By Roberto Assagioli , Source:The Beacon, June 1942
When spiritual life and development are regarded from the traditional point of view there is very often associated with them the idea of renunciation, of suffering, labor, sorrow and pain. This is unfair, for a single aspect is over accented. It arouses perplexity, even repugnance and discourage the novice on the spiritual way.
Suffering constitutes the preponderant and characteristic element of only one phase, one level, of the spiritual life – the phase of purification which follows the awakening of the soul, the first revelation of our indwelling Spirit. That awakening is full of joy and exultation and joy is the note of the state that follows purification, the state of the illumined soul. After the “dark night of the soul”, that new period of shadow, labor and sorrow, comes the glorious goal, the transfiguration of the soul in God, the conscious communion of the individual with the universal Spirit. The Orientals call this Moksha and Vinmuhti (liberation, Nirvana) and the Occidentals the Mystic Marriage and the Unified life.
In this state the soul is filled with bliss, an enduring and ineffable joy. We should not marvel at it for bliss is the essential quality of the Supreme Spirit. Both Orientals and Occidentals testify to this. According to the Hindus, the three essential attributes of the Supreme Spirit are Sat, Chit, Ananda; namely, being, knowledge, bliss. Other authorities as the Manduka Upanishad call these characteristics of Atman, the Supreme Self, “shantam, shivam, advaita”; or peace, bliss, unity.
According to the Christians the communion with God in this life and the next gives conscious enjoyment of Him, of His glory and His bliss.
Spiritual joy is different than pleasure
Spiritual Joy must not be confused with the pleasures and joys of another nature. It possesses characteristics which enable us to distinguish it easily and surely. Spiritual Joy, above all, is permeated with peace. It gives a sense of calm, of security, of complete quiet which is entirely lacking in the tumultuous pleasures, in the violent excesses of another nature. Its effects are different, often opposite. The egoistic pleasures and exaltations make the whole being vibrate, consume the nervous energy and are followed by a reaction of weariness, depression and lack of vitality. On the other hand, Spiritual Joy gives strength instead of taking it away. It does not provoke reactions but leaves behind it a wave of energy and courage and often real physical relief. Finally, while the egoistic pleasures tend to separate us from others, to make us forget all the world in our own little personal satisfactions, Spiritual Joy is, by its nature, expansive. It renders us more loving, more compassionate and inspires us with the desire to help others participate in our joy.
Spiritual Joy possesses another trait that at first may seem strange and paradoxical, but which on closer examination is seen to be natural and befitting the character of that Joy, namely, it can co-exist with pain. Such an apparent contradiction cannot be explained as the materialists pretend, who know nothing of the Spiritual life. They consider it an anomaly, a perversion, a form of physic masochism. It can be easily interpreted, however, in the light of the Spiritual conception of man and of his complex inner structure. This is a conception which has been and is being continually strengthened by the recent development of analytic and synthetic psychology.
A human being, in his present stage of evolution, is not a harmonious and coherent unity. He is made up of a mass of heterogeneous and contrasting elements grouped around different centers that are found at different levels relatively independent of each other. For the purpose of this article we need not investigate the more subtle distinctions between these elements and centers. It is enough to remember that they can be divided into two great groups. Those that compose the ordinary human personality and those that constitute the superior individuality, the Soul properly so called. Now, while the ordinary joys and pleasures are felt by the personality, Spiritual Joy is the property of the individuality. The ordinary man lives inclosed in his own personality and ignores even the existence of the superior elements. On the other hand in “the perfectly awakened one”, in the liberated Spirit, in the soul completely and permanently united with God, the personality is dissolved and its elements regenerated and transfused into the individuality so that the whole being is unified.
The man who finds himself in an intermediate state, in whom the Spiritual consciousness is awakened but who still retains many elements of the ordinary man, has a more or less conscious duality of feeling and reaction. Thus we can understand how it often happens that while the personality mechanically suffers, the individuality exults in the Light of the Spirit.
It is to be noted further that the stages of the Spiritual development are not rigidly separated from one another but are often superimposed and partially interpenetrating. Thus during the phase of illumination the activity of purification generally goes on and it is the interweaving of these two which causes the co-existence of joy and pain.
The illumined soul which has vitally experienced the purifying and elevating action of suffering not only does no longer flee it, not only endures it patiently and accepts it with good will, but finally comes to rejoice in it. The strength of the Spirit renders the cross light, the light of the Spirit renders the cross luminous.
There is nothing abnormal in all this but rather something supernormal. It is a noble and beautiful experience and those who ignore or condemn it do not understand that “to suffer and to be unhappy are not at all the same thing”. They are the blind who are not to be heeded but pitied.
It is true that there have been some cases, especially in past centuries in which the thirst for, and the pleasure in, suffering have assumed an excessive intensity and an abnormal character. However, these are deviations from the true Spiritual path, impure admixtures, counterfeits of the genuine mystical experience.
Spiritual joy is a duty toward others
The distinction between the egoic pleasures of the personality and the Spiritual Joy of the individuality also aids in explaining the error of those who (as we pointed out in the beginning) on the basis of a too rigid, dualistic and pessimistic view of life and religion, accentuate exclusively the side of sacrifice and suffering. They view with suspicion and with condemnation anything which speaks of the joy of the soul. In reality, Spiritual Joy is not only permitted to all but is truly a duty, and it is so for many reasons. In the first place it greatly helps the outpouring of gratitude and the voluntary dedication of oneself which constitute the best response of the soul to the flood of light which has been poured upon it from on High. Spiritual Joy also facilitates the transformation and sublimation of all the personal elements, a work which the soul must accomplish in ever increasing measure upon the ascending path.
Finally, Spiritual Joy is a duty towards others. At every step on our way we should help our brothers to share in the treasures which we have discovered, in the benefits which have been showered upon us, in the powers which are developing in us. This is the unchangeable law of justice and of love, the direct expression of the fundamental unity of all beings. Thus whoever attains the first illuminations must share them with others. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by pouring out upon them our own joy.
Poor humanity, tormented by a thousand sorrows, agitated by a thousand fears, distracted by a thousand doubts, searches anxiously (whether it knows it or not) for peace, certainty, a serene and stable joy. It is irresistibly attracted towards anyone, who by the example of his own life, by his own silent radiation, shows that he has touched that inner center of calm, of harmony and of satisfaction.
It is only after having proved the positive results, after having recognized the value and benefit of the Spiritual life, that a man is willing to subject himself to the necessary discipline, to pay the price that at first may seem excessive, but that later will show itself justified, indeed inadequate, for such an inestimable treasure, our possession for eternity.
At this time it is right course and our plain duty towards ourselves, towards others and towards God, not only freely to accept Spiritual Joy but intentionally to awaken it within ourselves and to preserve and increase that which we have obtained.
Let us then adopt the glorious motto of St. Paul, fervently aspiring to live it every day ¾
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice”.
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