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God, Philosophical Dialogue, Suffering

Is it possible to be at peace in suffering? A conversation with Gregg.

Gregg:
This quote made me think of you:

By realizing Him who is subtler than the subtlest who dwells in the midst of the chaos, who is the Creator of all things and is endowed with many forms, who is the non-dual Pervader of the universe and all good – by realizing Him one attains the supreme peace.

Steven:
Thanks for this.  I think I have realised that God is real but I don’t think I have realised supreme peace.  I don’t believe that is possible for anyone in this lifetime – everyone lives under the shadow of suffering and death.

Gregg:
Well, there’s still time… :-)

Steven:
Do you believe anyone really achieves supreme peace?  What about if you develop a disease?

Gregg:
Yes, I believe that it is possible, even then.

Steven:
What if you’re in agony?  That’s not peaceful is it?

Gregg:
It doesn’t sound like it, no.  I think peace in the sense used is referring to peace of mind in relation to the absence of seeking; the absolute utter conviction that all is grace.  If such a state were possible then I can conceive that a man may bear even such agony in peace.

Steven:
Oh, OK. I can relate to the first part of what you said – peace being the absence of seeking, but I’m not sure you can experience peace in agony, they seem to me to contradict each other.

Gregg:
If there is no resistance or no interference in relation to the experience of what is, even if that is agony, then there is no contradiction, and therefore peace.

Steven:
But agony hurts.  It has nothing to do with resisting or not.  There’s nothing you can do when you experience pain.

Gregg:
But if a person can accept hurt without trying to change it then even hurt can be peaceful.  Peace is not limited, is it?

Steven:
I don’t agree, I think suffering is horrible.

Gregg:
It’s the fight to stop being in pain that is not peaceful.

Steven:
No, I don’t agree.  Pain is painful.

Gregg:
Yes, exactly – that way of thinking is the seeking to end suffering.  If there is no judgment on the experience then pain is pain.

Steven:
I don’t think it has anything to do with judgement; it’s feelings and sensations.

Gregg:
I’m not saying that it’s an easy experiential position to be in, but I believe it’s a possible one.  I urge a rethink if you think it has nothing to do with judgment, I would say it has absolutely everything to do with judgement.

Steven:
If you kick me in the leg, it hurts, whether I judge the pain or not, it’s horrible.

Gregg:
Without judgment there is nothing coming in between the experiencer and the experience.  “Horrible” is a judgement.

Steven:
No, horrible is just me describing the sensation.  It’s a feeling that happens.

Gregg:
Yes, so without description at all there is just the experience, and if this is accepted fully as grace, then there is just what is being experienced.

Steven:
I can’t believe that you really think that!

Gregg:
Most of us want to change experience; to shape it, create it.  We have ideas of what is good, bad, right, wrong, etc.

Steven:
What about if you have breathing problems? Are you making a judgment that that’s uncomfortable?

Gregg:
I would argue that breathing problems are a manifestation of a deeper struggle to allow life to breathe.

Steven:
Even if they are the result of a physical problem?  For instance, if someone has harmed your throat.

Gregg:
I don’t believe that things are ever just physical.  Even in your example, I would argue that there is more to it.  Harm is a manifestation of a deeper experience; a manifestation perhaps of a deeper experience of self harm that is not being processed.

Steven:
So you are saying that if you are attacked you are responsible?

Gregg:
Well, yes, in the sense that such an experience happens to offer an opportunity to bring us into the experience of how we are attacking our self on some level.  If we use experience that way then we can use our experiences to move into owning more of who we are.  But responsibility is all grace, so God is responsible really.  I believe the outer world mirrors absolutely our inner world – they are reflections of each other.

Steven:
You seem to be saying that you draw suffering to yourself, and I don’t believe that’s true.

Gregg:
I am saying that whatever you experience you draw to you.  I’m saying there is something called unconscious process which is infinitely deep, profound, and complex.  Do you think it is possible to experience whatever is being experienced without any interpretation whatsoever?

Steven:
If you poke me in the arm with a pin, there is no interpretation, just a feeling of pain.

Gregg:
Well, just a feeling, let’s not even give it a name.

Steven:
It hurts!

Gregg:
There is the experience of hurt, OK.  You can leave it there, then – no good or bad involved.

Steven:
You think you can somehow be at peace with that feeling?

Gregg:
I think it is possible, yes, and peace in this instance would refer to being in a state of experiencing without any interpretation occurring.  Just a movement of experience, ever moving, ever changing, ever flowing – all grace.  Except I think that even the blocks and the struggles and the sufferings and everything is also grace too.  Not just the good, but the bad too.

Steven:
I agree that it’s grace in the sense that God is doing it. I just can’t equate peace and suffering.  How can anyone feel suffering and not want to be free from it?

Gregg:
The presence or absence of struggle with the experience defines whether it is peaceful or not.  To accept suffering as God’s grace is it’s end!  Is it not?

Steven:
That’s easy to do when you’re not suffering…

Gregg:
Indeed!  No one said it was easy.  It’s the hardest thing in the whole world, ever, I reckon!  I have been trying to do just that for many many years, and funnily enough, it is the intensity of suffering that is always my greatest teacher in this respect.  Not whilst I’m going through it though, I have to say -  then I would almost rather die – but it is indeed the greatest teacher in that suffering has taught me about grace.  It has helped break my arrogance, and broken me, and left me ruined until all I had left was to accept all life as grace.  And even this keeps going round – I accept, I get arrogant after a while, I get broken – but each time when I come back to grace, it’s more intense; more profound.  And hopefully I’m a little wiser (although I am dumb to be fair!).  It takes ages for me to learn really simple things, so I suffer loads.  Bless those who are pure of heart!!

Steven:
Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

Gregg:
Here is an example for you of what I mean by peace in the suffering.  In my experience of excruciating self-hate and pain, real spiritual pain, and feeling completely abandoned by God (as if I had irrevocably failed God, my life, and my destiny), the peace came in the midst of that.  When I just accepted that this was what God wants of me right now.  God wants this!  God wants my suffering!  That was my peace.  God is responsible for my suffering and my joy.

Steven:
Well, I agree with that, and thank God that He gave you that realisation – it is a gift.

Gregg:
Exactly.  It’s all down to Him.  In my helplessness, in my suffering, I found peace – not away from it, in it.

Steven:
But not through your own effort.

Gregg:
No, the intensity of the suffering was the end of my capacity to make any effort, it’s always like this for me, in the cycles of suffering and redemption.  It’s like I’m holding on with all my might, but then the suffering forces me to let go and it frees up my hands.

Steven:
You have some great insights, Gregg.  As I see it, you’re never in control, so surrender or no surrender there is no choice, it is God’s will for you in any given moment.  So the best thing to do is to beg for mercy, and hope that God treats us kindly.

Gregg:
I’m totally with you but at the moment I’ve suffered so much that I won’t even beg for God’s mercy any more – not for kindness or anything.  He can do what he wants!  I will just do my best to experience what’s coming, and love the ride!  Because I do you know, I love at once the utter fragility and also the utter resilience of the soul.

About Steven Colborne

Philosopher and author from Oxford, England.

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