The Quest and What Opposes It
The hero of a thousand faces, a thousand journeys, has a quest. His quest has value partly because of the strength of his adversary. Overcoming this obstacle, this denying force, is not easy, but is vital if the hero is to achieve his aim. And the face of the challenger can appear to change nearly every moment.
Any aim attracts an opposing force. To reach for the higher, we must contend with the lower. Before Christ can rise again, he must descend to earth, and even to hell. Before Theseus can escape with the princess Ariadne, he must enter the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur. Only by being willing to descend, to deal with what holds us back, will we qualify to dwell in higher worlds.
What is this lower element within us that rejects our quest, disregards our aim, and provides active resistance? It presents many faces, rendering recognition arduous. To know it for what it is requires acute attention of a psychological nature. We must stay awake to see it, like any hero tasked to stay awake through the night to see who is robbing the golden fruit from the magic tree. How do we stay awake? Strong desire is needed, along with techniques to prolong attention, and outside help.
We each have a specific “chief weakness”—such as fear, vanity, greed, naiveté, or power—which in a state of waking sleep makes many of our decisions. Yet our inner obstacles also include other aspects common to the human condition: love of comfort and security, desire for pleasure and novelty, and a tendency towards absorption in activities that veil our attention, such as overeating, aimlessly watching television or playing with the computer, laughter, and excessive talk.
To see one’s lower self is a first step. A second step is to use attention in structured ways to hold the aim of sustaining a higher state of consciousness. Seductive offers come every few moments to tempt us from our aim, just as the apple was red and bright which lured Snow White to a deathly sleep. How do we resist imagination, or identification with others, with imaginary events, with the past and the future? Work in an esoteric school includes the discovery of one’s weaknesses, habits, and imbalances, in order to apply intentional techniques to prolong attention and to disrupt distractions to being present.
he needs dedication to the practice of remembrance.– Al-Jilani
We can learn to observe an inner obstacle in enough different guises to be able grasp its name and face, just as the princess in the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, by naming him, was able to prevent him from seizing her firstborn child. So we learn to hold presence, by recognizing and freeing ourselves from what defeats it.
To have and to hold the aim to be present is a lifelong quest. But this aim must be felt and tested each moment. What is the temptation of this moment? To awaken we must learn what it is to be present, but not only this: we must learn also to recognize and resist the forces that would keep us asleep.
Rouse the self by the Self;
self-guarded and mindful, O monks,
you shall live happily. – Buddha