Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 10: The Farmer)
The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution.
The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.” 10.
The Farmer The farmer was busy turning the soil over in his fields on the island of Allandon when the fisherman arrived and called to him. “This is the only way I can meet with you, my friend. You are forever toiling in your fields.” “Have I a choice?” said the weary farmer, stopping to lean on his rusty old hoe. “The crops grow taller while I stoop, ever smaller. This is my life. No, this is life, hard as the soil that is not turned in its time.” “Well said, but—if I may ask—what if life really wasn’t as hard as you say?” “Bah! Life is desperately hard, a momentous struggle. Everyone knows that from experience.” “Of course,” said the fisherman, nodding. “But just for fun, what if it wasn’t?” “Well,” he said, “then I’d be able to do what I wanted, instead of this.” “And what would that be?” The farmer stretched his back a little and thought for a moment. And as he thought, the grimness slowly evaporated from his face. “Do you remember when we were young, how I would gather scraps of metal and wood from the garbage and try to make something useful?” “Yes, you used to sit for hours on your front porch, with all your father’s tools.” “No plans, no instructions, just the desire to invent something. Right from my imagination! Oh, to have the time again to indulge in that amusement.” “Yes, perhaps you could invent some farm tools that could dig the ground by themselves.” “Don’t get my hopes up!” laughed the farmer, flinging dirt at the fisherman with his hoe. And the two men laughed as they had not in a long time. “But enough of this folly,” said the farmer, shaking off his hoe. “There is soil to be turned.” “Is that all that needs to be turned?” The farmer looked away, and bent back towards the ground. “If there is something else, it will have to wait,” “Very well,” said the fisherman, “I will leave you to your greater folly.” Whenever mythology guru Joseph Campbell was asked by one of his students what they should do for a living, he would answer in this simple way: “Follow your bliss”. Campbell believed that bliss is our inner guide to what we are meant to do in our lives. In bliss we feel centered within ourselves and effortlessly connected with our surroundings. Campbell gleaned this not only from his own life but also from his study of ancient civilizations. Many traditional cultures fostered the idea that a person’s work gave them a sense of belonging, and when each person found the work role that suited them it made the collective stronger. Members of these societies were encouraged to pursue the type of work they had a penchant for, since that would best allow them to feel their work was valuable to the society at large. Today, we live in a different dynamic. We’re generally not out to help one another find our place—it’s every man and woman for themselves. In our fragmented society work is largely viewed as a necessary evil, a means to an end. Work is a matter of personal utility, and while we have more variety than ever before in terms of what we can do, there is also a greater danger that we will get lost in work that is meaningless and unfulfilling for us. Our society tends to encourage people to take on a job solely based on what will bring them the most money. Choosing an occupation based on its earning potential obviously does not guarantee that the work itself fulfills our deeper needs. And so many of us today have to operate from the premise that fulfillment is to be found outside of work, after the five o’clock whistle, on the weekends or during our two-week vacation. Our work life is not our ‘real’ life, and so we are often not really interested in the task at hand. It’s like we’re doing time, dreaming of the day when we will no longer have to punch the clock. It’s no wonder many of us react by gritting our teeth and really pushing ourselves, grinding harder and harder. We hope to save enough money to eventually feel some sense of freedom, and if possible an early retirement. Yet would we even worry about retirement if we were doing what we loved? Hardly.
There would be nothing better to retire to. Our work would already be satisfying our deeper needs in the present, in the now. Joseph Campbell was a man whose life exemplified this. Whenever he spoke about the myths, legends, and parables of the world’s great spiritual traditions, he was the picture of bliss: smiling, eyes dancing, and lips savoring all his recollections about gods and heroes and what their adventures meant. It is no wonder that he continued to learn, to speak and to write about his passion up until the day he died. It is also no wonder he became the world’s foremost authority on myth and legend, for when a person has found their bliss they usually become very good at what they do.
The only thing he would have wanted for his students was that they could experience the rapture and the ecstasy inherent in the pursuit of their own unique passion. Note that well. One person’s passion is not necessarily another’s. Our passion is as unique as we are. When someone claims to know what will give us bliss, we need not pay attention. Deep down we all know what we love to do. And we also know when we’re not doing what we love. Campbell said, “There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam, that knows when you’re off the beam, and if you’re off the beam to earn money, then you’ve lost your life.” When we’re in it just for the money, it shows—in our worries and complaints, our lack of energy, our health problems. Still, knowing this usually isn’t enough to make us change course. If someone asked us why we are spending a good portion of our waking life doing something we don’t love, we often respond as the farmer does: “Have I a choice?” We have our reasons for believing we are stuck, trapped in a situation we don’t like. Perhaps we have accrued all our experience and accreditation in one particular field and don’t feel qualified to do anything else. Perhaps we have risen to a position of some status and believe it’s too late to leave it and start at the bottom somewhere else. Or the most persuasive reason of all—we have a spouse and children to support, a large mortgage to pay off, and future security to build for. In other words, we are working without fulfillment for the benefit of others. In the end, any reason will do if it satisfies us. But it doesn’t mean that we have no choice. Remember that reason is the tool of the Ego Self, and if we let reasons dictate the decision to move away from our center, away from our deepest desires and passion and bliss, then the choice we have really made at a deep level is to be guided by the voice of our Ego Self, which is grounded in fear. From here we maintain that we have to stay with what we are familiar with, gain security through external means, and take no chances. We argue that finding our ideal work is not for everyone, and it is really a matter of luck anyway, being at the right place at the right time, perhaps knowing the right people. Our underlying belief is that life is a constant struggle to survive, certainly not the ‘daring adventure’ that Helen Keller talks about. And so we choose to live in fear. I am not saying this is right or wrong. It just is. After all, most of us have fear. It’s reasonable to be afraid. At the same time we do have choice. It is up to each one of us to assess our fear, to look inside ourselves and evaluate how real it actually is, and decide if it should have so much power over the way we navigate our lives. When we aspire to live from the Dao Self, on the other hand, we are making the choice to ‘stay on the beam’. This is our center, connected to the source of our experience of bliss, our feeling of rightness, our sense of belonging. In our work, as in any of our human activities, this is the feeling that makes up happy doing what we are doing, happy to be alive, in the flow. When we are coming from our Dao Self we are impervious to fear. That’s right—we do not experience fear. Fear can only emanate from the domain of the Ego Self. When we are fully in tune with our Dao Self we feel free and are ready to take on the unknown. But short of being a great spiritual master, it is rare to be completely aligned with the Dao Self. Most of us only get glimpses at the pure sensation of complete fearlessness.
The act of pursuing our bliss tends to be fraught with fear, doubt, and uncertainty.
The trick is to feel and acknowledge the fear but not to act out of fear. That is the meaning of courage, and searching for our true work, our calling in life, is one of the greatest opportunities for us to be courageous. Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes at a time when women were discouraged from aspiring to anything. Only the courage to follow her passion saw her through. And as she was dying of cancer as a byproduct of her work discovering and isolating radium and polonium, she said, “But what of that? Life is not easy for any of us. We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” The source of our bliss does not go away. No matter how jaded we may get, it’s always waiting for us in case we are ready to search for it. Even extreme pessimism only removes it from our field of vision temporarily. Our bliss cannot be destroyed. It is our life force, it is what drives us, it is why we are alive. Once we come to know what it is, even if we only have a faint inkling of it, following it to where it leads is the real adventure of life. Even just inching closer is a thrill. After all, we never really arrive. Many of us may feel that it’s too late, that we have been on the wrong path for too long. This is nonsense. Where we are is simply where we are. In a larger sense it is impossible not to be on the path towards our bliss; our fulfillment just depends on how long we choose to keep getting in our own way. Our Dao Self is speaking to us all the time, pointing us in the right direction. We need only listen. But its voice is soft, and we have to be very still to hear it. It is usually drowned out by the loud and rambling voice of our Ego Self, which brings us only fearful and discouraging thoughts—so-called ‘reasonable’ thoughts.
The more we are able to submerge below the surface of these thoughts and into our Dao Self, the more we will see and hear the hints that are being dropped, the clues that are being laid, the signs that are pointing us forward on our path to fulfillment. In my first year of university in 1980 a book at the bottom of my Liberal Arts College syllabus by Friedrich Nietzsche was my big clue. While I had never read any of his works, I remember that just seeing the title Thus Spoke Zarathustra set off intuitive sparks. That’s the best way I can describe it. For some reason, I sensed that there was something very important for me in this book, that I would really like it. I realize now, this was the quiet voice of my Dao Self speaking to me. When I finally got to read it at the end of the semester, I was enraptured by the way Nietzsche’s message was conveyed through dramatic characters.
The entire book was a parable about life. Over the remaining years of my academic studies I would reference this book in my philosophy essays whenever I had the opportunity. Eventually my Master’s thesis centered around Zarathustra. A few times I asked my thesis advisor if I could use my own metaphors and parables to get my thesis across in the way Nietzsche does. Her final words on the subject still ring in my ears: “This is an academic paper. Write it academically. When you’re finished and you get your degree you can go off and write whatever you want, in any style you choose.” I remember that same spark of excitement going through me when she said it—the idea that I would be free to use my creativity. But it was not long before I put that excitement aside. When I graduated from university the only thing I could see in front of me was a big world that made me feel afraid. I was in debt and I needed to get a job and make some money. So I put aside thoughts of writing a book and focused on earning a living. Somehow, no matter what I did, I didn’t feel like I fit in. I see now that my restlessness, my lack of motivation, my difficulties concentrating all were clues that I was not where I wanted to be. Working as a computer programmer I would sometimes sneak in some work time to write a play for a local theatre group. As a Dramatic Arts administrator I envied the actors and directors who had the opportunity to express themselves creatively. As an English professor in Korea, I would take every opportunity to switch the conversation in the class over to philosophy and spirituality, even though most of the students didn’t understand English well enough to grasp what I was saying. And when they did, many were simply not interested. When a usually timid student boldly stood up one day and told me I should get back to the text book, it really hit me—what was I doing here? Why wasn’t I making my living speaking to people who were interested in the very things I was passionate about? Is that so impossible? No, it’s not. But in my case, there was a lot of fear and self-doubt to overcome.
There was a lot of discomfort and uncertainty to endure. But now that I am writing this book and I am having more regular conversations on this subject with people, I am finally starting to feel at home. My winding career path now seems like a sleepwalking episode that I have gradually woken up from. It took me twenty years, but I am finally following the off-handed advice of my thesis advisor. I believe it is never too late for any of us. When you look back upon your life, can you not remember moments when your inner voice produced those ‘scarcely noticeable impulses’, as Ivan Ilych called them, to point you in the direction of your vital life? Perhaps all we need is a conversation with a kindred soul who will listen to us recount our story, and help us trace the pattern in our life events that has led us to where we are now, a pattern that holds a clue as to where we are to go next. For if we had someone who could hear us and gently push us to go deeper, where that inner voice resides, we may indeed come to believe that ‘we are gifted at something and that thing must be attained.’ Due to the pressure of mass censorship, we now have our own censorship-free, and ad-free on demand streaming network! It is the world's first and only conscious media network streaming mind-expanding interviews, news broadcasts, and conscious shows. Click here to start a FREE 7-Day Trial and watch 100's of hours of conscious media videos, that you won't see anyw.
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