THE INNER JOURNEY: CAN YOU RUN WITH THE BULLS?
Dr Sibis Mouton
In 1992 I was part of the festivities in the small Spanish town of Pamplona. Every year adventurers from all over the world come to run ahead of a pack of bulls during the week of the festival of St Fermin. At night an infectious spirit of festivity prevails, accompanied by loud music and boisterous dancing. The next morning, however, the town is shrouded in an eerie and respectful silence. Everybody awaits the bang of the rocket which goes off at 8 am to release the bulls from their corals. This is one of the few nights (or rather, days!) when - still absorbing the rhythm of the sumptuous Spanish flamenco music- I looked up to realise that the sun was rising; Juan, my dancing partner at the corner cafe (red scarf still waving around his neck) and I had been dancing all night!
Seconds after 8 am people come running down the streets, screaming and shouting, trying to stay ahead of the bulls. It is a moment of truth, of reality, of living in the now because of physical danger, should you have ill luck and land under the hooves of a stampeding bull. Surely there is a bit of madness involved in this! But a great deal of intense excitement is also present - a surge of the pure adrenalin rush that adventurers love, and to which they can even become addicted! I recently read the profound and wonderful book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and in it I saw a direct similarity between the ability to be brave enough to challenge the bulls (and yourself), and the spiritual ability of being able to focus only on the moment. The author put Jesus' parable of the ten virgins into a completely new perspective. The five virgins who had oil in their lamps were ready for the bridegroom - they were experiencing the NOW; their lights were on: they were living in the moment and therefore could take part in the wedding feast. This is a parallel to the concept we have come to know as enlightenment. It is only when we develop this insight that we are really free and joyful. Clinging to the past, especially clutching to past resentment, makes us miss the beauty and the fullness of the present moment. Equally if we project ourselves into the future too often and live through a whole scenario made up in our minds, we are not ahead of the bulls; we are not living the reality of the current moment. And so we miss out on the excitement, we rob ourselves of the richness of life. Our quest should be to get into a no-mind state more often; to escape from our minds and to experience more moments of satori - a word the Zen masters use to describe a moment of no mind and total presence. Tolle mentions the habit of the Zen masters to stand behind their students and suddenly hit them with a stick. If the students were in the now, they would have felt the presence of the master and would have got out of the way! Jesus said: 'Keep your loin girded and your lamp burning' - in other words, be in the present, in the now!
Another profound book that I have read lately is Love Without End - Jesus Speaks.... In it the author, Glenda Green, also draws a parallel between living in the mind (the ego), in the fictional self out of the present, as opposed to living from the heart (the real self) as this is where true power resides. The dominance of the ego leads us away from the knowledge of our true self, which is really just Love. Jesus said 'A man must give his life in order to find it', referring to the fictional life of the ego that must be done away with in order to find the true self, the deeper reality of who we really are at our core. The separation of the sheep and the goats, a story with which I grew up in the Dutch Reformed church, and the whole idea of the final judgement, are no longer part of my belief system. In Love Without End, Jesus said that He was referring to people living from the ego (goats) as opposed to people who are their true self (sheep); certainly not that He would select some people and not others. Through Divine love and power we can escape our fictional self, our ego, and become the love that we are. Another story that Jesus used to illustrate the difference between the true self and the fictional self, is the one about the two men each of whom builds a house. One builds on the sand, without foundation, so the house is easily swept away in a storm. The other, however, builds his house on a rock - it is strong and will withstand the ravages of time and the elements. This man is in touch with his inner self, his true being. Thus our inner body awareness is an essential part of our being. This awareness allows us to escape from the mind dialogue and to be conscious of our true self, to know who we really are on a heart and soul level.
In seeking out danger to get the adrenalin pumping (as the bull runners do), we are forced to get out of the mind's buzzing into the real moment, into living in reality! For me, that happens when I do scuba diving, a relatively safe adventure activity, but which could be fatal if one is not aware, not paying attention and not staying in the moment. One of my most memorable dives was in Reunion (L'Ile Intense as it is often advertised) in March 1999. I had just won the South African Iron (Wo)Man Triathlon elite title at Van der Bijl Park. The holiday was planned as a reward for all the hard physical training of the previous months and the R12 000 prize money added extra delight to the vacation on the island. This was my first real scuba dive in foreign waters, following my qualifying as a Naui Open Water One Diver at Simon's Town in 1997. The diving took place at St Gilles les Baines on the west coast, 2 hours south from the capital St Denis in the north of the island. In the morning I did a refresher course, where we dived to about 17 m, not far from the harbour. In the afternoon, it was the 'real thing'. We went to Trois Grottes by boat: the instructor from the Diving Company, me and two other men. The instructor could only speak French! At that stage my French was minimal (it is a bit better now), but I did get the drift of what he was saying: 'Il y a des courants ici' - meaning that there were currents that afternoon. I put my natural fear as novice behind me and just decided to trust this French instructor (he was my buddy for the dive). We went down a rope from the boat - I equalized well, my ears were okay - but the water was rough and ever so often I was swept away from the rope. Eventually we got down to a bed of white sand, 20 m deep, and then our real underwater sightseeing started. I enjoyed the spectacular dive tremendously, but only because I made the commitment at the top to simply have faith in my buddy and to trust that he would know what to do if something went wrong. This trust is the same in everyday life: faith makes us strong - faith in a loving and benevolent God. In this faith lies our potential for a powerful life full of overflowing richness. We must believe and be sure that God wants the best for us. If God's enduring presence in our life is real, then this is our rope that gives us great power and courage, even if the surroundings are threatening or unexplored.
Once we align our will with the will of the Divine in our life, we become purposeful and our intentions are clear, as they come from an inner reality that is good and pure. This state will also make our words stronger; there is no uncertainty that can dissipate the power of our word. The Sufi order proclaims that there is only one key to the secret of life and that is sincerity. The word sincere comes from the French word 'sans cire' which literally means 'without wax'. In the olden days when pots were made out of clay and a pot would come out perfect, it was a pot sans cire; in other words there were no cracks to be filled up with wax. The pot was pure and perfect - no disguise was needed. In the same way our words are a revelation of our inner reality, of our inner beliefs. We can only be really powerful when our intentions come from a heart without cracks; from an inner fountain which has no agendas. Only then will our words be sincere. Our true guidance comes from listening to the heart, our inner self. That is the path to right living, of knowing what is the right thing to do. Our minds often deviate towards the material world, but if our hearts are aligned with the will of God, we can truly live in the moment and experience joy. It is then that we see the beauty of everything and everyone around us, when we can appreciate every moment of the miracle we call life.
The inner journey is our time spent in solitude, our time spent in meditation, our time spent in worship: when we see and appreciate the richness and the spontaneity of nature and life around us. It is important that we make time to be 'filled with the divine'. The latter is the literal meaning of the word enthusiasm, coming from the Greek root entheos.
Although I am writing here about the inner journey and the ability to be fully in the present, I don't want the reader to get the impression that the conscious mind must be ignored. In my workshops, I always stress the importance of using our brain power; our thoughts and planning for the future are essential tools to live a balanced life. However, by opening our inner fountain gates - of being in touch with our spiritual self - we can choose the right thoughts, structure the right belief system which will lead to setting the right goals and visions for ourselves. The result of this will be a positive attitude. Our thoughts and mind power are to be used to benefit mankind but also to make sure that our own needs are met first. Here we in the West also fall short, we don't use the mind to its full capacity. I love the scene in the book Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis, where the author describes the ritual that some of the Yogi's in India have. They walk up the mountain with bare torsos, each carrying his own cup. At the top of the mountain, in the freezing cold, they sit down in a circle. They have filled the cups with pure mountain water and each Yogi focuses his mind on his water in front of him. After a while the power of the mind causes the water to boil and they all have tea together!
In the beginning of 2002 I attended another European Festival; the Fete du Citron. This takes place in Menton on the Cote d'Azur, which is along the French Riviera. This is a yearly celebration of the harvesting of the lemons and oranges in this area. For a period of a week in February, locals and tourists can visit an amazing garden decorated according to a fable, a fairytale or a fictional comical character. All the figures and events that portray the theme are made out of lemons and oranges. Previous years were in honour of characters such as Tintin, Lucky Luke or the Fables de la Fontaine. Last year the theme was the famous story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet. This book by C. Collodi (an Italian from Tuscany) is really a great spiritual fable. Collodi, who worked in an important position for the government, was also the editor of a large newspaper. He wrote the book in 1882, after he had retired, and eight years before his death.
Pinocchio had to learn, through all his adventures, not to make insincere promises and above all not to tell lies. When the latter happened, his nose would grow longer and longer, so much so that in one chapter he nearly poked out the eye of his benefactor, the Fairy with the Blue Hair! He also had to learn not to listen to impostors like the Lame Fox and the Blind Cat; all his misfortunes really happened because he did not listen to his better nature. The Talking Cricket, acting as his conscience, gave him good advice: "We must be kind and courteous to others, if we want to find kindness and courtesy in our own days of trouble". The beauty of this fairy tale lies in its fabulous end. Once Pinocchio started to listen to his heart, i.e. his better nature and stopped telling lies, the Fairy with the Blue Hair turned him into a real boy! Geppetto, his father, sums it all up in these simple words on the last page of the book: "When bad boys become good and kind, they have the power of making their homes gay and new with happiness".
In simplicity of words and living, we will experience more of our divine reality. In his international bestseller A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues - The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life, Andre Comte-Sponville states that simplicity is a moral and a spiritual virtue: 'Simplicity means forgetting oneself, forgetting one's pride and fear, tranquillity versus restlessness, joy versus worry, lightness versus seriousness, spontaneity versus reflection, love versus self-love, truth versus pretence'. He proclaims that religion and morality is too complicated for simplicity! In simplicity, we do not hanker for the past, we are not fearful about the future; we simply live in the now. Comte-Sponville says: 'The present is our eternity'.
Begin an inner journey today, where you commit to live the adventurous life, to live in the moment. Run in front of the bulls with chutzpah, and live the magic of life by the seat of your pants! The outside journey, living in the ego, is for the decoration of others; it is without depth. The inner journey is the path to joy and peace. On this path you live your inner reality to honour your Creator in everything you do. In all the sacred moments that encompass your earthly life be aware of the Divine Presence in the great cosmos around us. Let your life become simple and sincere and your life journey will change into a magical moment of eternity. In the words of one of our contemporary Saints, the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta: '...The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow: Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world your best anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.'
TOLLE, E. 1999. The Power of Now. Hodder & Stoughton, London. 191 p.
GREEN, G. 1999. Love Without End - Jesus Speaks... Spiritus Publishing, Sedona, A. Z. 344 p.
COLLODI, C. 1966. The Adventures of Pinocchio. The MacMillan Company, New York. 192 p.
COMTE-SPONVILLE, A. 2002. A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues - The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. William Heinemann, London. 352 p.
"Keeping ahead". Published in 2003 in the Odyssey Magazine, Volume 27 no 2, April/May, 37.
Parts of this article published in 2004 in Kindred Spirit, UK, Jan/Febr, 20 -22 under the title "Lion of Africa"