“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.” – Joseph Campbell
Our egos are funny things. They are the clothing that we begin to accumulate from the moment we are born to any given moment in time. An ego can be viewed as the sum total of our experience, habits, fears, and desires. The ego is the mind that buys into the myth of separation. It is who we think we are. Identity is the name of the ego’s game.
Part of the process of growing up is coming to know one’s self. We spend our childhoods being told exactly who we are, whether that is by our parents, teachers, or society. We also are told about some “realities” in the world. First, there is not enough to go around, so you better hoard your treasure. There are winners and losers. Better and worse people. We are little boys with a talent at sports, a desire to keep things clean, and decent marks in school. Or we are little girls with big brains, beautiful singing voices, and social skills that leave things to be desired.
That is what we are told, anyway.
You might have heard the old saying, ‘mind makes a great servant but a terrible master.’ What does that even mean? Doesn’t our mind rule the roost, in terms of what we experience? I suppose that one way to look at it is that the ego, the trappings of identity, the thing that points to the world and views it as separate from itself – that is the thing that makes a terrible overseer. The other thing, the deeper one that loves unconditionally, the heart – that is the true lady of the land.
But how do we get from our heads to our hearts?
The mantle of the seeker is taken up by those of us that are simply unsatisfied with the notions we have been given. It is a feeling of something missing. We tell ourselves that there must be something more to life. It is as if there is a hole somewhere within. One that needs to be filled with something. An understanding greater than the simple answers we receive as part of the conditioning into which we are born. More lasting than scrambling after temporary pleasures.
As part of the search, we might try new things. People fly off to different locales in search of an answer (guilty). Or they might try a different career path, certain that the place from which they serve the community is somehow deficient. Or they might leave a relationship that has become stale, thinking that perhaps a different partner holds the answer.
In my experience, it seems we have to make our mistakes and come to the end of our journeys. In doing so, many of us find what is sought. We all have our own version of an ultimate answer. It is deeply personal, something that should not be discussed in too much detail, but which answer has a similar effect, no matter who you are. We decide that the previous answers, the ones that saw us escape from the community and serve ourselves alone, were definitely not the right ones. We generally begin to put selfishness aside for the betterment of those around us.
In a word, our answers have the character of sacrifice.
We each grow up learning that we have a defined character which is mostly unchangeable, with all of our fears and desires etched deep in our minds, and we are to live out our lives beholden to these whims until the day of our death. In my experience, that is untrue. There is a way out. And it involves looking deeper, into the nature of reality and seeing the unity beneath all of it. But the part of us that believes in separation needs to be let go, to die, in a metaphorical way.
Cue mythology. Mythology is the one of the oldest ways of transmitting wisdom: knowledge born from experience. One of my favourite things about mythology is that it is not meant to be taken literally. Whether we are talking about Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu, or even Christian traditions, the motifs that are woven into the fables and parables are there to teach humanity about life. They are best understood as metaphor. And in many of these stories life and death are inextricably linked. There are consistently sacrifices of life to the gods or God in one way or another. And like the dawn breaking after a long night, stories of rebirth and resurrection follow these sacrifices. New life in the land of abundance, of milk and honey, of the eternal reward.
If living a life of unity is indeed the experience of living which we are all seeking, a part of us does need to die in order for us to proceed with our lives in a community-oriented manner. The person who sees only themselves as important is a relic of younger days. But this selfish aspect of personhood does not die without active participation from us. We have to make a bet on our Selves. And the stakes always seem to be extremely high.
Is it not true that in art, right before the hero triumphs, all would seem to be on the verge of ultimate dissolution?
I suppose this is, again, getting into ground that is deeply personal and different for everyone. Suffice it to say that our inner child, not the one suffused with wonder and who is eternal, but the one who has been told what life is, instead of experiencing it for themselves, needs to be thanked for their service and left behind.
And it hurts. It would not be a sacrifice if we did not feel that we were giving something up. Putting away childish things blows, dude! Or would seem to, at first. What we are giving up is our comfort zones. On its face, it is more comfortable to leave the kitchen a mess and spend all of our free time playing video games or watching Netflix. It is more comfortable to leave our work undone and go have a drink with our friends. It is more comfortable to stay on the shore instead of diving into the waters of life.
The problem with the life of comfort is that it is suffocating. We would rather not deal with our issues, the ones that we have viewed as insurmountable since we were children. Nietzche spoke about the camel, lion and dragon. When we are kids, the world piles notions of what life is onto us. We eventually learn to carry the burden as the camel, and then we shrug it off in dissatisfaction and become the lion, strong enough to face the world but still beholden to the dragon that rules the land. To kill the dragon, the beast with the scales that say “thou shalt,” as in, thou shalt be quiet and do what thou are told (by our egos), we need to sacrifice all that we thought that we were and become who We are.
When I was younger, I thought this meant outright rebellion against the world. I thought it meant packing up and moving to some place where I would not have to deal with my problems (hello again, travel bug). But that is not the case at all. We are destined to be happy exactly where we are. We don’t need to go anywhere.
This understanding is one that every character in the Yoga Trilogy realizes in one way or another. Andrew, Kathryn, and Simon are the stars of the show in the first two books, but the third book, the Yoga of Connection, shows how the threads of community can lift us all together, especially when the world seems hopeless. A rising tide buoys all ships. And the best part of it all? We come to be fed by life in ways that we would never have thought possible in our old world of scarcity.
But to get there, we have got to sacrifice all that we thought was important. It turns out that the only things we are surrendering are our fears. Fear of failure, fear of missing out, fear of what other people will think, fear of what might happen if we leave things at good enough instead of obsessing over perfect. It is too easy to see the world as a great monster ready to swallow us up, instead of its true nature as a community of equals here to love one another. The children, the ones that live in our skulls, the unhappy wretches who slink around in dark places need to go.
Let’s throw them to the dragon’s maw and see ourselves emerge unscathed as people content with who We are.
The Yoga Trilogy is a series of books that deals with the human condition. It does so within the framework of fantasy and mythology, but I am doing my best to make it something relatable to every person with a beating heart. If you are interested, I would ask that you consider purchasing a copy of the books when they are available for sale!