Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Overcoming of Sorrow

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

There is nothing at all that is free from suffering that will rest in the end; even the very seed that is sown finds no way to live unless it dies, but through its death it lives and gives life also.


And Jesus said: Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.


The term “Nostalgia” originated as a medical diagnosis before the turn of the Nineteenth Century. One estimate attributed twenty percent of the French army's casualties during years at the end of the Eighteenth Century to nostalgia. These soldiers were taken far from the only places that they knew, from the small domain they traveled in, and marched to distant lands. They were disconnected completely and suffered a great deal of stress from that, as well as, the stresses of military service. A twenty percent casualty figure is an enormous loss. A disease is an epidemic before it effects ten percent.

We could attribute this to a quirk of the past, except we live inundated by nostalgia, governed by nostalgia, suffering from nostalgia. In our modern world most of us have the opposite problem of Eighteenth Century French soldiers, we don't suffer from being disconnected from a particular place, and community, we suffer from never being connected in that way to begin with. Our disconnect cannot be solved by a simply moving from our current place to a prior one. We can't go home again to the way it was, and be the way we were.

Yet, people will always try. In politics there is always one party who's primary focus is on nostalgia, on promising a return to the golden age. Usually contrasted by another who seeks to go forward to the same. In myths the world over there are stories of how this is a fallen time or place, a degenerated era. That something happened to cause the disconnect from a higher/better state, causing us to find ourselves suffering from a larger nostalgia.

Even if we do not long for an aspect of the past, it can still tie us. Someone once said that forgiveness is no longer hoping for a better past. Often it is our wounds and scars that we are bound to, and they are more difficult to escape, because we identify with them, and escaping ourselves cannot be done. It is in these cases that we must heal to forgive, and then forgive to heal.

The past can also tie us with regrets, both of what has been, and also of what could have been. These can be tougher bonds even than wounds. Every significant choice is a limiting. It means that forevermore only one of the choices will be. Often it is the wrong choice, and it is hard to see that often they are all wrong choices to varying degrees. The world is a constant procrustean bed, only rarely do a few in power make themselves the measure for the world for a time, almost always the world measures us—limits us.

I read “choose your own adventure” books as a kid. You had to choose, but you could always go back and see what 'happened' when you chose another way. Video games have a similar non-linear element, you can go back and explore a different outcome: to fix a mistake, or just to see what happens differently. Fortunately, we cannot do that in life, for who would ever move forward? There would be no life as such, just endless testing of possible permutations. The path of life is direct, it is one of limitations not 'endless possibilities.' Limitations come with sorrow, for they come with loss. The potential is lost, if nothing else, and often there is much else.

The necessity of limitations doesn't eliminate sorrow. They are aspects of one another. There will always be sorrow, but it must not overwhelm us. To overcome it, we must accept it, we must grieve for what is lost. Nostalgia is a failure to grieve, a failure to accept the loss and the sorrow, a seeking to return to a time before the loss, before the limitation was imposed. And so it is an illness, one that can make us ill long after all the other effects of the limitation have faded into memory.

We can try to hold onto the past, but in doing so it is we who are held. Not able to accept the loss and grieve, and unable to journey to the past: one becomes paralyzed with nostalgia. Accepting that loss is the more painful way at first, just as healing and forgiveness are. No longer hoping for a better past, or a future past, means feeling the sorrow that is a part of life—but it also means overcoming it to be able to live that life.

As Gnostics, we seek a return to what is called the 'fullness,' or the kingdom of Light, or our true home. Yet what we seek is not a return to the past state of wholeness, but a return that is something new—a transformation beyond understanding. We have a sense of loss simply being in the cosmos, this can become nostalgic and we can seek to return to a primordial state, or it can be simply the realization, the Gnosis, of our true selves—that we are on a path of transformation, of liberation, that will take us to the only state where sorrow truly ends.

Readings for the Day

Nostalgia at Wikipedia

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