Sunday, August 05, 2007

Wonderful Servants - Terrible Masters

There were two lines in the book The Journeys of Socrates that struck me deeply – “Fear is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master,” and “You cannot kill darkness with more darkness, only light can banish the shadows from this world.” These words were spoken by the mentor of “Socrates”, a man who became known as the mysterious old mentor to Dan Millman in his book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

I met Dan recently for an interview and there was an immediate recognition between him, my husband and myself. We felt immediately at home in his home and in his company and he told us the same. Perhaps we were all old warriors of one sort of another in another time. As we chatted casually after the interview I asked him which of his books he felt I would most enjoy, knowing that I would only have time for one or two more. If you could see the stacks of books awaiting my attention you would understand!

He suggested that I might like The Journeys of Socrates, as I had asked him questions about the character and identity of the mysterious man featured in his original book and recently played by Nick Nolte in the film Peaceful Warrior. He also said he felt a special affinity for this book because, aside from sharing a remarkable story, this was, he felt, his best work in a literary sense. Having finished the book, I couldn’t agree more.

Being a journalist, I asked how much of what I would be reading is fact and he said that, while it is called fiction and written in that style, it is basically the journey of his old mentor, augmented by some teachings from later mentors. No, the old man didn’t simply appear on rooftops, but he was profoundly spiritually developed and aware and, indeed, there was an air of great mystery around him. And, yes, Socrates did enter his life at at gas station at 3:00 a.m.

Having experienced a life of harshness beyond what any of us can imagine, the journey of Socrates’ life brought up some observations about the contrasting softness of our modern western lives. In particular, it brought home the subject of Preferences.

I am a person with strong preferences. This does not mean that I’m necessarily inflexible on the large matters, but I can be quite inflexible in small ways. Such as I like my tea just so and will quietly “fix” it when someone makes it not to my liking. No surprise that I prefer to make the tea for everyone! But these small preferences may contribute to making us ill as a culture.

Socrates, whose birth name was Sergei Ivanov, led a life without the luxury of preferences. Without family, he was thrown into a military school at a young age in Tsarist Russia and knew little of love and tenderness. When the bit of love he knew was taken from him his only preference was revenge. When revenge had taken over his life, a mentor helped him find truth and love. In such a life there is little room for small preferences. In the book, Socrates/Ivan’s life became a miracle of truth seeking and skill beyond what virtually any of us will experience. It’s a life few, if any, of us would choose. Yet….

Perhaps it’s because so many people walking the face of this earth are not committed to living in any genuine harmony with their own lives or with their own true purpose that our little preferences have taken over our consciousness. Whether it’s over-eating, over-drinking, watching too much entertainment, even working-out, dancing or reading, the question is: When do we begin doing what NEEDS to be done to refine our mental, physical and spiritual refinement? Perhaps it’s the avoidance of that question that creates the mass mantra “Is that all there is?”

Looking at this, it occurred to me that it might be a good exercise to make a decision each day to not follow my small preferences, but, in fact, do the opposite of what I’m inclined to do and see where that would take me. Interestingly, it took me to writing this, rather than taking a day to play. Before I go any further, I have nothing at all against playing, in fact, I think human beings could use much more genuine playtime. But, because it’s a Sunday, and I’m programmed to drop out on that day of the week, I was ignoring an inner voice to write. So I chose to write today (part of my life’s true purpose), which takes me back to the two statements in the book with which I began this blog:

“Fear is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master?” How true! In the evolving consciousness movement there is a cry to move away of fear, which few people actually accomplish, leading us to a sense of failure of not having mastery over our own emotions. First, fear is simply information. As the quote says, this information is a wonderful servant to tell us where our vulnerabilities lie, or where our truth is or is not. To immediately react out of our past programming makes fear our terrible master. But to acknowledge it and CHOOSE how to best respond is how we learn to make better choices. Responding to fear appropriately is one of the paths to refinement on all levels.

Next, “You cannot kill darkness with more darkness….”

We know empirically that this is true. Darkness draws more darkness just as light draws more light. But what about the dance between light and dark as so many of our interviewees speak of? Again, acknowledging the darkness that exists is often the catalyst to taking our actions into the light. We have messages on our site that are frightening indeed. But they aren’t there to frighten you, simply to see that now, more than ever, it’s time to take up the swords of light. It can show itself as a loving or kind gesture to another human being who is suffering or whom we may have difficulty with, or it can come in a more aggressive form such as to educate oneself about the wisest options in the face of darkness. No matter, darkness, just as fear, can serve to propel us into a higher course of inquiry and action – into the light. Both are useful servants, both are terrible masters.

With that I will leave to go have some fun today. It’s sunny and the wind is blowing through the fruit trees, the water is rippling, a nice Russian man is installing some lovely flooring in our new home upstairs and I want to make a pear and grape upside-down cake for some girlfriends who are coming to visit and will want nothing to do with this type of thought I’ve just written of! It’s just between you and me.