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

Progress: A Matter of Small Things

Often the human predicament is that we want to accomplish big goals, and because that’s difficult we end up not doing anything. However, this is a misinformed way of perceiving reality. Why? Because the mind could not see past certain boundaries. We want to do big things, and the mind would like to have it all figured out before we embark on the journey, or it loses its patience when things do not go well and we quit. Most of the time, we quit. This is why the “successful” people are so few.

The mind, while it is already a great gift, serves as a limitation here. The future is an unknown, and the unknown is something that the mind could not possibly prepare for. So we ought to eventually at some point, simply let go of its inherent – and perpetual – doubts, to walk into the unknown and embrace possibility – even awe and amazement that lies beyond.

It is not a leap of courage, but many steps of courage. And while taking these steps, we need to cultivate sensitivity to our surroundings and a meditative presence within, so that we could manage and react appropriately to unforeseen challenges that come at us.

The successes of many successful people are due to consistent undertaking of small steps.

Even “big” achievements could be misleading, especially if they come easily. Truly good things take patience, cultivation and time. If you have big dreams that will ultimately bring much joy and fulfilment, it is highly likely that your journey will be made up of small, seemingly insignificant steps done consistently that will serve as building blocks.

But moreover, it is easy to get lost in big goals. The fixation of “going big” takes our focus toward the targetted end-goal itself and away from the process that truly matters. If this is the case, one of the greatest things we would forsake is the joy of creation in the present moment, which ultimately affects the quality of our work. On the contrary, choosing to always “start small” means that we do not see results immediately. The benefit is that we are less fazed by the applause (or rejection) of the world – both of which are distractions – in response to our work. We could focus on grounding ourselves in the process of creating what would truly make us happy, that comes from our core, our authenticity, our uniqueness. The process of discovering what makes our hearts beat with passion and cultivating these energy and qualities in our lives – so as to provide raw, authentic value/service – takes time. Going small not only takes the pressure off, but frees up the space to allow this magic to occur. When we could ground ourselves in this spirit, we are less likely to lose it in the future when greater successes come to fruition.

If you would, for example, cultivate the ability and lifestyle to consistently generate really authentic content of high quality, you could provide more value to your audience – and personal joy – through the platform of your choice, even if you have a smaller outreach than, let’s say, someone who has an Instagram page with posts that gain thousands of likes but is made up of artificial superficial content. Work that is produced by the dictation of the approval of the world is an unsustainable trap that would not bring long term fulfilment. Yet, small steps do not yield immediate results, but if done connected with our core authenticity over a consistent basis, produce long-term, sustainable joyful work.

Seth Godin, a famous author and entrepreneur, has inspired some of these ideas. To learn more about the art and philosophy of undertaking small steps for big goals, go here.

So keep your lofty dreams in perspective, but small steps will take you there.