Ryan Kuja makes an inquiry into the connections between spiritual and emotional suffering and our path to transformation.
The preacher strutted around on the stage with a strength and agility reminiscent of a leopard. His voice beckoned to the crowd with perfect pitch and precise articulation. I looked around at the people sitting nearby. Everyone had a laser like focus. All eyes were glued to his.
This is a born preacher if ever there was one, I thought.
He blended a compelling knack for storytelling with the charm of stealthy, well placed one-liners. There was no sign of weakness in his voice or his posture or his gait. When he began transitioning into the real meat of his talk—sin and temptation—the tone of his voice took on a quality of severity and his face turned stern. He described Jesus as a thug and a warrior who would punish those who made missteps and mistakes.
“When you choose sin, you choose to suffer,” he blared. There was a salient invulnerability present in his words, evident even in his inflection and syntax.
“Trust me, you will burn in the fires of hell if you don’t change!” This, clearly, was a man’s man: invulnerable, militant, and convincing. He delivered a heavy-handed message of religiosity devoid of anything that smelled the least bit of spirituality.
It was probably 10 minutes into his diatribe when a line by one of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, came to mind: All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain.
The frustration I had been feeling shifted into a curiosity about the preacher and his story. It was apparent that pain was present in the words he was speaking and the very tenor of his message. Clearly, the powerful man up on the platform was someone who had never dealt with his own pain. The caricature of true masculinity he embodied was evidence that he had worked hard to keep his weakness and vulnerability locked away in the basement of his psyche.
There is a saying in the world of therapy, “What you resist persists.” Some credit it to the father of modern psychology himself, Carl Jung. Nowhere is this more relevant than when talking about our pain. But why in the world would we ever not resist our pain?
Entering into our own pain and being present with it sounds like quite an ominous idea, counterintuitive even—especially for men. We are taught to avoid our pain and to not feel, starting from a very young age. The cultural framework in which we are embedded expects and demands this of its male members
That’s probably why people like me are so good at creating these elaborate setups to keep us out of our pain. I do so much to stay in my head and out of my body, in my mind and away from my heart, in my cortical brain and out of the limbic system.
But the problem is, when we resist our psychological pain, we are also resisting the path of transformation and an entryway deeper into our spiritual walk. Just as a fish doesn’t know it is wet, we don’t even know we are in pain because that state has become our normal, our baseline, our standard operating condition. This pain becomes our reality in such a covert way that we become unaware of its existence and so we suffer unconsciously. We begin to identify with our unconscious pain as if it were who we are, our essence.
And that is the greatest lie ever told.
Pain is not who we are. It is very real, something that exists within us as a result of very specific events in our stories where we were wounded, abused, abandoned, rejected or hurt somehow, someway. It could be something huge or something seemingly trivial. But anyway you cut, our pain is not the truth of who we are.
It is difficult to stay with the pain, to go into it and be present with it. It is far easier to turn away, to flee, to stay busy and pretend it isn’t there. And in the short term, it is easier to take that route.
The problem, however, is that the pain robs us of life, the life we were meant to live and the joy and peace we were created to experience. Disengaging from the pain that is festering inside of us means that we forfeit living into who we were meant to be.
Because unengaged pain blocks life. It blocks creative energy. Unacknowledged pain is a thief that comes to kill, steal and destroy. And spirituality has everything to do with the creative life of the universe that exists in us and the ways we tap into it. Unlike religion, spirituality is less about doctrine and the belief in propositional truths and more about awareness of the sacredness of existence and learning to live from the depth of our true selves.
Entering our pain is the doorway into authentic spirituality. It is also the exit out of a deceitful masculinity that lays claim to the need for pathological power that excludes authentic vulnerability.
Before the sermon ended I headed for the back doors. As I walked out the exit of the church, the preacher was still on stage, yelling about the fires of hell, unaware that he was burning in the flames of his own unacknowledged pain.
[image: via Jasn on flickr]
Read more Good for the Soul. Redefining the discussion of spirituality and men.