Presence • Awakening • Consciousness • Self-knowledge • Evolution Vol 1, No 5 • OCTOBER 2004
Being Present FORWARD this issue  
A publication of the Fellowship of Friends

The Transformation of Suffering

“Maurice Nicoll said that ‘Nothing makes a man so much like God as suffering’. I would add that nothing makes a man so much like God as transforming suffering.”  Robert Earl Burton

In the process of trying again and again to self-remember, the question naturally arises: how to keep it going for more than just a few seconds, or at best a few minutes? How to prolong presence? On the Fourth Way, this is where the conscious shock of transformation comes in.

The idea behind transformation is that suffering creates a pressure which, when used correctly, can dispel imagination and perpetuate self-remembering. Usually, the greater the suffering, the more we want to avoid it. Yet in terms of awakening, suffering provides a unique opportunity because of the impact it has on our mechanical state. If we are asleep, the force of suffering puts us further to sleep. But if we are present, the power of our suffering can help to strengthen self-remembering.

When suffering comes our way, if we make a conscious effort not to identify with it—not resist or resent or blame suffering—then it can work in our favor as a catalyst or third force for consciousness. It can help us be more present. As Robert Earl Burton points out, this is the hidden meaning of suffering. True transformation has an awakening factor.

It may sound intriguing, yet transformation is hard to achieve because we tend to resist and avoid suffering of any kind, be it a minor irritation or a life-threatening event. Just as the machine prefers the ease of imagination over the effort to self-remember, so it prefers comfort and pleasure over pain, inconvenience, and turmoil. From the ordinary point of view this is normal, for to turn our response around and embrace suffering rather than resist it is to go against the laws of Nature—which explains why transformation is so rare.

Self-remembering lets us use the moments of our lives to promote presence; transformation lets us use periods of suffering to prolong presence. To transform suffering, we need to begin by remembering ourselves—that is, we need to be present to the suffering we are experiencing without rejecting or denying it. Some ‘I’s can support this, but many more oppose it and do their best to prevent it. The stronger the suffering, the harder it is to keep self-remembering on track.

Why is this? The most mechanical reaction to suffering is negative emotions. We feel hurt, angry, pitiable, defeated when we experience real suffering. Observation proves, however, that negative emotions prolong our suffering and turn it from real suffering into imaginary suffering: we relive our experience over and over again in sleep. By not expressing and not identifying with the negative emotions we experience in the face of our suffering, we have a chance to separate consciousness from functions, and this separation is what makes transformation—and awakening—possible.

Work on transformation

As was said, transformation cannot work until we free ourselves from all the imaginary suffering that reinforces negative emotions. Things like complaining, criticizing, suspicion, jealousy, worry—all the forms of negative imagination and identification which serve no other purpose than to distract us from being present to the reality of the moment. Imaginary suffering occurs often, yet it leads nowhere and changes nothing. Real suffering, however—such as illness, pain, grief, and emotional devastation—happens much less often. But when it arrives it is charged with an intensity that can sustain presence. This is why Mr. Ouspensky advises, “The moment you suffer, try to remember yourself.”

This effort begins by letting go of imaginary suffering—not displaying irritation and impatience, not complaining or criticizing, not worrying, not blaming, and, above all, not feeling sorry for ourselves–and by replacing it with the effort to divide attention. Daily efforts of this kind—of choosing presence over imaginary suffering—is how self-remembering is reinforced and how we can transform our state from sleep to awakening.

In sleep, the four lower centers cannot distinguish between real and imaginary suffering, and so they respond to both with identification and negative emotions. Meanwhile, self-remembering responds to both types of suffering with continued efforts to divide attention. It uses suffering large and small as fuel to promote and prolong the wordless state of presence that characterizes the functioning of one’s higher centers. As Robert Earl Burton has said, “Transforming and not identifying with suffering opens up all our possibilities. The more one transforms suffering, the more one’s soul emerges.”

Links of interest on our web site
• See video of Robert Earl Burton teaching
• Review suggested reading about the Fourth Way
• See the web site in your language (home page menu)

Introductory lectures — monthly
We offer a series of free introductory lectures in cities around the world. To register:
• Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.

1— The Foundation of the Fourth Way
• Self-knowledge · Levels of consciousness
• Man as a machine · Consciousness, will, and unity
• Obstacles to awakening · Three lines of work

2— The Theory of Centers (requires lecture 1)
• The 4 lower centers
• The sex center
• Higher centers
• The soul, the spirit

3— Practical Ways to Seize and Prolong Presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
• How to introduce and sustain self-remembering

Membership information
The Fellowship of Friends is a Fourth Way school with centers worldwide. Membership is monthly. For details:
Find a center nearest you.
• Email

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Hercules fighting the Nemean lion, detail, Greek sarcophagus, circa 500 B.C., Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome.

Thoughts on Transformation
Nothing can be attained without suffering but at the same time one must begin by sacrificing suffering. To destroy suffering would mean, first, destroying a whole series of perceptions for which man exists, and second, the destruction of the 'shock', that is to say, the force which alone can change the situation.
George Gurdjieff
By itself suffering can bring nothing, but if one remembers oneself in connection with it, it can be a great force. If suffering did not exist, it would be necessary to create it, because without it one cannot come to right self-remembering. But people try to run away from suffering, or try to disguise it, or they identify with it and in this way destroy the strongest weapon they have. Evolution depends on man's attitude; if he accepts suffering and tries not to identify with it.
Peter Ouspensky
Suffering can either destroy or make a man, according to whether he allows his attention to become attached to the unhappy flesh, or whether with a great effort he can transmute it into that principle of consciousness which is able to regard the physical organism and its troubles from a detached and objective point of view. It is almost impossible for those whose lives are full of involuntary suffering to be able to conceive of suffering as a positive thing. The intentional use of suffering only becomes practical in connection with the work of a school of regeneration.
Rodney Collin
It is not suffering we seek, but the transformation of suffering. The best way to work with suffering is to accept it, not ward it off, but let it run its course. Perhaps the most painful aspect of suffering is wishing it to end, because by accepting suffering one rises above it. Enduring friction without identification constitutes the greater part of awakening. We must remember that friction is not what it appears to be. It is necessary to accept suffering as a life-giving principle and not as an obstacle.
Robert Earl Burton
I know that every suffering is a mercy.
William Blake 
According to the law that governs the universe, all suffering is your labor of love to unveil your real self.
Meher Baba
All below duly travel’d, and still I mount and mount. Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Walt Whitman
You nights of sorrow, why did I not kneel to you more gracefully?
Rainer Maria Rilke
Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.
St. Augustine
When the fire is strong, it soon appropriates itself to the matter which is heaped upon it, and consumes it, and rises higher by means of this very material.
Marcus Aurelius

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