Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 19: The Path)
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.” 19.
The Path After several tries, the astrologer finally managed to get the sculptor to accompany her on her weekly trek. She chose her favorite trail up the forested side of the mountain in the middle of the island of Allandon, which leads to a breathtaking view from the peak. When they were about halfway up the mountain the trail split sharply in two, and there was a tree in the middle of the fork with a large arrow nailed to its trunk.
The astrologer asked the sculptor to stop for a minute. “You’re supposed to spin the arrow,” she said. “It will tell you which side of the fork you should take.” The sculptor spun the arrow, and it pointed to the right. “So I’m supposed to take the path on the right?” he asked. “That depends on you,” she replied. “If you take the one on the right, it means you believe in destiny. If you decide to go left, it means you believe in free will.” “I suppose you think you know which path I’m going to take,” said the sculptor. “Well yes, I think I know you pretty well by now,” the astrologer replied laughing.
The sculptor took a deep breath and marched forward right through the fork. He walked past the tree and continued directly between the two paths, trampling small saplings and crackling underbrush as he climbed. “Hey, that’s not fair,” said the astrologer, struggling to follow behind him. “Why not?” asked the sculptor. “Well for one thing, this isn’t even a path!” “Neither were the other ones before the first person walked on them,” he replied.
The metaphor for life as a path is an enduring image that is used in one form or another in virtually all spiritual traditions. Perhaps this is because the metaphor so simply encompasses the paradox of human life: that we are charting the course of our lives through our choices even as we seem to be following a predetermined route. In a way it is hard to completely deny the deterministic quality of our life here on Earth.
The study of genetics reminds us that the color of our eyes, our height, and the illnesses we are predisposed to are decided upon long before we leave our mother’s womb. We seem to have no choice, further, as to which culture and parents we are born to, and which part of the world we grow up in. Are we also predestined to fall in love with a certain person, follow a particular vocation, and die at a time and place that has been etched in stone all along? If so, then where is the choice? On the other end of the spectrum there are thinkers like existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who reject determinism out of hand. For Sartre, choice is the only precondition of being human. We are free to choose anything except to deny our freedom of choice. Life in and of itself is meaningless, and so we are called upon to create a path for ourselves out of nothing. This stance has some appeal, but it snubs the suggestion that we each have some transcendent purpose or mission in this life. In the new conversation, a sense of both freedom and destiny are important components.
There wouldn’t be much use for a conversation to help each other get where we’re going if we aren’t actually going anywhere in particular. But without the presumption that we have the freedom to make choices, speaking about how we can navigate our lives would be pointless. Somehow we need to pull together both sides of the paradox in order to sustain a powerful vision that inspires us to live life on purpose, with vigor and enthusiasm. When we don’t, we are left to live our lives lazily suspended between these two polarities, living like puppets on a string on one hand, and without the inspiration of a higher purpose on the other. If we never reflect on this matter, we might continue to default to the belief system we were born into, not realizing that we have long since outgrown it. I think it is highly beneficial to try becoming more aware of the belief system, the paradigm, through which we make sense of our lives. When we identify the way we give our life meaning, we gain the capacity to ask ourselves if it still fits.
Then as new experiences and information come in, we have greater flexibility to adjust and to try on a new way of looking at things, even if it’s just for fun.
The new conversation provides a space to explore our paradigms without judgment. All ways of looking at the world are respected and seen as valuable. It is not about trying to prove one right, or justify a certain point of view. It is simply putting our ideas out into the space, so that we can benefit from each other’s wisdom and unique experiences as we choose. We share what works for each of us—by this I mean what makes us happy, what brings us fulfillment and the feeling of being truly alive. Inspiration follows naturally. I am fortunate to have been a part of many such conversations, which often facilitated important shifts in my own beliefs. If I may, I would like to share the paradigm that currently works for me. In my view, freedom of choice and destiny don’t have to play off against each other at all. We ourselves are dual beings, and we live at more than one level of existence at the same time. Destiny and free choice are reconciled when we assert that destiny is a choice that has been made at a higher level of awareness. In other words, if life could be seen as a predestined path that is ultimately of our own choosing, then everything falls into place. Never mind that we have forgotten that we have chosen this path, for that is the beauty of it all. A precisely measured dose of amnesia about the higher awareness of our Dao Self is exactly what sets the wonder of the human experience in motion. If we were fully ensconced at all times in the peace and serenity of our Dao Self, what would be the challenge? What would move us to heroic and courageous acts that make us feel truly alive? Life is eternal.
The fact that we associate life with a birth and a death is an important convention for our purposes here, but this is only part of the picture. Our current life on Earth is but one of a long line of incarnations we have experienced, and these incarnations are not necessarily all as human beings. Wayne Dyer reminds us that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Our decision to have this human experience has happened of our own choosing, as part of our eternal life. And so it is likely that we have been party to the decisions of where we would be born, who our parents would be, and what the main purpose or goal or path for this particular cycle on the Earth would consist of. Our path in each particular incarnation is a subset, a fraction of our larger path that leads us back to the Dao. We have designed the path for this current incarnation in a way that helps us learn something that we need to learn, or heal a part of ourselves that needs healing, or remember some aspect of who we are that we forgot when we separated from the Dao. In other words, we have moved by choice into the illusion, to follow a path out of the illusion to the truth. If we can be less serious and have some fun walking our path that is a major step. We hear all the time that the purpose is not to arrive at the destination but to experience the journey. In this regard, while life keeps us busy with tasks we need to perform, agreements we need to keep, lessons we need to learn, or healing we need to undergo, none of these things really capture the ultimate purpose for being alive. Like Joseph Campbell, I believe the fundamental reason we are here is for the experience of life itself, which brings us bliss when we move into greater alignment with our higher self and rapture as we awaken to the greater wonder that we are. For most of us, experiencing bliss and rapture is not easy. Nor is it supposed to be.
The flow of life, which for each one of us is the path of our chosen destiny, is not the proverbial path of least resistance. We are not meant to live in perpetual comfort and avoid all obstacles, confrontations, and challenges. In essence, the flow of life really leads us towards resistance. Imagine a running back in a football game. His path is a line to the opposing end zone, which, if reached, makes him the hero and brings about unbridled celebration. But to do it, he must get past eleven big men who will do everything to stop him. That is why the goal is of value: it is difficult and challenging. In a college game once a very funny thing happened. A running back carrying the ball got spun around after a couple of jarring tackles but stayed on his feet. Disoriented, he suddenly started running the wrong way without knowing it. As he rushed towards his own end zone, the players on the other team were actually clearing the way for him to make it. Only after he finally arrived in his own end zone and was tackled by the other team did he realize what he had done. Needless to say, he was not celebrating. Since football players understand the game they are playing, no player would ever want to be caught doing this. But in life we do this all the time. Instead of going where we really want to go, challenging the obstacles in our way to make a touchdown, we often run away from the obstacles, and then wonder why we’re not the star of our own life. In life we are not up against eleven big men in oversized padding: we are up against ourselves.
The only resistance to our growth and personal transformation is our own resistance. We experience it as fear. It often stops us cold. So when we feel fear but still gather up the courage to move forward anyway, we feel at one with the current of the river and take in its power. Remember that the river represents change, and so when we are in flow we are travelling down the river without offering any resistance to what is, to the changes that life throws at us.
The river of change through which our lives naturally flow can sometimes be turbulent rapids, and despite our fears we are asked to decide which way to turn. We suffer not when we feel fear but only when we resist what we are afraid of. This causes us to start paddling furiously back upstream, away from the turbulent rapids of change. Eventually we learn, at every stage of our evolution, that pushing through our fear is the only thing that can move us along our path, and so is the only truly worthwhile action in terms of human evolution. When we are in the flow we could not be more happy to be alive. Life offers a thrill a minute, any time we are willing to follow its appeal. And while we are meant to experience peace, life never calls us to be complacent, or to conform, or to take the easy way out. It challenges us to take a risk, and face precisely what it offers us. Sometimes this means stepping into the darkness, the unknown brought on by change. In the process we evolve. Our consciousness expands and we move ever closer to self-realization.
The path of familiarity, laziness, and suppression, what we commonly refer to as ‘the path of least resistance’, is paradoxically the path of most resistance, because we are resisting the most fundamental aspect of nature: change, growth, and evolution. Feeling truly alive will always demand taking chances.
There’s an old African proverb that says, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” This is not to say that we always have to be risking our lives, but rather we must be willing to risk who we think we are in order to make way for a bigger, grander vision of ourselves to emerge. Of course this path is never forced upon us. We always have the choice as to whether we go with the flow or against it. Even if our life has a particular destiny, we can choose to resist it. And we all do resist sometimes, because we are afraid—of failure, of loss, of danger. Sometimes it does not seem safe when we don’t know what is coming around the next corner. But we are all perfectly safe.
There is an invisible force that holds us with love and compassion at all times. Even though we sometimes feel alone we are never alone, because we are always connected to the source. Even though we sometimes feel confused and lost, we are never really lost because our every step is being watched and guided.
The more I take the time to look back at my life so far the more I feel this. All the significant events of my life, especially the difficult, the scary, and the embarrassing, happened for reasons beyond my understanding at the time. Today I can see that they brought me to precisely where I am now—at the threshold of fulfilling a great desire.
The happier I become with where I am, the more grateful I become for all the events that led me here. It is impossible for me to regret any event that has expanded my consciousness. As time has gone on I have learned to trust more and more the quiet voice of my intuition, which I believe is the voice of this invisible force that kindles my deepest desires. When I align my actions with this voice, my whole life begins to make more sense. But it is not only internally that this benevolent force guides us. It makes use of the external world as well, and not just in one or another particular way but in a multitude of ways, for it is connected to all that is. Particular animals may cross our path for a reason, or we may meet certain people at the right place at the right time. Doors literally open, signs come into our field of vision, books fall off shelves and songs come on the radio, aimed to give us clues as to which way we are headed.
There is not necessarily a fixed rhyme or reason as to how and when these ‘meaningful coincidences’ come into our lives. Our task is less about figuring them out and more about just noticing them and, if we so choose, following them with gratitude and curiosity. To do this is to acknowledge the invisible force that is pulling for each of us from afar to fulfill our destiny. From afar, because it cannot interfere with our free will, for this would negate the precious experience of life entirely. Because we have freedom, it is quite possible that our destiny in this life could go unfulfilled. This is what it means to have ultimate responsibility for our lives. Whether we pay attention to the signposts that border the path of our destiny or ignore them is entirely a matter of choice.
The more we pay attention to them, the more often these signposts crop up for us. A growing number of people today are coming to see that even the most tragic events in their lives were ‘meant to be’, and that everything happens for a reason. It’s no wonder we’re so fascinated by conspiracy theories. We are all in the middle of the biggest conspiracy possible, as all the inner and outer forces of our world are conspiring to give each of us the chance to experience the bliss of fulfilling our chosen destiny, right here and now. Understanding this may be the quintessential way to be with what is, and from the many conversations I have had with people who live with this conviction, I am confident that it is a way to a happier, more peaceful, and more joyful existence. 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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