When I was a kid, my parents took me to the circus twice. And each time, I was terrified.
I was so worried that the trapeze artists would screw up and fall to their death. But even more frightening was the lion “tamer” – the man who stood in a lion cage with nothing but a whip – attempting to avoid being mauled by a ferocious lion.
A whip and a small wooden chair.
What use could such a silly chair serve in self-defense against such a beast?
Actually, a lot.
I’m addicted to thinking.
And, my thoughts have the power to alter my entire worldview.
When I was in high-school, I was teased quite a bit for being small, prejudiced against for being Jewish, and ridiculed for being smart.
And so I resented all three of those “traits” about myself.
But not only did I dislike those qualities, I accepted the harassment. All I could think about for much of those four years was my insignificance. I was so shy and withdrawn that I rarely went to school functions for fear of being identified and called out.
And then I went to college and experienced the exact opposite.
Aurora Leigh is an epic poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It tells the story of two heroines, Aurora and Marian Erle, whose deeply bonded friendship and coarsely intersecting lives captivate readers. Many critics consider Aurora Leigh to be one of the greatest poems ever written.
The nine-book novel/poem contains this remarkable stanza which has been commented upon by scholars for nearly two-hundred years:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
Earth is crammed with heaven, only we don’t see it.
From the moment we wake up in the morning until our head touches the pillow at night, we see the daily drama of our lives playing out in exquisite detail.
Some things might have gone well: people agreed with us, breaks went our way, we were able to get certain things accomplished. Other things perhaps not so well: certain people were abusive or annoying, our body is ailing, breaks definitely went against us.
When I was growing up, a popular song on the radio was Don’t Bring Me Down by the Electric Light Orchestra. The lyrics described a guy who was frustrated with a woman for the various things she did and didn’t do.
You got me running going out of my mind
You got me thinking that I’m wasting my time
Don’t bring me down
No, no, no, no no
I’ll tell you once more, before I get off the floor
Don’t bring me down
It’s a catchy song – if you know it, you’re probably singing it to yourself right now – and ended up being ELO’s biggest hit.
That song title could also be our collective mantra for how we want others to treat us.
My life is important, my time is precious, my feelings matter. So, please treat me nicely, and most importantly, don’t bring me down.
That’s our message to others around us and the world at large.
And if others – and the world – heeded our decree, our lives would be much more peaceful.
There’s just one little catch.
The premise is completely wrong.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher who spent many years traveling the world and speaking on the nature of mind. While his teachings touched many lives, he often ironically suggested to his followers that they shouldn’t be wasting their time listening to spiritual talks.
Krishnamurti believed that any person or religion that claimed to be the way should be avoided. In fact, he asserted “truth is a pathless land”. Krishnamurti tells the story of the Devil and a friend walking down the street. Ahead of them they see a man bend over and pick something off the ground, examine it, and then put it in his pocket. The friend asks the Devil what it was that the man picked up. The Devil tells him, “It was a piece of Truth.” To which the friend replies, “That can’t be good business for you then.” The Devil replies, “Oh no, quite the contrary. I’m going to let him organize it.”
Once you try to “organize” truth – which is what you get with any religion, guru, or anointed guide – then you’ve lost it.