Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

No Pain, No Gain . . . (and No Brain)

A recent spiritual koan for me has been the dogmatic assumption that pain is requisite for significant change. My spiritual teacher, and his teacher, and a (literal) army of drill seargeants all insist that pain is a requisite part of change, and that if you're not feeling extremely uncomfortable you are probably not changing that much. This philosophy is remarkably well-suited to my Stoic psyche; I consciously and unconsciously associate the ability to unflinchingly tolerate discomfort as the one of the highest virtues. It also makes me something of a hack; while I can't deny I have certain talents, I feel that most of my success is more attibutable to sheer raw work and more hours than the next guy.

But the (potential) problem with this philosophy is the possibility that sometimes change comes a lot easier than you expect. (Like this blog . . . I expected it to be very hard to write every day, and it has actually been a great pleasure. What took me so long?) Sometimes, with good guidance and well-timed intervention, you can change some things very quickly for the better. I think Richard Rose understood this when he said: "Rejoice in the things you can allow yourself to do."

There larger issue is that you can get the logic confused; suffering may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. In other words, just because you're suffering, doesn't mean your going to change. Sometimes suffering is just stupid. As my boss Harry is fond of saying: "If it seems really, really hard, you're probably not doing it right." So while a Stoic philosophy might help you deal with the pain that is necessary, it doesn't help you discern which pain is the right pain.

There is also the very real psychological confusion that you conclude that pain is inherently good, and all things pleasant and easy and nature are Bad and all things painful and difficult and unnatural are Good. Suddenly good is bad, bad is good, up is down, and you have no yardstick for judging anything.

I am throwing this all out there, because I also know that it is entirely possible that I, being one the richest, most secure, most blessed beings in the entire Cosmos, don't particularly relish the idea of embracing discomfort in the name spiritual evolution. Or at least the inevitablity of suffereing.

And . . . after all is said and done, it's still the best rule of thumb. Most of the things people want out of life -- money, recognition, power, and even spiritual awakening -- seem to inevitably put huge demands that inevitably require suffering. So you might as well suck it up. Just don't make an idol out of your suffering. That, too, is just part of the getting there.


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