For just a few minutes, forget everything you’ve ever been told about how and why humans are here.
Not just here on this planet, but in this body and at this particular point in time.
For just these few moments, forget the stories we hear and likely repeat about how we are “supposed” to be (and not be). The ones that tell us how to be in relationship with one another. The ones that lay out what are roles and responsibilities include, what they exclude, and what rewards and punishments might be doled out.
These stories are our creation stories—and we unconsciously enact them simply through the way we live.
They permeate all of our lives, subtly guiding our choices and our “free” thinking from the background.
Recall for a moment Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Jacob and his ladder. Judas’ betrayal. The Buddha meditating under the bodhi tree. Hanuman leaping from the tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka to reunite his master, Lord Rama, with Sita.
Think about dharma, karma, and reincarnation; sin and salvation; hell, heaven, and purgatory.
Think collectively of the (hundreds of) thousands of stories told in the Bible, the Tarot, the Koran, the Mahabharata, the Tao Te Ching.
See them, for just these few minutes, as human expressions of creativity and imagination sparked by, though not inclusive of, the greater truth. See them as limited and imperfect, incapable of grasping the entire scope of life on earth—both human and non-human. See them as silent-but-constant influences on our minds from the moment we are born to our last breath.
These stories whisper to us directly in places of worship and spiritual study, indirectly through the movement of family routine and ritual, subtly in our movies, plays, and books, and covertly in our laws and legal systems. Recognize these stories for their power to shape culture and even control a society and its people—from its richest to its poorest, its most powerful to its least powerful. Notice how these stories touch everything—our compensation scales, our tax laws, our school systems, our employment hierarchies. Observe how even the most curious and awake among us fall to the spell of these stories.
Now, sweep them all aside in one broad stroke. I’m not suggesting that they are bad or wrong. I’m just suggesting a brief practice of pretending we’ve never heard of them.
This isn’t that crazy of an exercise—before knowledge existed to guide our paths, there was no knowledge. Before man-made rules were written to tell us who we are supposed to be, there were no rules at all dictating any kind of life. Before stories were told and written down to give us meaning and show us our collective purpose, there were no stories. Yet, life and the universe pulsed on—sans stories, sans rules, sans knowledge—and it will do so again long after we, and our stories, have died, vanished, transformed, gone extinct, or whatever else might happen to us.
And if this feels like blasphemy, remember that there was a time before the word or concept of blasphemy even existed. Let’s ease in and go there.
In forgetting what we’ve been told, we can gently sit in the space of not knowing—the space of curiosity. It is from this place that we can being the process of remembering.
We did not come into this body to be quiet or safe. We did not come to be sidelined, victimized, or used. We did not arrive on this beautiful, endangered earth only to be ignorant, dismissive, complicit, or actively involved in her demise.
No soul takes a leap of faith into a human body, and then decides that silencing itself is the best way to spend a handful of decades.
Let’s find our voices and speak our truth. Let’s live more aligned to our own essence right now, even if this means we stand out as eccentric or weird. The people who call us weird are the same people who, later, wish they were as free as we are. Our freedom serves as a permission slip for those who might be looking for a way to wear soulful freedom for themselves.
Let’s speak a truth we’ve never dared speak before. Let’s give ourselves the opportunity to fail miserably at something, just for fun and a dose of humility. Let’s go somewhere we’ve never gone—even if this is in our own neighborhood. Let’s sign up to try something new (except skydiving, I won’t try that). Be fully alive, even while much of the world remains asleep, lulled into false confidence by its stories of a sweeter afterlife or better next life.
We did not come here to be a silent witness, a mere bystander, an enabler, or apologist for the ugliest aspects of our society. We are here to move the needle of justice definitively forward, not just watch it hopelessly wobble. In the words of Andrew Harvey, we are here to “transform this whole planet and all of its institutions, all of its arts, all of its sciences, into burning mirrors of love and justice.”
Goddamn right, we are.
What are we waiting for—signs or data showing us that climate change is an existential crisis? More events and lives lost that prove that racism and white supremacy movements have not gone away but are, in fact, empowered and rising? Another mass shooting? A far-reaching #MeToo campaign to prove that sexism, misogyny, and sexual misconduct are societal epidemics as real as our opioid addiction, that toxic masculinity is not as rare as we might think, and that likely every single woman we know has been impacted in some way?
What more could we possibly need—a burning, talking bush?
We did not come here with a plan to be agreeable. We did not think to our soulful selves how we couldn’t wait to come down into a body and then acquiesce to someone else’s agenda at the expense of our own health, well-being, or principles. I understand—no one wants to be a sour-puss, naysayer, whiner, or the lone dissenter. No one likes the kid who raises her hand in class while everyone else is ready to go to lunch (guilty as charged). It’s natural that we all want to belong. But if we put on a team shirt that violates or muffles the call of our soul (or the souls of others), we aren’t doing the world any favors.
If something is true, then let’s state unequivocally that it is true. But if it is false and merely masquerading as truth? If it is hurtful and abusive, and people are telling us that it’s just the new normal, we’d better get used to it? Then it is up to us to find the courage to challenge these ideas and offer up more compassionate alternatives—and wake people up.
The world is counting on us to come out from behind the safety net of our cultural stories and live up to a higher standard of truth. If we do this, the stories people tell in the future might not be about long-ago battles between good and evil; they might just be about the game changers who lived from 2017 on.
Author: Keri Mangis
Image: Author’s own; elephant archives
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis