The promise of everything. This is the ghost which haunts the mind of the modern man and modern woman. Yet as is the case with most hauntings, upon investigation substance gives way to emptiness. “You can have it all!” promises the media, memes, blogs, and motivational speakers. But is this an honest statement? The modern shibboleth of “progress” is built upon this illusion of everything. If we just keep on moving forward with dedication and hope, we can “have it all.” Anyone who has accomplished a substantial goal in life knows this is not the case, “having it all” is a powerful and dangerous illusion. To achieve something new or to initiate any type of radical transformation requires a sober examination of the ideas of Eros and Thanatos, life and death.
The creative process of birth / death is a strong feral undercurrent flowing deep within the days, hours and minutes of any process of transformation or goal obtainment. Any systematic exploration of reaching new heights or new goals requires a new birth; this is the carrot on the stick which fuels the majority of pilgrims on the path. However this cannot be separated from the process of death, perhaps the most feared and avoided presence in the modern mind!
Individuals become obsessed with acquisition and possession treading water in an interminable quest to fill the empty void which whispers to them daily in their dreams and quiet moments. This is one of the reasons for the short attention spans of the modern mind, it has to be constantly stimulated or it is forced to face its transience and emptiness. Sleep disturbances are also often rooted in this existential dread as the cessation of the waking state is a unique type of “death;” a part of us dies each night as we drift off into the void of sleep. To sink into sleep peacefully signifies a deeper integrative state of awareness which accepts the inevitable sloughing off of the layers of the personality which adumbrates a resonance of death.
Therefore we must accept the fact that as we move closer and closer to the actualization of a goal, the ambient presence of death also moves closer and closer in an intimate embrace. The words of Hesse evoke this idea in his poem “Country Cemetery”:
Among crosses hung with ivy, gentle sunlight, fragrance, and the humming of bees. Blessed ones, who lie sheltered, nestled against the heart of the good earth. Blessed, who have come home, gentle and nameless, to rest in the mother’s lap. But listen, from the hives and blossoms longing for life sings to me. Out of the tangled roots of dreams the long dead being breaks into the light,
But listen, from the hives and blossoms longing for life sings to me. Out of the tangled roots of dreams the long dead being breaks into the light,The ruins of life, darkly buried, transform themselves and demand the present, and the queenly Earth-Mother shudders in the effort of birth.
The ruins of life, darkly buried, transform themselves and demand the present, and the queenly Earth-Mother shudders in the effort of birth.The sweet treasure of peace in the hollowed grave rocks gently as a dream in the night.
The sweet treasure of peace in the hollowed grave rocks gently as a dream in the night.The dream of death is only the dark smoke under which the fires of life are burning.”
The dream of death is only the dark smoke under which the fires of life are burning.
The pathway towards achievement is cross-pollinated with Eros and Thanatos, morphing into one another in subtle shades of Soul radiance. But no achievement is obtained without a sacrifice. This is the sobering truth which eviscerates the modern myth of “having it all”; something must die for something to be born, “jivo jivasya jivanam”: life feeds off life. I clearly remember all of the sacrifices I have offered into the fire of my life in order to achieve goals which initiated me into the landscape of the Soul.
During my seemingly endless years of academic medical studies, my life was consumed with the study of processes of disease and the physical body with little to no free time for a “social life”, during my competitive years of Ironman distance triathlon competitions, my entire life was scheduled around training, with little to no time for “hanging out”, and pursuing a path of radical spiritual praxis and writing, my life must be organized in a specific manner in order to create an environment conducive for transformation and manifestation, an environment which share almost no characteristics with the status quo of the modern world. However, these sacrifices are not draining or depressing. I achieved extremely fulfilling and transformative experiences via these sacrifices; the sacrifices literally created an alembic for my personal transformation. I was not sad about “missing out” on frivolous social activities or free time.
Yet the modern mindset coaxes the individual to “not settle” and “have it all.” But this is an empty illusion which if pursued only leads to a downward spiral into a mechanistic existence empty of a Soul infused Elan Vital. This empty mechanistic shell resembles the other obsession of the modern mind: technology. The God of technology is marketed and sold as a priceless device which we must obtain at all costs in order to maximize our time and “have it all.” Zombified individuals stand in line for days to purchase the newest handheld tech device yet claim to not have enough time for one to one social interaction. There is no need to drive to your local video store to rent a movie, now you can literally sit on the couch and use the magical technology to control the world of entertainment “saving time.”
But has this made us accomplish more goals? Has this technology made us stronger and more focused to achieve higher goals? I say no.
In the quest to avoid having to sacrifice anything we have in reality sacrificed the ultimate: our humanity. We have turned the miracles of human interaction and the magic of nature into boring unsatisfying experiences. Individuals are more likely meet via a computer than in daily interactions and more often than not view nature via a cell phone screen! This is echoed powerfully in the words of Nisargadatta:
People keep busy because they find it difficult to bear their own consciousness. They look for various forms of entertainment to escape from themselves. The greatest challenge lies in looking at oneself—by being ‘alone’ with oneself.
The reality of sacrifice is one which cannot be ignored or hidden despite the best conscious or unconscious attempts of humanity. To achieve anything worth achieving, one must accept the reality of the sacrifice. This sacrifice could be of time, of money, of friends, a relationship, or material comforts. A sword is formed by heat and adversity not comfort and safety and this metaphor is aptly represented in the idea of the sacrifice. We must cherish the burning image of the sacrifice and learn to clear away things in our lives which prevent us from achieving higher goals regardless of how comfortable they make mundane life! Growth is more a process of reduction and purification than of acquisition!
This is one of the myths of “progress”, that we can have an unending vector of growth without any loss, like an economic investment. Yet in reality, progress demands sacrifice and loss not safety. As we refine and transform ourselves we leave behind old memories and old beliefs which were limitations as much as personality characteristics.
This is the essence of training martial arts, a slow methodical sloughing off of the non-essentials; this is the essence of yoga, a slow methodical deconditioning of the mind to reveal the image of the Soul mirrored in the sky of mind. Before we fool ourselves into thinking we have arrived at the goal and no longer need to offer a sacrifice, we must always remind ourselves that life is sustained by sacrifice; sacrifice is the pathway to the alchemical womb of the Soul.
Therefore do not fear sacrifice! Rather become comfortable with it, be eager to feel the heat of the flames of sacrifice melting away faults and weaknesses which must be left behind if we wish to walk
the path of the warrior or the hero.
Do not be consumed by capitalist delusions of “having it all” but rather seek to have only the eternal, the true priceless possession of a Soul-infused life. When this is realized, the burning flames of the sacrifice are not feared as a funeral pyre but rather become a beacon light for true eternal journeys we must undertake in this life: our birth, our growth, and eventually our death.