We see suffering as something we have to bear. We do our best to avoid it, but at times it is inevitable. You suffer, I suffer, and for an endless list of reasons. Then society rushes in with all its fixes, all its sanitising cures.
But what kind of ‘fix’ is possible in a world which is itself suffering and out of balance?
We tend to accept without questioning concepts that seem innocent and self-evident. We attach ourselves to beliefs we picked up as a child from our parents. And when we seek ‘therapy’ we don’t really know what we are seeking. Just the word ‘therapy’ conjures up ideas of psychotherapy, physiotherapy, ecotherapy – all different ways that we can be helped to get better.
In his wonderful book Catafalque, Peter Kingsley says that this is not how things used to be. “Originally, therapeia in ancient Greek meant caring. And when you go back in time as far as you can, you come to one very specific and constant expression: therapeia theôn, caring for the gods and serving them, doing what humans ought to do to make sure the gods are all right.”
But then, Kingsley says, something interesting happens. Plato comes along and focuses his thoughts on therapeia theôn, caring for the gods, and he basically argues “Care for the gods? Why on earth should we care for the gods when they are so much more powerful than us?” Once he had said this there was no going back. The unconscious attitude then developed of “Let’s make sure the divine takes good care of us. But, as for finding what, in reality, the divine might possibly need: Let it look after itself.” This attitude continues today as we treat the earth as if we think it is there just for our benefit, and in our absent-mindedness and self-absorption, we fail to recognise that we should be taking some responsibility for caring in return. It never for a moment occurs to us that the divine/nature/earth might be suffering, aching from our neglect.
Rationality, spirituality, therapy of every kind – the truth nowadays is very simple: They are all about me, me, and me.
It’s time for us to move away from being a society that shops for nice clothes and lives for acquiring expensive things, yet rarely invests in creating a better Self. Nature has had enough of this superficial behaviour and expects us to start taking better care of the earth and other living beings.
As Kingsley says, “The one tiny technicality we forget is this: that whenever we take everything for ourselves we end up with absolutely nothing. First, we have to know how to care for the gods [Nature] if the gods are going to care for us.”
In ancient Greek, to sin means to miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target. So we sin because we miss the point of human existence. We live unskilfully, blindly, and thus we suffer and cause suffering. Stripped of its cultural baggage and misinterpretations the term ‘to sin’ points to the dysfunction inherent in the human condition. Over the years humans have suffered more at the hands of each other than through natural disasters.
Most ancient religions and spiritual traditions share the common insight that the ‘normal’ human mind is marred by a fundamental defect. But, as more people become aware of this, there comes the possibility of a radical transformation in human consciousness or enlightenment.
The greatest achievement of humanity is not its works of art or its technological and scientific advances, but the recognition of its own dysfunction, its own madness.
There exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else. We are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.