Sunday, May 1, 2011

MINDFULLY FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD


I so prefer the Oz books of Theosophist L Frank Baum (pictured below) to the Narnia books of the moralistic "black-and-white" Christian apologist C S Lewis. (I am weary of hearing Lewis' Lunatic/Liar/Lord (or Mad/Bad/God) trilemma, which is a poor attempt at what is otherwise a logical fallacy - trifurcation. For a man who supposedly knew some philosophy - although he proved he was no match for the redoubtable Elizabeth Anscombe - Lewis certainly came up with some silly sophistry which has attracted far more attention and respect than it deserves, but that's for another day ... and blog. Naughty me.)

The Wizard of Oz is something altogether different. It is one of my favourite books. It tells us all that we need to know about life and ourselves.

The book is an American fairy tale par excellence. It is also a most spiritual book. Baum once wrote, "Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders."

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the story. Dorothy Gale, an orphan girl, literally blows into Oz (a most fictitious and legendary place, although much like the "real" world just the same) from Kansas with her dog, Toto. She embarks on a journey, hoping to find the Wizard of Oz, who, she is told, will help her to get back to Kansas.  On her journey Dorothy (“Divine gift”) meets some wonderful fanciful characters who are also seeking something very special. They include the Scarecrow (who is seeking brains), the Tin Woodman (who is seeking a heart), and the Cowardly Lion (who is seeking a heart). Eventually, through the influence of the Good Witch of the North, they enter the Emerald Palace of the Wizard of Oz and meet up with the Wizard, but he turns out to be nothing but a "humbug" and a fake magician from Dorothy’s home town in Kansas.

Baum’s “attack” on organised religion is thinly veiled, to say the least. "It is better for people to keep away from [the Wizard], unless they have business with him," says one of the characters in the book. And who or what is Oz? Well, "some say he looks like a bird; and some say he looks like an elephant; and some say he looks like a cat. To others he appears as a beautiful fairy, or a brownie, or in any form that pleases him," says another of the characters in the book. (How true. Several of the world's religions---including Christianity---have depicted a god in the form of a bird. Then there's Ganesh, the Indian god in the form of an elephant. And the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods. I will stop there. Baum knows his comparative religion and mythology.)

Yes, not surprisingly, we all have our own very different images of the Divine---even the atheist. "Whether [God] is a man or not I cannot tell, for I have never seen him," says another of the characters. Indeed, we are told that  nobody has seen Oz. Yes, the Wizard, who sits day after day in the great throne room of his palace, is nothing but a "humbug." However, the Wizard does have something of importance to offer the lead characters: he says that they already have what they are looking for, that they need only look within themselves. That is the best advice---indeed, it is all we need to hear---we can ever hope to get from a supposed "teacher," "guru" or "saviour." The bottom line is this, my dear friends---each one of us must be our own teacher, guru and saviour.

Dorothy gets home with the aid of her “silver shoes” - in the wonderful 1939 MGM film they were “ruby slippers” - with their wonderful powers to take her back home. The Scarecrow learns that experience is the only thing that brings knowledge; he has developed a brain by having to make decisions in the various experiences he has gone through. The Tin Woodman learns that having a heart means loving unconditionally, even to the point of pain; he finds that he does, in fact, have a heart because he has come to love Dorothy. The Cowardly Lion learns that true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage he always had in plenty; he has become courageous because he had to show courage in their many adventures.

The ultimate "lesson" ... each of us must look within and to ourselves for what is essential, but it is only in relationship with others that we are able to do that effectively. 

The Wizard of Oz affirms, as J Krishnamurti pointed out, that truth is a "pathless land" and that you cannot approach it by any creed or path whatsoever. (Dorothy is told that there is no road leading to the Wicked Witch of the West, who must be liquidated.) Direct perception of truth (reality) is, however, possible, when there is choiceless awareness of life as it really is. The yellow brick road is simply the livingness of life from one moment to the next. The road leads nowhere that is not already here now, but it is nevertheless everywhere.

The important thing is life itself. Whatever life may be, it is all here now, in the “magic” of each passing moment, and all we have to do is to learn to perceive it here and now.  We need to see each thing as it really is - as a new moment in spacetime.

The Good Witch from the North asks Dorothy, “What have you learned from your experiences?” Dorothy replies, “I have learned that my heart’s desire is in my own home and in my own front yard.” 

Mindfulness is all about paying attention to your own “front yard” ... and back yard, too, for that matter. So, forget about finding the Wizard ... and look within ... and around you ... in awareness. Yes, in the oft-quoted words of the immortal James Thurber, "Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."


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