Soul Topics

Choosing Love during everyday struggles

During a local meditation retreat I’ve recently attended, a teacher told this sad story:

A friend of his, being caught in a meeting between two disagreeing and agitated colleagues, got sucked into the dispute. Similarly, he got agitated. His phone rang. His dad asked if he was coming home for dinner. In the heat of the moment, he told his dad off and put down the phone.

Little did he know he would never get to have dinner with his dad again. He had blown his last chance.

A very simple, but important lesson concerning the mistakes we make daily and repeatedly:

We get lost in the tiniest of things, and lose sight of what is important.

The friend allowed two colleagues, whom he probably does not love to any extent close to the love of his dad, sap his life force through a discussion at work which he probably does not really care about, and in the larger perspective of his life, matters not at all. He forsook what was important, and regretted heavily.

Life, however, gives us many chances to observe how we become absorbed with the pettiness of our everyday struggles. The ability to manage them begins with perspective, which builds a certain emotional tolerance, management and maturity, that have all got to do with our inner states and how we condition and carry ourselves.

A contrast between different cultures put such pettiness into perspective. Going beyond what is familiar to us, we explore our blind spots and unchartered territories, in an effort to live better.

In our society, we are not taught the value of grief, and to an even lesser extent, the experience of poverty.

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Solomon Northup, kidnapped and reduced to a mere slave in the 1840s, was an American free man with a thriving career, family and kids. He accounts for the poverty and inhumane conditions that the victims of the slave trade suffered in his heartbreaking book ‘Twelve Years a Slave’. In an environment where death appears as the next best option to escape, Northup accounts for a scene whereby a young boy, during a trade, is forcibly separated from his mother, so that in her grave “all her tears were realized – how she mourned day and night and never would be comforted – how, as she predicted, her heart did indeed break, with the burden of maternal sorrow”. Northup writes:

The little fellow was made to jump, and run across the floor, and perform many other feats, exhibiting his activity and condition. All the time the trade was going on, Eliza was crying aloud, and wringing her hands. She besought the man not to buy him, unless he also bought herself and Emily. She promised, in that case, to be the most faithful slave that ever lived.
Freeman turned round to her, savagely, with his whip in his uplifted hand, ordering her to stop her noise, or he would flog her. He would not have such work – such snivelling; and unless she ceased that minute, he would take her to the yard and give her a hundred lashes. Yes, he would take the nonsense out of her pretty quick.
Eliza shrunk before him, and tried to wipe away her tears, but it was all in vain. She wanted to be with her children, she said, the little time she had to live. Over and over again she told them how she loved her boy. A great many times she repeated her former promises how very faithful and obedient she would be; how hard she would labor day and night, to the last moment of her life, if he would only buy them all together.
But it was of no avail; the man could not afford it. The bargain was agreed upon, and Randall must go alone. Then Eliza ran to him; embraced him passionately; kissed him again and again; told him to remember her – all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.

Reading that deeply stirs emotions at our core. Deep down, separated by time, space, and a different culture, we humans are fundamentally similar in our humanness, in the ways we feel.

We know little about grief or poverty. Why are some people born to suffer, while others become dissatisfied and numbed in their considerable abundance and wealth? Secretly, the adventures that our souls long for in order to grow, evolve, and be fulfilled, do not leave out experiences of grief and poverty – those on the other side of the spectrum. I believe there is a value in experiencing the depths of these lowly emotions we have been taught to not entertain and steer far away from. Yet, some day we would experience them at various degrees, whether we asked for or not, be it grieving over the loss of our loved ones or languishing in the poverty and emptiness of our soul life. At some point, life “takes us down”.

When we do, what would we make of our everyday struggles thus far, being ruled by unimportant matters that do not nourish?

Giving our life away to such things, we lose track of what is essential and substantial.

I think by putting these stories into perspective, the next step is to make a conscientious effort to not be ruled by the non-essential, but seek to live by the essentials. For most of us, that would be to love deeply and unconditionally, to extend our great love not just to our family and friends, but for the strangers we meet, those we crossed paths with, those who have led difficult lives, and for the fortunate ones, to all of existence and life.

Soul Topics

The Shadowboxing Parable

This is a fascinating parable by Lao Tzu that exposes the human condition, specifically how mankind has been dealing with his shadows (i.e. insecurities, deficiencies). It is expounded by Osho in his book: Intimacy.

The key idea that strikes me in this parable is that shadows are cast because all mankind are substantial. That is, the suffering that has been continually created in our minds – our imperfections, and sick twisted yearning for the attainment of impossible, mentally conjured ideals – is attributable to that fact that we are alive, real and substantial beings. Osho says: “Why are you so disturbed by the sound of your footsteps? You are substantial, so there must be a little sound; one has to accept this.” The shadow is not substantial, but man himself is.

We are a people running away from our shadows, seeking to mask our imperfections in the wretched chase of an ideal portrayal of ourselves. The true self, or the one deep down looking at us, is suppressed by layers of superficiality that fill our psyche. Yet, sometimes our petty insecurities and dissatisfaction have a crippling tendency that forces us to re-examine our makeup. In silence or meditation, a person may experience at the core of his or her being, an existential shame rooted within the psyches of mankind, that speaks of a tragically deep unworthiness that has no logical explanation.

The parable goes like this:

There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both.

The method he hit upon was to run away from them, so he got up and ran, but every time he put his foot down, there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty.

He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally dropped dead.

He failed to realise that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.

Simply put, the chase of our “ideal self” is an endless one that would leave us dead on the ground. The mind, in relation to the “perfect world”, would continually create a false ideal driven by mankind’s ego – such is the human condition, the very mechanism of the human mind. Osho asks: “Why are you not enough as you are? Just at this moment why are you not like gods? Who is interfering?? Who is blocking your path?”

The light of this parable offers an alternative way of dealing with one’s imperfections: to step into the shade. Osho’s perspective is that God has given a unique gift to everyone, and yet we condemn our differences by wanting something better, and trying to be wiser than existence. However, the part can never be wiser than the whole. It is because of this that we go wrong. Instead, he says:

When a person can celebrate life in its totality, all that is wrong disappears. But if you try first to make arrangements for the wrong to disappear, it never disappears.

It is just like fighting with darkness. Your house is filled with darkness and you ask, “How can I light a candle? Before I light a candle this darkness has to be dispelled.” This is what you have been doing. You say that first greed must go; then there will be ecstacy. You are foolish! You are saying that first the darkness must go, and then you can light a candle, as if darkness can hinder you. Darkness is a nonentity. It is nothing, it has no solidity. It is just an absence, not a presence. It is just the absence of light – light the light, and the darkness disappears.

Celebrate, become a blissful flame, and all that is wrong disappears. Anger, greed, sex, or whatsoever else you name are not solid; they are just the absence of a blissful, ecstatic life.

The alternative, thus, is to accept ourselves (in the deepest and broadest sense, our totality) so that we no longer run away. To do so, we could simply step into the shade, known as “silence” or “inner peace” where “no rays of the sun enter.

One learns to move in from the periphery (mind, activity) to the center (being, inactivity), leaving out society that instills in us images of how we should be. The mind continually runs, fights and creates suffering for the soul – such is the nature of the mind. The key is to leave the mind alone and not fight it, but to learn to rest in our imperfections, to expand into them, to accept our ways of being which are gifts from existence to our godly selves. Osho says: Celebrate! Become a blissful flame. And all that is wrong shall disappear.

Soul Topics

Descending into a Man’s Wounds

Every man receives a wound at some stage of his life. In fact, all of us, males and females, whether aware or unaware, receive multiple wounds from childhood that usually has much to do with our parents, family, and our childhood environment.

One gets called stupid and remembers it for the rest of his life. Another grew up with an abusive father, a broken family. One may have had his heart broken, and decides to neither love nor trust. Another felt shamed for his existence and never believed in his worth. What have our wounds got to do with our lives now?

Because we don’t talk about our wounds, the conscious mind remains unaware, and these wounds are go on to be deeply ingrained as a subconscious programme in our psyche. They become part of the reasons why we behave the way we do. Unfortunately, the value of wounds have been elided in our culture. We strive to keep a positive image of ourselves and the world, and thus remain ignorant of our deepest hurts, do not discuss them, suppress and bypass them. We give them the least honour of all. As “ascenders”, we might hope to change the world, but we have not taught to examine our “dark side” which run our lives – and by extension, our world – in the first place.

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Robert Bly says, in the presence of a mentor, dip the wound into the water. In mythology – another realm that has become foreign in our culture – we learn that the strongest version of a man only emerges after he has “descended” into the darkness of his wounds, where he wrestles (gracefully and consciously) with his “dark side”. This is a fascinating idea which presents a revolutionary possibility, one which stands at a stark contrast to our cultural notions of ascending beyond it all and the avoidance of poverty. That is a linear path of growth taught and inculcated to us, and every young man has hopes and dreams that are definitely far from wrong, and are meant to be pursued. However, at some point, even those hopes and dreams – realised or not – begins to fade, and the man may even enter a lethargic state, and he loses motivation or interest, thinking that he has lost himself. During these seemingly “down” times, it is paramount that the man recognises the source of his negativity, hopelessness, lethargy and fatigue, and it is a time conducive for the man to delve into the unconsciousness of his wounds. However, most of us would assume that going down is wrong, which is actually a natural process of men’s evolution.

Growth and Evolution has never been a linear process. What goes up must come down. And what hits the ground bounces back up. Life is more of a cyclical process, if you think of the cycles of nature, our Earth, seasons, the night and day, the yin and the yang. The key is to live gracefully in both opposite stages. Thus, what men have to learn is how they could live gracefully when Life takes them down. Men have to learn how to descend into the darkness of their wounds. This has to be a conscious process – in other words, this differs from depression and a languishing life during which a man does not know what he is doing.

 

The Story of Iron John

The mythological story of Iron John introduces a compelling idea, that every wound becomes a womb when the man has consciously nourished it. The “sacred water” has healing properties when the wound has been dipped.

Before one is born, the womb is a place where one could completely relax into, and effortlessly receive nourishment and providence from the mother. The possibility offered is that, instead of depleting us of vital energy, the wound when nourished, could provide us with so much nourishment that, by extension, we would eventually emerge with greater depth of inner resource than ever, by which would “overflow” and become a force we would use to serve our world. How does this process work?

The boy in Iron John, after having “ascended”, descends into the basement of kitchen work and ashes, where he grapples with the mundane and poverty. What this means is that a man needs to consciously allow himself the permission and space to “go down” the stairs, to completely feel his pains, and necessarily by extension, those of his father and mother, and the state of poverty by which the world lives, its enormous pains and suffering. He takes the road of grief.

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The process, being conscious and total, becomes an art of wrestling gracefully with the “dark” forces that are unseen, that are within his psyche but also governing the world at large, all pervasive, powerful and magnificent. The suffering that the man feels is not confined to his narrow self, for the world shares a similar suffering if one develops the capacity to see beyond him, a necessarily inevitable, painful suffering. His suffering is not merely his. During this process, the man works with anger, melancholy, grief, deep shame, but develops virtues such as kindness, compassion, and a renewed passion and heart.

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By a will larger than his own, the man needs to stay there for a while before he emerges. However, when he does, he would be a different man, one that is more grounded in his masculinity. A more complete account of this process could found in the story of Iron John expounded by Robert Bly. We now know that a man’s descent and diving into his wounds is a necessary and unavoidable process in the evolution of a male. But first, we must gradually develop the awareness of the wounds within that deprive us of life force.

In fact, why would most men try so hard to eradicate their flaws and imperfection? If it bothers them so much, they are likely to be actual wounds that should be taken a deeper look at. But even after, I have come to find that when a wound has been used as a doorway into a man’s poverty, where he, by extension, feels deeply for the injustices and pains that the world endures through similar wounds, the compassion that fills him allows him to see his flaws as inconsequential. Instead, his inner calling, purpose, and desire for service grows. The need to eradicate one’s imperfection disappears. A wound, while it is present, is like a scar: It reminds a man that he is neither beyond or below but an ordinary, fellow human being that lives, breathes and feels with a burning heart for all that he has been through, and through it, understands why he is still alive, and what he represents and would stand for.

(Photo Credits: Pixabay)