Intentional suffering conjures images of monks wearing hair suits and practicing self flatulation, kids cutting themselves and people with masochistic tendencies. That kind of suffering has nothing to do with intentional suffering. It is the ego manifesting our inner suffering in very dark ways.
Nevertheless, those words intentional suffering are not very appealing at first mention. This kind of suffering is our means to transformation. Gurdjieff talked a lot about Conscious Labor and intentional Suffering. His entire body of work could be boiled down to this idea. It is our inner work. It is carrying forth our aim through inner struggle. It is the sacrifice of egoism.
There are many kinds of suffering.
Accidental or natural suffering
By the very fact that we are humans who eat live food, we pay a price. That price is a natural part of life. We do not eat dead food. We eat living things and we believe we are at the top of the food chain. This entails a certain natural suffering on the planet. We must kill things in order to survive. Suffering is endemic for life on earth and is part of existence.
I once had a dream in which a Being came to me as I was grilling sausage links. Oddly I was heating them over a wood stove which was by a manhole. As if in a cartoon, the sausages slipped off my big grilling fork into a hole in the manhole cover. I pulled back the cover to retrieve the sausages and saw a feeding frenzy of reptilian creatures fighting over the sausages. They slithered and gnawed. It was extremely frightening when suddenly one saw me and tried to jump up to get me. I quickly covered the manhole gasping for breath and heart pounding. The Being who loomed over me said, “ Now you see what you humans look like to us.”
I will never forget the dream. It illustrated something for me about our human nature. We certainly do not see ourselves as reptiles in a feeding frenzy, but our actions show no regard for life on the planet. I hope that as we evolve we can learn to live in harmony with life in all of its forms. Otherwise, we will certainly destroy the human race.
The second form of suffering is voluntary suffering.
We sacrifice something for some form of gain. Examples of this could be going to school, practicing to develop a skill, a clean up project. Working toward a goal requires a certain price whether that be time, effort, or money. We willingly pay something to gain something. We don’t actually see this as suffering, but a necessary price to pay for something that we want to achieve for ourselves. This suffering remains in the realm of everyday life and is not free from egoism. However, we accept this suffering as part of life in order to move forward as individuals and as a species.
The third kind of suffering is avoidable suffering.
This is the realm of suffering due to our own egoism. It is the misery we encounter daily in the form of attachment. We identify with our thoughts which form the plethora of negative emotion, limiting beliefs, and depression. It is our anxiety and anger. It is all a result of having our will sublimated to the ego. When the ego runs the show, it creates a heap of avoidable suffering.
How can we avoid it?
Our inner work will allow us to see it for what it is. As long as we believe this avoidable suffering is a real part of life and that we must endure it, we will hopelessly suffer. We can avoid this kind of suffering through our own intentional struggle. If we don’t implement our own effort concerning all the suffering we incur in life, it will continue to block our path. In other words, if we don’t add our intentional suffering to the process of life, life will provide it for us in more nefarious ways.
The fourth kind of suffering is intentional suffering and is free of ego.
It comes from a higher purpose;one which goes against the stream of life. It is not for our own gain yet we work within regular life through our regular life experiences. We remain within the laws of existence and work to be present with the yes and no of those two arenas. If we take this on consciously and intentionally to be present with this inner struggle, we contribute to things even greater than our own transformation. We bear the unpleasant manifestations of others. We strive to expand our awareness to embrace a more objective outlook of ourselves.
Intentional suffering has a deeper meaning and feeds our inner process in way that the other kinds of suffering do not. The epitome of this kind of suffering is represented by Jesus, Buddha and other prophets whose life examples show us the way. So much of religious dogma however has distorted the flavor of this suffering.
Let me know the kind of suffering you are experiencing.
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Have great week!