In our modern world the lines on the page blur when we try to distinguish between struggle, suffering and trouble. We associate and lump all of these words with the seemingly random and unwelcome events that occasionally besiege our life experience bringing misery and difficulties. These problems often set us back in the forward march we’ve established in life and create a stress and anxiety which can make us feel like we are driving with no hands.
Eager to move on, we seldom reflect on the “what and why” of the struggles and suffering in our own world, but rather do our best to sidestep unwanted interruptions. We are “pleasure/pain” beings, meaning we seek, pursue, and indulge in the pleasures of life while doing our best to avoid pain. Ironically, those things we have labeled pleasurable are often the things, conditions or habits which bring about our suffering. We over-indulge ourselves in those things we consider to be pleasurable or entertaining and go to great extremes to deny and avoid anything we consider to be painful or uncomfortable. In our human condition, “struggle” is a word that we associate with suffering, pain and trouble.
“Struggle” has been given a negative connotation because of the bad company it keeps. Thus, without stopping to think about their differences, we humans have grouped the idea of struggle with words such as “sickness”, “victimization”, and “distress.” The dictionary tells a different story. The verb “to struggle” is defined as: “…making a supreme effort, to strive, to be vigorously involved in a task”; whereas, the nouns “suffering,” “trouble,” and “misery” are described as: “…states of being or conditions in which we live.” In reality, the ability and motivation to struggle is a supreme blessing because only through the development of the will to struggle can people rise above their human “conditions” of suffering and misery. Struggle is the effort we must exert to transform our natural minds (ego/personality) and biological beings (body-mind) into our spiritual selves.
In the Renaissance period, the printing press enabled the common individual to discover the world through science, mathematics, and philosophy. The ability to have access to the written word facilitated the formulation of concepts. Conceptualization about the world, how it works, and the individual’s relationship to it were the most significant factors in the development of self-conscious reality. Thus, the emergence of the Renaissance was considered the historical beginning of the individual, autonomous self.
Consciousness was suddenly in the process of being transformed and re-configured at a rapid rate by newly emerging worldviews, most of which favored the scientific and philosophical perspective of life. Aristotle’s philosophy and science had dominated western thought for almost two thousand years after his death, up until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The medieval world which was based on the blending of Aristotelian philosophy, Christian theology, and ancient pagan ritual began to transform from a naturalistic, agri/organic, spiritual world to a universe which was perceived in terms of knowledge-driven expansion and human-derived mechanization.
This change was accelerated by new discoveries in physics, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. A new age was dawning during which humanity conceived of the possibility of freeing humankind from “suffering” through “struggling intellectually” to understand, compartmentalize, and solve the great puzzle of the natural world. Thus began a long period in which the quest for science dominated the world and systematically dissected it into parts. The newly emerging self-conscious reality was not immune to this dissection and was gradually and systematically separated from its spiritual and intuitive roots in favor of the rational and scientific perspective. This mechanistic perspective of life essentially locked humanity into the objective, scientific, and external worldview that exists today. It is this scientific, rational and objective view of the world that has placed the human ego and self-awareness firmly in the external world.
With humankind firmly entrenched in the realm of rational thought, and with all objects and people being perceived as separate entities, it is only natural that the field of psychology emerged as a way to explain the individualistic, interactive experience between individuals and the environment. Essentially, psychology developed as a result of the intellectual struggle to conquer the anxiety associated with the driving need to understand and categorize the infinite responses which human self-conscious reality experienced with relation to the phenomenal world. Keeping with the current scientific tradition, psychology initially attempted to explain experience and response in terms of biological phenomenon. In other words, it was believed that behavior was determined by what one brought into the world biologically.
Freud theorized that humans were biological creatures fundamentally subject to their biological needs; he stated that these needs produced psychological tension and emotional responses which drove the physiology until such needs were satisfied. The sensation of “satisfaction” was referred to as “homeostasis.” Thus, early psychology began to compartmentalize and redefine the human individual as a creature who was simply seeking homeostasis. Men and women ordered their lives based on personal needs which each would be driven to satisfy within the constraints of the external world. Ironically, Freud’s highly individualistic, intellectual research led him to reduce and explain humankind in terms of biological urges and instincts; he neglected to theorize about his subjects in terms of being individualistic, self-conscious beings such as himself.
He put forth the theory that all organisms have a biological need to ingest food which causes discomfort if not satisfied; the same holds true for sex and other desires. When the organism has eaten, the internal stimulation from hunger pangs subside and the being feels satisfied, achieves homeostasis, and is unmotivated to seek food until the onset of hunger starts the cycle all over again. Freud theorized that since there is a limited supply of resources in the external world, individuals are forced to compete. He speculated that needs-driven urges in a world of limited resources means that new modes of adaptation must be developed in order to satisfy the cycles of tension within the organism. Consequently, the individual organism is in a state of external adaptation while continuously moving in and out of internal equilibrium or homeostasis.
Understanding homeostasis in the human has proven to be an important element in recognizing the effect of urges and cravings in the emotional equanimity of life. Homeostasis is a governing principle behind behavior that drives the individual to maintain a relatively stable and balanced internal environment, which is the platform for human activity. To Freud and early psychologists, the absence of tension is the presumed goal of human striving, and the rewards are periods of quiescence. This state of equilibrium is the pleasurable by-product of being in homeostasis. Consequently, if the individual is in homeostasis, all of the energy is free and maximum pleasure is experienced, but the lack of homeostasis in the individual is the beginning of suffering, anxiety, fear and stress.
Building upon Freud’s theory of man as a creature of biological instincts and drives, psychologist Carl Jung theorized that basic human struggle is beneficial for personal growth and self-actualization. To Jung, the unconscious instinctual urges within the human also included the need to create and to self-actualize. Jung felt that in order to fully integrate the personality, the individual was subject to and would also be driven to balance the more aggressive masculine aspects with the more sensitive feminine qualities. Jung believed self-actualization emerged as a result of the individual balancing and integrating the opposing or competing forces that make up the personality.
The biological homeostasis is not so difficult to maintain in America and other industrialized nations. In fact, it appears to many in the world that we have everything we could possibly want and more. However, psychological or emotional homeostasis is becoming increasingly elusive, especially in an environment that is increasingly unpredictable, economically challenging, and potentially dangerous. World-wide turmoil, over-population, conflicting values, ethnic eruptions, regional wars, social irresponsibility, environmental imbalances and a disregard of spiritual principles makes emotional homeostasis a dancing target that is very difficult to hit. Instead of homeostasis, modern people are experiencing a deep-seated foreboding, the source of which is elusive and unknown. This “dark cloud of dread” is becoming the norm; modern beings refer to life as “being on the edge” while they “wait for the second shoe to drop.”
Combine this uneasy sensation with what has become the technological/institutionalization of the Renaissance impulse to know everything about everything so as to achieve perfection and control, and we find the human condition to be one that is fragmented, confused and distorted by the explosive overload of information and concepts. Victimized by the excessive display and increasing objectification of behavior (ego), instead of learning to rely on internal homeostasis to achieve self-actualization, modern individuals not knowing in which direction to turn wait to see what is popular and what others are going to do. Consequently, most people have no idea what they are feeling internally and have no confidence in or positive guidance from their instinctual urges, emotional impulses, or spiritual intuitions.
Many adults have learned to ignore their internal impulses, and often, do not even feel their emotions, or when they do feel something, they are unable to comprehend the experience. This lack of emotional awareness has become totally acceptable in all societies which place greater value on the insights of the rational, superficial mind over those of reason, intuition or spirituality. Thus, people put on their accepted “cultural mask” and often have no idea how to interpret what they are feeling nor have they developed the internal knowledge necessary to manage the emotional state and keep it adaptable, balanced and stable; yet, adaptability of consciousness to discover new modes of learning within the ever changing environment is arguably the most critical issue for maintaining homeostasis, or in modern terms, maintaining sanity and peace of mind. The problem is that the adaptive functions of the individual are finding it extremely difficult to psychologically transcend the stress of a corrupted, chaotic and degenerating civilization as well as to maintain a physiological homeostasis in the unhealthy and polluted conditions of the present environment.
Internal and External Perspectives
An understanding of the necessary balance between internal and external perspectives will do much to help the individual at this moment in history. Living and functioning in a multi-dimensional Universe requires viewing the facets of life from various perspectives and interrelationships. As an example, there are many different levels in which the human body can be known. The body is most commonly understood as a sensual mechanism that experiences stimulus and sensation from the physical world. From the biologist’s perspective, it can also be known as a living system of organic activity. It may be perceived in its delicate balance of chemical compositions from the point of view of a nutritionist. Or it might even be seen as the individual component parts such as a surgeon might see.
Consciousness falls into this same category of having different levels of perception and understanding. Although there are common terms used in association with consciousness such as conscious awareness or unconsciousness, consciousness is perceived as something different by each individual person. Most people think of consciousness as “my consciousness” and simply use awareness to accomplish their personal agendas while never giving thought to what consciousness is or how it functions. People tend to base the condition or state of “their consciousness” on the physiological and emotional feelings that are felt in the body.
Consciousness is most commonly known in its external expression through the body, senses, and rational mind; but it can also be known internally as states of being. The external and internal orientation of consciousness defines two different methods people use to receive knowledge regarding the objective and subjective side of life, respectively. In other words, people with an outward orientation tend to direct their consciousness toward an external source such as their concept of God or of a religious figure. In so doing, they attempt to receive conformation and understanding regarding their beliefs in the same way they receive information about the physical realm; that is, objectively.
Without realizing they are doing so, their belief system defines God in a manner similar to the one they use to define the objects of the physical world. The tendency is to objectify spiritual reality such as perceiving God as having a human form and sitting on a throne. People whose consciousnesses are oriented to the external world believe that the external objects they perceive with their senses are real, and they believe, with the same deep conviction, that their “externally-oriented” concept of God and heaven is real. This method of rational thinking has a tendency to distort reality because it is comprised of objectifying subjective reality by forcing it through a rigid belief system.
On the other hand, people who understand the internal states of consciousness turn their attention inward to find answers to their questions because they recognize that consciousness itself is the source for the answers. These individuals realize their consciousness is actually connected to and one with the Universal Consciousness or God. They know how to be receptive to the subjective knowledge inherent in consciousness by modifying their internal state to receive answers directly through intuition and insight. These people realize and accept responsibility for their lives, the condition of their conscious state and for creating the circumstances of their lives. They understand that God is within and without and in order to have spiritual homeostasis and peace in their lives they must struggle to maintain oneness and balance within.
Internal Reality becomes External Experience
Humans, in general, have no idea that the present circumstances in their lives are a perfect reflection of their thoughts, perceptions, and actions. This means the internal reality of each person, in time, will become their external experience. With this in mind, it can be understood that the “general suffering” in this world is the result of one of two conditions; first, people make choices regarding their life based on inaccurate or incomplete knowledge; and second, they remain attached to these flawed perceptions even when they are proven to be incorrect.
Although the universe provides mankind with a system of feedback known as the law of cause and effect, the majority of people have not yet made the connection between their thoughts and perceptions and the personal experiences they encounter in life. They do not understand that living a life based on misunderstanding and misinformation will eventually create imbalance, disharmony, and suffering in our life experience. Of course, people don’t realize they are formulating these misperceptions. They do not understand the perceptions being formed from everyday experiences are flawed because they are being filtered through their own pre-existing prejudices, delusions, pain, and fears. In Corinthians 13:12, Paul referred to this as “seeing through the glass darkly.” Neither do they realize they continuously accept, incorporate, and use inaccurate information, insights, and beliefs foisted on them by other people and the institutions in which they live. Unless people make a conscious effort to recognize, reject, and break free of their misconceptions and illusions, they will continue to experience a distorted and inaccurate picture of reality.
Unconsciously, many people realize they see through the glass darkly, but they have no idea what to do to remedy the condition. In order to give the appearance of functioning competently in life, they adhere tightly to their current perceptions in hopes they are right. This effort is an attempt to maintain their self-image, which is a reflection of their self-concept. This consolidation of the self-concept gives one a sense of confidence and stability against the forces of the world. Consequently, people will fiercely defend their misconceptions and misunderstandings about life and others in order to maintain their self-esteem and self-righteousness even though such a condition often obstructs new learning and personal growth.
Reorientation of consciousness to the spiritual enables people to recognize misconceptions and misunderstandings as dangerous illusions which prevent them from seeing and experiencing life as it was meant to be. The quest for self-awareness is about struggling to realize that while we all have our share of misconceptions, the appropriate thing to do is to let go of inaccuracies as soon as they are recognized. Albert Einstein said, “We must learn to differentiate clearly the fundamentally important, that which is really basic, from that which is dispensable, and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things which clutter up the mind and drive it from the essential.” Spiritual struggle is about being humble enough to release worldly delusions and attempt to reorder our perceptions so that these are aligned with the essentials of reality. In other words, reorientation of consciousness is making a continuous effort to let go of personal delusions and to see life as if one perceived it through the eyes of God.
The universe is perfect in its manifestation; it is guided by laws and principles that are infallible. As created beings, humanity is governed by these same laws and principles, but we also have the capability of utilizing these to enhance our life experience. As we become knowledgeable of universal laws and incorporate them into consciousness, our life experiences (creations of consciousness) become harmonious, balanced, and synchronistic with all of life. When life is lived according to universal law and the inner spiritual nature is clearly understood, the mental and emotional makeup will be stable and clear, and self-perception will be true.
The axiom “as above, so below” is helpful in understanding how these laws and principles which apply to the macrocosmic universe also apply to our microcosmic universe. The unified relationship enables us to realize that Creation “below” is configured like Creation “above,” and Creation “above” is revealed in Creation “below.” There is one common Light within all living systems from the atom to the galaxy, and all such forms are governed by universal law. Christ teaches his disciples about the trinities of God and the unity in duality, and He says, “Marvel not at this, for as it is above so it is below, and as it is below so it is above, and that which is on the earth is so because it is so in Heaven.”
“As above, so below” means that mankind is a micro universe which functions according to the same laws and principles as the macro universe. In order for us to fully participate in our divine heritage, we must reorient our thinking, perceptions, and actions so they are congruous with the operations and laws of the macro universe. We will know we are successful in this reorientation process when our life experiences are fruitful, harmonious, and trouble free. This requires that we let go of who we “think” we are so we can become who we “really” are. Surrendering to the divine essence within awakens the unlimited potential of the spiritual nature revealing higher levels of consciousness.
Present civilization has not been amenable to creating an environment that is conducive to the development of true aesthetic and spiritual practices. Religions condemn exploration outside of their doctrines, and some fundamentalist religions even forbid internal contemplation. The raw materialism of civilization and the concrete/rational thinking not only oppose the soaring of spiritual creativity, but minimize, and render insignificant the affective, the gentle, the solitary, those who love beauty, and those who pursue aspirations in life other than money. The external world rather encourages the individual to chase the materialistic illusions of modern life.
However, those who give priority to contemplating the truth and beauty of the unseen over gratification from the mundane will develop inner sensibilities which bring peace, happiness, grace, and insight. When consciousness ascends the highest summits and is illuminated by intuition and creative imagination, it provides impetus for enthusiasm and inspiration toward the supreme goal. The struggle to rise above suffering, to suppress the ego, and to awaken the moral ideals, spiritual sensibilities, and the appreciation of beauty leads one to the path of the spirit.
The spiritual aspirant follows an internal discipline or spiritual struggle aimed at communion with God or ultimate reality through contemplation and meditation. This requires an elevation of the mind toward a being that is the source of all things, toward the power and center of forces, which the seeker calls God. The seeker sees beauty hidden in the visible things of the world. For this inspired individual, the appreciation of beauty, inner harmony, and communion with life becomes the stepping stone to the higher knowledge of Self-realization, enlightenment, and oneness with Christ.
“The suffering of the saints lies in the struggle between malice and virtue,
the former fighting to win control, the latter enduring all things to avoid
defeat. The first struggles to nurture sin by chastising the righteous;
the second to hold good men firm although they
experience more than their share of misfortunes.”
To a Strange Little Moth Sleeping
The butterfly writes across the sky; the poet writes of the butterfly.
The sun shines, rain falls from above, but only a rainbow expresses God’s love.
Soooo, buzzing bees tickling the ears, hint of sweetness from dusty tears.
The heart has pages meant for turning, from cold despair to fiercest burning.
One sun circles withdrawing its light, to allow the stars to prick the night.
Awaken the muse; dance round the flame, embracing blessing, honoring pain!