I left my door open in the warm weather and a sparrow decided to hop in and explore my house. Instead of leaving by the open door it decided it needed to try and leave by the window, and it fluttered helplessly against the fly-screen, sensing the outdoors, panicked, feeling trapped.
I did all I could to shoo it towards the still open door. It wasn’t having anything to do with that, and so it flew upstairs. It followed its bird nature, seeking freedom in altitude. That’s a good thing to do outside, but totally the wrong thing to do in a house. After I’d captured it and set it free it occurred to me that we can learn from the sparrow.
The poor trapped sparrow was afraid of this larger creature (me) and would not take any hints – just as most of us get hints from the universe about what we need to do and then we fight against them. Eventually the universe will put each of us back on course, even if it takes a major upheaval to do that. In my case I had to throw a towel over the bird, pray I hadn’t hurt it, and gather it up.
All that it suffered was ruffled feathers and a small loss of dignity.
If only we could all recover from our mistakes so easily. If only we all chose not to resist the universe and its promptings.
What the Sleepy Dog Taught Me About Compassion
The “F” Word: 5 Steps to Practice Forgiveness
8 Reasons to Be More Present in Your Life
How can we understand the universe and our role in it?
Think of it this way: Imagine an apple tree. The apples are all different, but they are also similar in basic ways – a bit like us.
But you couldn’t have an apple without the twig it grew on, without the leaves and branches, without the trunk and the root system. And even with all those things you need the earth, which is just part of whichever continent you happen to be on, but is part of the planet. Those apples may all look different, but they are, like us, just the most recent expression of the creative power that runs the universe.
That is who you are. That is who we all are, and we’re all connected to everything and everyone else.
And remember this: each apple is a seedpod for the next generation. Just like us.
Our job is to grow and become the best seedpod we can be, in whatever way we feel is authentic.
When the Conquistadores came to South America they were looking for wealth, especially gold. They found plenty. After a while they started looking specifically for El Dorado, the king who was said to be so wealthy he covered himself in gold dust every day and washed it off each night. Many of those expeditions in the early part of the sixteenth century were fuelled by such a vision. Countless people died as a result. The figures are probably in the tens of millions.
The Spaniards who worked themselves and others to death for this myth of gold felt that these tales of El Dorado were literal. They were factually true, they felt. Native Americans were not thought to have the power of thinking abstractly.
To the Indians of the Americas, though, the stories never were “true” in a factual sense. They were metaphorical. El Dorado was the myth of a kingdom in which everything was well-regulated and plentiful, and so gold had no power to motivate anyone. It was simply decoration, to be enjoyed. Like a bowl of flowers that could be savored and then cast aside when they faded, gold had no real value in their vision.
The Spaniards were too literal. And their heirs now own a land far more desolate than before.
Perhaps we, too, are too literal in our pursuit of wealth?
The War on Drugs… It costs a fortune. It gets people killed. It fills our jails and doesn’t seem to make a difference.
What if we were to re-frame the drug problem as a whole?
People turn to drugs and sell drugs on the street because they are desperate and poor. If offered a chance to make an honest, decent living, I think most people would not turn to crime.
So the problem is not drugs, the problem is poverty.
Yet instead of working to alleviate poverty, we send money to agencies that are already full of people who have graduated high school and college, and we ask them to be policemen, build jails, run law courts and so on. Our funding goes to people who aren’t poor, even though the real problem is poverty.
If we were to take the War on Drugs money and put it into building schools, making life liveable for working single mothers, and ensuring that children feel cared for, we might actually change things. Put the money back where it can benefit the poor directly. Some of this money might be wasted, sure. But right now almost all of it is being wasted.
Joseph Campbell’s famous advice was, “Follow your bliss.” Many great thinkers today seem to echo this idea by giving advice like, “Do what brings you joy,” or variants on that theme.
What they don’t stress, perhaps, is that following one’s bliss and experiencing joy are not all fun and games. Following one’s bliss can take any one of us to some scary places, some of them dangerous and exhausting. Joy, for many of us, is exactly what we will not allow ourselves to feel because we’re afraid of how easily it could evaporate. This kind of defensive thinking, the kind that won’t allow you to feel the joy or the bliss, is very familiar to us all.
Joy and bliss will come, but they will not show themselves as the cliche version of happy smiling faces all the time. Talk to anyone who has served the dying in a hospice. Many will tell you that this is the only job for them, even though each person they care for dies. There exists a bliss, a sense of purpose, a joy that is far deeper than mere success.
Cultivate deep bliss. Honor deep joy.
When I was a child I used to go to church with my family and learn all about the Holy Spirit. Then I’d go right back to school on Monday and live my usual petty, self-involved and mean-spirited life. There was no problem with this – that’s what everyone seemed to do and I’d just as well get on with it.
When I grew a little older I found myself applying a few rather unpleasant descriptors to this double standard of Jesus on Sundays only. I used to think it was hypocrisy, and of the foulest kind. This allowed me to feel above it all, and less hypocritical myself.
As I went through my life I began to alter my views. I began to think of this Sunday Holiness as what Marx had once called “the lie in the soul” – a lie so deep that we actually believe it. The problem then was indoctrination, I thought, and the solution was to fight against the social indoctrination I perceived as so pernicious. And so I fought.
These days I see things differently. What seems clear now is that this double standard is what every human being faces. It’s not enough to decry it or complain about it. The reason is that we live in a world that is hinged on dualism. We are spiritual beings who are here having a human experience.
This means that we cannot be fully unified with the spiritual world simply because we’re here, on earth. The whole point is to be in dualism, and to deal with that as best we can from our limited ability to grasp unity.
The double standard of Sundays which was for so long so distressing to me, is really not something to be angry about. It is instead to be seen as a dramatic re-enaction. Each Sunday or Sabbath or Holy Day we remind ourselves not simply that we have to pay attention to what is eternal on that day – we remind ourselves that because we are human we find it very difficult to stay in the place of holiness for long. We can manage it, if we’re lucky, about one day a week.
Once we accept this we can start to work towards a deeper spirituality.
My old college chum, Adam Phillips, has written his seventeenth book on psychoanalysis: “Missing Out”. It’s got a compelling premise – he writes about how the life we haven’t lived can haunt us and undermine the way we feel about the life we have.
It’s an interesting starting point, suggesting that we torture ourselves into discontent, thus turning a perfectly fine existence into a cavern of self-reproach.
Somehow I can’t buy it, totally. Of course, people do live this way, and it’s a heartbreaking thing to witness. Yet it seems to me that happiness is always a choice. When we look at our lives we must realize that we have in fact chosen just about everything in our world. We could leave our job, our spouse, our children, even the country itself, but we choose not to. When we realize that this choice is something we selected, we can feel differently. I chose this spouse, this companion, not the other; I did so for reasons that suited me at the time, and I stay in the relationship for similar reasons.
We choose the life we have and in the process we are presented with important lessons that the soul has to come to terms with. Pretending that our lives could have been different merely stops us learning the soul lessons. That’s the real nub.
It’s time to learn those lessons.
My mother, until she died, was constantly worrying about what would happen to all her valuable things in the house. After her death we discovered that even though these things may have cost a lot of money, no one wanted them at the auction.
When she had selected and bought those objects, years before, it was with a view to demonstrating how far she’d come in life. She’d risen above her background to live a rather more glamorous life than her school friends. So, of course these things were valuable. She’d given up her home, her native language, and much of her cultural background when she married my father.
No wonder the objects she bought were so “valuable” to her. They were compensating her for all she’d lost.
When temptation comes, be grateful. If you really do covet your neighbor’s wife or husband, don’t fight that feeling. Move towards it knowing that until you feel it, fully, as a temptation you could act on, it will have no reality. It will be merely theoretical.
The whole point about temptation is to fully feel it so you can see that, in fact, it is simply the frightened part of your personality that is seeking to be consoled. You may think you want your neighbor’s spouse, but actually, behind that, you are simply feeling unloved and not very attractive. You’re feeling weak. Fine. This is the frightened part of yourself that is, like a small child, clamoring for consolation.
Now you know what you feel you can take real action. If you’re feeling unloved go out and find the unloved people in the world – the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed. You won’t have to look far. Then give them the love you hanker after. I promise you, that will change the way you see yourself.
What we think we want is often the thing we most need to give to others.
When we say “I intend to eat better” or I intend to go shopping,” we express a future aim. Yet I have to say that true intent is more than just future goal-setting.
True intent is not created by us planning our daily life. True intent is what the soul tell us to do.
If we listen to the soul, if we pay attention, it will tell us what we need to do. And we can recognize that as an intent, the result of which we cannot predict, but which will serve the greater good.
Mother Teresa did not intend to become a saint. She followed a soul calling that said — go to India, serve the poor, because this is an authentic part of who you are.
When we follow the soul intentions miracles will happen.