Once, a proud man from the city decided he’d climb to the top of a tall mountain. His business was to conquer. He didn’t know the mountain could teach, so he began his ascent without regard for its majestic peak; neither did he seek permission to climb. He went in pride and believed his ambition would take him to the summit.
He walked over boundaries and through property lines. Propelled by great pride, he willed his way to the top. Once there, he didn’t offer sacrifice, and didn’t savor the moment. He barely looked around. In his mind, he deserved everything he could get from the mountain – including its gold – because he climbed to the top by himself. He did not share knowledge of what he was given. He took, without offering thanks.
A second man lived in the shadow of its great peak and had witnessed many climbers come and go. Some climbers respected the rock and some did not; some respected the land and some did not. Many times he’d seen climbers get hurt, and a few died on the mountain. He grew up observing and learning. As he worked and carefully tended his garden, he asked himself, is it well with my soul? He climbed the mountain too, but made a worthy offering before scaling its heights. He sought permission from property owners to cross their land; he asked the gods for blessing and then climbed. He was not alone.
The man in a hurry was young when he climbed. The great mountain, having listened to many men and women through the ages, frequently heard confessions, and since the mountain was generous, when anyone reached the top, it told every climber a vulnerability shared by all men and women.
“Deep inside, all are afraid,” the mountain said.
Knowing this, the ambitious young man began practicing how to act boldly while carefully hiding his fear. He learned that if he stood very still and aimed his aggression, most people would fold before his false show of bravado. He bullied and attacked. He won every argument. If others did not retreat, he still won, but his victory was based on sound and fury, not substance.
The brash man didn’t relate to men, he worked to intimidate. He didn’t relate to women, but demanded their adoration. When they gave it, he showered them with gifts, piling on flattery and buying false anatomies as accessories to his show.
The second man reached the mountain top later in life. He’d struggled through the world of work but learned the power of cooperation. At the mountain top, he too learned all men and women fear, but were better prepared to understand how fear can inspire: courage, bravery, sacrifice and great love.
These attributes became hallmarks. He related to others and did not seek to rule, offering healing words to some, and generous praise for even small acts of giving. He grew in wisdom, and even the children knew his name.
“Seek to lift the suffering,” he said. These words made him an enemy of state. But he did his work and performed his vision as Black Elk had counseled all medicine carriers.
Mythology names the overindulged juvenile with an ego problem the purer; with no boundaries or appreciation for others. Purer doesn’t understand the laws of action and consequence, can’t fathom the seeds of sacrifice or courage. He saw everything as competition and did not examine his need to win. Once, someone taught him to steal, and then he learned to lie and cheat. His tool box featured abuse and control, fear and intimidation were the hammer and saw. Acting with impunity, greedy spirits ruled this man and he became “successful.”
He lived in one world and his spirit developed a shadow, casting coldness on his appetites and desires. His public identity left him insecure and defensive. He never had enough. He lashed out at others, ending each day in bitterness and frustration. He felt empty and wanted more.
Senex is a wise elder, sharing and understanding him/herself as part of a community and family. His/her village raised a large garden and offered food to neighbors and the poor. They didn’t begrudge the poor, but gave thanks for their work. When a community member needed help on a roof, money to assist through hard times, or assistance feeding an ill child, he was there. He learned cooperation builds community.
He understood the world is set upon gravity—where buildings inevitably collapse—and knew that animals, plants, and people grew old and died. Not selfish or naïve, he knew that tides lifted and sank all boats. He’d seen some float and some sink, but all shared one sea.
Raised in respect, he observed the important work of bees and insects, how the sun gave and measured life, and the truth of the Golden Rule as the single consistency in all earthly steps. Life taught sobering lessons of gravity: that words and actions mattered for a long time. He was humble, generative, and real.
And then … they ran in an election. Everyone knew the system needed reform. Both wanted to win, but one wanted to win because he was afraid of losing. He pledged to help others, but his life had not demonstrated he could or would.
The other wanted to win to serve all people. This was not obvious to everyone, and not many people believed him. But somebody was going to win the election and somebody was going to lose.
One would not accept losing. The other did not talk about losing. But we must talk about losing: talk about losing our civility, losing our religion, our homes, our families, and our earth. We must talk about losing our soul, losing our land, losing the republic, the society.
We must acknowledge we are already losing. A society that has deteriorated a greedy politic fed by anger and division is losing. Many citizens are already lost. I have not written about losing prosperity, I have written about losing the better nature of our humanity. To talk of and be conscious of losing is the only way to change from unity with strife to harmonious unity. We must talk about losing or we will never regain a humanity that can handle the truth of winning.
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