Spiritual Issues of our Time: 2
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.
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.
has happened to you?’ said the old man.
did what you said,’ the snake replied, ‘I gave up frightening people
and this is what they have done to me.’
said the sage, ‘I forbade you to bite anymore; I did not say that you
could not hiss.’
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
we don’t pull ourselves up on it no one else will.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: