In Thomas Moore’s beautiful book, Care of The Soul, he suggests changing how we normally relate to suffering. He says that the whole question of finding fault is off point, and like all wrong questions, will get you the wrong answers.
Inquiries like “What mistake did I make?” “Who’s to blame for this suffering of mine?” “How can I get rid this?” and “How can I make sure I never have to go through this ever again?” are all, in a way, expressed in the wrong spirit. We are barking up the wrong tree and won’t find our missing kittens there.
Rather than expressing an attitude of care of the soul, these questions all reflect our culture’s bias against suffering – we have completely forgotten what it’s good for.
I love Thomas Moore’s point of view. He understands the fundamental quandary that those of us in recovery are in, once addiction sets us on our spiritual path. The quandary is exasperatingly, beautifully simple: sometimes our soul needs something that our ego doesn’t want.
The ego just wants to live on the surface of life, it wants to fit in, to be acceptable, to be approvable, to stay innocent. It wants success according to the template, according to what we’ve been taught to believe.
My ego believes what she reads on the internet – that it’s possible to just be healthy, wealthy, good looking, successful, surrounded by friends, and have a nice big house (end of story). Any failure to be like that means something is wrong.
From my ego’s point of view, all my symptoms – my depression, my low self-esteem, my acne, my struggles in marriage, my imperfect finances – all of these are inconveniences. Aberrations, things that shouldn’t be. Obstacles that stand between her and what she wants.
The bad news for my ego, which is good news for me, is that my soul wants something completely different. My soul doesn’t care about fitting in, about achieving someone else’s pre-defined and highly culturally dependent idea of what life is about. My soul is here to live, to grow, to expand, to experience, to have adventures.
What adventures? Who knows! I will find out if I let her breathe. My adventures will unfold in the moment and I likely won’t know what they are until they happen.
My soul is disconcertingly unconcerned with fitting in, has little interest in pleasing people who don’t match her vibrations. She has little time for status and the opinions of others, unless they are people in my true soul family.
I try to be kind to my ego, but I guess in the end, it’s clear to me whose side I’m on these days.
I relate this choice to side with soul over ego, if I can even call it a choice, to my recovery. People who don’t have disorders, or have never experienced “failing at life” the way that I have might still imagine they have the choice to live from ego. And maybe they do.
For those of us in recovery, however, it is my experience that we don’t live for our egos. We may still try everyday – I will give my ego credit for being nothing if not persistent – but it’s not sustainable. For some of us, at least, the doomed venture of trying to be what this world wants from us in place of who we were born to be isn’t really supported. For some of us, soul just wins.
So my choice, if there is one, is thwart or support. I have found it easier to support. My soul has a way of getting her way whether I thwart or support. The difference is how much pain for me – if I thwart, and try to build up too many structures of ego, my soul just sets fire to them. Supporting my ego against soul causes me so much suffering that I must give in to living more authentically one way or another. Suffering is that fire, my soul burning away the false within me so she has more room.
One way that soul communicates with me is through my symptoms, those same things that ego wishes weren’t there to begin with. This is one reason why the medical assumption that symptoms should be suppressed or taken away misses the point so heavily, in my opinion. The medical model is in bed with ego, it says, “Ok let’s get rid of this inconvenience” and crushes or rips out or medicates away the message that’s coming through from soul. I do feel that medication can be a blessing and a tool that supports a larger intention to honor soul, but it’s not always used in that way.
Care of the Soul says, “What is this suffering good for?” It says, “Why might soul need to be depressed right now? Maybe it needs time in the dark. Maybe depression is the only way for you to get into doing nothing for a while. Maybe the darkness of the void is what soul needs to birth her next creation.” Care of the Soul says, “What is this loneliness good for? Where does it lead me? What is trying to happen through me right now? Maybe soul has arranged for me to be alone tonight, so that I can finally meet a new aspect of my own self.”
Lately I have been playing with this shift in attitude, borrowed from Care of the Soul’s lovely perspective, and asking myself “What is this suffering good for?” I’ve been moved, pleased, and relieved by the answers. If you have answers of your own to share, about what your suffering is good for, we would always love to hear from you! Thanks for reading!