|The experience of physical and psychological suffering - Its cycle and meaning (Part One)|
|Life – Consciousness|
How many of us are aware of the benefaction of suffering? How are the daydreams of Rousseau linked with Ecclesiastes and Ramakrishna? Why, since suffering is a stimulus to evolution, are we afraid to look it in the face? Is this reaction natural, or is it a product of the dominant way of thinking of our civilisation?
Which thinkers have proposed an Orphic model for dealing with suffering, in contrast with the widespread Promethean model? How is the rejection of suffering related to sadomasochism and its political and economic consequences?
Suffering is the basic field - as is satisfaction - on which instinct works in terms of orientation and strategy. Suffering is the sense of a cause with which we must regulate our relation. However, it too has an evolution, since it is not confined to physical suffering, but through the processes of the mind, desire, and sensibility also develops psychologically, with a tendency to take on dimensions as concerns our apprehension, our future evolution.
Acceptance and rejection of suffering
There is the process of the reverse incorporation of pain. Masochism, in its sexual version, acts as a bipolar reverse incorporation of pain. This is a product of long-term confusing familiarisation between pleasure and pain which is a manifest background of totemistic and fetishistic fixation, which is incapable of being raised to the purity and causative interpretation of the phenomena of suffering.
In psychologically aggravated states, off the scale of sexual problems and expressions of psychological phenomena, it also operates as depression and melancholic nostalgia. In the face of the dynamic of pain, civilisation functions and evolves with a strategy of indirectification, substitution, rejection, concealment, and avoidance, even in circumstances where this is impossible. Distraction, the theatrification of life, one could say, starts out from a central pain, from a central pressure / discomfort which we attempt to avoid. This is the strategy of the 'ostrich', as Charles Sanders Pierce would have said.(1)
Vital, social, psychological, and existential suffering
The main problem is that among the results of this process and of the learning, sensitivity increases - and has to increase, because, as dualist nature, sensitivity functions dialectically and transcendentally, including both pain and joy or pleasure, enjoyment, happiness. The tragic and transcendental nature of this strength of suffering is apparent in conditions of consciousness which are not direct in terms of the senses, and which, naturally, no trace of distraction can touch.
The crucifixion of Jesus, the Dark Night of the Soul of St John of the Cross,(2) the conditions of suffering pain, of renunciation, renunciation through which the consciousness must pass in order to experience ecstasy, blessedness, nirvana, the necessary giving up of desires which the achievement of the happiness of Rousseau's Daydream suggests, the transcendence of the alterations in the mind, of forms, and of desires in order to achieve the isolated unity of Samadhi – all these things point to a very difficult process of handling of the consciousness, at a time when the nervous system increasingly develops greater conductivity and feeling in the body and when the interaction of brain and body, of understanding and brain increases dramatically.
Basic belief about suffering
Suffering as a stimulus to evolution
In the end, the issue of suffering is one of self-knowledge, but at the same time it is a social and cultural matter. Poverty and the inability to form a normal relationship within a human unit or group are particularly important points. In the last analysis, the concept of humanitarianism in its later version - in the version generated by Henry Dunant with the Red Cross or Florence Nightingale, and by other great figures in history, with a trend towards solidarity with the human factor and human suffering in all its forms, as well as humanitarian opposition to human enslavement, springs from the imagination and the sympathy generated by the imagination, as Adam Smith would have said as to the version of humanitarianism in the form of 'moral sentiments'. We are speaking here of the capacity for sympathy and for solidarity in the face of the suffering of the other, of healing collaboration, participation, and action.
Suffering remains together with death. Often it could be said that suffering goes beyond even death, and through exceptional or tremendous love for family and friends, surpasses individual death as a dramatic, existential experience.
Suffering functions as a basic teacher of human life which leads to the union of spirit and matter, to the quest for the liberation of the inner entity from the bonds of reliance on the senses, and of matter. Here we must also define the necessity for joy.
We are taught about the inner entity through suffering and death and this was also the foundation of the ancient mysteries. But we are also taught about social solidarity, sympathy and harmlessness at all levels. We are taught about discrimination, detachment, apathy, and indifference.
This mercenary culture is an unfeeling being, an intolerant consciousness of which Leonardo da Vinci once said "there will be nothing on the surface of the ground, or under it, or beneath the sea, which they will not persecute, which they will not eliminate, or which they will not destroy completely".(5)
It is a constant fall, a constant exile from Eden,(6) in which desire becomes titanic alienation.
This other side of the coin is encountered in our ruthless dietary bestiality, in ruthless experimentation on animals, in our ruthless behaviour towards plants, towards animals, and towards the Earth's resources, in the assault upon Gaia.
In theory, the suffering that mankind has gone through is very great. To a large degree we have brought this suffering upon ourselves, by war, social injustice, poverty, illnesses, and all the tragic situations for which we are jointly responsible.
A part of our pain, of our ancient ecological tragedy, is inherent in our memories, and a great part of our pain is caused by nature itself through our cells. Through pain, there is a strange relation of identity or detachment between what we sense as self and the body. We must achieve balance properly, carefully, and with alertness, with hard work upon the Self and the consciousness, in order to stop the tragic cycle of extroversion, in which work becomes a part of tragedy and of suffering in accordance with the curse of the Fall or the consequence of the Fall, or with the law of sowing and reaping in the terminology of Christianity, or with the term Karma, in the cycle of Samsara, according to the terminology of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The tragic experience of the human being in history is vast. We need only think of the pain of wars and of the pain of periods in which medicine did not have the 'weapons' which it had in the second half of the twentieth century. And yet we have learnt no lessons either as to the transcendence of our individualism, or as to our support for other beings. Of course, there is in our own times a tremendous movement in favour of the rights of animals and even of plants, which often operates on exaggerated terms, without a sense of proportion, and without an understanding of the world-wide evolutionary sharing which not only Buddha but other philosophers have discerned.
From suffering to sympathy
Here, neurotic, hysterical, maniacal, market cultures have been cultivated (the naive sensuality of the seducer, as Søren Kierkegaard in his 'Diary of a Seducer' would have said, has become a commodity). These cultures have been turned into idols as mass societies and have functioned as factors in alternative movements which, in the end, have been alienated through the lack of the measure which has characterised them. We have been finally brought to the need to recover the measure for every model - both for the Promethean and for the Orphic or mystical.
The self-torture of Christians, the distortions in the system of castes in the East, and a mass of other irrational features should be dealt with. This has to happen without our losing the dialectic of the measure, of the mean, and of harmony so that we end up in the deflection of the Orphic, and of the Promethean element in our everyday existence.
This famous saying, which some people have appropriated in the context of an ideological / dogmatic fundamentalism, applies to the human factor, with emphasis on its existential dimension, and does not apply to the collective idols by means of which we render history dramatically tragic. But how many times, again and again, has not the story of Creon and Antigone repeated itself in human history in various versions, and when it also has the characteristics of religious barbarity?
At the same time, however, more integrated primitive cultures of peace can also be seen, as in the case of certain Indian tribes, of Bushmen, or of other peoples. It is up to us to be taught an integrated humanitarianism in dealing with pain, as we have many - personal or otherwise - experiences of human sickness.
Suffering and sadomasochist deviancy
The tendency to compare with or envy towards those who are socially superior or inferior alone leads to an entrapment of our consciousness, to a selfish particularity on our part as regards suffering and death. Furthermore, we have devised the ability to cause pain and death to other human beings and to other beings as a form of displaying superiority over them as we become the causes of them. We are in a cycle in which suffering and death are universal rules and yet we function simply like Charlie Chaplin on a Ford production line of this drama, turning a screw in it – this and nothing else.
We have devised premature death for others and for other beings - over and above our nutritional needs - and we have 'taken care' that our meal should mean tragedy for other beings. A meal like that of Tantalus who attempted to deceive the Olympian Gods by offering his son’s body as a meal to them. So much emphasis has been placed on the refinement of the meal that we have arrived at its supreme idealisation in the Last Supper, in Christianity.(9) The Supper, of course, is a particularly catalytic event, and this can be seen even from the choice of the term 'companion' and 'companionship' for the bond involved. This is an exception to cannibalism, to our barbarity as hunters, which is one of the three basic taboos according to Freudian theory.(10)
Murder, nevertheless, is a kind of psychological cannibalism. It could be said that it is unfitting, that it is violence to associate it with pleasure. It is also without measure in social terms, even if we should also view the problem of the lack of measure as one of the soul, a psychological, inner problem. Hence the tactfulness, and the transubstantiation of gratification, the measure or rhythm in relationships, in the sexual element, so that something which is biologically innate in the foundations of life is disconnected from cruelty and murder. Here we observe the meaning and malignancy of sadomasochistic deviancy.
Thus the Supper, even in the socialist movement on terms of comradeship and in the sense of comrades and a family relationship, as of a community of comrades, also gradually introduces features with a civilising influence, of refinement of soul and spiritual exaltation, to the point where we reach a completeness at this point if we manage to arrive at the ecological Last Supper.
Man as a factor for the transformation of himself and of nature
One day ontological cannibalism must stop, and this is a matter of a spiritual alchemy, a transcendental sense of unity of being in the process of and in discernment in diet, which must extend as far as the material field. The requirement will then be that we should feed shamanistically on the philosopher's stone, bringing out the fact that we are living stones.
Technology can, little by little, resolve certain issues by means of its evolution, knowledge, and processes in matter. We have to achieve a reduction of suffering not through hypnosis or guile practised on the prey of our hunting - even if these are vegetation - but by means of a long road of evolution. At the moment, the priority is that we should resolve, as a matter of urgency, inwardly and externally the matter of humanitarian sharing, and then that of the tragic nature of our relation with the animal kingdom. It will be recalled that such was the vision of Jeremy Bentham, a utilitarian, and, in a certain sense, a philosophical hedonist and liberal.
We must put an end to divisiveness and alienation as a vehicle and slayer of our freedom, as the economic system and our day-to-day individualism proves it to be. Our two basic points of solidarity, the issue of health and healing and that of the protection and sustainability of the environment and of nature, together with the spiritual field of the quest for health, security, freedom, and solidarity, form the field in which we must go to work immediately.
Ioannis Zisis, writer
Photo 1 from wikipedia