Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 18: The Dao)
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.” 18.
The Dao There had been a long-standing tradition on the island of Allandon for a secret society to meet once a year on the evening of the summer solstice.
The meeting would take place just as the most generous sun of the year was setting, in a sheltered nook near the top of the mountain. In recent times the society had opened its doors to outsiders and now all the villagers were welcome to come up and partake in an open discussion into the mysteries of life around a hearty campfire. On this particular evening, however, darkness came more quickly under cloudy skies.
The night was cold, the stars were not visible, and just as the group had gotten the fire started, a brief rainfall doused the flames and dampened all the logs. By the time the fire was restarted only the diehards remained.
The masseur, the young philosopher and his mother the schoolteacher were joined by the farmer, who seemed more concerned about the height of the flames than the depth of the conversation. “Isn’t it all just a cruel, cruel joke?” the farmer asked with a slight shiver as he stoked the fire. “Do you have a joke?” mused the schoolteacher. “I have. It is called existence. Life itself. Are we not always too cold, and if not cold then hot? Are we not always bored, and if not bored then anxious? Do we not always have too much of one thing or not enough of another? Constantly longing and never satisfied?” “Perhaps, but we must laugh in the face of it,” the masseur said. “Laugh?” the farmer mocked. “Why?” “If we are the butt of a cosmic joke, what is there to do but laugh?” the masseur asked. “If it is a joke, then who is the joker?” asked the schoolteacher. “There is none,” said the farmer. “No being could be so cruel, so sadistic.” “True, to be precise there is no such being,” weighed in the young philosopher, who had been listening quietly. “The culprit is being itself, the one that is the One, which has been called the Dao. And while there may be a joke, there is not an ounce of cruelty in it.” “Yes, we should praise the Dao who brings us to laughter,” said the masseur. “Rather brings itself to laughter—at our expense,” retorted the farmer. “That is saying the same thing,” said the young philosopher, “for each one of us is in fact the Dao.” “That’s nonsense,” said the farmer. “Explain to me how you can say that I am this Dao.” The young philosopher hesitated for a moment. “I believe it is for each one of us to arrive at this truth in their own way. It is beyond all explanation.” “Humph,” said the farmer. After an awkward silence the schoolteacher looked around and then spoke cautiously to the young philosopher: “We can appreciate that it may be beyond explanation. But nonetheless you must try.” “Yes, humor us,” said the masseur. As the young philosopher considered the proposition there were sharp crackles and a sudden rise in the flames as the farmer continued to break twigs and push logs about. “That’s better,” said the farmer to himself. When he saw everyone’s attention on him he snapped, “Yes, yes, go ahead, I’m listening!” The young philosopher cleared his throat. “Well how can I say it? I believe that some time ago—before there was time—there was only the Dao. It had nothing and nobody to laugh with—or at.
The Dao could only be, which could not have been much fun. It must have longed to experience things.” “Why could it not experience anything?” the schoolteacher asked. “Because there was no contrast.
There was no background from which discreet things could emerge. Imagine that the Dao is pure light. It could see all of itself all the time, and so in effect it could see nothing. To actually experience anything it needed to hide part of itself from itself. If the Dao is understood as light then it needed to somehow create darkness. And so one day it did the impossible. It somehow managed to fold itself over itself, so that half of itself was darkness.” “Was that darkness then its shadow, or was it part of itself?” asked the schoolteacher. “Not being light, it could not be the Dao itself,” said the masseur. “It was not the Dao but at the same time it was the Dao. That is the most sublime paradox of existence. Out of pure light came darkness. And because of this, it was possible for the many to emerge from the one.” “Creation,” said the masseur. “Yes,” the young philosopher said. “Because now with light and darkness, with a pair of opposites, with duality, all the rest of creation was possible. Light and darkness could be combined into a multitude of patterns to give us a limitless number of separate things in our universe.” “Like you and I,” said the farmer. “Exactly, like you and I. We are two of the souls created by the Dao, each with a different pattern of light and darkness. Our light is the part of us that connects us to the Dao, founded in truth, our darkness is the part of us that separates us from the Dao, founded in illusion.” The farmer poked the logs a final time.
The fire was now full and bright, and its warmth was moving the damp chill out of their bodies. “What if two things have the same pattern of light and darkness?” asked the schoolteacher.
The young philosopher laughed. “Then by definition they would be the same thing, which is not possible. To be a ‘thing’ in our universe is to be unique.” “And if we were only light then we would be the same as the Dao: in fact we would be the Dao. It is really our darkness that makes us unique, the quality of the darkness which is different in each one of us,” said the schoolteacher. “What do you mean?” asked the young philosopher. “You have said that the truth of our existence is that we are all one and the illusion of who we are is that we are separate.” “Yes,” said the young philosopher. “Then the light part of us is our true self and the darkness part of us is our false self.
The more we let go of our darkness and become a being of pure light, the closer we get to the truth of who we are.” “That sounds like the search for enlightenment,” said the masseur. “That is fine for those who are searching for that,” said the farmer, “but what about the rest of us?” “I believe that this search is common to all of us,” said the masseur. “How is it common? Have we not said we are all unique? Our lives must have a unique purpose,” said the farmer. “Perhaps I can explain,” said the young philosopher. “When Creation occurred we became unique souls and were scattered off into all corners of the universe.” “So there is the great cruelty of the Dao as I suspected!” said the farmer. “It has scattered us off and we are all lost.” “We are not truly lost. We just don’t remember. We have voluntarily forgotten who we are. But this ‘amnesia’ is what is required for us to have this experience of being separate.” “And why has this happened?” asked the farmer. “So that we can have the authentic experience of evolving, of returning to the One which is the Dao.” “And so the Dao revels in our fear and worry as we blindly search for the right path.” “The right path?” “The one that leads us back to the Dao,” the farmer said. “There is no right path,” the young philosopher said. “And there is no need for worry. All paths lead back to the Dao.” The farmer shook his head as the masseur rose and walked away from the fire to contemplate what had been said.
The rest sat quietly until he emerged from the darkness several minutes later. “It seems to me that we can never really be alone, because in truth we are always one with the Dao,” the masseur said. “Our path is simply one of having the experiences that will aid us in remembering this truth.” “Yes, but again, we each have our unique way of doing it,” said the young philosopher. “There is no limit to the number of ways it can be done. This is one of the wonders of existence.” “And so we cannot really teach another how to do it,” said the schoolteacher. “Exactly, because for each of us it is different,” the young philosopher said. “The best we can do is share our own experience and let the listener decide if it has meaning for them.” “This makes sense to me,” said the masseur. “In trying to heal people I have seen that letting go of darkness is a choice each person makes and only when they are ready. I have seen that true healing doesn’t occur when I try to force someone to let go if they are not ready.” After a pause, he added: “Yes—that’s it!” “Some enlightenment?” smiled the young philosopher. “Yes, because I see that the darkness is—our fear. And the light is our love.” “What do you mean?” asked the schoolteacher. “Well don’t you see? If our path consists of letting go of our darkness, of our fear, then we are all on a healing path, because we are all trying to become whole. And we become whole when we have let go of all of our darkness and have becomes beings of pure light. That is when we become self-identical with the Dao and we experience ourselves as pure love.” “I see what you are saying,” said the schoolteacher. “Then it could be said that all of growth, of learning, of evolution, is about letting go of what actually separates us from each other—our darkness, which in the end amounts to our individuality.” “That’s right, since our individuality is really the greatest of all illusions,” said the masseur. “Slow down a moment,” said the young philosopher. “Are you suggesting that at the end of this healing path we eventually lose our individuality completely?” “If there is really an end to this path, I believe we ultimately do,” said the masseur. “We have said that what makes us each unique is the quality of our darkness. In other words it is only the quality of our fear—” “Or ignorance,” added the schoolteacher. “Or the quality of our ignorance of ourselves as the Dao that determines our individuality,” continued the masseur. “And if our path back to the Dao consists in letting go of this darkness—our fear, our ignorance—then our path can also be seen as letting go of who we are as individuals, which is actually our false self.” “Well I don’t have any desire to let go of my individuality,” said the farmer, “I happen to think it’s special.” The young philosopher looked up and smiled to the others. “It is special,” he said to the farmer. “Indeed I think our individuality is the most special aspect of our world. While each of us may be on a path of enlightenment or self-realization, our paths are different, and we need to know about each other’s experiences. Sharing our stories with each other is what eventually will give each of us the whole picture of this wondrous universe—the totality of the Dao. Without this I believe it would be impossible for any of us to become whole.” “But if we are actually whole to begin with, what is the point of going through this whole charade?” the farmer asked. “Yes, yes, that is the question, isn’t it?” said the young philosopher.
There was a long pause of silence.
The masseur looked over to the young philosopher, who sat serenely and did not appear to be in any rush to speak. He then looked over to the schoolteacher, who shrugged and whispered to him: “I have an idea about it, but—” “Speak up!” said the farmer.
The schoolteacher inhaled and then exhaled deeply. “I said I have an idea about it, but it’s not fully developed. I don’t know if it will make any sense.” “Share it,” said the young philosopher. “We will help you try to make sense of it.” The schoolteacher stood up and picked up a long, thin twig from the pile of kindling. She started to draw something in the dirt, scratched it out, and drew it again. It was a simple circle. She looked at it for a long while. “If this represents the Dao...” she said, and then paused again. “Yes...?” said the masseur. “If this represents the Dao, is it possible...” and she paused again, drawing a larger circle around the first one, “is it possible for the Dao to expand?” “Expand?” asked the masseur. “Yes, expand, grow, evolve. Can the Dao evolve?” “The Dao is the all-in-all, everything, what could it possibly expand into?” asked the masseur. “I don’t know, but, wouldn’t it give our lives a greater sense of purpose if we thought that our individual growth was actually contributing to the growth of the Dao? I mean maybe the darkness is something that the Dao doesn’t know. We could be the miners of the darkness, bringing light to unexplored parts of the universe. Our experiences could be adding to the Dao’s—” “If we can add something to the Dao then it really isn’t the Dao,” said the masseur. “Well, maybe there is something beyond the Dao. Maybe the Dao isn’t exactly the Dao.” The schoolteacher pointed to the circles with her twig, adding more concentric circles. “Maybe it’s a small Dao that itself has a larger Dao, which has a larger Dao, and so on...” “And so on, ad nauseum,” said the farmer. “Let’s get back to planet Earth, if you don’t mind.” “Well, I was just trying to see if our lives could have a greater sense of purpose than just this idea that we are remembering something we’ve intentionally forgotten.” “But that’s all our lives can be,” the masseur said. “At the level of the Dao there can be nothing new. But for us many things can be new. I think our lives have an abundance of purpose by the very fact that we are searching for our purpose.” “I like it,” intervened the young philosopher. “You like what—my idea or hers?” asked the masseur. “I like the fact that we are talking about things that may be beyond our ability to think! But perhaps we should get back to the planet Earth, as our esteemed colleague has suggested, if we hope to make sense of our purpose in this life.” “I can’t believe it,” said the farmer, “I think somebody just agreed with me.” “And I encourage you to continue,” the young philosopher said to the farmer. “What do you make of our purpose in this life?” “Our purpose? Well, I don’t know about the rest of you. I believe my purpose in this life is to be happy. And be happy now, not in the future, not in some afterlife, but now. Becoming one with the Dao? Losing our individuality? What’s the rush?” “Well, maybe because being one with the Dao is happiness beyond measure, beyond anything we can hope to experience in this lifetime,” said the masseur. “And how long would that last?” asked the farmer. “If we actually were one with the Dao, as you say, then we wouldn’t be able to experience anything. So we would probably want to get exploded back out into the universe.” The farmer stopped for a minute. “I can’t even believe I’m talking about this,” he said, shaking his head.
The fire had become mostly embers with small flames flickering from the ends of a few twigs. Still, it generated some warmth for the four, who were now huddled more closely to the fire than ever. “Why all this talk about purpose? All I want to know is how to be happy in my life,” the farmer said. “When are you most happy?” asked the young philosopher. “When my work is done,” the farmer replied. “Why is that?” asked the young philosopher. “Then I can do what I want. Eat. Sleep. Play around.” “Play around?” “You know. Pick up a tool and fix it. Make it work. Or better yet, turn it into something new.” “Something that no one has ever thought of?” asked the young philosopher. “Ha! I suppose that is the ideal,” smiled the farmer. “Yes, I have many ideas, good ideas, that have come to me over the years while I was working. But they have remained just ideas. Time...responsibilities...” the farmer’s voice trailed off. “These ideas have come from your experiences?” the young philosopher interjected. “Often, yes, through my struggles and toils. I could see how I could make my work more enjoyable, and make my life better. I could see how I could make other people’s lives better.” “Something that would be your unique contribution to the world?” “Yes. Yes!” said the farmer emphatically. “How would that make you feel?” asked the young philosopher. “Very...happy,” said the farmer, with soft emotion in his voice.
The masseur was about to speak, but the young philosopher put his hand up gently to keep the silence.
They waited as the farmer looked down thoughtfully. “That’s my purpose, isn’t it?” asked the farmer quietly. “My purpose is what gives me the greatest joy. Everything else is a waste of time. My whole life...” the farmer stopped as his throat tightened. “Your whole life has brought you to this moment, to this realization,” said the young philosopher. “So I guess the joke is on me then,” the farmer lamented. “I mean, here I am talking about wanting happiness now, but I’ve been getting in my own way the whole time.” “We are all getting in our own way,” said the schoolteacher. “The lessons we learn actually teach us how to get out of our own way.” “That is really what it is to heal, and what gets us moving forward along our path,” added the masseur. For a few moments they were all quiet, allowing silence to speak. “Well, my friends, the fire is nearly out,” said the farmer as he wiped his eyes and gathered himself. As he extinguished the remaining embers, the others stood up and prepared to leave. “Thank you for keeping it burning,” said the schoolteacher. “I didn’t really need to near the end,” said the farmer, taking a tall stretch. “It has not turned out to be such a bad evening after all.” “Amen to that,” said the young philosopher.
The group rose and began their slow trek down the mountain, untroubled by the darkness as they made their way back to their homes. Almost a year after graduating from university, without money or job prospects, I was quite fortunate to qualify from a long waitlist for a government-sponsored computer programmer’s course. At that time the PC had just come into the spotlight, but while floppy disks were coming in and punch-cards were on their way out, it was still essential for a student of programming to thoroughly understand machine-level code and its binary system, a simple system made up of only two parts that continues to be the hidden driver of all computer operations.
The binary system governs the electrical flow of computer memory, where the basic memory cell, or ‘bit’, can be in one of only two states: it is either charged or not, on or off, lit up or dark. When the computer was first used only for complex numerical calculations, the orchestration of the binary system was fairly straightforward. But with the implementation of a keyboard and terminal, it became necessary to organize these on/off cells into units of eight, called a ‘byte’, so that a standard binary code set could be made with enough possible combinations of the 8 on/off cells (28 or 256) to represent all letters, numbers, and punctuation marks on the keyboard, as well as a few hidden characters. As an example, a capital ‘A’ is represented by the 8-bit pattern on/off/off/off/off/off/off/on, more commonly seen as ‘10000001’ where ‘on’ is represented as ‘1’ and ‘off’ is represented as ‘0’. As the refinement of lower-level programs came to support more complex higher-level programs, the computer’s character-based drone terminal gave way to an interactive window onto the world of colorful complexity and ever-growing possibilities for creativity and communication. Computer pioneers could never have imagined in their wildest dreams what would become of their room-sized calculators. And while we ourselves can scarcely imagine what new innovations will arise in future computers, there is one thing that is certain: they will all continue to be grounded in the simple shifting around of 1 and 0, on and off, light and darkness. If this is staggering, and indeed I think it is, it pales in comparison to a proposition I would now humbly ask you to consider: that the entire range of human experience, emotion, thought, perception, and beyond that the existence of the universe itself, is founded on such a binary code. In the binary code of the universe the ‘1’ is the truth that we are all One, the ‘0’ is the illusion that we are all separate.
The truth is that the universe is One and is always ‘on’, but the only way to create separate and distinct things in the universe is to pretend part of itself is ‘off’. Like the Dao folding itself in half, the light, which is the truth of the universe, first fabricated the darkness, which is the illusion of the universe. And so from only two, light and darkness, it became possible for the universe to explode into an unlimited collection of different and unique things, forms that have become ever more complex over time, just like we have seen with the computer. Each one of us is therefore an ever-changing string of ‘1’ and ‘0’, an ever-shifting pattern of light and darkness, an ever-evolving hybrid of truth and illusion. As humans incarnate we all have a foot on each side of this duality and cannot escape it. That is the nature of our reality. It is impossible to be a distinct ‘being’ without always having some light and some darkness. What makes us special as human beings is that we consciously experience this duality in how we see ourselves—as an Ego Self associated with darkness and illusion and as a Dao Self associated with light and truth. We perceive ourselves as individuals and yet, because we are self-aware, we know ourselves as ‘perceiver’ to be something more. That something more is our Dao Self, our connection to all-that-is. When we identify with our Dao Self we get closer to the truth of who we are and when we identify with our Ego Self we get closer to the illusion of who we are.
The complexity of the human experience is grounded in this primal duality, because, like an expertly cut gemstone, it gives rise to a multitude of facets than never cease to dazzle us.
These facets of duality are ever-present in our lives and their poles are inextricable from each other, much as we might often want to identify with only one side.
The following table is but a small sample of some of the dichotomies that give meaning to our lives and fodder for our ongoing conversation. Ego Self Dao Self Illusion Truth Darkness Light Separateness Unity Individuality Community Doing Being Rationality Intuition Control Flow Matter Spirit Atomism Holism War Peace Reactivity Creativity Judgment Acceptance Resistance Openness Debate Dialogue Pessimism Optimism Competition Cooperation One special pair of opposites not mentioned above is worth exploring here, as I believe it can serve as a kind of umbrella under which many of these dualities are brought together. I think if we were to choose one word that most closely encompasses the spirit of the Dao Self the word would be love. Now while this word may mean many things to many people, let us call this Love with a capital ‘L’, and try to imagine it to be an absolute, pure, fully unconditional love. Our own understanding of what love is, no matter how imperfect, points us to experience a great force that binds us together, a state of being that unites, an energy that flows, and a ‘rightness’, a feeling that we have uncovering truth behind the illusion. If the Dao is the essence of this Love, then in its full state of oneness it would lack the objects of its Love, and so the Love could not express itself. Our personal experiences of love are the experiences of oneness with the objects of our love.
The universe may very well have been created to allow the Love that is the single truth of the One to express itself through separate beings such as ourselves.
The only way this could happen would be through the creation of something that was not Love, and so it came to be that a darkness was created out of light, the opposite of Love, which I would like to call Fear. This Love/Fear duality is not an unfamiliar one in the language of the new conversation. While the word fear also has several connotations for us, let us define this pure Fear with a capital ‘F’ as beyond what we are capable of experiencing, and yet having a hand in everything we experience. This original division of light and darkness, of Love and Fear, is the prerequisite for existence itself. In Christian mythology, it is symbolized by the banishment of the Devil from the kingdom of Heaven. Consider Love as the single fundamental truth of existence, the All, the One, the Dao. Love is rooted in the ground of being, permanent and everlasting, while Fear floats around, coming and going, rising and falling. Our own experience shows us that when we look towards and embrace love it reveals ever more of itself, and when we look towards and embrace fear it recoils and disappears. Fear disappears because it was never really there to begin with. It is illusion itself, and it only grows when we look away from it and do not face it. Our Ego Self is driven by Fear.
There are no exceptions to this. This Fear amplifies our feelings of separateness, making us attach ourselves to things. It fuels our insecurities, causing us to judge others in order to feel good about ourselves. It always leaves us wanting more, as though we literally need an ocean of abundance to drown our fears in. But when we are willing to actually face our fears we see that they don’t drown, they simply float on the surface that is our ego. In those moments that we penetrate the surface and see ourselves as coming from the Love of the Dao Self, we are able to leave our fears behind. Living from our Dao Self is like living from a spacious place of peace and abundance. Most of us only get glimpses of this paradise from time to time. Mostly we are living from our Ego Self, and our lives are all about limitation and being cut off by our self-built walls. Our task is to question if these dark walls, these limitations we have put on who we are, are real.
The process of moving into the Dao Self is the process of shining a light from inside ourselves, pushing out and seeing that these walls are not really there. As we do this, the space around us expands, and with it is the expansion of our joy. Moving into our Dao Self is our desire of desires. It is what it means to gain self-realization, the message common to all spiritual traditions. It is the enlightenment, the samadhi, the Christ Consciousness. But we should not be fooled into thinking this is a simple one-step process. It is a gradual unfolding that the entire universe participates in. Even when we do experience the light and spaciousness of our Dao Self, life makes it difficult for us to remain there. As soon as we activate our senses, or refer back to ourselves purely as individuals—by thinking that ‘I’ am having this experience—the gravity of the physical world starts to pull us back slowly into the darkness of the Ego Self we tried to leave behind. We all face a choice day by day.
There is not a single morning we wake up where it is guaranteed that we will live from the expansive space of our Dao Self, nor are we condemned to suffer from the limited and fearful vision of the Ego Self. When it comes down to it, that is the only real choice that we face in life: to go with the flow or to go against it; to see a unity in all things, or a separateness; to be a part of nature or apart from nature; to promote harmony or survival of the fittest. We have a choice in how we experience the world, as a celebration of unity or a battleground of duality, as communion or confrontation, as collaboration or competition. But in this back-and-forth movement there is some growth. On occasion we will make a big leap, but our growth tends to be slow but sure. What is required to make a lasting step in the expansion of our consciousness is letting go or releasing some of our darkness—which can be difficult to do, since we may be quite attached to it. Seeking expansion, the Dao Self is constantly challenging us to let go and step into what is the unknown for the Ego Self.
The process of shedding darkness is the process of becoming more whole, more who we really are. Some have described this as resolving our karma, learning our life lessons or going through our healing. But it is never easy, for the unique quality of our darkness is what makes each of us distinct individuals, and represents who we think we are.
There is a natural resistance on the part of our Ego Self to let go of darkness because in doing so it must let go of a part of itself.
The more we believe that our Ego Self is our true self, and the more powerful a role our Ego Self plays in guiding our lives, the more difficult it is to expand. This is the great quandary of the growth of our individual consciousness—in a way it is a constant threat to our cherished individuality itself. Having said that, there should be no concerns that our individuality is going to evaporate away any time soon, during our time on Earth or even beyond. While we are all on a path that moves towards a union with the Dao, that does not mean our real purpose in this life is to see beyond the illusion and move away from it as quickly as possible. Our personal path back to the Dao is as unique as our inimitable configuration of light and darkness. Each one of us walks a path that has never been traveled before. Herein lies our important contribution to our collective consciousness and to each other. Our lives are tales that have never been told, and when we share ourselves and our unique perspectives we help each other to refine our understanding of who we are. Nietzsche once said that “to have circled the whole periphery of the modern soul, to have sat in every one of its nooks, that is my torment and my delight.” In a way he describes the agony and ecstasy of our interrelationship with each other, providing pieces of the larger puzzle of who we are to one another to help make us all whole. Our lives are intertwined so much more than we know, and as our consciousness expands we come to an ever finer appreciation of the supreme gift brought on by the original creation of duality—the capacity to express ourselves to each other, and to love one another. An art piece and lunar calendar all in one. This calendar features moon phases for every day of the month for the entirety of 2020. Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique .
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