I find that the denial of suffering is a denial of reality itself. Of the four noble truths "Life is suffering" has always seemed like the most salient, the most incisive, and frankly most obvious of the truths to meditate on. It seems perfectly clear, as Seneca put it "Life in its entirety is lamentable." This doesn't require some act of faith or ascent to certain doctrinal views, it's merely a brute fact of life as we experience it. And yet, we see the modern project's goal is quite literally the denial of reality itself. And of course this suits the machine because it's what helps sell you more stuff. We see among all the noble spiritual traditions of the world an effort to confront these brute realities, but when existing within the anesthetizing opium of modern middle-class life we are able to push this suffering elsewhere until we start seriously believing that suffering isn't part of the deal of existence.

So sure, it's not our children losing limbs in sweatshops anymore, but it's the Vietnamese and Chinese who are working 15 hour shifts in overcrowded unventilated factories that pay the price for our $15 t-shirt. The modern West's great lie of progress is predicated on the fact that it is no longer we who suffer, but rather, the rest of the world. Global capitalism has successfully enabled us to export our suffering and ecological waste overseas! We tremble at Christ's words "In this life you will face trials" because we have lost the faith in his promise to "Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."

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I am unable to practice the Arsenios Option for various reasons, but the search for stillness anywhere is helpful and instructive. I just came back from a walk in the woods with my son. It was beautiful and still, with blue winter shadows and water trickling under frozen streams. But my son chuckled at me a few times as we made our way back, as it was evident to him I had not been paying attention and was quite lost about what path we were on—this, despite having been on those paths many times, and with the sun high in the sky as my compass. What was I thinking about? Some distraction or other. Meanwhile he, with his little brain, navigated like a nimble squirrel.

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Jan 23·edited Jan 25Liked by Jack Leahy

"The soul has to make a choice, and the outcome will either break it into pieces or enable it to sail to it's destination in God. And the choice comes down to this: will the soul accept or reject suffering?"

- Archimandrite Aimilianos of blessed memory

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Excellent. Thank you.

And regarding footnote 5: 'Tragedy is the inevitable consequence of adherence to any ideal.' (the verbal emphasis was on 'any').

I wish I could find the author of this quote, from a philosopher on a BBC TV programme many years ago. But even unattributed, it holds true. There is no ideology that is correct in all circumstances. Ideologies are not truth. Truth is beyond words and is known by its fruit, as shown in your quote from John. (This is why we speak of 'method' and not 'technique' in Tao when we speak of the Way.) The ideology of the avoidance of all suffering and difficulty, in which the Machine schools us, inexorably leads to greater, bone deep suffering. Lacking a common framework to suffer difficulty together, such as communal pilgrimage or fasting, Moderns are cut off from a deep source of sustenance, a truth my Muslim neighbours experience every year when the entire Ummah observes Ramadan.

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Jan 15Liked by Jack Leahy

Jack, you are hand-in-hand with the other substackers -- Peter and Paul. Good food for us readers!

I share a quote from my dear George MacDonald:

"No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in the wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through fire. The greatest poets have "learned in suffering what they taught in song." In bonds Bunyan lived the allegory that he afterwards wrote, and we may thank Bedford Jail for the Pilgrim's Progress. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make pre-eminent use of a person, He puts them in the fire."

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This is helping me cope with cancer and chemo. Thank you for writing.

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Jan 14·edited Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

Great essay, thanks!

I just happen to be reading the last work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (which was called "Citadelle" but translated into English as "The Wisdom of the Sands"), which is a sort of quasi-Nietzschean treatise or monologue, told by a fictional desert ruler and mostly about what it takes to create and grow solidly rooted people and thus solidly rooted communites.

This little piece will give you the vibe:

"If something opposes you and hurts you, let it grow; for this means that you are taking root, engendering a new self, and welcome are these pangs if they enable you to bring yourself to birth. For no truth is proved, no truth achieved, by argument, and the ready-made truths men offer you are mere conveniences or drugs to make you sleep.

Thus if you ask me, “Should I rouse that man or let him sleep on and be happy?” I would answer that happiness signifies nothing to me. “Yet,” I would add, “if an Aurora Borealis kindled in the skies, would you let your friend sleep on? Surely none should sleep when such a wonder may greet his eyes. True, that friend of yours is enjoying his sleep, nay, wallowing in it; yet you would be kinder to wrench him from his happy torpor and hale him outdoors, so that he may become."

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Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

This is a beautiful thought provoking essay. I am all ways late on New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t even really think of them as such, but I’m going to bookmark this as a bit of inspiration for when it feels right to consider what the “theme” of this year is.

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Jan 16·edited Jan 16Liked by Jack Leahy

Thank you for the many thought-provoking points you make!

What l do believe, though, is that l am part of nature, or should l say Nature. And l am a part of Nature that is developing some self awareness - enought to, like a toddler, believe that l know it all and that if l throw a hissy fit or tantrum, l will get my way. Hence suffering. Hence the concept of suffering.

But. We're doing well, l think. All these mistakes and cock ups are part of Nature becoming more and more aware of herself, more and more conscious. And to that end, how can anything be a mistake? I do believe that we're part of the expanding universe, we are agents of expansion. Tools, in so many meanings of the word...insensitive, destructive nutjobs, perhaps, but we still help life unfold in every possible direction - destructive at times, constructive at others.


When l say Nature, l do mean both the physical aspect of nature but also Spirit, God or whatever Divine fuse it is that drives us forth...

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Thank you, Jack - love and suffering as two faces of the unified Way. Beautiful!

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