“It sucks!” This was the valuation of a young person recently who was commenting on a life situation she was finding particularly difficult. I had to agree. But the part she was missing, was the lesson or learning that was embedded in the experience. When someone is suffering, the last thing they usually want to contemplate is the deeper meaning or learning that is inherent in the situation for them.
As a caring adult dealing with a younger person, there is always the difficult choice of how to respond. All of us, young or old, have to face this challenge in our lives. So often we ask ourselves, “Why is this happening? Is there any purpose or meaning in this seemingly fruitless suffering?” And of course, it is particularly difficult for the young to extract meaning from experience. It is still difficult as an adult.
And yet, paradoxically, it is these difficult experiences that force personal growth. Who stretches and develops their character when they don’t have to? When everything seems to be going swimmingly, why change a thing? Clearly you are blessed and doing things right!
However, when life’s circumstances confront you, challenge you, create obstacles and problems for you, you suffer. We all do. It feels like life is hitting you over the head with a 2 by 4. Then the more intelligent of our species are forced to ask themselves a question. And it is this question that separates the deep women from the ditzy girls, and the strong men from the silly boys.
The question of introspection goes something like this: “What is this really all about?” Or, “what is really going on here?” Or, “What am I supposed to ‘get’ from all of this, if my life has any meaning or purpose?” Some question like that will begin to formulate in your mind. And this is the question that becomes Ariadne’s thread – the thread which, if followed, will lead you on your journey.
Because the real truth is that if you are not asking yourself some version of this question, you are either still in the honeymoon phase or you feeling like a victim. If you are feeling like a victim, go back and read the The-Snake-Pit.
So if you have read this far, there is some part of you that recognizes that there just might be a value or purpose in your suffering. Of course all of this rests on a foundation of awareness in the deeper meaning and purpose of Life itself. If you haven’t already intuitively come to grasp this truth, this will probably not make much sense. Jung said, “I don’t believe in God – I know God.” If some inner core of you does not know this Truth already, you won’t find this of much value.
For those who do, Rumi tells a wonderful tale of the suffering of the chickpea boiling in the pot, complaining miserably as Life (or the Friend) treats him so cruelly:
Chickpea to Cook *
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot where it’s being boiled.”Why are you doing this to me?”
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
“Don’t you try to jump out. You think I’m torturing you. I’m giving you flavor, so you can mix with spices and rice and be the lovely vitality of a human being. Remember when you drank rain in the garden. That was for this.”
Grace first. Sexual pleasure, then a boiling new life begins, and the Friend has something good to eat. Eventually the chickpea will say to the cook, “Boil me some more. Hit me with the skimming spoon. I can’t do this by myself. I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver, my way into existence. I love your cooking.”
The cook says, “I was once like you, fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time, and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.My animal soul grew powerful. I controlled it with practices, and boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that, and became your teacher.”
Listen to this poem read by: Robert Bly and Coleman Barks