Sorrow, stress and spirituality

My mom said good bye to her day job last week. She’s a psychotherapist and had invited a Dutch professor, Dr. Ruart Ganzevoort, who talked about men, spirituality and trauma. (One of my moms specialties was working with men and lately, traumatized men). It was a very interesting lecture and brought home to me something that had somehow not quite registered: that my mother is interested in spirituality too. It really is a family trait.

As I said – a very interesting lecture. For instance, it seems that research has shown that men are likely to become less spiritual or religious after trauma, where women are likely to become more religious/spiritual. Ganzevoort’s theory was that this is because men become more independent and more closed up after trauma. Women too often close up after trauma, but they will become less independent as well – as a general rule. This is partly to do with what society expects of women versus men, of course. Religion tends to make people more social (=less independent) and more open. Which is generally what women do as well. That was the paradigm of the evening anyhow (and my summary of it, without taking notes – hope I got it right).

This means that traumatized men have a particularly hard time. They are less likely to be able to use spirituality as a support – yet when they’ve grown up religious, the religious imagery they grew up with will play a part in their way of dealing with stress whether they like it or not. Why? Because religion and sorrow are interlinked in any spiritual tradition.

Let’s go over a few religious traditions so you’ll see his point:

  • Buddhism: Buddha left the safe haven of his childhood after having been faced with the truths of old-age, disease and death.
  • Judaism: The main stories in Judaism are about the persecution of the Jews, how God has punished them and how they survived anyhow.
  • Christianity: Jesus dies on the Cross, wondering why God has forsaken him.
  • Islam: Muhammad overcomes his enemies.
  • Hinduism: The Mahabharata is a story of war and family strife. The Bhagavad Gita confronts the eternal question: should one keep one’s hands clean or live in the world to do one’s duty?
  • The American dream (aka The Secret): starting out poor and becoming rich through one’s own exertions.

I’m leaving out the theological explanations that make each of these stories palatable to the ordinary believer. That is perhaps one of the functions of religion: to make sorrow and adversity palatable in our day to day lives. But for people who have to face the deeper sorrows  – loosing a child, surviving war, incest – these stories are not enough. In the stories there is always a happy end. Buddha finds enlightenment. The Jews will be saved at the end of time. Christ got resurected. Muhammed DID overcome his enemies. The war in the Mahabharata does end. Arjuna finds God. In the American dream the poor person DOES become rich. Those endings are what make the stories palatable. But for those living in poverty without a way out – the fact that some have overcome such things is not always enough. These stories can help one keep going, giving hope, but they can also make one bitter. Why didn’t God save ME?

This is the eternal existential question. In the west it has become crystallized in the question of Evil: if there is a Good All Powerful God, how come there is Evil? For those of us who don’t believe in a God outside creation, the question changes. But however the question is put – the facts of sorrow, of stress, of adversity and evil can’t be denied. For most of us it’s still possible to believe the universe in general a positive place. We trust we will not be run over by a car on our way to work. We trust that when we ask for directions, we will usually not be lied to. We need this trust. It makes it possible to act. But what if that basic trust gets violated? That’s the question people who have lived through trauma have to face. Religious cliché’s are not likely to help them – whether men or women.I guess that’s where therapy comes in.

[Most of the examples in this blogpost are rephrased from the lecture by Prof. Ganzevoort – just wanted to share]

7 thoughts on “Sorrow, stress and spirituality”

  1. I agree with the fact that a man after a trauma acts even more like the macho who can do it all, nothing at hand while a woman in the ages old behavior of poor unlucky me, is going inside to never come out or keep hanging in spirtual clouds for ever. We are now in a turning point, all of us. Woman learn to know and integrate their inner man and the man wil learn to integrate his inner woman, than we finally will have complete human beings who are able to act independent and with love, because when you have your male and female side, right and left finally fully connected there is love inside of you.
    Now your stories:

    Buddhism: Buddha left the safe haven of his childhood after having been faced with the truths of old-age, disease and death. yes and he mastered to finally be soul into body, the way we are supposed to be. Buddhism is a philosophy . I felt the Buddha energy and I can assure you that you arre all energy than and having a body!!

    Judaism: The main stories in Judaism are about the persecution of the Jews, how God has punished them and how they survived anyhow. That is their greatest negative opinion and self fulfilling trauma and prophecy – they are violent and have to learn to get rid of that, therefore they have all those negative experiences

    Christianity: Jesus dies on the Cross, wondering why God has forsaken him. This is a metaphor as well; the cross is the human being, like Leonardo Davinci already draw – so down so above, so left so right, Jezus did the same thing: je came into the body, being a human as well and by that getting his full soul potential – resurrection we all can go there to have it too

    Islam: Muhammad overcomes his enemies. = the negative inside of him, he also was talking in metaphor, like all religions, you have to look behind the sories and know the pictures souls are talking in

    Hinduism: The Mahabharata is a story of war and family strife. The Bhagavad Gita confronts the eternal question: should one keep one’s hands clean or live in the world to do one’s duty? As far as this go, they always life in the spiritual clouds and keep being poor, they could use some western intelligence

    The American dream (aka The Secret): starting out poor and becoming rich through one’s own exertions. The secret is not complete and not all right – there are missing parts in it.

    what all humans try to do is avoiding their negativity, the dark, the mess humans are too, even our soul has negative parts, that is the last thing we come across when going our inner cleaning path.

    There is a life when leaving those clouds – there is a body waiting for the energy of the soul coming in finally – be human with all this ugly things too, they are the product of our negative believes and hidden dark side – there is no evil force involved. the so called Satan is nothing more than the earth energy’s misused to the max by adictions, greed and so on.We create our own heaven or hell on earth – what you are inside you get in your life mirrored to learn.No Sorrow, no pointing fingers – we do it completely so take responsibility for self.

  2. Yeshua (Jesus) did not necessarily think Divinity had forsaken him. Lamsa’s translation, for example may say Yeshua did not say ‘[why did you forsake me?]’ but he said ‘[So this is my destiny,]’ or something like that.

    However, at least one of the beatitudes describes suffering that Yeshua said his followers will benefit from.

  3. Hi David – yes, the exact Biblical phrase can be translated in other ways as well. Blavatsky also preferred a translation where Christ did NOT feel forsaken.

    In the context of my post that just means that Jesus himself perhaps took his myth/life so seriously, that he did not mind being hanged. But the basic story is one that for normal people would be a story of sorrow. Nobody wants to die on a cross – leaving out ideals of martyrdom and so on.

  4. I have been studying the books and recordings of the Spiritual Teacher, Joel S. Goldsmith for over 30 years and he best explains the question of why all the evil things are happening to good people. It is a bit lengthy but is good food for thought for those that are not aware of his teachings. I got the following from the Acropolis Website:

    No Escape from Omnipresence
    You, along with everyone else, have been mislead into believing that under certain conditions God is not present with you. If, for some reason of ignorance, you have sinned, do not believe that God has abandoned you. Do not accept it. God is omnipresence, and therefore, there is no escaping God, not even in sin. Or perhaps you have believed that there is some incurable disease and that this proves the absence of God. Do not believe it. The very belief in the absence of God perpetuates the belief in the presence and power of disease. Acknowledge Omnipresence, even if you are making your bed in hell:

    Here where I am, God is. In spite of my sin, in spite of my disease, in spite of my lack or limitation, in spite of my unhappiness, God is omnipresent.

    In the moment that you have the actual feel of this Presence, which is Omnipresence, in that very moment, these illusory appearances of sin, disease, death, lack, and limitation evaporate.

    The experience of sin, disease, lack, and unhappiness is due to your acceptance of a sense of separation from God, and you will discover that when you have the experience of God’s presence, no longer will there be the presence of any appearance of sin, disease, or unhappiness. These will evaporate.

    The truth of man’s inseparability from God has been truth “since before Abraham was.” The only reason there still remains evil, so-called, on earth is the lack of recognition and realization of this truth. In proportion as these principles have been realized in consciousness, men throughout all ages have found their spiritual freedom.

    Sometimes the question is asked, “Why are so many people who have realized God still battling with the evils of this world?” The answer is that the tacit acceptance of the universal belief in two powers still persists. A person not aware of the basic principles of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence may realize God, and at the same time be experiencing human error. That is what the Master referred to as “tares and the wheat” growing side by side. Many mystics throughout the ages have experienced the awareness of a Presence and Power, and yet they have gone through physical disease and material lack and limitation, all because they had not yet awakened to the truth that in the presence of God there is only the realization of spiritual Grace and in this Presence all else is nullified. From Seek Ye First , page 132.

  5. I think there’s a bit of a contradiction between an all powerful God and humanity being responsible for feeding the forces of evil. But since I’m not invested in any Ultimate God as a person, I do agree that the source of evil is humanity.

  6. Dat lijkt me een erg interessante lezing! En goed dat je even een overzichtje hebt gemaakt van hoe verschillende religies / levensbeschouwingen tegenover deze thema’s staan. 🙂 Je hebt een erg interessant weblog, dus ik zal je zeker blijven volgen!

    Veel liefs vanuit Sint Petersburg (Rusland) x Martine

  7. Order of today’s Yoga:

    It has become the fashion of the day to use the word Yoga for every activity. Yoga means simply attainment. But attainment of what is important? The Yoga shastra of Patanjali uses this word strictly in the attainment of Eswara (Lord). To render service (practical devotion) to the Lord, mental and physical health is needed. The early five stages (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara) concentrate on this attainment of physical and mental health.

    Afterwards the other three stages (Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi) deal with the main subject of attainment of the Lord. The preachers are stopping with the early five steps only and limiting their efforts by turning their spiritual workshops in to gymnasiums, hospitals and recreation centers. By this you are preaching the art of peaceful and happy living on this earth. If you stop here, the main goal of Patanjali Yoga is totally lost.

    A Boy who is admitted to the school is given fees and good food. He is expected to go to the school and study. But, he goes to the cinema theatre and uses the fees to purchase the ticket for cinema. This is the fate of Yoga today. The Yoga centre teaches all the steps to attain physical health by the first four steps and mental health by the fifth step. The person becomes fully healthy and attains mental peace by the control of thoughts (chittavrutti Nirodhah… Yoga Sutra).

    The thought is controlled so that it is diverted from the world to use it in the direction of devotion (Vyavasayatmika… Gita). A horse is controlled by the owner so that it will not have freedom to go as it likes in the wrong directions. Therefore, controlling thoughts to divert the mind to the right path is Pratyahara. It is withdrawal of mind (Kurmonganiva….Gita) but not destruction of mind (Manolaya Yoga).

    The preachers are talking about the dissolution of thoughts which is equal to killing the horse. By doing so the horse cannot be used in any direction. The purpose is lost. One medicine to cure the tooth pain was advertised like this: by using this medicine you will never get pain for any tooth because this medicine will remove all the teeth from your mouth! Similarly, if you kill the mind, the problems and all worries have ended once for all. By killing the horse, the problem in controlling it is solved forever!

    Such a state in which the thoughts are dissolved and the mind is destroyed results in the state of a stone in human form. You will become the statue of the human being carved in a stone!

    at lotus feet of swami

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