Peace: A Spiritual Longing (part
June 13, 2011
[For Part 1,
true significance of peace comes into view when we examine the
nature of our suffering consciousness.
The French Christian philosopher Louis Lavell offers a
useful description of suffering in his book Evil and
When we are happy we experience “a harmony between us and
the world which tends to dissolve consciousness.”
At such times we participate effortlessly in the world;
or, as Lavelle puts it, “we exist in communicating with the
changes all that. It
is a threat to our union with the world.
“Even in its most elementary form, (suffering) is an
evocation of death.
(Through suffering) Death already reveals itself in life.”
(59-60) The threat
of suffering affects our state of mind and thus the peace and
harmony we seek to inhabit.
Lavelle makes important distinctions between pain and
suffering. Pain is
always suffered through the intermediary of the body.
Endured passively, physical pain can occupy our whole selves,
and “it pertains to consciousness always to strive to drive pain
Suffering on the other hand calls for a different response,
in which we have an active role:
We have to penetrate it.
“I know it and I make it mine.
I am always active when I say, ‘I suffer.’
One must continue to accept it and even deepen it.”
If pain concerns only a part of ourselves, suffering engages
the whole self. It
modifies and impregnates my whole life.
Suffering “transcends duration” according to Lavelle, for
only apparently does it occupy a place in the
history of my life; when it truly deserves its name, it expresses a
permanent state of our being and penetrates to our very
We might ask ourselves:
Where does suffering come from?
When we suffer, an aspect of the pain and confusion we feel
may derive from unanswered questions relating to the source or cause
of such affliction. For
example, am I the source of my own suffering?
Remember verse 1 of The Dhammapada:
“All that we are is the result of our thoughts. . .”
According to this teaching, harmful thoughts, words and
actions create negative effects.
Or is at least some of our suffering brought upon us by the
actions of others?
We may yet ask if what we suffer is God’s will for us, a
hidden design we are meant to accept as a means of inner
purification and perfection?
Finally, we may ask if suffering is not merely the result of
mortal existence, made meaningful only once we have assigned meaning
to it ourselves?
Questions relating to suffering perplex the human mind.
Not having answers to these questions diminishes our peace.
The reality of “not knowing” in itself does not sit
comfortably with most of us.
We would perhaps prefer to know if our suffering is a
punishment, is ordained by God, or is merely arbitrary.
Most of all, we may wish to grasp the significance of what we
are going through, so that we can do our part to make the experience
productive and meaningful!
Louis Lavelle moves toward meaning.
Because it is my spiritual being and not just my body s(ensation)
that is involved in suffering, the process initiates an interior
dialectic with itself.
“There is born in us a new being, very different from the being we
were before we began to suffer.”
For Lavelle, suffering is the birth of reflection.
True, our natural spontaneity has been curbed, “but my
reflection and my will come into play to compensate for what has
been taken away from me.”
In a word, suffering obliges us to recognize the essence of
reality and to discover our own most authentic, our deepest and most
personal reality. This
reality is our creation. . .”
We are still a long way from peace of mind here.
The possibilities for achieving peace of mind will depend in
some measure on whether we adopt a negative or positive attitude
toward our suffering.
Lavelle reflects on the four negative attitudes toward suffering
which we must attempt to avoid, and the four positive attitudes that
enable us to make of suffering a growth-producing experience.
(It may be helpful here to bring to mind an experience of
suffering that has had profound effects on your life and whose
meaning may not be easy to assess.)
Lavelle’s first negative attitude is
Intense suffering enfeebles us and can reduce our liberty to
danger here is paralysis of consciousness.
If suffering is too great it overwhelms us and abolishes
the dialogue with self (self-mastery and self-determination)
that is necessary for thought and will to function properly.
As much as possible we must fight the passivity that
threatens to dissolve the personality.
Revolt is also a dangerous
knows no limits. It
may start out as a drive to expel suffering from self – to
annihilate its causes – only to go on to “plead the case against
life itself and the order of the world.”
Revolt uses suffering as an excuse to turn against life
Separation is Lavelle’s third
Although it is natural when we suffer to begin by withdrawing
from others, the danger is not so much the enforced isolation
which may ensue but it is the risk entailed in “willing it,
becoming attached to it, and aggravating it indefinitely.”
Complacency is the fourth negative
“Complacency in suffering is a kind of paradox,” writes Lavelle.
Instead of rejecting the suffering, we seek to maintain
and nourish it within us.
We may end up with an excessive love for our suffering.”
Lavelle’s four positive attitudes toward suffering proceed on
the assumption that suffering is not simply a privation or
diminution of being: “It
has a positive element which becomes part of our life and changes
for example, may have given us seriousness and depth.
(74-75) When we
ask what meaning suffering can have for us, that is to say what
meaning our will can give it, we then notice that it can be:
Suffering invites to reflect on it and to understand it,
to grasp the disaccord that comes between us and the real.
(For example, how do we
avoid future threats to peace of mind – e.g. conflict in our
Refinement and depth.
“Our aptitude for suffering is the very sign of our
refinement. . . . The capacity of experiencing suffering and of
experiencing joy is one.”
Just as suffering can isolate and separate us, so too can
it become – by means of our liberty (free will) – “a factor of
communion binding us together.”
example, suffering and loss teach some people to reach out with
compassion to others who have been similarly afflicted.)
If suffering can deepen us, it also means that it can
purify us. This
point in particular relates to accepting fault if and when we
have been the cause of suffering.
By reflecting on our wrongdoing we allow compunction to
become an active agent in our ongoing conversion and healing.
Purified desire enables us to make the future
different from the past.
Suffering thus can serve our formation and
transformation in this world.
As Lavelle soberly concludes:
“It is through this calvary that consciousness grows, becomes
refined and deepened and pursues its path of spiritual purification
and deliverance.” (90)