Beggars on a Golden Bench?
Here we are, somewhere in the middle of our lives, suddenly caught up in a worldwide crisis. And surely it is also a personal crisis on a worldwide scale. Our lives, which we may have thought of as developing toward a goal, have suddenly become subject to new laws that threaten the very foundations of our future on earth.
Fear may be the first reaction, but we are also invited to stop, look, and listen. We may even be forced to ask, “What am I doing?” and above all, “Who am I doing it for?” That question has haunted me ever since I played a game of cards with my young children in Peru called Nadie Sabe para Quien Trabaja (Nobody knows who they’re working for). We won or lost in an endless exchange of cards entirely based on luck. When the deck gave another player a card that topped yours, you lost everything.
Jungian analyst Marion Woodman raises a similar stop-the-automatic-flow question in The Maiden King when the terrifying witch, Baba Yaga, asks any who seek her powerful help: “Do you come of your own free will or by compulsion?” If we can’t answer honestly or don’t know, our heads will end up hanging on the spiked fence that circles her everywhere/nowhere house.
As you spend the coin of your life energy, why not ask yourself, “Who am I working for?” Maybe no heads will roll, but there’s a gift in asking the question. Personally, with age, I’ve become acutely aware that each day offers only a limited supply of get-up-and-go. How much do I invest in what may be vital to my deepest Being—this Self that I am here to represent? And how much will I spend this very day trying to please others, make myself look good in the eyes of the outside world, or fall back on mindless entertainment? More than I like to admit; more than I need to.
While most of us came into the world with all the ingredients needed to build brain and muscle, we haven’t necessarily made the best use of them. As children we were very aware, curious, interested in everything and creative in what we did. But as we grew up, we imitated most of what we saw because that’s what kids do. Our mirror neurons gathered data from everyone and everything around us, checking out whether it was good or bad, right or wrong, in the eyes of authority figures.
Perhaps we were forced into roles that were not necessarily in our best interest. And even when our parents “wanted the best for us,” they were often invested in reshaping our ways of seeing and doing to be more or less like theirs. Or, on the other hand, maybe they were so busy with their own lives and struggles that they neither saw nor paid much attention to their children. In any event, an appreciation of who we were and are has been lost. Who among us feels that they have really been seen? Who has time to see someone else, or really listen to what another person is saying? Yet the need to be seen and affirmed is rooted in our depths.
Where did we lose track? And more importantly, how to separate what we really want from the automatic habits and unconscious drives that run our lives? If, as the Natural History Museum states on its website, many of the elements of our bodies were formed in stars over the course of billions of years, we are literally made of stardust. So let’s assume that there is enormous potential in each of us to lead rich inner lives and to serve the world in larger ways.
Peru—one of the poorest countries in the world—has often been described as a beggar on a golden bench, because its mountains, forests, and seas contain expensive ores, valuable trees and abundant fish that have never been accessed. Could that also be true of us? And if so, could this moment of worldwide fear and confusion be the right time to abandon that dream of success (or conviction of failure), in order to accept the reality that we are already rich inside?
If your life energy were money in the bank, how would you spend it today?
Speaking personally, much of my gold is buried in attitudes of pretty solid rock—judgments, assumptions, and habitual ways of seeing my world. Yet because I had the good fortune to grow up in a loving family and a well-intentioned society, I ought to be able to grow wise and healthy, serve the community, develop artistic talents, or express myself in a thousand ways. To do this I, and perhaps you, need to learn how to mine and process our inner treasure.
Rene Daumal offers a clue to what’s holding us back in his gem of a book, Mount Analogue. In it he warns us that we need to “Beware of the surface of things.” In other words, how to avoid letting our finer attention get caught up in every stimulus that pulls us here and there—away from our own presence-in-the-world?
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
Tune in next week for further suggestions on how to reach our full potential in Part Two: Processing our Inner Gold.