“You cannot trade the courage needed to live every moment for immunity from life’s sorrows. We may say we know this, but ours is the culture of the deal-making mind. From infancy, we have breathed in the belief that there is always a deal to be made, a bargain to be struck. Eventually, we believe, if we do the right thing, if we are good enough, clever enough, sincere enough, work hard enough, we will be rewarded. There are different verses to this song – if you are sorry for your sins and try hard not to sin again, you will go to heaven; if you do your daily practise, clean up your diet, heal your inner child, ferret out all your emotional issues, focus your intent, come into alignment with the world around you, hone your affirmations, find and listen to the voice of your higher self, you will be rewarded with vibrant health, abundant prosperity, loving relations and inner peace – in other words, heaven!
We know that what we do and how we think affects the quality of our lives. Many things are clearly up to us. And many others are not. I can see no evidence that the universe works on a simple meritocratic system of cause and effect. Bad things happen to good people – all the time. Monetary success does come to some who do not do what they love, as well as to some who are unwilling or unable to see the harm they do to the planet or others. Illness and misfortune come to some who follow their soul’s desire. Many great artists have been poor. Great teachers have lived in obscurity.
My invitation, my challenge to you here, is to journey into a deeper intimacy with the world and your life without any promise of safety or guarantee of reward beyond the intrinsic value of full participation.”
Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation
I like this a lot – although there is an underlying deeper wondering for me about defining – even to this extent – ‘reward’ in terms of money or status (‘prosperity’, ‘Monetary success’, ‘poor’, ‘obscurity’).
I don’t follow the news much, and I have no interest in celebrity – but the glimpses I get of the wealthy and ‘important’ do not convey to me an intuitive sense of value achieved. Often looks more like opulent wall-paper over cracks and crumbling. And the well-off and financially/socially apparently secure whom I see when I am out, or occasionally sitting in the chair across from me in my therapy room – those with confidence and incomes and well-paid jobs and houses and busy social networks, all the trappings of a ‘successful’ life as our society has come to define it – very often do not actually seem to be experiencing fulfilment or content or joy or connection – more like fear, aloneness and existential disconnection.
The people I meet who DO manifest those subtle, intangible qualities of aliveness, connectedness, peace, trust in themselves and others, fulfilment, loving kindness, even joyfulness are usually – by the standards of our cultures – very humble. They seldom have much money or lots of initials after their names or imposing roles/titles and may not have influence or reputation beyond their immediate sphere (although they often do seem to have organically growing, grass-roots/word of mouth-based acknowledgement and recognition from others). They do not seem free from pain or adversity – although they do seem to meet it in a different spirit from the scarcity mindset and they do not seem to see themselves as victims (nor to be victims by any applicable standard I can see). Oriah M-D herself surely belongs in this category.
And it is to these people I look, when I am thinking what I want to be and do in the world.
I read something a while ago along the lines of ‘everything is its own punishment and its own reward’. In other words, live it/do it if it nourishes and sustains and meets you, in and of itself – not as a way of earning, or a gateway through to, something else. I believe this. Like Oriah, I see the attitude of ‘if we do the right thing, if we are good enough, clever enough, sincere enough, work hard enough, we will be rewarded’ as a seductive illusion.
Lindsey Talbott, therapist
Palace Gate Counselling Service