Saturday, August 16, 2008
Free Range Spirituality
In the organic food business, they sell us a product (not an animal, mind you, to them it's a product) called a "free range" chicken.
The image, as Michael Pollan explains in his excellent book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," is a marketing ploy that conjures happy chickens ranging free and unconstrained across the plains, pecking at wild grain and seed in the way that nature always meant.
Nothing, unfortunately, could be further from the truth. The average American "free range" chicken--unlike the Chinese chickens in the picture above -- lives out its life densely packed into a shed with many thousands of other chickens. The only difference that makes it "free range" is that the shed has a small open door, so that if the chicken wants to go out, it can.
All the food and security, however, is in the shed. The chicken doesn't want to go out-why the hell should it, when everything it needs is right there?
Hence, our "free range" chicken is raised, well, exactly like ordinary "factory farm" chickens, the only difference being that their chicken slum has an aperture.
When we enter a spiritual work, we all tend to end up as free range disciples. No matter what form we aspire or ascribe to, we believe that it's the one that really provides "freedom"-whatever we think that is.
We sign on to the agenda and then swiftly settle down with our fellow spiritual "chickens," content to be fed the rich fattening "grain," or ideas, with the rest of the flock. Yes, there may be a door over there with light coming in and some green grass showing, but why should we risk leaving? After all, all our pals--and all the goodies--are here in the shed.
It's safe here, guys.
If we want to truly experience our life, however, we've got to leave the shed. The shelter of forms and the safety of communities in "harmonious" agreement become pacifiers--distractions that fatten us up until the butcher comes along.
It's only when we realize that we have to take our work directly out of the orderly, comforting, and reassuring confines of the spiritual coop and into the dangerous, messy conditions of actual free-range life that we can acquire the opportunity to be come REAL chickens.
This parable bears a resemblance to Gurdjieff's Sufi tale of the magician's sheep-an illustration of which is, as some readers know, the frontspiece for doremishock.com.
So "work in life" becomes paramount. Not just in the external, abstract, and parabolic, but also in the most concrete inner sense. It pays to examine our "free range ideas"- the ideas, or associative thought patterns we have, which bogusly preserve the appearance of free and unfettered self-observation and awareness, but which actually just serve to preserve the illusion that we are outside under blue skies, flexing our wings and pecking at seed.
Now, here is the trick of the parable, which is just like free range chickens. It's easy to be outside under blue skies. Remember, the magician who hypnotized his sheep did so so that he wouldn't have to fence them in. Just like the "free range" chickens, they were free to leave any time. The only thing that prevented it was their hypnosis.
Above all, our habituality preserves our hypnotic illusions. So breaking the spell, even in a simple and temporary way, can be useful.
A rich ambrosia of inner and outer experience lies just outside the boundaries we paint for ourselves. And it doesn't take much effort to discover it.
But you gotta go out the door first.
And maybe that is why Gurdjieff kept driving his "disciples" away from him.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.