Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making the Trade

Suppose that you grew up using a form of money which you assumed was actually worth something. You made that assumption because it allowed you to purchase things which brought you some tangible forms of comfort and sustenance. But over time these forms no longer nurtured you and you wanted a deeper level of meaning in your life. And then you learned that it might be possible to get what you desired BUT in order to do that you’d be required to give up everything you had acquired and throw away all of the money you possessed. At that point you’d be faced with the mother of all choices—relinquish everything you possessed (which was real and tangible but no longer valued) and leap into the void of uncertainty on the bet that there would actually be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Tough choice and reflective of the adage about the value of a bird in hand being worth two in the bush. But what you had no way of knowing at that juncture was that your original assumption had been wrong—That your means of exchange (the money you possessed) was actually only worth what no longer satisfied you. But there it was, tangibly in your hand and in your bank account, ready for a continuing set of purchases which were no longer fulfilling.

This scenario is not an unusual one. In fact it is so common that Aesop wrote a fable (The Dog in the manger) about it which characterizes the moral as “People often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves.” The question is, Why do we hang onto anything that doesn’t fulfill us? And why are you so unwilling to risk the trade of getting rid of meaningless stuff in order to gain something which promises greater reward? Is it a matter of choosing the devil we know vs. the one we don’t know? Perhaps it is as simple as that.

There is a Zen story about a man who was an expert on dragons. He knew everything there was to know about dragons. In fact he was so zealous in his dragon passion that he had filled his entire house with dragon paraphernalia. Everyone who wanted to know about dragons beat a path to his door. And then one day someone else came to his door—a real dragon and the man was so shocked that he died on the spot! This is a parable which illustrates the difference between our intellectual understanding of enlightenment versus the actual experience. We all value the intellectual means of exchange, thinking it will bring us meaning, but what we discover in the process of living is that our ideas don’t fill our deepest desires for fulfillment. For that we must relinquish thoughts and emotions (e.g. lose our minds)—throw it all away, and leap into the void of uncertainty.

On the side of the river of life with which we are familiar there is the appearance of certainty (but no fulfillment) but to cross over to fulfillment means leaving certainty behind: Risking all and going for broke. For many it seems like a risk too big to take and it does of course require faith that you’ll not only survive the trip but come out more prosperous on the other side. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not you’re willing to settle for what life brings your way. If that is fulfilling then there is no need to make a trade. It all comes down to our hopes for fulfillment.
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