Friday, March 14, 2014

Pain and Suffering

For some reason, this has been one of the hardest, and yet most rewarding, fasts I have ever done. And please don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but just a bit puzzled. I'm still very grateful to have food to eat in the morning and in the evening, and very grateful for clean water to drink. I've just noticed that this particular fast has been, for some unknown reason, more difficult than most for me.

During this time, I do try to remember His days during my days, and I call to mind a lot of what Baha'u'llah endured in His life. And compared to that, my little pangs are nothing.

But, of course, it has gotten me thinking. That, combined with talking with my wonderful wife (I love how those two words alliterate), has brought forth some interesting meditations.

Oh, and I also combine that somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain with the various comments I hear from others when I mention that I'm fasting, "but thanks for the offer of a drink". Almost everyone says how good it is that I'm doing this. They want to encourage me and support me in this, whether or not they know me.

Aside - I don't know if I've shared this before, but I want to mention my first fast. I was working in a bookstore at the time and I had told everyone that I would be doing this. They were, of course, supportive. But, and this kind of got me, I was working the closing shift that first day. That meant that I was to close the store and then head across the street to the train station to catch the train home. The sun would just happen to set shortly after the train left the station, and I still had another 30 - 40 minutes before I'd get home. I had thought of all sorts of things that I could do, such as bring a sandwich and some water on the train, but I decided to just wait instead.

What I didn't know was that my co-workers had planned something special for me. They had all been fasting, too. And when it came time to close, they all came back to work, closed up shop for me, and set out a huge feast of food to break fast together. They asked me to say some prayers, which I did, as the sun was setting. Then we all dug in. While we were eating, one of them asked me what I had learned that day. "Well", I replied, "I learned a new reliance upon God, and more gratitude for what I have. I now thank God I can eat again."

Ok. Back to the article.

When people say how great fasting is, they also follow it up with some variation of "But I can't do it".

Why, I wonder. Why do so many people feel that they cannot fast? Of course I understand that there are some medical reasons, such as diabetes, but surely not that many people suffer from such illnesses.

No, I don't think that's it at all.

I think it's that in our culture we are trained from early childhood to think of pain and suffering as things to avoid at all costs. We are told, "If you have a headache, take a pill. You shouldn't have to suffer under that headache." "If you suffer from acid reflux, take a pill. You should still be able to eat whatever you feel like and still feel fine afterwards."

Isn't this kind of silly?

I mean, really, if you eat spicy, fatty food, as just one example, and your body is giving you these signs of suffering, maybe you should just change your diet instead.

But not to get sidetracked, what is the purpose of pain? Of suffering?

Here I really wish there were some more words, for I feel like I need more.

Pain, in my opinion, is the physical sensation that is unpleasant to experience. Suffering, though, is how we react to it. Of course, there are two types of suffering. One is the suffering of the pain itself, which we have little control over. I mean, pain hurts and that's just about it. The other type is that suffering internally that we can control. It is that spiritual anguish we feel when things get to us, that type of suffering that can be dispelled with detachment and love.

Perhaps that is the word I wish to use: anguish.

Suffering, after all, comes from the root word meaning "to bear". Anguish comes from a word meaning "a tight place". Pain, by the way, comes from a word meaning "penalty".

So there we are, told by society that pain and suffering should be avoided at all costs, and realizing that sometimes we have no choice in the matter. But what about pain for a purpose?

Baha'u'llah suffered countless pains and tribulations "that the souls of men may be edified". He sustained all those "woes and tribulations... that the horizon of the hearts of men may be illumined with the light of concord and attain real peace and tranquility."

What about us? Why do we suffer the pain, or penalty, of not eating and drinking during the sunlight hours? Well, as usual, I really don't know, but I can give you my feeble thoughts on it. I think it is to be more aware of and better appreciate the special moments of this time. Baha'u'llah has said that each and every hour of this time, the month of fasting, is endowed with special virtue. By breaking out of our regular routine of consuming comestibles, we become a bit more aware of our present circumstances. Because we change our regular routine, everything else is done with a slightly higher sense of the present. We can no longer just work on autopilot. (I think that's also one of the reasons for the Feast being every 19 days. You really can't establish a rhythm around it. It's just too weird a number.)

By taking the time to fast, consciously and with a purpose, we also gain insights that likely would not have otherwise had. We are more acutely aware of those who never have enough to eat. We become more aware of just little we actually require. We are more conscious of just what it is that we do consume.

When we turn that autopilot off, and live with a greater awareness of what we are doing, then life itself has more meaning.

Up above I quoted the Tablet of Ahmad, and just a few sentences later in that same Tablet, He tells us to "Rely upon God, thy God and the Lord of thy fathers." And isn't that just what I had learned, all joking side, that very first day? To thank God for what I have?

And then the very next sentence continues that thread: "For the people are wandering in the paths of delusion, bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears."

Thank God. And be aware.

And sometimes, quite often actually, with awareness comes pain. When I examine my life, when I bring myself "to account each day", and truly look within, I see how little I have done. I see how far I have to go in achieving my full potential. I see what I have done that has hurt others. And to be fair, I also see how far I have come, and what I have done to try and bring joy to others. But I do see how much I have to grow.

Then I recognize that growth and change involve pain. They require the letting go of the ego, if you are to have true and meaningful growth, and that can be scary.

So at this time of the year I look around at all those people who praise me for fasting, and I pray, deep down inside, that they, too, will find the courage and strength to do the same. And I also thank them, truly and deeply, for their encouragement. Without it, this fast would be even more difficult.

No comments:

Post a Comment