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The Spiritual Issues of our Time: 2


I found this story of the snake in one of Idries Shah’s Sufi anthologies where, it should be noted, it is recounted with considerably more finesse, but I suspect that in its essence, if not in precisely the same form, it is to be found amongst the literature of other spiritual traditions.

According to the story then, a snake terrorised a village with its reptilian antics and earned itself a stern rebuke from a traveling sage who passed through the village. The old man told him that he had to change his ways and forbade him to bite anymore. The snake took this into its heart because he had more than a sneaking regard for the old man. When next the sage passed through the village he found the reptile in a sorry state, cast into a pit where it was routinely pelted with stones and insults by the village boys.

‘What has happened to you?’ said the old man.

‘I did what you said,’ the snake replied, ‘I gave up frightening people and this is what they have done to me.’

‘Fool!’ said the sage, ‘I forbade you to bite anymore; I did not say that you could not hiss.’

Sufi stories, as we know, can be heard on many levels. Even so, it would be more of a story for our time if the snake had been made a part of village life, trained to be aware of others feelings, taught to please and to fear disapproval, and filled with confusion about boundaries.  Then the sage would come by and find the snake imprisoned in a pit of guilt, obligation and niceness. And then we really would empathize with its predicament.

Each year the Foundation does hundred’s of readings, by personal interview and through written readings. In so many cases the major reason why the person’s life is not unfolding as it might is a lack of assertiveness. Yet rarely do people identify this as the problem; they experience its effects in their lives without recognising the cause. They come usually with relationship, career and unfulfilment problems.

At this stage in our development the pit of guilt, obligation and niceness holds the most evolved people in incarnation, people who have been refined by 2,000 years of struggle on the road to compassion that was shown to us by the Christ. We pass through empathy on the road, learning to be aware of the feelings of others and coming to understand the undesirability of causing unseen hurts and of neglecting the non-physical aspects of our fellow man.

If you are in that pit then it may be a consolation to know that you are participating in the outworking of one of the major spiritual issues of our time and when we have worked through, spiritually aware people will be released from inhibition and confusion into planetary service.

In the evolution of consciousness, time was when the challenge was to remember others and the requirement was to demonstrate that remembering in our actions. This remembrance disciplined the lower nature, acting as a constraint upon selfishness and aggression.

But things move on; situations change. Nothing is static under the face of the sun. Time and circumstance has made it easier for us to remember because in our psyches are recorded the struggles of those who have gone before and their struggles have shaped out consciences. Now we soon feel badly when we have hurt someone close to us by what we have done or failed to do. And if our conscience doesn’t remind us the social and religious code will. We know what is expected of us and we know that if we want acceptance and approval we must conform. Spiritually aware people recognise the form that compassion takes and we fear to be assertive because we associate assertiveness with selfishness and aggression.

Yet if we work the body, or focus on a particular part of the body, we do not expect improvement to come indefinitely from the same exercises. And so it is with consciousness. What was once a struggle may become the line of least resistance. What once was progressive and transformative may now simply be a giving in to part of ourselves that is too lazy to think things through or too fearful of the consequences to assess the merits of a situation.

A spiritual challenge may become a social inflexion and what a great disservice we will do if we allow a show of empathy to mask laziness and cowardice, and let the road to compassion peter out into self deception and cynicism.

If we don’t pull ourselves up on it no one else will.

As noted, social manners support this kind of response; other people like it because it allows them to get what they want (and we are all ‘other people’ to someone), and organised religion seems to encourage it. Churches are too busy being nice in attempt to keep bums on pews to risk issuing unflattering challenges to people. Perhaps this is a particularly English problem, but that spiritually aware people are stuck in appearing nice and kind and are, as a result, frequently lacking in credibility is a problem with wide applicability. We all play the nice game to a greater or lesser extent and the reality so often is that we are neither nice nor useful in our complicity and inauthenticity.

Sensitive to others, and wanting to do the right thing, spiritually aware people do not know what is more important or where our responsibilities lie: in meeting the expectations of others or using our life and time in the manner of our own choosing. This may not be at all selfish. A developed individual knows of what he is capable but is often too imprisoned by obligations to others to be useful. The result of this is unfulfilment because a person is not making his optimum return.

Because we are sensitive, we feel bad because we are displeasing people that we love and don’t know how to think about disappointing expectation. But do we really need permission to challenge the idea that we must lay our lives at the altar of pleasing others? Are not lives filled up resentment bitterness and purposeless testimony enough to the fact that we have forgotten something important about self sacrifice, and that it is love, not duty, not lack of courage that gives it its value; that is an act of will, not a default of will.

If we think in terms of energy how can we expect anything that generates negativity (and there is little more toxic than resentment) to serve anyone or anything?

If we don’t have the courage to face up to someone or the stomach to endure the discomfort of causing disappointment then that is as it is, but let us at least call it by its proper name and it is not self-sacrifice.

If self-denial is strengthening you, simplifying your life and filling you with positive emotion then carry on. You are a saint. Saints do exist; they are people walking the path and whose way is that of loving surrender. But if you are not a saint then you had better get real about what lack of assertiveness is costing you. If you are too spiritual to ask for anything or to deny anyone anything but not too spiritual to bitch about the consequences of this then you should at least be aware that you have lost the plot.

Our problem with assertiveness is really a problem of courage and valuation, and the way out the pit is through an understanding of purpose. If we understand our purpose and organise ourselves to meet it, we will not have this dilemma over what is more important and where our responsibilities lie. Living purposefully brings its own clarity and own perspectives. But if we are simply guzzling consumers not wanting to have to think about anything, then it will not be so obvious why our time should be as precious as it is or why we have a responsibility to give back to others the expectation that they are laying on us.

According to St. Luke (Luke 2; 49), the 12-year-old Jesus told his worrying parents quite unapologetically that their anxiety was not his concern because he was about his Father’s business.

Basically, Jesus hissed and we should follow his example. Other people’s expectations and unfulfilment are not our problem and we do them a disservice when we take this responsibility from them.

DK has said that human consciousness can now accommodate three areas of consideration and these three areas give rise to three different kinds of spirituality. There is:

        consideration of self -  generating awareness

        consideration of others - generating love

        consideration of the planet -  understanding purpose

In the third of these the other two are contained.

A person who knows his purpose serves the soul of humanity serves us all because we are all part of the One .

In the Autumn of 2003 The D.K. Foundation will be running residential weekends with the theme Living Purposefully. These weekends will be held in Glastonbury, England. Details will be posted on the web site later this year.

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