Imagine that you are walking across a field where cattle graze.
You are having to watch your step, because there have been many cows in this field, which means that there are lots of cow pies. Some are old and dry; some are new, squishy and, “aromatic.” So you are not alone in this field. Besides the cows and the cow pies, there are also flies.
You have been given a job to do and you’ve been at it as long as you can remember. Who gave you this job is not so important. What is important is that you have been doing it and that it is important to you to do it. Like everyone, you justify what you do. Gathering cow pies is important as a source of energy, to have light, warmth, and to cook with.
You are carrying a big burlap bag over your shoulder. In the morning, when you set out, the bag is empty and light. The weather is cool but not cold, the sun is shining, and it is easy to see where you are going as you cross the field. Your job is to pick up the next cow pie you come to and put it in your burlap bag, sling your sack back over your shoulder, and move on to the next one. Some of the cow pies you come across are hard, dry and easy to pick up. Others are soft, watery, and oozy, and these you have to scoop up with the shovel you are also carrying and put the slop into your bag. So you set about your task.
As the day wears on, your bag gets heavier. You start to bend under your load, but, because you are not a quitter, you keep on going. The sun is bright and it’s warming up. You notice that you don’t smell the way you did when you started out in the morning. You have taken on the distinct odor of a big farm animal. The flies are very attracted to you, buzzing all around you and your bag. By the time it gets dark you are staggering under your load. You stink. You can’t see very well and so you step into a cow pie every now and then. Exhausted, in the darkness you put down your load and fall asleep.
What’s going on here? The experiences that you “collect” over the course of your day are certainly not cow pies. They are important, valuable, and helpful, designed to lighten your burden and those of others, not add to it. Still, if you examine them a little more closely, you may find that cow pies can be very creative and clever in how they masquerade as things like frisbees, chocolate ice cream, food, and money. Similarly, health crises can masquerade as jobs too important to give up, or dream vacations, or even as religions. Similarly, we all know people, such as politicians, religious leaders, media pundits, and yesterday’s soul mate who we would be hard pressed to choose over collecting cow pies. They can even masquerade as meditation, compassion, and purity! Cow pies may bring up important feelings as we gather them: anger, fear, confusion, sadness, and guilt. Sometimes we find that our life experiences go sour and stink. They can weigh us down, like good food, even if we enjoy it. The things we pick up and carry start to define us. In time they become a burden that limits our energy and freedom.
Most of us are trapped into fulfilling familial, social, and cultural expectations. We grew up around people who collected certain types of cow pies and never questioned the usefulness or importance of doing so. It might be learning to work ourselves to death, or be so nice that we burn out from not taking care of ourselves. Perhaps it is our favorite addiction that we habitually pick up every day and burden ourselves with. Collecting cow pies is something that we have done for so long, like eating, answering the phone, or driving, that we don’t think about it much; we just do it. We don’t stop to ask, “Do I need to pick up this cow pie?” “If I do will it add to the weight I’m carrying? Do I need to carry more weight?” “Do I need to smell like cow crap?” “Do I deserve to spend my life in a swarm of flies?” “Can I stop collecting these cow pies, even if I wanted to?”
Someone from the Pleiades would shake their head and think, “What a waste of time! They wouldn’t understand how powerful habit and addiction can be. Picking up cow pies has defined you for so long that you can’t imagine who you would be if you didn’t set out across that field every morning with your sack. It is something that you have been given to do. It’s your responsibility, so you keep up your life, like a gambler finding themselves once again in the casino or a smoker mindlessly lighting up, or someone spending an evening in front of the TV and not remembering any of it. It is enough that you get a sense of comfort and satisfaction from doing what you are used to doing. If the President spends his time in office picking up cow pies, why shouldn’t you? Corporate global warming deniers like the Koch brothers just keep on picking up the cow pies they have always picked up. Entrenched interests, like lobbyists, dictators, defense contractors, bankers, and brokers just keep on picking up the cow pies they have always picked up. Politicians get re-elected by selling us cow-pies.
However, no matter how much humans try, it’s hard to hide that a cow pie is, in fact, a cow pie. We do all sorts of creative things with our cow pies to convince ourselves that collecting them is a nobel pursuit. We transform them so as to make them more palatable.
Perhaps pepperonis and organic feta toppings will make the difference.
If we are fortunate enough to live long enough, we end up looking and smelling like shit.
Are there really options to collecting cow pies? It’s difficult to say, but a good place to start is by asking, “Is this a cow pie or not?” “Do I need to pick it up or not?” “Do I need to carry it with me in my life or not?”
That, however, involves not only questioning tradition, custom, and habit, but developing both objectivity and the ability to reason. This is asking a great deal of ourselves.
One option is to decide that carrying cow pies is in divine order. It’s your karma. You have these cow pies because you need them. They are tests from God to teach you humility, patience, and the beauty of shit. Your job is to sacrifice yourself for the dharma, the cosmic order that brought you into the universe so you could learn to carry cow pies. If you didn’t deserve it, you would be doing something else.
This is an excellent option for those who are hopelessly stuck in the Drama Triangle. They get to play the victim while persecuting themselves and at the same time get to play the Good Shepherd, martyr, and example of a life of humble service for all to envy. In time, you can learn to love the flies and view the sweat, stench, and heaviness of your burden as an opportunity for soul growth.
There is another option, however. You could, one day, wake up. What, for a cow pie collector, would enlightenment look like? It probably would involve a number of things. First would come the realization itself: “Hey! I’m spending my life picking up cow pies!” Next might come some questioning of the necessity and usefulness of what you are doing. Then you will have to think about all the consequences if you question what you are doing. Other cow pie carriers are going to not like it and put a lot of pressure on you. You are going to have to figure out what else to do with your life. You might have to grow up and take some responsibility for your life. There is the possibility that when you leave the security of cow pie collecting you will fail. Which is better, cow pie collecting or failure?
Such questions and considerations are difficult. It is easier to keep your head down and just be thankful that you have a job and your wonderful support system that helps you feel good about collecting cow pies. Generally, to stop you are going to have to be willing to get angry. That anger is how you summon the will to say “ENOUGH!” Anger can be very useful if it is focused creatively and effectively. That means that you don’t use your anger to rail against God, cow pies, cows, or dharma. Instead you use it to question the rules of the game, rules you didn’t create and don’t have to play by if you are willing to be free or die.
You have to become convinced that the problems you have today persist because you won’t stop picking up cow pies. They aren’t going to miraculously disappear just because you pick up more cow pies than anyone else or smile and laugh at the flies and stench. Fortunately, you possess the objectivity to look, wonder, and laugh. You can look around yourself at the cow-pie gathering behavior of others and think, “What a waste of talent, money, and time!” Do we have the objectivity to see how ridiculous our own cow pie collection is? Can we stop?
You have to decide what is and what is not a cow pie. Begin with the default position that everything is a cow pie in disguise, until proven otherwise. It may seem harsh, pessimistic, cynical, and unfair, but if you care to notice you will find that everyone else has cow crap on them too; everyone is fighting off flies. Question your assumptions about what is real, good, important, and necessary in your life. Most things that you think you can’t live without, you probably can. Giving up cow pie collection creates not only space to appreciate life, but for emerging potentials to sprout from deep within you. Integral Deep Listening proposes that there are many potentials wanting to emerge within you that aren’t addicted to picking up cow pies. If you listen to them and their recommendations, they will teach you how to stop. You will develop the confidence you need to stop, the compassion toward yourself that requires you to treat yourself as well as you would treat others, the wisdom to see your choices and to take a better one, enough acceptance to allow you to die to the live you’ve lived for years, enough peace of mind to calmly face an unknown future, and the objectivity to see that both misery and drama are optional.
Integral Deep Listening is a yogic discipline of recognizing and outgrowing your addiction to picking up and carrying cow pies through your days and over your life. It is about cultivating the freedom to collect cow pies when you want, but to explore endless exciting possibilities for a rich and meaningful life.