As Lent Moves On – The Greatest Fast Awaits

As Great Lent has passed its mid-point, attention begins to move towards Holy Week itself and its very intense focus. It has been an unusual time for me, having traveled on two successive weekends to lead retreats. Travel is always disruptive, and absence from your own community creates a break in the normal continuity of the Fast. I have great sympathies for those whose jobs involve frequent travel. It adds a difficult wrinkle to spiritual discipline. My own thoughts have been largely focused on Pascha itself during this season. This has been as much a product of the questions of my own heart as of my speaking engagements. We fast towards a goal.

That goal is more than a linear finish line – it is eschatological. By that, I mean that it transcends time. Pascha is present in every moment of our existence and is that which shapes all of reality. The Lenten Fast is a means of entering Pascha and not just a means of preparing for something in the future.

St. Paul says:

I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

For St. Paul, every moment of his existence had become Christ’s Pascha. It is little wonder, then, that he was able to endure such persecution and suffering. He turns to the same image when he speaks of repentance:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

And

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

This is more than an interesting turn of phrase. St. Paul is not saying, “Try not to sin.” To “put to death” the deeds of the body is more than moral striving – more than trying harder. He is pointing to a mechanism of a symbiotic or synergistic existence. Just as the life of Christ dwells in us, so the death of Christ dwells within as well.

I have always thought that this aspect of our spiritual life is the least understood. It is rooted in the reality of communion with Christ. It would be possible (theoretically) to live a perfectly moral life (not doing anything wrong) and yet fail to do what St. Paul is suggesting. The death of Christ working in us yields results of not sinning, but does so through our communion with Christ rather than our own independent efforts. It also has the benefit of focusing on Christ Himself rather than our moral successes or failures. If we do well in Christ, we rejoice in His strength. If we fail in Christ, we rejoice in His mercy. We cease to be the center of our own world.

In Holy Baptism, we are asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” (this is the form used in the OCA). This is the single point of our life in Christ. To live in union with Him is also to die in union with Him, to breathe in union with Him, to love in union with Him, to forgive in union with Him, to fast in union with Him, to walk and act in union with Him at all times. “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me.”

The life that He lives in us is also His Pascha. Christ did not exempt Himself from suffering. If we live in union with Him we will not be exempted ourselves. When we ask of Christ, “Why am I suffering like this?” we could just as well ask, “Why are You suffering like this?” In union with Christ, my suffering becomes His suffering, and His suffering becomes mine.

The life of Christ is not an abstraction, something to be studied and dissected. It is the life of God in man. It’s for that reason that Christ is quite clear about the nature of the life which He offers. “Whosoever would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his Cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) There is no “life of Christ” that does not have this Paschal shape.

The mystery for us is that such a life is proper and true for human beings and in accordance with our nature. The life of Christ that is the life of God in man is the revealing of what it means to live in the image and likeness of God.

The Church’s movement through Great Lent to Pascha is a small, intentional embracing of the cruciform life of God in Christ. There are many fasts that are far more difficult and demanding. The fast borne by parents in their love for their children (or in their self-sacrificing love for each other) is certainly more demanding. The griefs that we endure through a lifetime are surely a more difficult fast.

Unlike the Fast of Lent, the sufferings within our lives are often involuntary. The character of those sufferings will never change unless they are borne in union with Christ. This is the greatest fast of all, and, doubtless the fast in which we fail most often. It is also that place where the deepest transformation of our lives occurs.

I have often thought that it is this understanding that lies beneath the words of the Last Prayer of the Elders of Optina. My favorite:

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee.

Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.

O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.

Glory to God for all things!

28 comments:

  1. The life of Christ is not an abstraction, something to be studied and dissected. It is the life of God in man. It’s for that reason that Christ is quite clear about the nature of the life which He offers. “Whosoever would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his Cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) There is no “life of Christ” that does not have this Paschal shape.

    The mystery for us is that such a life is proper and true for human beings and in accordance with our nature. The life of Christ that is the life of God in man is the revealing of what it means to live in the image and likeness of God.

    Wow. Glory to God in All Things!

  2. Please forgive the length of these excerpts, but it’s necessary to share it all for it to be understandable I think…

    Elder Aimilianos on Suffering

    The soul has to make a choice, and the outcome will either break it into pieces or enable it to sail to its destination in God. And the choice comes down to this: Will the soul accept or reject suffering? Will it make this suffering its own, or struggle against it, seeing it as something alien to itself?

    …If he chooses to accept his suffering, he must embrace it with the wholeness of his life; he must discover and accept the proper relation to his suffering. If he can do this, he will have transformed his suffering so that in the end his only reality will be God. But if he continues to resist his suffering, refusing to find his salvation in it, his anguish will continue unabated.

    The question is ultimately this: Will he offer himself as a voluntary sacrifice to the will of God? …He must accept as his own will, as his own desire, the will of God for his life. If this happens, he will cease being anxious about his sufferings, for he will see that they too are the signs and tokens of God’s presence.

    It follows from this that the [soul’s] salvation hinges on a single decision, namely, the acceptance or rejection of his suffering. To the extent that he struggles against his suffering, seeking to disown and reject it, his agony will only intensify. The avoidance of suffering serves only to increase suffering in a vicious cycle that never ends.

    If, on the other hand, he chooses to entrust himself to God, and so recognize in his suffering God’s mercy and love; if he is able to see his suffering as proof of God’s love for him, then he will undergo another, greater experience that will shake him to the core of his being.

    Just when he thinks his life is about to end, that he is about to breathe his last, he will feel, not simply an upward surge into new life, but deep within himself the presence of the “long-lived seed” mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah:

    “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him; He has put him to grief; yet when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of his suffering of his soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10).

    Spiritual health is not found in the avoidance of suffering, but in its joyful acceptance. The [soul’s] dilemma lies precisely in whether or not he will accept his sufferings or reject them, which is another way of saying that the choice he needs to make is whether to accept or deny God.

    ~Archimandrite Aimilianos, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 100-102.

    Is God absent or present? Is He near at hand, or remote and withdrawn? It’s a matter of how you look at it. When the soul looks at reality solely through its pain and suffering, it does not see things clearly, and thus it thinks that Christ and His voluntary sufferings are something abstract, distant, and without real meaning. But when the soul alters its perspective, its inner sense and experience of things will begin to change, and so too the way it confronts and responds to its own sufferings, and then it will see that Christ is very close indeed. When we enter into the place of hope and trust, we see that God is near, and acknowledge Him as our Lord…

    Will [the soul] accept growth, change, and consequently redemption? Redemption follows upon the experience and acceptance of death. The moment we accept death, true life can begin. Only by means of death can one “trample down death,” and so attain to resurrection. Thus, depending on how the [soul] confronts the problem of suffering, God will either be his savior or his executioner. Again, the secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his sufferings, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free from his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God.

    When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light… By struggling to find the right relation to suffering, to our own death, we shall simultaneously find God… [The soul] must make the difficult decision to sacrifice himself voluntarily to God. If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail. His suffering is beyond his control, it is not something he willed for himself, but all things begin and end with God, and nothing takes place apart from the divine will, and so he must see himself as an instrument wielded by God.

    As we’ve said, in accepting or rejecting my suffering, I am accepting or rejecting God Himself… In the beginning, God and I are separate, in such a way that my self, my narrow self-concern, leaves no room for God. If “I” exist, God cannot exist, for there cannot be two Gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of myself, so that God can come into my life…

    I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27); a “pelican in the wilderness” (Psalm 101:7 LXX), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize that I am “like a sparrow alone on a housetop” (Psalm 101:8 LXX), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. I need to experience both my exile and my union with God. I need to experience my inner darkness in order to know that God is my life and my light, that He is my salvation. I need to realize that I am in hell, in prison, in solitary confinement, alone on an island dying of leprosy, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven… both in this life and in the one to come.

    My soul must cry out, just as the souls of all the saints have cried out, and then my soul will be saved, suffering together with Christ… If I exert myself, and commit myself to the struggles of the spiritual life, then I shall have the right to ask for the understanding of the Spirit. Either way, I’m going to suffer. But it’s up to me to decide whether I’m going to be a wounded deer panting for water and never finding any (Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 7:22), or a lamb sacrificed together with Christ, and calling out to Him. In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and that these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation. But even before I cry out, God will answer me and say, “I am here” (Isaiah 58:9).

    ~Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra, Psalms and the Life of Faith, p. 103-106, 108-109.

  3. Father Stephen,
    “When we ask of Christ, “Why am I suffering like this?” we could just as well ask, “Why are You suffering like this?” In union with Christ, my suffering becomes His suffering, and His suffering becomes mine.”

    These are some of the most meaningful and helpful words I have read recently, maybe because they are so perfectly timed this Lent, which has been full of struggles. Thank you for them.

  4. I am really conflicted with all this suffering.
    As I understand it, suffering is what we are thinking/feeling in our dealing with pain and affliction. This does NOT pertain to the apparent suffering of others, which is, as a matter of course, what Christ suffers and calls us to suffer as being one in Him.
    Yes, I have pain, some of which is physical, such as a pinched nerve in my back. Another is emotional, such as the death of my wife many years ago. But more importantly, spiritual, such as evident in the unwillingness to confess a sin that constrains us from partaking in God’s mercy. (cf. Ps. 31lxx)
    This past Soul Saturday I was overwhelmed by compunction during a Litany which observed the afflictions of Christians in the Middle East: my physical discomfort, my emotional instability, my spiritual consternation are not nothing in God’s eyes as He has prepared to amend them, now and forever. Yet they are nothing (but what I, myself, make of them) in light of darkness that currently engulfs the world. I cannot be made whole without all of mankind.
    Lord, have mercy.

  5. Thank YOU Dino for pointing me in the direction of Archimandrite Aimilianos! He is clearly a man filled with the Holy Spirit.

  6. I give thanks as well!
    Father…these words speak to me the most:
    “To live in union with Him is also to die in union with Him, to breathe in union with Him, to love in union with Him, to forgive in union with Him, to fast in union with Him, to walk and act in union with Him at all times. “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me.” This is the clearest description to me of what St Paul means in those words. Indeed, in plain English! And….
    ” Just as the life of Christ dwells in us, so the death of Christ dwells within as well.”
    A helpful reminder since I tend to emphasize more on His life in which He gives than His death.
    There is an Akathist to the Divine Passion of Christ that I found so very comforting in that it reflects His life-giving suffering and death. I found it a blessing to read daily a Kontakion and Eikos during this Lenten season. Here is a link for those of you who’d like to imbibe :-)…
    http://www.monachos.net/content/liturgics/liturgical-texts/236-akathist-to-the-divine-passion-of-christ

  7. Do please forgive me all, but I am troubled by the concept of the joyful acceptance of suffering. I do know that many saints have been joyful, the early martyrs among them, but also I am sure many who were saintly could not be joyful in their suffering, even though they perhaps accepted it, and many also would have been continuingly sorrowful as they endured. For even Christ himself was so inclined as he prayed in Gethsemane – he was exceedingly sorrowful.

    I suppose, since Christ’s sacrifice was as Saint Paul says, once and for all, there can be joy in that, as in the lines of the song: yesterday I was buried with you, O Christ; today I rise with you in your resurrection…so there is an eschatological component to the joy, in that our suffering is always tempered by his conquest of death. But it is his conquest we celebrate and are lifted up into, isn’t it? Not our own.

    Just thinking about the thief on the cross as a model, and the beatitude ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ I just wonder if it mightn’t be too hard a task to be expected to be joyful in our sufferings. We can indeed hope to be comforted, as so often we are. But sometimes it takes time even for that.

  8. Juliania,
    I definitely understand what you are saying. When we suffer, we truly suffer. And you are correct…I have read where some Saints avoided martyrdom and some prayed to be spared enduring prolonged torture and God granted that to them. They were not spoken of as cowards, nor was it said they did not know God.
    If you saw my countenance during a time of suffering, there would be no shred of joy to be seen. But you state the paradox of joy and suffering well: “there is an eschatological component to the joy, in that our suffering is always tempered by his conquest of death. But it is his conquest we celebrate and are lifted up into, isn’t it? Not our own.” No doubt it is His conquest. We trust and and say yes, sometimes with tears and groans.
    There is a real tension in coming to terms with suffering. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand it. I only know Christ is with us through it all, He brings us through, and our hope lies in the age to come, that only by His mercy we will truly know an unspeakable joy…no tears, nor sorrow.

    I think these words of St Peter reflect such a notion:
    “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
    And in Hebrews:
    “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith , who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

  9. Just a little tidbit about the prayer of last Elders of Optina (my favorite as well):
    in my Russian prayer book the last sentence reads:

    Direct my will and teach me to repent, to to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, to thank (be grateful), and to love all. Amen.

    It’s probably due to the fact that in times of persecution it was spreading not always in the written form, in a sence it became a “folk” prayer.
    The difference is minimal in words but helpful to me a sinner particularly.

  10. Lena,
    So good to hear from you! I suspect you’re right on the “folk” part. So much was preserved in samizdat form. Think of the book, Father Arseny, that only existed that way for such a long time. What faithful people!

  11. Dear Father!
    Thank you! Nothing warms the heart more than being remembered!
    I was thinking about the Father Arseny book in this context as well!
    Even in the 80’s and 90’s I remember hearing stories about new saints before I read them. You’re absolutely right that those people kept Russia on the shoulders of their prayers in terrible times. The Lord is truly merciful to us!
    I’m a silent but regular beneficiary of your blog.
    Blessed Lent to you!

  12. Fr. Bless,

    Thank you for this monumental work. For the past couple of years your articles have been like water for a heart struggling with dryness. I have spent many many hours absorbing your words. Thank you.

    The prayer you quote here is a part of my life, but I continue to struggle with it. I try to pray the words humbly, because I’m an Orthodox Christian, and the saints know better than I do how to pray. Sometimes that works for me and the technicalities of the language fall away, into something deeper. However I feel like I pray without understanding the language of it. It is the word “sent” in “sent by You”, that I get caught on. I understand God to be in all things, transforming and giving life to all things, but that still seems to me different than God “sending” all things. I’ll use a simple example: murder. Someone can choose such an evil, and the riples are immesnse. Christ can be there, but did he send it for our salvation? I would say no. Of course murder can exist because life exists, and God is the source of life, but that doesn’t mean that He sent it. How do I better understand this prayer?

  13. Aaron,
    Yes. I think “sent” is a problematic term. It is, I think, a word that is being used to transform a situation. Joseph, the Patriarch, said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It does not excuse the evil they did, or say that God made them do evil (He did not). But that, even when an evil acts against us, or others, it cannot remove God and His good will from the situation. His goodness is often “in spite of” our evil…but, even so, it is victorious. So, like Joseph, we refuse to let the evil will of his brothers be in charge of our lives. Instead, in the face of it we give thanks that God has “sent” all things to us. Does that help?

  14. Sometimes we see things as if for the first time because we connect details we’d never before considered together: “The death of Christ working in us yields results of not sinning, but does so through our communion with Christ rather than our own independent efforts.” That morality emerges “organically” from our voluntary communion with the death of Christ renders superfluous (not to mention futile) all strictly moral striving. Thanks…
    I’m delighted to see that one of my favorite prayers (only slightly modified) in my _Orthodox Study Bible_ (St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, 2008) comes from the Elders of Optina.

  15. Father & Aaron
    A consice explanation that I once received from a discerning athonite elder on the aspect of human evil and its repercussions being allowed by God’s providence was this: somehow, without eliminating our freedom, God has ‘ways’ to only allow those things to occur which remain within a framework that can still be exploited by Him to bring about good (salvation) even if it seems impossible to discern this good for many, on this side of the Eschaton…

  16. Hello Fr. Yes that helps! That’s a wonderful example. Thank you. This story in Joseph’s life is one that I can easily return to as a reminder of how as you put it, God’s good will continues in spite of evil. And Joseph’s response is straight forward, as one to aspire to. It excites me in fact. Faith I find is not simple, and yet it can be. I’m often inspired by people who seem to have a simple and resolute faith, probably because I don’t have the memory myself for a complex one. Dino, thank you also for your reply. It helps confirm this understanding of God’s good will in all things. Glory to God.

  17. Father Freeman Wrote:

    Yes. I think “sent” is a problematic term. It is, I think, a word that is being used to transform a situation. Joseph, the Patriarch, said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It does not excuse the evil they did, or say that God made them do evil (He did not). But that, even when an evil acts against us, or others, it cannot remove God and His good will from the situation. His goodness is often “in spite of” our evil…but, even so, it is victorious. So, like Joseph, we refuse to let the evil will of his brothers be in charge of our lives. Instead, in the face of it we give thanks that God has “sent” all things to us…

    This has often been a great stumbling block for me. Is this a theme you have explored in greater detail elsewhere on the blog? Any additional suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  18. “Just as the life of Christ dwells in us, so the death of Christ dwells within as well.”

    I continue to be amazed at my ability to spend decades not seeing what suddenly seems so obvious. Thank you, Father.

  19. Mike Mack – I know your question was directed to Fr. Stephen, but I wanted to share the title of a book on this subject which I have personally found to be very helpful: “The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God” by Saint John of Tobolsk.

  20. Thank you, Paula, for your response, very much. It helps. After I had written, I thought of our Lord’s reference to when a woman is in childbirth enduring pain but then joy that a child has been born – surely even in the pain an element of future joy, a spark, can sometimes be felt – and even if it cannot (which I have experienced at those times) the body knows what it must do and it does it. I used to be amazed, truly amazed and humbled by that. As with the father of the boy, suffering with him and crying out “I believe, Lord, help Thou my unbelief!” it is after such times when one realizes, as in Esmee’s quote, that ‘life is about to end’, that a real emptying of self-will takes place – what I am doing then is giving up the reins, letting someone or something take over, and he or it does, and there is a comfort.

    That’s a good phrase really, that ‘life is going to end’ because surely that happens to any sensitive being at the actual end of life as well, and we need not be afraid to not be perfectly aligned and joyfully aware at that critical moment, since we are entering that essential state of not being in control. It is different from that joyful acceptance of the martyrs facing death in the arena perhaps, but the soul comes to be in the very same condition – a providential one – even so. As did our Lord himself, on the cross.

  21. Yes! childbirth. It is profound…we are born through suffering and die through suffering…coming in and going out. The danger is the inability to transcend the sorrow thus know the joy that accompanies moments in life (for all of life is one big moment). Scripture speaks a lot about travail…that sorrow/suffering brings forth joy. Christ spoke with His disciples in that manner regarding His “departure” (John 16).

    About “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” – and – ” that ‘life is about to end’, that a real emptying of self-will takes place”….I can not help but go back to a certain profound moment when I was at the bedside of the man I lived with for 16 years. That relationship broke several years before he became terminally ill. But a part of that bond was not broken…I don’t think that is possible. Anyway, we both went different ways. Me, well, I heard a Voice…him, he continued to live totally for himself. On the hospital grounds, a week or so before he died, a man in came up to him and during the brief conversation asked if he was “saved”. They both knew the end was near. A week later he told his daughter “I want to be saved”. I mean, I grabbed hold of that like a fly on honey. I was shocked and thanked God at the same time. We talked a bit about this…very gently. He didn’t understand much, and he wasn’t about to have an epiphany of revelation at that time. He was a very proud man. And I was amazed at the grace God gave him to endure the breaking down of his body since the onset of his illness a couple of years before. You had to know this man. So I prayed for Mercy. A lot of it. And on his deathbed, semi-conscious with labored breath, immediately, and I mean immediately after I had whispered in his ear “it is ok…we will take care of things here…you go to Jesus…” the man breathed his last.
    In the only way he knew how to, for he did “believe”, but did not know what it meant to live to Christ…in his “unbelief” and desire to be “saved” (his fear must have been inward because he never showed it), God heard him. I still pray for him because we are told of the “accusers” who stand inbetween the souls of the departed and God. He has a lot to account for (as we all do). But I pray….
    So, looking back at moments like this, and reflecting on our own life…the paradox of joy and suffering and how the Lord Jesus Christ is present in each and every soul, even if they do not know Him, is an amazing, amazing thing. This is the total self-emptying Love he has for mankind, that he desires that none should perish. Well, neither do I…and I pray for that very thing.
    So yeah, Juliania, he gave up “the reins, letting someone or something take over, and he or it does, and there is a comfort.”
    Amazing Love is what it is….
    The Passion of Christ.

  22. Thank you, Paula. I am glad for you that you had that very special experience. I am not sure what you mean by the accusers who stand between departed souls and God, as that is not something I have heard from my teachers.

    But what I am resisting, and I won’t belabor the point, is the idea that each of us can affect our own sorrowfulness in suffering if it is prolonged and deep, by having an appropriate attitude in anticipation of the joy which we have been taught will follow; and that if we fail to do so, that is a bad condition to be in with respect to our salvation. When suffering is great, I don’t believe we really can or even should have such control, but that it is a matter of the ‘something’ or ‘someone else’ moving towards us to effect it for us. That’s why I mentioned our Lord’s own path – that even it is said that he cried out ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ as his suffering on the cross expressed his humanity. He was suffering, not joyful. He did feel alone. That is not counted against him.

    I do believe with you that at the moment of death a great mystery occurs, as I have seen it in my own family and in others whose death I have witnessed. We can’t participate in it; it happens intimately between the soul of the departing one and God. We can’t participate, but we can feel that it is happening.

    Thanks so much for responding to my poorly stated concern.

  23. Juliana–
    Forgive me if what I have to offer isn’t helpful. I’ve lately been reading the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” which is about the physical effects of trauma on the brain and body (both short term and long term), as this topic is perennially on my mind as well. 🙂

    When you say, “When suffering is great, I don’t believe we really can or even should have such control, but that it is a matter of the ‘something’ or ‘someone else’ moving towards us to effect it for us,” I hear a description of the actual reality of trauma. When a trauma situation happens (or even is recalled in the memory) a bunch of things happen in the brain, foremost of which is that the prefrontal cortex kind of ‘powers down’ while the limbic system and brain stem ‘power up’.

    The PRC is the area of the brain where what we typically think of as the mental aspect of willpower happens– the executive functions, which organize and categorize and plan and so forth. So in a very real sense, when we are the midst of suffering, there is nothing we can do to think our way out of it. You’re absolutely scientifically correct when you describe an inability to change a change attitude in this state.

    But that doesn’t really answer our questions regarding what we’re supposed to do about it, does it? But at least it has freed me from trying to find a way to [b]think[/b] myself out of the box. 🙂 It appears that rational thought is not the answer at all, which at the very least I find relieving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.