Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 3: The Shadow)
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.” 3.
The Shadow Well past midnight in a home on the island of Allandon, the village schoolteacher was retiring to bed and noticed the light on in the room of her son, who was known to the villagers as ‘the young philosopher’. Upon entering, she saw him in his familiar place, sitting at his desk buried in a mountain of heavy tomes. “It is past midnight, my son,” said the schoolteacher. “Time for you to be in bed, I should think.” “I am contemplating the mystery of being, mother. I don’t think I can rest until I have found the answer.” “And you imagine that through study and contemplation you will one day have an answer?” “If I am dedicated and persistent, yes.” She smiled. “Do you see your shadow cast by the light of the candle?” “Yes.” “What is that shadow?” “Well—it is darkness,” the young philosopher replied. Suddenly his mother blew out the candle, sending the room into pitch blackness. “Now where is your shadow?” she asked. “I can’t see it,” he said, “not without the light.” “But your shadow hasn’t changed. It was darkness and it still is darkness.” “That’s true.” “Perhaps, with dedication and persistence, you will eventually find it.” The boy thought for a minute. “Or perhaps I should go to bed,” he said. My formal education gave me valuable information about the philosophy of life, and with it a sense of knowing-it-all. My real education started when an insight gradually revealed itself to me: whenever I felt I knew exactly what life was, I was actually the most in the dark about life. To know life is to limit life, to get cut off from the mystery that makes it fun to be alive. This is where my seriousness runs roughshod over possibilities, and why I am excited that the new conversation has the potential to open them up to me again.
The new conversation is not about knowing. It is about the thrill of exploring life with an open heart and mind. When two or more people approach their interactions this way, the magic of new insights and possibilities for life are never far behind. I have come to notice in my conversations that whenever I start to provide answers, the energy and vitality of the conversation ebbs away. For the most part people aren’t looking for answers, even when they ask the questions.
They are looking for someone who knows how to listen and inquire with them. When I don’t know, when I am curious and prepared to learn, then the conversations I am in have the potential to be dynamic, probing, and meaningful. Consider the times you have been in a conversation with a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on how you should live. I’m sure you have come across this person before, in the form of a parent, teacher, neighbor, or boss. How does it feel to be the receiver of this one-way instruction? There is really no dynamic, nothing to do in this conversation but nod and wonder when they will stop. We all had plenty of experience with this type of conversation when we were young children. But we are grown up now. And that doesn’t mean that it’s our turn to be the expert. It means we can choose a different way of relating to people and sharing our ideas. If you are just looking for answers, there are plenty of people in our society willing to provide them for you. However, when you enter into the new conversation looking for answers, you might notice your questions getting thrown back at you. In the matter of how to live our own lives, each of us is our own expert. Only we know our own truth. No matter how wise someone may be, they don’t have the authority to tell you that you really want to become a doctor. Or that you should enjoy exercising. Or that you have no reason to be sad. It’s time now to stop looking for people to tell us who we are and how we should live. We need courage to come out and say what’s true for us, and shake off the pressure of having to conform to the opinions and beliefs of others. Of course it’s difficult. We have been conditioned to believe that our truth isn’t good enough, that we need to do what is acceptable to others, we need to have the answer. But there is no definitive answer. And accepting this is not tantamount to admitting our stupidity. Quite the opposite. Socrates used to say ‘All I know is that I know nothing,’ and yet he was considered the wisest man in ancient Athens. To a certain extent life will always be about trying to figure out what life is about. Learning to be free from the need for certainty keeps all doors open for passionate exploration. Like peeling an onion with an infinite center, life always reveals itself with new questions that are deeper than the answers it provides. Whether you are actively involved in the game of trying to figuring life out or you are sitting on the sidelines, life itself goes on. If you are not asking the questions, life is sure to bring them to you eventually—and probably when you least expect it. Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych never questioned what he did in life. He always informed himself by the opinions of others and his society. But in the serene quiet of his death bed, ...the question suddenly occurred to him: “What if my whole life has been wrong?” It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending.
There was nothing to defend. Ivan Ilych became painfully clear in the last few moments of his life that he had not attended to the faint impulses he felt that seemed to question the manner in which he was living his life. In tracing back the whole of his existence he suddenly realized that he had not actually lived. He had spent his entire life in the realm of the known and had not participated in the mystery, the wonder, the joy, the game that life is. While we are often frustrated when life doesn’t work out the way we planned, perhaps instead we need to celebrate the unpredictability of life. Most often it is just those unforeseen and spontaneous experiences in our lives that become the most memorable. Now—it is a fundamental desire of human nature to search for and give meaning to things. We are built for learning and growth and evolution. We each at some point have to face the darkness of life’s mysteries and attempt to shed some light on them.
The beauty is that we can do it in our own way. It doesn’t matter in the end where you are in the inquiry, or what system you are following. You could lean towards the distinctions of psychology or philosophy or history or sociology or any other human discipline. You could be informed by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or some other spiritual tradition. You could consider yourself agnostic or an atheist. You may have been formally inquiring into the nature of human life for years or are just awakening to a desire for greater self-awareness. It doesn’t matter. Wherever you are, you are somewhere on the path of your life. And where you are is just perfect. You may be asking questions such as, ‘Why am I always so tired?’, ‘How come I never have enough money?’ or ‘When will I find true love?’.
These are just some of the many lines of inquiry into life and self-awareness, no less valid than asking ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’. In the end they all represent the drive that is in each one of us to find our true happiness in this life, and fulfill whatever purpose we believe we have for being here. We are not without help. Today we have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before, leading us to a greater understanding of the meaning of life itself.
The greatest descriptions come from the myths, poems, parables, and stories that don’t try to explain what life is but rather point to its mystery so that we all can be inspired to live better.
The Bible, the Qu’ran, the Vedas and the many other sacred texts were not created to provide us with an exclusive resource to the essential truth; they were all designed to point to the ultimate source of being that defies description. When we interpret these texts literally and follow their words blindly, we miss the very point for which they were written.
The written words are many times removed from a greater authority on being: our personal and collective experience of life itself. Any actions we take as a result of reading from these texts needs first to resonate deep within us. None of these writings are the last word in themselves, they are all chapters in a much larger book, the sacred text of life itself. Each one contributes profoundly from a given perspective—but it is still ultimately only one perspective. Today, we are starting to be able to discern the metaphor from the message, the connotation from the denotation. When understood as metaphors for something complex and yet familiar to each one of us as human beings, these texts serve us in providing a possible way to look at life that can empower us and help us to evolve.
The new conversation is about just that—an exchange of ideas and perspectives that we consciously engage in to facilitate our own growth and the evolution of consciousness itself. It is my intention in this book to enter into the flow of the new conversation with you. As our conversation progresses, it will become more and more apparent that one person’s point of view is nothing more than that, my own being no more or less valuable than yours.
The question to really ask is whether or not your way of seeing things is working for you, or if you are open to the possibility that a different perspective could be of benefit to your life. My words are put out here as something to consider, to experiment with, and to evaluate critically. I will trust that you will take from it that part which serves you, and leave whatever does not.
The conversation continues on only when each of us feels that we might have something to learn from each other, and that our current positions are not fixed and absolute but rather flexible and relative to where we are in our lives. This can apply to even the most fundamental and supposedly immutable truths that we live by. It is comfortable to stand in one place, to hold a view with certainty. However, if there were really only one view in life, if there was only one truth, would we not have arrived at it by now? Would we not all be living in peace under the clear superiority of one particular way of looking at the world? True peace is found not when one has discovered the answer, but when one comes to fully appreciate that life can be no more than the inquiry. So often we hear that it is the journey, and not the destination. Our great satisfaction in being here is the ongoing discovery of why we are here at ever deepening levels. We know in our hearts that there is something that binds us together, and the greatest joy that we can experience may be in discovering how each of us is a part of a unified whole, individuals as completely different as snowflakes, and yet sharing something so essential that it is not impossible to think of all of humanity as one family. It would seem to me that the strength of any one view lies not in the focus of its vision, but in its capacity to encompass the greatest diversity of human activity.
The ideas at the root of the new conversation are not all new.
They have come to us from every corner of the near and distant past, from wise men and women of all different cultures. What is perhaps new is the way these ideas, some which come from traditions that seem diametrically opposed to each other, are being looked at and appreciated side by side. When the conversation is grounded in acceptance, it becomes possible to begin to transcend history, language, and perspective and peer into the many facets of the same unseen world that informs them. In other words you don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate or learn from the wisdom of Buddha, nor do you need to be Christian to revere the lessons of Jesus.
The Bhagavad-Gita and other sacred Hindu texts can have an appeal to all people. It is no coincidence that great spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama have many adorers from all walks of life. Such transcendent masters have appeal because they focus on what is common in the desires and needs of all human beings, not simply devotees to their tradition.
The manner in which the great traditions of thought differ, much in the way that people differ from one another, needs no longer be a point of contention in terms of which is right and which is wrong.
They are like individual brushstrokes of varying length, color and texture that make up the masterpiece. And when we can learn to appreciate the variety, and come to understand the different ways that life can be viewed and lived, it cannot help but enhance our understanding of life itself.
The new conversation gives us the opportunity to look anew at the enduring ideas of the past, and infuse an emerging vocabulary into our dialogues that is shedding greater light on these ideas. More and more our verbal languages contain words from other cultures, showing how our respective cultures are having a greater influence on how each of us sees the world.
The move is on to know our authentic selves not by identifying once and for all which is the ‘right’ tradition of thought, but through a conversation that taps into the full spectrum of human traditions. 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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