Jacob Nordby, with The Temple of Dreams: A Parable of Your Possibility—on how to learn the power of “except”.
In a faraway land and a time long forgotten…
a wise and powerful woman lived by herself in a mountain place. She had a cat and a teapot named Lu.
Each year, people would walk for many miles through the snow and wind to visit her. For she had built her house and lived there quietly, but those who knew called it the Temple of Dreams.
She refused all gifts and rarely opened the door to those who knocked, but they came all the same.
Because everyone who found their way to the temple was allowed to speak their fondest dreams aloud in the clear mountain air. It mattered not whether the dreams were large or small–only that they were uttered from the most honest place within. Then they could write their hearts’ desire on slips of paper, fold them into paper airplanes and sail them down the winds which rushed and moaned around the hilltop.
The boldest pilgrims would sit for a long time and imagine themselves as if their very best dreams had already come true. Then, they would drink a dipper of water from the spring which always bubbled cold and pure nearby and ring the bell hanging from a twisted pine branch.
But one day a man came knocking at the temple door. His feet were ragged from the journey and his beard had grown shaggy in ways that no one from his village would approve. He knocked three times and looked about, but only heard the sighing wind and an eagle crying in the bright sky.
Because the holiday celebrations were occupying all those who lived in the valleys down below, he was alone at the temple door. He knocked three times again but no answer came from the other side. Being nothing else to do, he sat on the stairs and ate a piece of cheese he had saved in the pocket of his robes.
A long while passed but he did not leave. Instead, he sat and let the sunshine bathe his face and watched the eagle loop and soar above the mountain tops. Just before he would have set about to take his departure, he heard a cat’s meow behind the door. It roused him from reverie and he sprang to the door and knocked three times again.
Not certain he had heard anything at all, he pressed his ear against the door and listened. When it opened, he nearly fell inside but caught himself just before stumbling into the arms of the woman who stood within. She stared at him with a half smile, her dark hair falling around her shoulders with a few silver strands gleaming in the sunlight.
“What do you want?” she said. The cat peered up at him from between her feet.
“What?” he said, stammering. He had expected to leave this place empty-handed after all, but now the priestess stood there watching and he must find the words to tell why he had taken the long journey.
“What do you want?” she said again.
He paused and looked down into the valleys filled with mist. He had read many things and studied the teachings of gurus far and near. From them he had learned that desire was the root of suffering and that he should be happy with what he already had. He looked back into the amber eyes of the woman and said, “I don’t know what I want.”
“Then that is what you will get,” she said and moved to shut the door. But the cat had crept forward to sit in a spot of sunlight and the woman had to choose between closing out this stranger or pinching her friend’s tail.
“Wait,” he said, “I have walked many miles to come here and I won’t leave until you show me what must be seen.”
A teapot shrieked from somewhere inside the dwelling and she turned, “Come then. Lu has called and we mustn’t keep her waiting. You can tell me a few things over a hot cup before you go.”
He followed her into the warm entry but she had already vanished around a corner and he could hear her muttering from another room. The cat stared at him while he straightened his hair and robes, then led the way ahead, tail straight and twitching slightly.
“They always want something, but not this one,” he heard her saying to herself as he entered the snug kitchen. She was pouring hot water into cups, steam rising in a cloud around her head.
“Well, that’s not entirely true,” he said, “I do want something, or I wouldn’t be here. It’s just that I have become content with my things. I don’t know what to ask.”
She turned, holding a carved tray with little cups full of tea. “Come with me,” she said and walked away toward windows which looked out over an infinity of space.
Once seated, she handed him a cup with a small bow. “So,” she said, “You know many things, most of them very good. What you don’t know is the most important and it is not something your books have told you.”
“What is that?”
“Why don’t you tell me again what you really want?”
“I want everything exactly as it is,” he said, “I know that life unfolds to give me what is best.”
“Ah, that’s a lovely concept, but it still doesn’t explain why you walked many miles and just ate your last scrap of food on my doorstep.”
He shifted on his cushion and met her eyes. “Well, I have a house and comfortable things. I enjoy my work and appreciate my friends. I have everything a man should want except…”
“Except,” she said, “Tell me the except. ‘Except’ is everything you have never dared to ask, and in that lies your destiny, your truth and your happiness.”
“Oh. Well, since I was a little boy I have always wanted to write great stories. I have wanted to turn the things I saw and felt into words and share them with the world. I want to love a woman who will take long and foolish magical journeys with me. I know this won’t make me happy but…”
She held up her hand, “Stop. You know no such thing. It is foolishness to suppose that you can be happy if you do not bring forth that which lies within. Forget your concepts and listen to me now.”
The priestess sipped her tea, “Many people make the journey to this place each year. Most of them never knock and if they do, I rarely answer. But you knocked three times. You will not be denied. Everyone who comes receives something. Perhaps the journey here alone is reward enough for most. All return home changed because they allowed themselves to ask. We live in a fascinating universe, full of mystery and delight. Someone you may have heard of once said,‘for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.’ Does this ring a bell?”
“Good. You are here today to ask. Do that. Understand that what your true-est self desires is not only good, but it is also well within your birthright to receive. You are not here today to mull over concepts. You have done that for far too long already. Most people who come here ask for things they don’t really want. Sometimes they get a version of what they think they desire, but what they don’t know is that Life serves up for us what we actually desire most–not what our mind has been pushed and tricked into believing. And the truth is, most are simply too afraid to ask for their deepest soul-desire. They will settle for a nicer home or a better job or a thousand other wishes which fall short of their insatiable hidden truth.”
“Here,” from inside her robe, she produced a small scroll and pen, “take this out to the step after you have done drinking your tea. Write down everything you would see come true in your life from this day forward. Leave nothing out. When you finish it completely, hold it in your hands until you can see yourself in that picture you have created. Unlike the others who have journeyed here, I want you not to throw it into the wind. Instead, feel everything and then ring the bell. Then go back down the mountain and read your own new story every day. For you see, no one is waiting in the wind to make your dreams come true, but Everything will come to your aid if you do what I have told you.”
And so saying, she kissed the man on his forehead and disappeared into some distant room while the wind rang chimes and the sunlight turned an eagle’s wings to silver in the sky.
After a long time, the man made his way to the doorstep and opened the scroll. Across the top were words in red, “Anything you truly desire is possible. Write…“
What is your “except…”? Tell me about it.