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.” 20.
The Character Every summer the playwright provided a day of entertaining outdoor drama for the villagers of the island of Allandon. As he stood on this day under a bright blue sky on the stage in the village square, the large gathering of villagers were buzzing as to why no set had been put up on the stage and the players were nowhere to be seen. “I have a surprise for you,” said the playwright. “This year, instead of seeing a rehearsed play, this one will be improvisational. And the best part is, all of you will be the players!” The villagers reacted with laughter and enthusiasm. As the playwright explained how it would work they appeared eager to participate. He told them that each person would be required to volunteer to play a role after he had described the character. “The first character is a ruthless merchant,” he said. “He does everything to kill off his competition, but is surprisingly gentle with children, even though he has none of his own. His main life lesson is to learn to cooperate and have compassion for others.” A few men and women raised their hands, and the playwright in fact chose one of the women. “The next character is a single mother living in poverty who struggles to overcome her deep loneliness. She has a particular talent with music that she is not yet aware of. She is destined to enter into a relationship that will be difficult but will help to cultivate her courage.” Several of the villagers volunteered, and again he chose one. This continued until the playwright came to one character in particular. “This next role is of a man who has fully actualized himself. He is tall, handsome, intelligent and completely at peace with himself and his surroundings.” When he looked out, he was surprised to see that no villager had raised a hand. “Don’t all be so humble!” he said laughing. He looked around but still saw no volunteers. When he pointed to people they simply shook their heads.
Then he looked over to his friend the director, and implored him to take on the role. “Pass,” said the director with a smile and a brief wave of his hand.
The playwright looked around and asked, “Why will no one choose this character?” “You of all people should not be surprised,” said the director. “Why? Doesn’t this character represent who we all strive to be?” “Exactly, he’s already arrived,” the director retorted. “Where’s the fun in that?” One image we find over and over again in our media is the image of the perfect woman or man.
The message, while not always overt, comes through pretty clear: ‘This is perfection. This is how you need to be to have a fun and exciting life.’ It is motivation of a distorted kind, for it tells us we are not good enough the way we are. It leads us to believe that only once we have conquered all our imperfections and are beyond reproach can we relax and enjoy our lives. Problem is, we have largely gone along with this. Without being fully aware of it, we push one another to feel shame for our personal limitations and weaknesses. If it isn’t someone else quietly judging us for being too fat, too insecure, or too stupid, it is ourselves. So instead of just learning to feel good about who we are, we walk around with the belief that we desperately need to improve ourselves. And when we try, and find that our imperfections don’t go away fast enough, we bury them deeper inside of us, so we can hide them from others and especially ourselves. This is not growth. This is being reactive. Whenever we bury our imperfections we also suppress the passion of our true desires. In their place our attention is drawn to the prudent security goals that our society guides us towards. As we conform to this set of counterfeit desires, we get ever further from who we are and what we really want. And so when we succeed in fulfilling these counterfeit desires, it should come as no surprise to us when it does not bring the pure joy or sublime peace that we were really hoping for. “Is that it?” we may ask in a moment of self-awareness. “Now what?” If we are truly afraid to admit to ourselves that we are not really living our life, we may go back into our routine and think that the next prized possession on our list will bring us that rapture that justifies being alive.
The problem is that we’ve become too smart for that. We are awakening to the fact that we are not being honest with ourselves or being authentic in the world. We are becoming impatient with our own excuses that the pressure, the coercion, the demands of our lives have forced us away from the path of our deepest desires. We know that at the end of the day life always offers the choice to be authentic, albeit at a cost: being authentic could bring about disapproval, ridicule, or financial loss. Some even have to risk their lives for it. It is up to each one of us to decide what we are willing to pay for the blissful experience of being who we are in the world. As Emilia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” When we are not being ourselves, it is hard to resist being judgmental of others. We become especially critical of those who are different, those who don’t seem to feel the need to follow the party line when we do.
They make us uncomfortable because they remind us that we, too, long for freedom of expression and action. And so in their presence we are presented with the challenge to be ourselves. Instead of continuing to bury our shadowy side, we are called to simply put all our imperfections out in the world for all to see, and deal with whatever consequences ensue. That is how we recapture our passion and our energy, and start to regain respect and confidence for who we really are. In showing the world that we think we are all right as we are, we help others believe they are all right as they are as well. But how can we have pride and confidence in our fallible selves? We aren’t all tall, dark and handsome. We don’t all have the natural ability to play professional sports, or the talent to be a concert pianist, or the intellect to be a quantum physicist. We have our fears and insecurities, our moods and our tempers, our blind spots and our baggage. So what. When we step back and look at the bigger picture, I believe we can truly see ourselves as perfect just the way we are. Being human in itself makes us brave pioneers worthy of the highest praise. We chose a set of circumstances to live in and a character to enact in this drama called human life, all in the interest of our own growth and evolution. So while we have to play the hand we’re dealt, it is when we realize that each one of us has stacked our own deck that it becomes possible to see the perfection in our ‘imperfect’ selves and lives. This idea is a powerful beacon out of the dark confines of judgment and into a clearing of appreciation and wonder.
The new conversation does not dwell in the ‘wrong’ and ‘imperfect’. It only sees learning opportunities and points of departure for great adventures. In fact these so-called ‘imperfections’ are what forge our uniqueness, and make it possible for us to play an important role in the drama that is human life. When we hear the oft-quoted words of Shakespeare that ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,’ it resonates deep inside us. At birth we enter the stage and at death we exit. Although to say that we are merely players—perhaps on this point I would take exception. Is there a more important or worthier task at hand for men and women than to play? Our Ego Self would have us believe that life is not play at all but work, the serious work of survival. It could never endorse a life that was built for fun. Indeed, life for the Ego Self consists in hiding our fears from everyone and trying to meet with their approval. But if we could look behind the stage curtains and beyond the illusions created by the Ego Self, we would see that the entire production was created for our benefit, so that we could strut and fret upon the stage, and in so doing, slowly come to an ever-increasing awareness of who we are and what this play is really all about. An actor who steps on stage has a life much vaster than the character he breathes life into, and in a similar way, we are much vaster than the individual selves we typically identify with in our lives. Moving towards identifying with this vaster self, our Dao Self, enables us to see that the world is meant to be a stage that allows us to experience the joy of engaging, of participating, of playing. Playing is the flow of life. It moves us forward along our path. And each individual’s path, no matter how misguided or self-defeating it might seem by our standards, is ultimately on its way back to the Dao. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Dao’ in Chinese also means the Way. Even if we become powerfully transformed along our own path, that does not give us one iota of authority to judge the path of another. In fact, when we transform ourselves we are naturally brought into a greater appreciation of the unique ways of others. At any given time our starting point is exactly where we are.
There is no other place we should be. What difference does it make where we are on a path that stretches to infinity in both directions? To say we should be further along the path by now, that we shouldn’t be making the same mistakes, we should be nicer, smarter, and more evolved is really just letting our Ego Self speak for us. If we are perfect the way we are, then ‘evolving’ is not something we need to do. We are free to stay in one place all our lives if that’s what we want. However, I believe that making our way along our path is something that we naturally gravitate towards once we realize that that’s where all the fun is. Though we have all had moments when this resonates, we also have doubts. We will point to the suffering we experience and hold it as proof that life is not fun. And there is no question, from where we currently stand the suffering is real.
There is loss, disappointment, and sorrow. How can life be fun with such suffering? The point here is—how can life be fun without it? We all experience suffering because of the growing pains that tell us that we are stretching into a grander version of ourselves. Experiencing those pains need not invalidate our life or make us feel that we are going in the wrong direction.
They are as much a part of our life as the joy that is our birthright. As William Blake reminds us in Auguries of Innocence, The World was made for joy and woe And when this we rightly know Through the world we safely go Joy and woe are woven fine A clothing for the soul divine. Let us consider, in a brief sparkling moment of clarity, what life would be like if all pain, suffering, and fear were removed from the equation. Let us say a human body no longer needed food or drink to maintain itself. No consumption, digestion, or elimination functions necessary.
Then, let us suppose that we did not need to breathe to sustain ourselves. And finally, that we could not possibly feel pain of any kind, that we could not become sore, tired, in fact would not even need to sleep. Our bodies would not age and would become impervious to any changes. I imagine if that happened to me, I would at first feel a euphoria, being able to move around freely, without worry, without restriction. And then, slowly, I would start to wonder what there was to do. And, perhaps after thinking a long time and consulting with like-minded beings, we would try to invent a game in which there were actually some risks, some rewards, some pleasure, some pain, something at stake and something to care about. And this game we could play with passion and energy, taking pleasure equally in the joys and the sorrows. A game that sparks our interest at first, and then grows as we grow, changes as we change, and continues to challenge us at exactly the level we can handle in a given moment. Now that would be quite a game! And if we heard about a game in progress that had a brilliant stage already set, a spherical stage spinning around a star, with mountains and oceans, plants and animals, risks and rewards, smells, sights, sounds and a panoply of emotions, and always providing new insights and discoveries, we would willingly stand in a long queue like crazy kids lining up to try the latest and greatest super roller-coaster at the amusement park. It would give a new meaning to the experience of being alive. Does this game sound familiar? One of the reasons that life doesn’t always present itself to us as a game is that we get bored or jaded with experiences that once gave us some excitement. It seems that the luster wears off many of our experiences as time goes on, and we can’t seem to recapture our youthful enthusiasm. But that is exactly the point: when we follow our Ego Self, we try to recapture some feeling that we had in the past by recreating the event, whereas when we are living from our Dao Self, we desire only to create new events, to give us a fresh sense of what is possible. It is just like an actor going on stage, doing the same play every day for months.
The great actors know that the only way they will stay at their best, and continue to be fresh and vibrant, is not to try to imitate what they did to be successful in past performances.
They need to let go of what they did in the past and create something new.
The temptation is very strong to just ‘do what worked’ in the past. But this is not the true craft of acting. Acting is not about faking, it is about playing a character to the depth of your being. This is what it means to be authentic and live life to the fullest. After a particularly brilliant performance of Hamlet, Sir Lawrence Olivier was told by friends and critics alike that it may have been the best performance of the Danish prince ever in history. He accepted the compliments graciously but not without a hint of rue, knowing that while they might expect to see that kind of performance for the rest of the run, he knew that it was unlikely that he would ever be able to recreate it. Life presents itself to us not as an opportunity to redo what works, but to create anew. Each of us is unique, and we can always be looking to bring something new to the stage. We are actors, not re-actors! In life, no playwright will tell us what words to utter, for we write our own script. No director will tell us where to go, for we direct ourselves. Actor, director, playwright, we have all we need within. And we are called upon to create ourselves in every moment. Let us create ourselves in the highest vision we can imagine, for this is what it means to flow along our path towards the Dao. Discover how Conscious Breathing can improve your life in just 10 days through our upcoming guided challenge starting January 13th, 2020! Get access to daily videos, guided meditations, and community support to master conscious breathing basics. Release stress, activate heart coherence, improve digestion, sleep better and more! Sign Up For The Chall.
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