We are, from the cradle, born into servitude, and we remain in chains until death. From the first breath drawn until eternal embrace, we are shackled by circumstance; our every need dependent upon external dispensation. We are told that there exist “free will” within our every decision, but consider that those decisions are conditionally shaped by what is or is not available to us, and what is available is either predetermined by physical limitation or by appeal to the largess of another. This renders the concept of “free will” aberrant and useless. Our decisions are entirely guided by the grace of others..

Thomas Merton, the 20th century Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic, suggested that “We are all but leaves being blown about by the winds of circumstance.” In suggesting that we are hemmed into bondage by choices limited to external grace, even the winds of circumstance fail to blow in the face of reason. So who, or what, then accounts for what is available to us to choose from?

For the believer, it is none other than God. To the faithful, all things flow from and return to God. This being the very same God who in return bestows upon his children a vaporous gift of “free will” but who nonetheless precedes it with a litany of commands and admonitions beginning with “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have gods before me. “and couples this with a host of “Thou shall and Thou shall Not’s.” In this condition of being, “free will” is lost amongst the jealous threat of choosing unwisely. Could not a free man elect, without consequence, to worship another god? Or no God at all? Would not the gift of “free will” proceed without such a conditional caveat? Again, the chains rattle.

For the Atheist, and indeed, the Agnostic, the bonds of servitude are no less secure. Believing themselves free of the over handedness of a deity, their dilemma becomes all the more transparent as they show themselves entirely supplicant upon the goodwill, or lack thereof, of their fellow man. They lack even the myth of divine intervention in making not only choices, but the right choices. Theirs is the delusion of certainty, while all around them exist walls constructed of avarice and greed, and from this fervent field decisions are plucked.

Freedom from servitude, absolute freedom, requires a “free will” unencumbered by what is and isn’t possible; by what is and isn’t allowed. Without such abandon, chains are tightened and our enslavement certified. Everywhere we look, and for every corner we turn in this life, our path is laid out before we can even begin to contribute in as much as direction is concerned. What is and isn’t available to us is predetermined, less by failed aspirations and more by social and environmental contract. Freedom crumbles in the face of reality and reason.

We are, after all, little more than indentured dreamers.

Pain vs. Suffering: A Necessary Distinction for Writers

Every writer, at some point or another, writes about pain and suffering. The truth is, due to the universal human experience of both, these are topics that deeply touch the reader and as such are richly relatable, thus making for compelling writing. The problem arises, however, when the writer fails to understand the fundamental difference between the two. In not understanding that these are two unique and very individual experiences, we often speak of one when we clearly intend to address the other.

To that end, please allow me to attempt to make that distinction now, as clearly as I am able. I hope in doing so that you will be able to more sharply hone both the intent, and the alliterations, you might be striving for in your next piece.

Pain, while it serves as a somatic sensation of acute discomfort to warn us that something is wrong and threatening to our health or survival, is a feeling people try to avoid. As well they should. We should strive to avoid hurt, thus avoiding pain, at all costs. Why would we embrace something that makes us miserable? It can, and does, have an emotional component, but only as a byproduct of the actual physical pain. When we write about pain, we should be speaking to the physical experience, and for the most part, it should be in noun form (with the exception of when we or others are the root cause of that physical discomfort, in which case it would be presented as an adjective.)

Suffering, on the other hand, speaks more to the mental experience of pain or affliction. It is a cerebral process that, when experienced, may feel “painful”, but is in reality growth producing. When we write about suffering, our focus should primarily be on the psychological or spiritual lessons associated with a painful event. It should, in healthy terms, present itself as a necessary evil to be embraced, as in acceptance comes growth. In feeling, misery, or state of mind, it is presented as a noun. Experientially, or as a state of being, it serves as an adjective. In making this distinction, the writer lends to the reader the correct emotional attachment and understanding to what is being discussed.

Practice writing a couple of verses where you clearly make the distinction between the two and see if you don’t agree.

Here is a short story that I heard year’s ago that I feel makes the distinction between pain and suffering very clear:.

“A young boy was caught in a home fire and burned very badly. His mother was lost in the fire, and his father, at the time, was stationed in the military in Iraq. As soon as the father learned of the tragedy, he was rushed home to be with his son. He sat beside his son for day after day, for weeks, as the child went through extensive and painful reconstructive surgery to repair his damaged skin. The child was experiencing both pain and suffering: pain from the burns and the bouts of surgery; suffering from the loss of his mother. The father, too, although not in physical pain, was also deeply suffering watching his child in so much pain. The child wanted the pain to go away, but he embraced his suffering because it made him feel connected to the mother he lost. This suffering, though painful, caused him to grow and to heal more quickly. Unfortunately, the father could not make the distinction. He felt he was in too much pain, and when he was not by his son’s side, he would go home and drink to ease the discomfort. In essence, in confusing the two, he was pushing his suffering away, and he never fully recovered from the events.”

Submitted by DLMcHale

Welcome to Insights and Observations!

Welcome!  The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for writers and poets to discuss their craft; their efforts, their hurdles and challenges, their observations, their successes and their failures.  Sometimes, when I am in the middle of crafting a poem, my thoughts walk off into the fog of introspection, and this forum allows me to share with each of you what I discover about: Why I write, to whom I write and why, what I have learned, what I can share….so that we all become better stewards of our craft, I have created this blog so that we might assist one another.  That we might build “knowledge bridges” to get our work across the rivers of despair.

This is not my blog…it is our blog.  If you have something you have written that describes your journey, feel free to email those insights and thoughts to Your opinions will not be excluded or edited. What you have to say could well lift many like-minded artisans move past their percieved limitations and self-imposed killjoys.

Thank you and happy writing,

Dennis L. McHale