We all come from the great, big, universal, invisible (to our eyes), eternal self. We are a part of it. Inside and outside, it is there all around us.
Then, when we are born, we start a journey which takes us over a bridge to this shiny city called ‘normal life’. On the bridge, we acquire a family, a name, a society, an upbringing and an education which programmes us for a life in the city, a religion or philosophical ideas or spiritual ideas, tools to earn money, emotions, physical desires including the desire to love and to have sex and to get married and have children, the need for companionship and friends, the desire to compete and win, the desire to have power and to control, the fear of death and the consequential desire to accumulate wealth and protect ourselves, moral and ethical principles, a hunger for art and entertainment and the other normal stuff needed in the shiny city.
By the time we reach the city, we have become a new person, we have acquired a personality, an ego. This ego interacts and competes with other egos in the city and joins the rat race that ends only when the physical body disintegrates.
That is one way of life and almost everyone who has ever been born has lived this kind of life and will live this kind of life.
Then, there are some odd balls, ‘lunatics’, ‘mad’ men and women (who become the great seers, wisdom teachers, prophets, shamans and mystics) who realize what has happened, who do not want to be part of the rat race, who see the shiny city as worthless, who see that the bridge is still there and who start the journey back home. They start walking back to the other side, the side from where we all came. On the bridge, they start letting go of all the stuff that they had acquired going towards the shiny city, all the stuff that makes up the ego. No one can go back without letting go of all the stuff. Everything has to be left behind. Naked and alone is how one comes from the eternal and naked and alone is how one has to go back.
By the time they cross over, they have forsaken everything. On the other side is the other city, the one that everyone wants to go to at the end of life, but no one wants to go there right now. Some call it heaven or the Garden of Eden or the Kingdom of God or the eternal world or the abode of the divine. Others call it home. Sometimes I call it the Source.
Neither of these two approaches to life (living in the shiny city or heading back home) can be judged as right or wrong. It is a matter of personal choice.
The shiny city is best for:
- (first and foremost) running the rat race and earning money that is to be spent at our sole discretion; without money, we are worthless in the shiny city; money / material wealth is the engine that drives the shiny city;
- indulging in the normal pleasures and addictions and the ownership of property;
- living life as a give-n-take; everything, every relationship, is commercial, including the one with God; I scratch your back and you scratch mine; I will worship you and you will give me such-and-such blessings;
- getting married and having a small family to look after (all the rest of the world can do the same and take care of itself);
- out-sourcing the religious / spiritual side of things to the subject-matter experts (the Church / the Mosque / the Synagogue / the Temple);
- out-sourcing the moral and ethical side of things to the law-makers who can decide the limits on individual behaviour;
- developing and expanding the personal circle of influence and control (over the family and the community); and
- those for whom living the life of the ego is OK; the ego creates images of division, attachment to fears and pleasures and encourages accumulation of material wealth. And there is nothing wrong with any of that. It is just a way of life.
On the other hand, returning home or returning to the Source is best for:
- those who fail to develop (or develop and then lose) an interest in the rat race and the pleasures of the shiny city;
- those who want to trace the steps back home and meet the divine, the eternal, the creator themselves (rather than out-sourcing to experts) and who want to experience first hand where we came from;
- those who feel that there might be a oneness of everyone and everything beneath the perception of differences and separateness and for those who feel that we might all be members of one family and have forgotten how we are related to each other;
- those who want to see the world divided by the ego re-integrated into oneness;
- those who do not want to compete and win over others, but who want to hold hands with others and become one with everyone;
- those who want love to determine human behaviour rather than laws and punishments;
- those who want to experience aloneness, silence and stillness; that is what we will find in the other city; that aloneness, silence and stillness is where we came from and in it we come across our own eternal / universal self; we meet ourselves; for some great teachers and mad men and women, all the combined wealth of the shiny city is not worth a single moment of this silence and stillness; they were prepared to (and some actually did) give up their lives to experience it; it is another world which those running the rat race will not understand; it is not for everyone, hence, the failure of the greatest of the sages, mystics and spiritual teachers to transform the world permanently.
These two ways of life go in opposite directions. Neither is wrong or right. It will be a fallacy to argue that one is better than another.
What, then, is this bridge that we are talking about?
The metaphor of the bridge refers to, on the one hand, what happens between our birth and the development of the ego and, on the other hand, it can also refer to what happens if someone wakes up to the reality of the ego and starts walking home. In one direction, we accumulate and cover ourselves up with layers and layers of division, images and attachments. In the other direction, we start letting go of all covers, images and attachments and we end up naked and alone. Naked, because we no longer cover ourselves up with our name, our family, our possessions, our emotions, our religion or spirituality, our attachments and so on and so forth. Alone, because we discover the oneness of everyone and everything. Everyone becomes a part of me. Everyone is me. And if everyone is me, then how can there be anyone else? That is the meaning of alone. It is not being alone when others exist, It is being alone because there is no one else. There are no others. There is only The One. I am The One.
So, the bridge is a process… a transformative process.
Whether we decide to go towards the shiny city or towards the Garden of Eden depends on how we perceive the world and how we perceive the world depends upon how the play of life (leela, as some have called it) has brought us up! I don’t see how anyone could be blamed for choosing either option.
Lastly, no matter what option we choose, my understanding is that we all come from the Source and we all return to it. Some – the few odd ones who have no interest in the shiny city – decide to return earlier and meet the Creator before the physical body disintegrates, that’s all! It is in these odd ones that the eternal meets the temporal, the universal meets the individual and the Creator meets the creation. As Rumi would have said it, the lover meets the beloved and the two become one!