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. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.
From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.
Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.
‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. 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.”
22. The Dragon
On the Western side of the island of Allandon the poet and his son journeyed deep into the forest until they came upon a hidden cave at the foot of the mountain.
“This is the lair of the dragon of a thousand and one heads,” said the poet.
“Does it ever come out?” asked the son.
“Indeed. Each person on the island confronts it at some time. You will too.”
“What if I just leave it alone?” the son asked.
“Eventually it will come after you, heads screaming and breathing fire. The question is, what will you do when it does?”
“I will run away,” said the son.
“If you do, you will find that it will follow you until the end of your days, keeping you in fear and anxiety.”
“I understand,” the son said. “I must stand up to it and kill it.”
“You can try. You could wield a mighty sword high and slice off one of its fearsome heads. But you would see that where one head falls off, two heads grow in its place.”
“Then it is invincible!”
“In a way—but you should be happy about it. For killing the dragon would end your life also.”
“So what am I to do?” the boy asked.
“Your life is designed to teach you that,” said the poet.
The son looked into the blackness of the cave. “Has anyone ever tried to kill the dragon?” he asked.
The poet smiled. “How do you think it became the dragon of a thousand and one heads?”
They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem, being willing to face the truth. After many years of denial, I declare myself ready for healing. My name is Richard, and I am an egocentric. I would like to say reformed egocentric, but I know I have not fully kicked the habit. And thankfully, I am no longer putting myself under the gun to do so.
It was only after graduating from university that I came to a full awareness of what ego meant, and first made a semi-conscious effort to begin to walk a spiritual path. My early reading of ancient spiritual texts seemed to indicate that the ego was something that eventually needed to be killed off. After all, the literature suggested that the ego alienates us from other people, is the source of the attachments that lead us to misery, and at every turn prevents us from experiencing peace, love, and a permanent sense of belonging. I felt that all spiritual masters had been able to perpetrate their own ego death. So for me, following the spiritual path meant learning to smother the life out of any expressions of anger, prejudice, jealousy, and other ego-related vices.
At that time I may have already had the appearance of some kind of master to a few people: I seemed quite composed, rarely judged others, and could speak eloquently on matters of spirit. I thought I was moving down a spiritual path in leaps and bounds. In truth I wasn’t really going anywhere. I was still just a shy and serious kid with a tendency to think long and hard before speaking, a habit that was probably ingrained in me by my childhood fear of provoking my father’s anger. It was easy for me to censor most expressions of judgment and self-centeredness because I had been doing it all my life. And I continued doing it, only now with added pride because I felt I was banishing my spiritually improper inclinations.
However, trying to relieve ourselves of the burdens of the Ego Self with a well-placed magic bullet misses one important point. The desire to kill off anything, including the Ego Self, is inevitably sponsored by the Ego Self. So in trying to commit this act we are actually keeping the Ego Self in control. The unwanted desires and emotions simply get stuffed down inside of us and continue to be a force in our lives. And so not only do we maintain our ego-motivated behavior, but our habit of controlling, censoring, and suppressing our expression also causes us to lose touch with the practice of living freely, authentically and spontaneously.
In more recent years, I have begun to understand that the path to mastery of the Ego Self requires exactly the opposite of control—it requires surrender. There is such a skill and an art to surrendering that it has taken me an eternity just to grasp it, and I’m not sure that I’ve really been able to fully apply it yet. It’s like the lesson that keeps on teaching. The surrender of the Ego Self to the Dao Self is the quintessential act of courage, wisdom, and love. It is not a suicide but a succumbing. It is not a slaying of the dragon but a taming. It is not an excision of an unwanted part of ourselves but a healing.
While the Dao Self constantly bathes the Ego Self in love and acceptance, it is only when the Ego Self lets go of control that some of its hidden darkness can come into the light and, ultimately, be released. For the Dao Self all things are acceptable, even the desire of the Ego Self to lead and to control. The Dao Self will never impose itself since it has no ‘will’ as such, so what is required is for the Ego Self to will the Dao Self to be the leader and accept the designation of follower. Otherwise, we will by default be led by the Ego Self—which can only judge and condemn its own darkness and is incapable of healing it.
A spiritual master like Jesus was unwaveringly led by the Dao Self, which he called the Father. He was not without an Ego Self, for it was written that he could still feel the temptation of the Devil. But he never tried to destroy the source of this temptation, as he understood that the Ego Self—symbolized by the Devil—was an inextricable component of being human. Jesus had a choice, as we all do, and he consistently chose his Dao Self over his Ego Self. He had a clear vision that the larger plan for his life was more important than his pride, his safety, or any other ego-concern.
Like Jesus, we too have a larger plan for our lives. However, that does not mean we are all meant to live out the same plan as Jesus, nor can we be expected to follow our Dao Self as faithfully. There is no shame in seeing that Jesus was simply more conscious and more evolved than we are. That does not make him better. In fact he never thought he was better. He just was who he was. And very simply, that is all we need to do to follow our plan, and walk a spiritual path—be who we are.
This is not as easy as it sounds. This is because who we are as human beings is always in a state of becoming something greater. This means, paradoxically, that who we are is always in a state of moving away from aspects of who we are in any given moment. The way to see past this paradox is not to judge the parts of ourselves we are trying to move away from, for when we judge these parts of ourselves to be ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable’ they shrink back into the darkness and remain a part of us.
We all have darkness. But we are starting to find our way out of it. In the new conversation we have started to bridge the division of the spiritual and the material in our society. We no longer want to see spirituality as a separate domain of our lives, reserved for the hallowed halls of the church, the mosque, the synagogue, the monastery, the ashram. We also want it to encompass the office, the classroom, the sports arena, the restaurant, and any other place people get together in any human activity. Such a spirituality would not be about denial of ourselves and our selfish desires, and would not condemn the material focus of the Ego Self. Most importantly, it would not lead us into the seriousness of self-recrimination but out of it. It would help us all live according to a simple but fundamental idea: life is fun.
This is not possible if we continue to see ourselves as sinners needing redemption, compelled to pass the tests of an Almighty Judge in order to be worthy of Heaven, one who looks down upon us and is pleased when his rules are followed and offended when they are not. It is dawning on us that such a Judge cannot really be the One but is rather a projection of our own Ego Self.
We want to be allowed—nay, encouraged—to be our unique selves with all our flaws, to follow our inner voice of desire. The greatest times of our lives were not spent being obedient to the rules of others, but rather when we found a way to be who we are. In the new conversation we are encouraged to be who we love to be, not told to deny who we are afraid to be. As important as it is not to identify with the Ego Self, and not to let the Ego Self lead us in our lives, it is equally important to understand that the Ego Self is and will continue to be a part of who we are as individuals. Indeed it is the foundation of our uniqueness. One of the great triumphs of Western society has been the elevation of the individual and the blossoming of the expression of individual talents, gifts, and abilities.
Now we have to take the next step, and find a way to express our individuality while still moving together, hand in hand, towards unity. When we push for unity but ignore our individual needs, what some people would call a nobler path, we actually get farther from authenticity because we try to take a shortcut to unity. We suppress our dark side rather than honoring it and, perish forbid, let it be revealed to ourselves and the world. More often than not, this path of sacrifice and denial leads us to moral elitism and the sense that we are better than others who do not sacrifice as much or work as hard on being ‘spiritual’.
What we really need today is for the spiritual path and the material path to come together, and pave the way for truly feeling alive in the world. The main requirement is for us to be authentic. For some of us that’s exactly where the roadblock occurs. The proposition of being authentic itself is scary. We are tempted to act in a way that is more acceptable to others, that garners us some approval and status. But while choosing to act other than who we are may get us somewhere in the short term, it’s never where we’re actually going. It’s like rushing to get on the first bus that arrives at our stop, even though it isn’t the one that takes us home. No wonder we so often feel lost in our lives.
I always found it instructive to think very deeply about the following question: What is the worst thing that could happen by being authentic? Are we afraid of not fitting in, of being embarrassed, of being laughed at? So let’s look at being laughed at. If, like me, you are on a mission to be less serious, there may be no better experience to go through than allowing yourself to be laughed at for being who you are. And if you have the courage you can laugh at yourself as well. As Milton Berle said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re probably missing the joke of the century.” Taking ourselves seriously keeps us in the domain of the Ego Self. If we are able to freely show to the world who we are and in the same spirit we are able to laugh at ourselves, then we give permission for others to live freely as well.
I believe the real spiritual masters understood this. They developed unlimited compassion for the egocentricities of others because they discovered how to have compassion for their own shortcomings. They are the ones whose facial wrinkles are forged by a peaceful smile, a sign of their constant amusement with their own fallibility and humanity.
When I started writing this book, I worked hard to make sure that people did not detect a hint of egocentricity when I spoke about it. After all, if I was going to present ideas about how to move away from one’s Ego Self, the least I could do is show that I’ve mastered it successfully in my life. But as I got further into the writing, and more deeply into self-examination, I realized that this was not completely honest. I was just being cautious. If I was to be authentic I would have to admit that I have not evolved beyond all self-centered desires when it came to this book. In some moments I was captured by the prospects of gaining some fame and recognition. Sometimes I got caught up in how much money I might be able to make. I cannot in all fairness assert that my motivation to get this book written has come purely from selflessness and unconditional love.
At the same time, I can say that I have learned a lot since I started writing. I have seen that when I come from a place of self-interest it is much more difficult to write, to get good ideas, to be in a flow with the process. I am more prone to feel fearful of failure, to be worried about how people will react to what I am saying and to be doubtful that I actually have something of value to say. On the other hand, when I have been able to get more centered on this book being a contribution to others, suddenly the words and ideas come more easily, the process is less burdensome. So certainly I have tangible experience of the value of trying to move into my Dao Self.
But an even more profound lesson, one that brings me great peace and happiness, was learning to accept myself when I am not coming from my Dao Self. This is my highest experience of authenticity. I can be who I am and speak about what is true for me in a given moment without worrying that I might sometimes not be seen as such an ‘evolved’ person. Trying to be conscious does not mean having to be cautious. I recognize that I need to live at my current level of spiritual understanding, rather than pretending to be more ‘holy’, more ‘spiritual’ than I actually am.
And so I believe even our egocentric desires are not without purpose. Sometimes even if people who are rich and famous have told us that money and recognition don’t bring happiness—and we believe them—we still feel the need to find out for ourselves. I recognize that I continue to be driven by the Ego Self from time to time, but then again so are most of us. To deny this is a subtle form of egocentricity itself. Let’s all cut ourselves a little slack. In a way, we could say that if we were never driven by the Ego Self we wouldn’t be driven at all. It’s time we all got together to create a space in which we are free to make mistakes, do the wrong thing, play the fool. Even if our ego-desires lead to dead ends, we want the opportunity to play them out without being judged. Given the chance to find out we don’t want what we thought we wanted, we get closer to knowing what our true desires are and living from our true selves.
In the West we have lived too long under the burning image of a spirituality that is divorced from the material. We walk away in sadness just like the rich man when Jesus told him to sell off all his possessions, saying to his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” We fear that spiritual mastery looks upon our materialistic strivings with disdain and disapproval. It seems that if we are to fully engage in spiritual practice, it requires forsaking our material desires. And if we are to follow our inner urges for material abundance, we must in those moments look away from our spiritual teachings. We try to make our lives work as best we can, but we tire of leaping back and forth across the chasm between our spiritual lives and our material lives. Our deep longing for a spiritual life is thwarted by a fear that we will have to give up too much. At the same time our enjoyment of our material life is tempered by a niggling guilt that we are not doing enough for those less fortunate. And so with all we have, and with all we can be, we are afraid to truly live either aspect of life with vigor and enthusiasm. We fear that trying to integrate our spiritual and material desires will make us hypocrites.
In truth Jesus never said that being rich was bad, nor that we have to abandon the material for the spiritual. He did imply that it would be a complex matter for someone rich to experience the treasures of a spiritual life. If we are to have a lot of money and not give material life any more of our focus than is needed, we are required to become complex characters ourselves, in order to avoid the traps the Ego Self lays in our fields of material abundance.
I believe we are ready for it. I believe this is the true challenge of our time, to bring forth a spirituality in harmony with our growing capacity for material wealth. We have started to ask ourselves: Why would our souls have been delivered into this wondrous world of the material if not to enjoy its fruits? All we need is some guidance, not away from the material, but onto that fine line that balances our material needs with our spiritual needs.
Of course this is not an easy path. This is why we need to be in conversation with one another, ready to accept each other’s help. Since our consciousness has evolved, we have started to become able to guide one another through the pitfalls of an integrated life. In the new conversation we can condone our Ego-Self desires without being driven by them. We are able to witness our own egocentricity in the space that is provided, when we are most ready to see it. The new conversation is in service of allowing us to stand in a place where the spiritual is not a denial of the material and our human desires, but rather the material and spiritual are balanced in a whole and vital life. If we guide each other carefully, I believe it will indeed become possible for us to put a camel through the eye of a needle—while riding shotgun.