“Sooner or later, life is going to lead you (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place where you can’t fix it, you can’t control it, and you can’t explain it or understand it. That’s where transformation most easily happens. That’s where you’re uniquely in the hands of God.” —Fr. Richard Rohr

Many spiritual teachers say there are two paths to awakening: the spontaneous awakening and the awakening that happens as a result of intense suffering. They also say that while the path of suffering isn’t necessary, that’s the one most people end up taking.

The reason suffering works to wake us up is it pulls the rug right out from under us. It destabilizes everything we thought we knew, had or felt. What has always worked for us in the past has ceased working altogether and we’re left without any defense against the pain. In our panic, there’s a scrambling to find something, anything to hold onto and our suffering increases as everything we grab for dissolves in our hands.

The scrambling we experience is the result of Ego’s having lost its moorings in us and its attempt to regain its hold. We may feel extremely disoriented, lost and without a sense of self. If we mistake that panic and scrambling for our own we may remain stuck and may eventually find something to stop the pain. This unfortunately is often the point where many people get lost in substance abuse in an attempt to numb themselves insensible.

If, however, we’re blessed enough to not find something to stop the pain, we eventually end up in a place of emptiness where the suffering finally releases and we’re left with a wrung-out rawness, a sense of floating on nothing but it’s OK. In fact, everything is OK. We don’t know how or why, but for some reason the suffering has all of a sudden departed. However momentary this may be, we’ve finally found the “peace beyond all understanding” and a faith in the ultimate goodness of life.

What I’m describing is the mystery of what happens when Ego becomes completely unplugged and we get to catch a glimpse of Essence, or our true nature. We’ve taken a peek behind the Wizard’s curtain and the game is now up. While Ego may come rushing back to us, it will never again be fully in control because we now know something’s not quite right with the reality it presents us with.

“Suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the imperial ego. It has to be led to the edge of its own resources, so it learns to call upon the Deeper Resource of who it truly is, which is the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self—use the words you want. It is who we are in God and who God is in us. At this place you are indestructible!” —Fr. Richard Rohr

Misfortune will certainly touch us again, that is inevitable. However, the suffering is voluntary. Suffering happens when we buy into Ego’s assertion that it is us and we are it and nothing more. Suffering is a gift. It comes to us to say, “this isn’t it, keep going.”

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