Beyond Sacrifice: Embracing Authentic Becoming

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I used to think sacrifice was necessary for growth and fulfillment. In my journey towards authentic becoming (see my post on authenticity, Prioritising Authenticity: The Key to Empowering Our Destiny), I was frequently advised that making sacrifices was essential to progress on the path.

However, over time and reflection, I realized I was often erroneously equating suffering with meaningful sacrifice. Now, I question whether the notion of sacrifice is even necessary or beneficial at all.

Examining Sacrifice vs Suffering

Sacrifice is about expressing your will in alignment with a higher purpose, making a choice, and knowing what function that choice serves, unlike meaningless suffering. It requires much more clarity than mere suffering. And this clarity of aim is shown as either, in ancient times, favour from external gods, or in more modern times, personal growth. People sacrifice their favourite foods in exchange for better health, for example.

Suffering, on the other hand, can be aimless, devoid of will, and linked to ignorance and illusion (see my blog post on illusion, Illusion, not Darkness: Unmasking the True Enemy). In many cultures and traditions, it has been engrained in the collective conscious that humans have to prove their worth to the divine through suffering, with the ultimate achievement being a saint or martyr, domestically or publicly.  In family life, people seeing suffering as a virtue may reject joy, risk self-neglect, and place unhealthy expectations of self-denial on family members. Even if not elevating suffering as a virtue, people may still view life as a struggle against an indifferent universe, like Sisyphus being condemned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again, rather than as empowered beings whose consciousness shapes their reality.  

The Pitfalls of Fear-Based Sacrifice

It then seems that the goal should be to sacrifice without suffering – is it possible to achieve? Yes, potentially, through a sense of meaning and purpose, one can endure the unpleasantness. Athletes sacrifice leisure time, and humanitarian volunteers sacrifice comfort and safety, and none of them would view these acts as suffering.  Buddhism asserts that spiritual liberation arises from letting go of craving and personal identity tied to things. Monks sacrifice possessions and pleasures, ranging from lavish meals to luxuries, as their spiritual practice centers on relinquishment rather than indulgence. However, even proactive sacrifice, if based on fear and scarcity, may not lead to happiness. In a study titled “Sacrifice in Close Relationships: What it is and Why it Matters” (Impett, Gable, & Peplau, 2005, Giving Up and Giving In: The Costs and Benefits of Daily Sacrifice in Intimate Relationships), the researchers found that “people may orient themselves to and then ultimately experience the very things they were trying to obtain or avoid.” That is, people who sacrifice to promote a partner’s satisfaction or the relationship’s intimacy obtain more positive outcome, and people who sacrifice to prevent conflict and tension or loss of interest from the partner notice more negative outcomes. This is actually intuitive: for example, a person who gave up seeing friends or hobbies to assuage a jealous partner may find him/herself more isolated.

Therefore, whether we can sacrifice without suffering may not even be the right question to ask. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the mentality of sacrifice and suffering altogether. Taoist philosophy aligns with this notion, emphasizing effortless alignment with the natural Tao rather than struggle and imposition of desire. Taoism seeks wu-wei, or action through inaction, recognizing that like a river’s flow, progress unfolds spontaneously when we act in harmony rather than resist. It’s time to release the counterproductive belief that we need to prove worthiness through sacrifice and suffering before receiving divine grace, excess, or support from others. Attempting to force outcomes often backfires. As Taoism suggests, foregoing sacrifice and trusting our innate nature may be the wisest path. Progress could arise freely, without imposing sacrifice and suffering as requisites.

Transformation as Our Authentic State

Does a caterpillar sacrifice being a caterpillar to become a butterfly? It just becomes one. When we are a butterfly, we don’t think about being a caterpillar anymore. We did not sacrifice anything, we are simply being the new butterfly. When we earnestly become our authentic self, or, even to say, follow our bliss –  defined in Eastern traditions as the deepest joy and spiritual purpose we derive from pursuing our true nature – the transformation may not even need to be interpreted as a sacrifice.

We are beings of transformation and change by nature, and our need to be in this world is to experience the transformation and change as an effect of our own creative consciousness. Our innate capacity for transformation highlights the power of our consciousness and mindset in catalyzing change, rather than being passive recipients of external forces. Athletes visualize successful performances, entrepreneurs visualize their business thriving – aligning inner vision with outer manifestation. And if we know that our happiness is inevitable as a result of our own creative consciousness, then there is no fear whether we have everything or nothing. 

Embracing the Unknown: from Having to Being in the Journey of Authentic Becoming

In this life, we experience meaning through transformation, we experience change and organization of our consciousness interacting with time and space. And what is most important isn’t the things that we have or do not have but the joy we have or do not have. The indulgence in the practice of creation is far more exciting than necessarily all of the things we have – and we can have both! We can both have the things and the joy if we choose to. The caterpillar does not wonder what’s going to happen to it after it seals its cocoon. It simply becomes a butterfly. 

When facing the unknown, rather than pondering what we must sacrifice to progress, it’s more essential to dwell in a state of joy, of existence, of witnessing our own creation. This state of being ultimately determines what we possess or lack, whilst what we have or do not have does not determine what we are, because what we are is good enough and we recognise that. This is why rather than seeking happiness in external things, spiritual masters model finding joy through our creative inner light, which ultimately shapes our reality. The light then becomes in the being, not in the having.