Many of us aspire to an enlightened state of consciousness that can permanently free us of sorrow, insecurity, and struggle, bringing us into the light of a joyous spiritual fulfillment.
The path is within, we are told, the power of the silent present will take us into the bliss of the moment. Meditation will awaken us to the comfort of a profound inner reality that soothes, expands, and inspires.
So what about Haiti?
What do enlightened people feel when they see the horror of Haitian bodies crushed and cursed by the earth's very own rock?
Attuning ourselves to the spiritual silence within does not immunize us from all of life's ills. Even the enlightened weep. Even Jesus wept.
Yes, our minds can experience a powerful and peaceful quiet within, but our bodies remain vulnerable to whatever nature might bring us. Rational links between physical cause and effect do not vanish. Enlightened men and women still freeze from too much cold and sweat from too much heat. Though the enlightened know the deep mystical silence that is beyond reason, enlightenment is not unreasonable.
The Christian novelist C. S. Lewis once observed, "So much mercy, yet still there is Hell." Despite our light, darkness and death are everywhere, always. Heaven doesn't replace hell. It exists alongside of it. Yes, as long as we are awake and not unconscious, we can keep moving into our inner mindspace, which is filled with nothing but a vast empty silence. It is inside this infinite stillness that we discover the spiritual peace that can coexist with physical pain. Just as there are pockets of peace even in the midst of war, there is a spiritual solace to be had in the midst of our suffering. Yet war there is, and likewise, though there is the spiritual comfort that comes from our contact with inner silence, there remains the emotional trauma that accompanies physical pain and suffering.
Some claim that the enlightened do not weep because they grasp the Truth: all that happens is in keeping with the Divine Plan, in synch with the laws of Karma, the products of a just universe functioning as it should, thus there's nothing to cry about. It's all good, goes the refrain.
Was it bad karma that killed tens of thousands when the Haitian concrete slammed down upon them? There are tiny blameless infants lying crippled while the dead are piled high in the streets to be bulldozed into hastily dug pits amid cries from those still trapped in the rubble. A just plight stemming from the sins of their past lives? I dare not accuse those of that. To label their plight just is to blaspheme against justice itself. Have we not already been shown how the innocent are crucified along with the guilty?
The French author and philosopher Voltaire fiercely rejected the notion that the immense suffering that is too often visited upon the innocent is somehow to be accepted as a just fate in service of a higher cause. On November 1, 1755, an immense earthquake shook Lisbon, killing nearly sixty thousand people and injuring thousands of others. Within a few weeks, Voltaire composed a powerful poem expressing his reaction, which my daughter, Mia, translated from the French in honor of the admirable conscience of an honest soul:
Those deluded philosophers who cry, "All is well."
Approach, consider these ghastly ruins,
This debris, these scraps, this sorrowful cinder,
These women, these children, both piled up upon one another
Their limbs dispersed underneath this broken marble,
These thousand unfortunate beings that the earth devours
Whom, bloody, torn, and palpitating still,
Are buried under their roofs, dying without assistance,
In the horror of affliction their lamentable days!
To these half-formed cries of their faint voices,
At the terrifying spectacle of their smoking ashes,
Will you say, "This is the effect of eternal laws
Which are of a liberated God and are necessitated by good choice"?
Will you say, in seeing these stacks of victims,
"Vengeance is God's, their death is the price of their crimes"?
Voltaire scorned the facile explanations of people who attempted to explain away inexplicable pain by promoting the belief in a righteous cosmic scheme that justified the slaughter of sixty thousand helpless men, women, and children and the maiming of thousands more, their horrible suffering dutifully inflicted by some unseen divine wrath in service of a flawless, godly machine.
The authentic human response to the suffering of innocents is anguish--pure, honest, and caring. We need not try to cultivate a false equanimity by pretending that suffering is just the price of unholiness.
We do not have to cloak ourselves in spiritual denial in order to protect our spirituality. We are capable of finding spiritual solace in this world as we know it to be. Refusing to recognize the injustice of pain and suffering, spun as a grander holistic knowledge of the just balance of good and bad governed by a higher force, is not spiritual. It is not the enlightenment of detached equanimity; it is the spiritual delusion that nurtures a misplaced callousness. Be still inside, stay centered in silence, be at peace within, but care and cry over catastrophes everywhere. When all is not good, proclaim that it is not.
This spiritual realism can be liberating, offering us a way out of the tug-of-war between internal spiritual fulfillment and external physical torment. Our spiritual silence allows us to make peace with both. Though Job wailed against his worldly losses and sufferings, he never abandoned the promise of a fulfilling spiritual life infused with love and compassion.
Though Jesus wept, and enlightened Buddhas and chanting Krishnas are likely doing the same as they connect with the reality that is today's Haiti, the compassion that is also unfolding with each passing hour and the charity it will inspire for years to come reminds us of the presence of a universal love that dwells within the silence of the human heart, and for that we can be joyous.
adapted from "Spiritual Delights and Delusions: How to Bridge the Gap between Spiritual Fulfillment and Emotional Realities" by Steve Posner. Visit his website at steveposner.com