The Exorcism of Suffering
This journey of life can be both wondrous and gruelling to navigate with its magnificent ebbs and flows, highs and lows, joys and pains. Sometimes however we get lost and stuck in the ebbs, the lows and the pains where life can seem like an overwhelming and relentless struggle. It is disempowering and frustrating when we get stuck bumping our heads on the same wall, experiencing the same pains, problems and breakdowns over and over again whether it be cycles of misfortune, illness, depression, addiction or unworkable relationships. There is one simple word we have for it all: suffering.
Suffering is the great dilemma of the human condition and it is quite unique to us as a species for there is no creature on this planet remotely capable of causing and experiencing suffering as human beings. Through the ages it has been our ultimate mystery to solve and in many respects it also represents our greatest denial. We play a complex hide and seek game with ourselves regarding the actual truth of the matter, the matter of heaven and hell.
Admittedly when we are stuck in our own spaces of suffering we just feel frustrated and lost, we feel like giving up participating in this world or even being alive. Why must we suffer so in this life and why do the people we care about suffer so? This question has fuelled my passion for transformation and it is why I walk this path as a shamanic facilitator and story-healer. From the youngest age I have had a deep desire to help bring an end to the suffering I felt and saw in the world around me. Initially having grown up in Apartheid South Africa I was convinced it was our governing ideological systems that needed to change. As I got older I realised that it goes so much deeper than that. While we can entirely change our circumstances which brings a temporary relief, there is something much deeper and even sinister that causes our individual and collective suffering to persist. I realised that my own personal patterns of suffering were not unlike our collective ones, the microcosm always reflects the macrocosm, as within so without. It confounded me so much that I really had to ask why I was dealing with the same dramas which I thought I had done everything in my power to resolve or avoid. Even in cases where I had resolved and healed my own behaviour, I attracted people into my life who similarly suffered, which in turn had me suffer once again. I realised that anything I am experiencing is always mine to deal with.
So why do we attract suffering if we claim this is what we do not want? And if our intention is to end it, how do we truly let it go? That is the enquiry of this share so it may be triggering if you are someone who often deals with some form of persistent suffering or drama; that is my intention. Its time to invoke and provoke that which lies hidden within us.
The issue of suffering understandably brings about deep existential questions that haunts so many of us especially in this current world such that it eventually has become a spiritual question, a conversation we seek with our higher power as we yearn for some form of salvation and liberation. Why do we suffer and how do we end it? This is our cosmic cry to the heavens. It is the central reason why so many of us are on this spiritual or healing path seeing therapists and healers, reading self help and spiritual books, participating in courses, going on healing retreats and doing plant medicine ceremonies. It is the dilemma that mystics, yogi’s, shamans and spiritual teachers throughout the ages have attempted to answer.
The irony is that the answer linguistically is a very simple one, it is an answer that has been around as long as there have been enlightened beings. What is an enlightened person other than someone who learned how to unburden themselves of their suffering and to truly walk free? Liberation from suffering has been accomplished by many beings time and time again. Their teachings commonly identify one very simple problem: that we as human beings have collapsed the notion of pain and suffering. It is in this seemingly innocuous misunderstanding that the proverbial devil hides out as we get caught up in a game of smoke and mirrors with our own misperceptions.
Could it really be that simple as being able to make the clear distinction between the experience of our pain and the experience of suffering? Is that where our liberation lies? If it were that simple surely we would have solved all the problems of the world by now. It would seem as if there is some hidden force, some dark malevolent presence that does not want us to see this simple truth, a presence that wants to keep our suffering going. Suffering must be benefiting someone otherwise it would not be so prevalent around us. There seems to be more pervasive suffering in the world now than ever before perhaps because we are just becoming more distinctly aware of it.
So who benefits from suffering ? I have been sitting with this question in my own life for a long time. It is a compelling inquiry and surely the greatest conspiracy of all time. Would you be willing to look down the rabbit hole to see what lies in the darkness of your suffering?
The reality is that pain comes part and parcel with the journey of life as it is a natural part of being sentient beings. We all experience pain at varying times in our lives: the pain of being born, the pain of growing, the pain of physical wounding, the pain of illness, the pain of carrying a child, of giving birth, the pain of violation, of abandonment, loss, failure, the pain of rejection and the pain of ageing and dying. These are all authentic real time experiences of pain. Like any emotion or sensation that occurs the best thing we can do with these feelings is to let them rise, flow and then let them go- essentially to be present with them. We experience pain as temporarily felt expressions of imbalance, change, indications of danger or caution or uncomfortable disruptions to our wellbeing and peace. The biological law of equilibrium says that everything in nature is always seeking homeostasis or balance. Our ability to listen to and sit with discomfort, pain or difficult emotions without mitigating, medicating or interrupting them is directly proportionate to our capacity to regenerate and self-regulate. Simply feeling the feelings and responding to its message is often our best form healing as we allow our natural biological system to automatically repair and recalibrate. Pain that is faced and allowed has an expiry period for it is part of a process that naturally wants to complete itself. Pain is intrinsic to the process of healing, learning and evolving. Whether we are dealing with the pain of physical injury or the loss of a relationship it is the same process.
It is often difficult for us to trust while being in the midst of great physical or emotional pain, especially when we are young, that what we are experiencing is most often temporary, natural and very healthy. Our initial fear or even terror is that this pain will not abate, not realising that we are naturally hardwired and fully capable to process pain for it is an essential part of a healthy immune response system. Pain acts as our teacher and it can empower us when we can listen to it and lean into it’s discomfort. True maturity is when we can understand the alchemy of pain where it becomes our access to expansion, resilience, greatness and even enlightenment. Healthy wholehearted people are those who have a powerful and present relationship with their pain.
Suffering however is something different, suffering is when we get lost in a prison of pain trying to resist it, disassociate and avoid it’s teachings. It is a very complex game that occurs when pain and a disempowering narrative latch together. Suffering is more likened to a condition or a disorder which afflicts most of us in the world. Suffering is very distinct, it is our ego’s resistance to and thus attachment to pain. It is potentially endless because there is a characteristic in it that does not want it to end, complete or heal. Suffering is indicative of a wound that is unable to heal because there is an obstruction, something that is preventing it from completing its process. Most people cannot tell the difference between their pain and their suffering because suffering is mostly self created and few of us are ever willing to admit that what ails and plagues us is actually our own creation. The reality is that all pain in reoccurring and repeating patterns is essentially suffering, for suffering is our pain gone stale. It is the way we perpetuate pain and call it in by giving it a justification, a diagnosis, a personality, an orientation of focus and belief, a story to contain it and hold on to it like a body contains blood and organs. We unconsciously keep pain alive and feed it with our negative focus either by conjuring situations that repeat recognisable experiences of pain or we seek to cause that pain in others to experience it in reflection.
As we have become more sophisticated in our terminologies we have constructed compelling narratives and diagnosis around our suffering that now sit in highly charged words that we even get precious and defensive about: words like trauma, abuse, PTSD, depression and disorder. These words were initially invented to empower us to find clarity and healing, instead they more often become prisons that we lock ourselves into. There is no question that so many of us have experienced untold levels of pain and fracturing at the hands of others, this is how suffering is transferred and learned. What we sit with post these events and situations is what suffering is truly about because we end up independently perpetuating that pain in our own lives and then into the lives of others.
What we do not transform we will always transfer, this is the maxim of transformation. It is therefore incumbent on us to do the healing work to transform our suffering no matter what was done to us or how badly it was inflicted. We need to realise that healing stail pain is not just for the benefit of our own well being but for those around us and for future generations. Suffering is the cage of pain we get locked into and then pass on to others. Once we become aware of this phenomena we have an obligation to break the cage open and to transform these generational cycles of hurt and unhealthy behaviours.
To accomplish this endeavour we must be willing to get present to the nitty gritty of our own malady. This can be an uncomfortable reckoning for it requires that we dig deep into the unseen aspects that lies within ourselves. I have discovered something very interesting over the years of doing transformation work and especially in shamanic ceremonies that the process can often end up looking like an exorcism. If we remove the mysticism and fear based superstitions we often associate with this word we will find it is actually quite an intuitive and natural process of bringing old fractured aspects of ourselves to the surface, facing it and bringing it to completion.
As we become more aware and honest with ourselves we may even become present to a little phantom personality hidden within each of us, let us even go so far as to call it a little entity or a demon that orchestrates and gleefully seeks out the drama of pain and feeds on it in order to stay alive. Of course our minds cannot ever admit that to ourselves or anyone else. In some of us this demon can be demonstrative and loud, in others like myself it hides out in politeness and niceties. Either way it plays the same game: seeking out and creating pain. If you want to get a sense of where your own suffering demon may be hiding out, notice what you complain about consistently, what triggers irrational, reactive behaviour or mood swings or where things keep going wrong in your life.
It would seem non sensical that we should get attached to pain since it hurts, right? Surely our very nervous system by it’s natural design will guide us to avoid pain and seek out pleasure? The answer requires a very bold and brutally honest disclosure from us, that our ego has cleverly found a way to reap a benefit or two from pain, it finds an opportunity in what we call a ‘payoff’. That payoff can take many forms: getting sympathy (a substitute for love), the power to control or manipulate others, immunity from responsibility, permission slip for indulgence or laziness, brutality, recklessness or rebellion and avoidance of our own greatness amongst many many others. These payoffs can occur to our subconscious mind as having greater value than our wellbeing, ease and joy and that is the hook that gets us stuck. In some cases the payoff could even be perceived by our mind as our only way to survive, be loved or protected. We then basically run a con game where the goal is not to get caught out or seen that our pain is self created otherwise our benefits and our permission slip of entitlement will be taken away. This is why finding something to blame that is outside of ourselves is always a critical part of the strategy. When we have a situation, a person or an illness to make accountable for our suffering then we have the perfect ruse to keep our benefits on tap. The racket of suffering is a strategy learned innocently as little children but mutates into a disorder in adults when we are unable to outgrow it even as we become aware that it is destroying our lives and impacting those around us.
Obviously the ego will vehemently cry foul, stomp and shout with great passionate at this mere insinuation. Let no one dare question the legitimacy of our suffering or there will be hell to pay. ‘You have no idea what happened to me, or what it is like to be in this body experiencing this pain’ cries the ego echoing the hungry little demon hiding underneath. It becomes an incredibly sophisticated game in adults with it’s intricate layering of misdirection mirrors, projections and back doors. It is so utterly compelling to us that we would be willing to kill off love in our life, kill of our wellbeing, kill off our dreams and kill off peace just to keep this going. We would be well served to get fully present to just how devious and disgusting this whole game can become. In our collective cultural expressions we even give reverence to pain with monuments and bold banners that say things like ‘never forget!’. If ever there is such a thing as devil’s worship then this is surely what it is for the moment we put pain on a pedestal it becomes entrenched suffering and the world becomes a darker place. This is why the compassionate teachings of Jesus sits in such great contrast to the violent and abrasive legacy of Christianity. Jesus endured one arduous day of pain and torture at the hands of the Romans but people all over the world had to endured over two thousand years of suffering under the banner of the cross; such is the collapse of distinction between pain and suffering. The great irony is that we are such powerful beautiful divine beings in contrast to this game we have given ourselves permission to play: poor victims, self-justified perpetrators and injured children of god refusing to grow up.
The truth is that people in our lives deserve better than this, mother earth deserves better and so do we. What does it take for us to stop and authentically admit: ‘I am creating my suffering. I can see that I am the common denominator, it is me!’ This con has to stop somewhere and who is going to end it if not you or me; we are our own crucifiers just as we are our own saviours. Only when we can take our focus off the supposed external cause of our pain can we then deal with the true culprit of our suffering.
If we are truly lucky there is a moment where in the swirl of one of our suffering episodes that our little demon might just get caught in the flash light of our awareness, witnessed in the act of ravenously stuffing it’s face with pain. It stands there before us frozen like a deer caught in the headlights, pain dripping from it’s mouth. Have you seen yours and what does it look like? I’ve seen mine and it’s quite ugly. Of course it bolts off immediately back into the unseen. It is an invaluable moment when we can realise that who we really are and this shadowy pain feeder is not the same thing at all.
But here’s the rub: knowing this, even seeing it, generally does not make any difference whatsoever save a few new awarenesses and some empty promises to be more mindful. This is but a clever postponement while our demon digs and hides itself in a little deeper into the shadows of our minds.
‘Oh the games, the clever games I play with myself! All to avoid what sits right near the root, my separation from Oneness, my very identity enmeshed in my deep compelling stories of resentment and blame.’
The scalpel that we avoid like the plague is forgiveness, not the toothless forgiveness that we all pretend to do. I am talking about true divine forgiveness, all encompassing forgiveness, the kind that alchemises the compelling precious stories of our worst pains into the most wondrous expressions of utter gratitude for this existence. It is this kind of forgiveness that takes us right to the door of our demons lair. It is only when we are willing to fully expose our scheme, openly acknowledge all the benefits, the trappings and spoils we derive from perpetuating our suffering that we can hope to starve our demon such that it will have no choice but to come out and complete it’s intended sacred journey. Can you feel that undercurrent of resistance at the mere thought of such an act, that is the demon stirring within like a vampire with the sun on it’s face. ‘No, I will never forget, never let this go, It is mine!’ it hisses from the dark.
And the question we must ask ourselves is do we really want to keep on going like this? Do we really want to keep playing this game that robs us of our life force?
How many times have I said to myself during a suffering episode: ‘I just cannot fucking do this any more, this has to end.’ And yet I am still blind and foolish enough to believe that I need to change or fix my situation, leave that person or job I was blaming, avenge myself, try another unique treatment for my malady and yet I find myself back in the same place a little later dealing with the same scenario of suffering and drama just in a new improved variation. There is nothing outside of us that can ever cure our suffering, not a new relationship, job or location to live in, not a pet, having a baby or finding a new miracle drug. It is a long hard road that we will have to walk before we are willing to get brutally present to our own pretence. When will enough, be enough? That question will be asked again and again and again as we entertain each new smoke screen for procrastination, deviation and postponement for what it is we really need to do. And it will finally come down to these question: Is this really how I am willing to die? ‘Is this what my existence is really about? Or will I still show up in my greatness for what I am called to contribute in this world?
How deep are you willing to dig to transform your suffering and are you truly willing to give up your drama?
There comes a point where we will have to reboot our entire system, turn ourselves inside out, reach inside to the darkest corners to call out our demon and face it head on.
‘Oh demon, phantom parasite, know that I am coming for you! With shakers, smudge, drumbeats and chants I will shake the bushes that you hide in. I will stamp the ground near the holes you crept into. I will open the doors of all dark abandoned rooms. I will cut off the supply to what you feed on, all the benefits and entitlements that the drama of pain gives you. I will starve you and yes it will feel like I am starving myself too! All that crawls beneath the skin will rise, hairs on end, and the feeling of revulsion will call forth that deep purge to expel this energy. I will call you out. No matter how much pain I feel as you wince and squirm within me, I will hold strong and keep calling you until you come out. And as you wrestle, I will clasp my hands together tightly and I will pray for strength and clarity, I will call on all my guides, my ancestors, I will invoke the earth and the heavens to empower me, to help me hold this space until you finally come to the surface, until you emerge, flushed out.
And there exposed I will hold you like a lost child covered in mucous, bile and shit. You may still scream, flail, kick and cry foul, shame and blame in every way you have learnt how, desperately jabbing to find my trigger points so that I will release you and let you run back so you can hide again in some hole. I will continue to hold you firm in my grip, my boundaries clear, strong and unwavering. I will hold you and love you despite all your protestations and accusations until finally you surrender and cry your loudest and deepest tears of anger, regret and shame. Sob demon sob, cry for all the pain you felt when you were small, powerless and weak. I will hold you, protect you because I am wiser and I am strong. I will hold you until you heal, I will feel it all, until your blackness melts away and the colour returns to your frail body, until you become translucent, becoming luminance of dandelions that then scatters into the divine breeze as I set your energy free into the great light.
In this space of liberation, this profound emptiness I will feel a weight has been lifted off me like I have never felt before. An unimaginable lightness and giddiness will be in its place. My heart will feel open and painfully raw, sensitive to the very breeze and every little change of temperature like never before. I will be present to the utter miracle of life with new born eyes discovering the world once more. I will feel like I am home again.
There will be nothing but gratitude in me for everything I have felt and experienced, every hardship, every pain, I will even give thanks for the ‘curse’ of my suffering for it has shown me the deepest contrast that makes love rich and full, it has driven me to my awakening. It will feel as if the natural cycles of my being, the flow of my emotions has been opened up again. I will feel the universe now flowing not just for me but around me, for my children and their children’s children. Without this rudder of my suffering keeping me on this one track, I will know now that I can choose the life I want to live, and so my true journey will begin as a consciously creating being.‘
This is but a taste of the experience of transformation not unlike what I have experienced myself or have seen others experience. In itself is a gift simply to be able to identify that demon within ourselves for then our work can begin. This is the most profound and divine initiation for any human being to experience for this is when we truly get present to the power of the divine within us. It is the work that needs to be done if we are to end suffering in this world. We all have demons of suffering within us and we all deserve liberation which is well worth the price of the responsibility it comes with.
And it comes down to this simple understanding that pain however hard is an unavoidable, necessary and even beautiful part of life but that our suffering however compelling, convincing or overwhelming is absolutely and always optional. To exercise this ultimate divine choice and to liberate ourselves is the hero’s journey that we must be willing to embark on and it will mean doing the thing that most of us avoid at all costs. It means giving up the benefits of our con and forgiving those we once like to blame; especially those we deemed unforgivable. We realise then that the actual process of forgiveness is not about letting other people off the hook at all, it is only about exorcising our own terrible demons that hold us captive in perpetual suffering.
The great irony is that the master teacher of forgiveness was Jesus himself and if he were here today he would surely insist that every cross and crucifix in the world be taken down. ‘Not in my name’ he would probably say, ‘I endured much pain when I was crucified but I certainly did not suffer, suffering is what I came to end. Whatever designer you hired to do the branding for this organisation you call Christianity got it very wrong and you clearly misunderstood the brief. I did not ask you to bow to my tortured lifeless body nor worship my pain, I asked you to worship Love, I asked you to forgive everyone, conquerers, perpetrators and gentiles alike and I even showed you how. I wanted to set you free not have you build another cage. Lets start again shall we?’
I say it is time for us to return to the true path of forgiveness as it was actually taught and heal every single generational story that has ever locked us into suffering. Just as Jesus overturned the tables in the big synagogue of Jerusalem to claim back the house of his father we must over turn all doctrines and dogma’s of religious, cultural and social brainwashing that has sought to possess our minds and bodies. Each of us as sovereign beings are holy temples of God and within each of us the divine is always present. We must do whatever it takes to exorcise our possessing demons so that we may once more take full guardianship and be present in the holy house of our being.
Journeying with powerful plant guides like Madre Ayahuasca is what has given me that direct access to reclaim this holy inner realm. I have passed through the gate-less gates entered the sacred inner temple mine eyes have seen the promised land within. I have felt the infinite and wondrous heavenly spaces, magnificent multi dimensional inner hallways beyond description and understanding. Words pale to describe what my heart has seen. Through these many journeys that I have likewise been called to be guide for others to repossess and experience their own inner heavenly hallways. There is no greater gift we can give the world than to take back our holy temple for as we become present in ourselves, we will become present in the world.
Haux Haux Amen.