266. Is it not natural to choose the least painful trials?
“From your point of view it would seem so, but not from that of the spirit. When it is free from the bonds of material existence, its illusions come to an end and it thinks differently.”
While living on Earth and subject to the infuence of physical ideas, human beings only see the painful aspect of the trials they must suffer. It therefore appears natural to them to choose the trials that are associated with material pleasure. When it returns to the spiritual life, it compares the unrefned and feeting joy with the permanent happiness it occasionally catches a glimpse of, and then, of what importance to the spirit are a few temporary hardships?. A spirit may therefore choose the hardest trial and the most painful existence in hopes of reaching a happier state quicker, just as a sick person often chooses the most unpleasant medicine or course of treatment in hopes of obtaining a rapid cure. A person who seeks to leave behind an eternal legacy by discovering an unknown country does not pursue a smooth course. It takes the road that most likely will help it reach its goal, and dangers that may lie ahead do not deter it. Quite the contrary, it braves those dangers for the sake of the glory it will receive if it succeeds.
The fact that we are free to choose our successive lives and the trials that we have to undergo ceases to appear strange when we consider that spirits, being free from matter, judge things differently. They perceive the ends that these trials are intended to meet, which are far more important than the fleeting gratifications found on Earth. After each existence, they see the steps they have already accomplished and understand what they still need to do to reach the purity, and this clarity of vision helps them reach their goals. That is the reason why they willingly submit to the tribulations of physical life, requesting to be allowed to experience those that will aid them in advancing the farthest and the fastest. Considering all this, there is nothing surprising in a spirit choosing a hard or painful life. It knows that it cannot, enjoy the supreme happiness it craves in its present state of imperfection. It catches glimpses of that happiness, and it tries to earn its own improvement as the sole means of reaching that happiness.
Don’t we see examples of similar choices every day? Individuals working tirelessly to amass the wealth that will enable them to live in comfort. They are carrying out tasks that have been voluntarily assumed as the means of insuring a more prosperous future. The soldier who sacrifces for the accomplishment of a perilous mission, the traveler who braves serious danger in the interest of science or their own fortune; these are examples of voluntary hardships taken on for the sake of the honor or proft that will result from their successful resolution. What will people not do for glory? Is not every sort of competitive examination a trial to which people voluntarily submit in the hope of advancing in the career they have chosen? To reach a high position in science, art or industry, a person must pass through all the lower degrees that lead up to it, and these constitute many trials. Spirit life models physical life and it presents the same variations on a smaller scale. As in human life, we often choose the hardest conditions as a means of attaining the highest ends. Why would a discarnate spirit, who sees farther than it did when it was in a physical body, not choose a hard or painful existence, if it may lead to eternal happiness? Those who believe that spirits will request to be princes and millionaires because they have the power to choose their lives are like the shortsighted who only see what they touch, or like greedy children, who say that they would like to be pastry-chefs or candy makers.
A spirit, while incarnate, is like a traveler who sees neither the length nor the end of its road in the depths of a valley obscured by fog. When he has reached the top of the hill and the fog has cleared, his view comprises both the road he has traveled and that which still remains. He sees the point that he has to reach and the obstacles that he has to overcome in reaching it, and he is able to take measures for successfully accomplishing his journey. A spirit, while incarnated, is like the traveler at the foot of the hill when freed from his earthbound shackles. It is like the traveler who has reached the top of the hill. The aim of the traveler is to obtain rest after getting tired, while the aim of the spirit is to attain perfect happiness after experiencing trials and tribulations.
Errant spirits say that they seek, study, and observe to choose wisely. We see similar examples in corporeal life. We often spend years deciding which career to choose, a decision that we freely make, because we consider it to be the one in which we are most likely to succeed. If we ultimately fail in the one we have chosen, we seek out another and each career constitutes a phase or period of our lives. Is it not each day used by us to decide what we will do tomorrow? What do different physical lives mean for a spirit if not simply transitional phases, periods and days, in comparison to its spirit life, which is its normal life? The corporeal life is nothing more than transitory and temporary.