Let's look at Adam and Eve. Is this story of our creation in the West a total myth or is there a grain of truth about Paradise? I can tell you this: if Adam and Eve were Chinese we would still be in Paradise - they would have eaten that snake! And what about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - are we in search of something we will never find? "I guess if I want the rainbow, I have to put up with the rain" - wise words attributed to Dolly Parton. The mythical apple was supposed to bring us the knowledge of Good and Evil. I am quite glad Adam and Eve were not Chinese and could not swallow that snake because I now have the opportunity to experience life with its total polarity: the agony and the ecstasy, the rain and the sunshine; I can be mad and have reason - I can truly be alive!
To be passionate about the polarities of life is to live life fully. I came upon the following story while doing some research on the many mystics who have walked on earth. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582) was probably the most famous female Christian mystic. She was a feisty Spanish nun, of Jewish descent and apparently of great physical beauty. She led a reform of the Carmelite convents and monasteries where she called for a return to silent prayer and humility. She was said to be endowed with a very quick wit and a stunning sense of humour. This lovely story about her illustrates the balance of the mystical life: St Teresa was known for her love of partridge and one day was spotted in the kitchen of the convent devouring a whole bird. The nuns were obviously astounded at seeing their Supreme reveling in this gastronomic delight. St Teresa's alleged reply to their exclamations of shock was: "When I fast, I fast; and when I eat partridge, I eat partridge!" Zorba, the Greek, in the wonderful book by Kazantzakis, shows this same passion for life. Passion comes when we are in perfect balance and when we have learnt to stay in the present moment - to enjoy the moment given to us with gusto and relish. Hazrat Inayat Kahn (1882 - 1927), a mystic from India, says that the man who is really happy has discovered the fountain of happiness within his own heart. He says that as long as a person has not found that fountain, nothing will give him real happiness. The Sanskrit term for the soul, Atman, really means happiness or bliss itself. Kahn says it is not that happiness belongs to the soul; it is that the soul itself is happiness. Rumi, another Eastern and Sufi mystic, who was born in Persia and lived in Konya, Turkey (1207 - 1273), says the whole world is inside us. There are "wild forces" within us and that once we have found that love within, we will dance in ecstasy. Rumi (who currently is the most read poet in the United States), as we know, found this love through his Master and beloved friend, Shams of Tabriz. (Most translations of Rumi's poems from Persian to English in the United States are done by Coleman Barks, who was taught by a contemporary Sufi teacher himself.) St John of the Cross (1542 - 1591) shared the same sentiments as Rumi. He wrote in his mystical poem called "Beloved": "I now see my Beloved everywhere".
It is the desire for and eventual union with the Beloved within us that will make our souls dance. We come from the myth of the Lost Paradise, that we were kicked out of Eden and have to live our lives in separation from the Divine. Consequently we unfortunately go and look for Paradise somewhere else, somewhere out there, outside ourselves. Alberto Villoldo, an American psychiatrist, had the following experience while working with the shamans of the Amazon Forest. One day he was told by an old medicine woman to walk into the forest. As soon as he stepped into the forest, the birds and the insects stopped singing. There was a dead silence! The medicine woman shouted after him and said that this silence was because he believed that we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and therefore feel separated from God and nature. Alberto thought he would make a plan; he decided to cover himself with the fat of a boa constrictor: maybe now the forest animals and insects would think that it was a snake sailing in. No luck! As he walked back in again there was just a dead silence. He said it took him ten years of walking into the forest before he could do so and the birds and insects kept on singing. It took him that long before he finally learnt to feel at one with nature - to feel connected with all that is.
Once, when on holiday in our beach house in Hermanus - it was a late afternoon in July (the middle of winter in South Africa) - I saw a beautiful and perfect rainbow over Voelklip. The one end of the rainbow sprouted from the green mountain and the other end was dangling in the sea over Walker Bay, where a couple of whales were playing in the water. At that moment I saw the following in this rainbow: the mountainside of the rainbow is the self - it is solid and unchangeable (we are stuck with ourselves!) and the other end of the rainbow in the sea is our relationship with others; it is more changeable and mobile - some people drift in and out of our lives, some stay for a lifetime, others just for a season. The seaside of the rainbow can also be the stormy side, as it is in the ocean - and it is through our trials and tribulations with others that we really grow and become wiser. The beauty of the connecting rainbow and its seven vivid colours is the bridge between us and others, signifying the presence of the eternal Divinity in each of us - the Light that is within each of us. The Divine is that bridge that connects us with others and with ourselves - each one of us carries the Light within ourselves.
When we are in love with beauty and we realize God is the source of everything - of our arms moving, of our legs walking, then we can start living life with the balance of the saints. Then we have vanquished the snake and have allowed the Divine to come to the shores of our soul. Then Atman, our soul, will experience that bliss that all the mystics talk about. St John was 25 when he met St Teresa of Avila. She was then in her fifties and her wonderful spiritual power had a great transformational effect on him. These two saints were said to really love one another (in the purest sense) and when she was in conversation with John of the Cross, she was known to levitate - she would spontaneously go up in the air. St Teresa died when she was 67, after a year of imprisonment - the church persecuted her for her liberating ideas. A year after her death some of her disciples felt that she would like to have been buried in Avila, where she was born, rather than in Alba de Tormes. They had her body exhumed and although it was a year after her death, her body was found to be completely intact and it emitted a wonderful fragrance. This was one of the reasons why, despite her clash with the traditional church, she was decreed a saint.
If we dig hard enough for that pot of gold we will find it. But we must look for that spark within ourselves, not under the arch of the rainbow. If we find the gold before the end of our life journey, we have found everlasting life. Huang Po, who died in 850AD, was a mystic and enlightened Zen master from China who said enlightenment would come in a flash. This is actually the only real death we experience, the death of the self and the surrendering to the Source. So the death of self is the birth of bliss. Although Woody Allen said "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens", we had better be present at this momentous occasion!
Eat the apple, forget about the snake. Live with zest and a touch of madness every day. Do something wild and get in touch with your real self; take a few minutes (or hours) every day to escape the dull routine of daily disciplined living. Go and dance naked in your back yard in the light of the full moon with the wet grass under your bare feet. Live like Zorba: "Man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and be free." Live life, even if one gets the rain. The rain, inevitably, is the source of that beautiful rainbow. Do the fasting but bring in the feast as well, show discipline but bring in a touch of wildness, get to action but also enjoy contemplation and solitude. Then we can truly live in Paradise even though the snake is still amongst us! Tessa Bielecki, Carmelite nun and lecturer in Christian mysticism at Colorado University, says that the very heart of mysticism (and each one of us can be a mystic) lies in "the dynamic interplay of the seemingly opposing polar forces; living the agony and the ecstasy, the masculine and the feminine, the fasting and the feasting. Life is not either or, it is both AND".
I leave you with this beautiful poem by St Teresa called "Laughter came from every brick". May you experience Paradise in all its fullness here and now; dance with the snake (which is, most fortunately, not Chinese) and eat the whole chicken in one shot!
Laughter came from every brick
Just these two words He spoke changed my life,
What a burden I thought I was to carry - a crucifix, as did He.
Love once said to me "I know a song, would you like to hear it?"
And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky.
After a night of prayer, He changed my life when He sang
- Ladinsky, Daniel. 2002. Love Poems from God.
- Kahn, Hazrat Inayat. 1989. The Alchemy of Happiness.
- Po, Huang. 1958. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po - translated by John Blofeld.
- Bielecki, Tessa. 2006. Wild at Heart - Radical Teachings of the Christian Mystics. 6 CD's with Sounds True.
- Rumi - Poet of the Heart. Consciousness Movie.
This article was published in Odyssey magazine under the title "Hidden Meanings" in the October/November 2007 issue, pg 14 - 15, as well as in Planet Lightworker, an American Mind Body Spirit e-magazine, December 2008 issue (see www.planetlightworker.com) and was chosen as the plw pick of the month.