, death and spirit. It gives one the freedom to find out what's true, and in the process to live a more authentic and fulfilling life.
  14. Recovery Soon

    Recovery Soon Senior Member

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    This view casts illness in it's own direction- and not an empowering one. Returning back to Victor Frankl, the research strongly suggests that finding a bigger meaning for suffering is beneficial and sometimes critical to one's emotional survival. None of that involves blame or a denial of hard truths- which would be it's own distortion at the expense of people.

    The middle ground or "middle path" (to keep the Buddhist theme alive) between "special blessing" and toadsville is actuality. Embracing that, however painful, is healing- if not physically, than certainly emotionally- meaning a return to wholeness.

    Capitalizing on that is an opportunity. Not capitalizing on it is by no means a failure- or an indictment of character. I think that's where the disconnect and pressure comes from- There are people and philosophies who perpetuate a sense of shame through an overly simplified interpretation of the complexity and struggle of living with chronic illness.

    If compassion is not at the root of any spiritual tradition or belief system it is just an empty calorie.
  15. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    Hi RS--It's been a while since I read the book, but yes, these were my impressions in certain passages of it.
    Of course, just to begin with, the title itself has the words "HOW TO" in it. :angel:

    As I look it over now, I find one big example of what I mean regarding Buddhism being rule and concept driven. On page 45 Toni admits::
    "Buddhists like to joke about the staggering number of lists and the number of concepts that appear on multiple lists."
    This is exactly what I am talking about.

    Then, on the following page 46--she lists the four brahma viharas: metta, karuna, mudita, uppekkha, and directs the reader in the practice of these. I don't want to quote the entirety of the next few pages, but there's a lot in there that I disagree with regarding the "HOW TO's" of approaching one's emotions in order to cultivate these four brahma viharas. Then on page 54, continuing along the same lines, she talks about directing loving kindness towards those who you really don't like and don't agree with, and gives Sarah Palin as an example. :eek::eek::eek: Wow...If that is not contriving feelings, then I don't know what is.

    Not figurative, but very literal on page 28--regarding the truth of annica, "the bittersweet cold that penetrates to the very bones" where she writes about the blessings of her illness: "Without the bitter cold of giving up my profession, I wouldn't have the fragrance of Mozart and Beethoven wafting through my bedroom. (Of course I could have enjoyed the fragrance before I got sick, but the fact is I didn't.) Without the bitter cold of having to stay in bed most of the day, I wouldn't be so attuned to the changing seasons; I never realized they are right on view outside my bedroom window." and down the page: "There are so many ways I've "grown" ONLY BECAUSE OF THIS ILLNESS..."

    This is what I was talking about, and objecting to, in my post #118.

    YES. Being Your Own Light rings true for me. And I don't feel the book is always "on the same page" with this thought.
  16. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    Real compassion is a very rare thing, and unfortunately, in my personal experience, most spiritual traditions have failed at being good examples of it.
  17. alice1

    alice1 Senior Member

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    I've stopped reading self-help or spiritual books awhile ago.Too many people who talk this talk have never walked it.
    I live in this world not in the in between and I still want to take part in it.I don't think that's denial I believe that's the desire to do my best at getting as close to achieving it.I also think it's human to want to be well and thrive.There are days when getting off the sofa is tough so I do just let it be.What I've learned from this.. there are people in this world who suffer much more than me.
    I still allow myself to be angry and sad,they have to be released.The happy times is what keeps me going.
    Whatever get's you through is your answer.
  18. Dreambirdie

    Dreambirdie work in progress

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    Thank you for your honesty, alice1. Me too, regarding the part I have bolded.

    There are so many ideals in spiritual traditions, but how, where or if these ideals fit into one's specific reality is up to each of us to figure out.

    "Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again," is how Joseph Campbell puts it. For me Nature is the sacred space--the ocean is the best holy book I have read so far. And that's where I am going now.
  19. alice1

    alice1 Senior Member

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    Joseph Campbell is my hero as well as nature and the ocean.!!!
    Go read those waves Dreambirdie.
  20. Ember

    Ember Senior Member

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    Prevalent in traditional religions or among the religious? I believe Job's misfortunes are framed as a wager between God and Satan. Jesus healed the sick. The Buddha sought to end suffering.

    I think you're describing a culture-wide phenomenon. I loved an article a former colleague of mine wrote: "Cancer isn't the best thing that ever happened to me."

    http://rethinkbreastcancer.com/news...isnt-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me/

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