In a world of tension and breakdown, it is necessary for there to be those who seek to integrate their inner-lives not by avoiding anguish and running away from problems, but by facing them in their naked reality in their ordinariness.
– Thomas Merton
We had a saying in the Air Force that’s stuck with me over the years: “Embrace the suck.” While we said it tongue-in-cheek and with a laugh, I think there’s a profound life Truth in this phrase too. As Merton indicates above, the path to health, wholeness, and deep joy is to face suffering head on.
We each have struggles, insecurities, fears, and doubts in life … know what I mean? Pain is unavoidable in this world. YET, it is what makes us deep … when we choose to embrace it and move THRU it. The Buddha said something to the effect of: “I teach only suffering and the transformation of your suffering,” and really this is true of all healthy spirituality. Spirituality is what we do with our suffering.
The tricky part is suffering sucks, so we naturally and instinctually try to avoid it. To get at what I mean by that let me share a bit about myself. My parents got divorced as I went into sixth grade, and leading up to that point there’d been a good deal of tension, arguing, and yelling in our house. I lived in a volatile place. I don’t say this to cast any blame on them, as they were truly doing the best they could, and have grown and changed in amazing ways since then. Instead, I share this to set the stage.
It stressed me out when my parents fought. It worried me that they went to marital counseling. It broke my heart when they told me they were getting a divorce, which meant my dad would go to California for his next U.S. Army assignment, while my mom, sister, and I stayed in Washington state. What is more, leading up to the divorce we lived in Western Germany during the mid-eighties and the Cold War, meaning I lived under the fear of a potential nuclear and/or world war.
Given my wiring, in the midst of all this suffering I went into my head. I avoided the pain. I read fantasy and history books, played complex games, and instinctually did everything I could to “live” someplace other than the real world. In short, my drug of choice is denial. When it comes to avoiding or minimizing our suffering I think we all have a preferred “drug” that helps us ignore fears, insecurities, losses, illnesses, death, and so on, mine just happens to be avoiding the “bad” by living in a state of perpetual optimism, happiness, and goodness … or “rainbows and unicorns” as the kids say!
Can I let you in on a secret that’s not shocking at all, but is also massively shocking? You’re going to die. While we all “know” we’re going to die, I think it’s rare for us to truly face, embrace, and feel this truth. Think about it, it was destabilizing enough for me to face my parents’ struggles and separation as a kid, so I didn’t. Likewise, and nearer to our fear of death, it was scary for me to accept the world, as we knew it, could have been blown apart by a war between the U.S. and Soviet Union, so I avoided this reality.
I don’t think I was/am alone in these struggles though. Facing, embracing, and moving through our sufferings (big and small) is NOT fun, be they loss of health, loss of loved ones, the anxiety of a real or potential illness, loss of a job, change of status, a change of relationship status, a change of location, the fear of _____, the reality of our eventual death, and so on, so we go to our “drugs” of choice: anger, pride, deceit (especially self-deceit), envy, greed, fear, denial, addiction, sloth, etc. I’m not saying we only go to one of these drugs, but based on our wiring I do think we have a preferential way to numb ourselves from the hardships of life.
I get this list from the Enneagram, an ancient personality tool I’ve found SUPER insightful and helpful for both understanding myself (and others), and growing to be more healthy and loving. With that in mind, I’m not alone in thinking the majority of Americans gravitate toward fear. In short, instead of dealing with the angst brought by difference (be it of opinion, race, nationality, religion, political party, or gender), we divide, separate, purchase guns, invade other nations, demonize people unlike us, and so on.
When you look at honestly at your past, actions, thoughts, and so on, what do you think your go to “drug” is? I ask because awareness is a crucial step for transformation. Once our eyes are opened, THEN we can choose to set our drugs aside and “embrace the suck,” thereby feeling our losses, tuning deeply into our hurts, and facing our fears (like death) head on. The magical mystery of this is when we decide to dive INTO pools of suffering with a smile, instead of ignoring them, we discover a treasure trove of peace, joy, and abundant life at the bottom.
Grace and peace,