Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Peacocks, Pride and Park Rangers

Full Fasting Moon
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The Peacock and the Mallard Princess
a Jataka Tale adapted from the
Nacca-Jataka, retold by Alyss Broderick 
Once upon a time, when the world was young, the animals of the three kingdoms chose kings for themselves. The beasts of the land chose the majestic Lion to rule them while the fish chose the giant Whale as their king. The birds of the air chose the Golden Mallard as their leader. The Mallard King had a beautiful daughter and he offered her any wish she might have. She asked to be able to choose her own husband.

Mallard King called all the birds from all of India to come show themselves to the Princess. Parrots and finches came from the jungles of Bengal and gulls and doves came from the southern Tamil coast. Larks and hawks came from the western deserts and cranes and eagles came from the Himalayan mountains. All the birds gathered near the Mallard King’s home on the edge of the sacred Ganges river. The Mallard Princess moved slowly through the assembled crowd, her eyes bright and searching for her husband. Finally she caught sight of a handsome bird with emerald green and sapphire blue feathers. Oh, how handsome he was!  
"There he is,” she told her father. “The peacock will be my husband.”

When he heard this the prideful peacock cried out, “Oh, Princess, you have not even seen the best I have to o
ffer yet!” With that he unfurled his tail feathers and began dancing and singing his praises in a high, clear voice. With each note and each step the Princess and her father were more disappointed. Finally the King called him to stop.
“My daughter deserves a husband as modest and selfless as he is handsome. You will not wed my daughter. Instead, she will marry my nephew the Mallard Prince.”

The peacock, enraged, f
lew off with an indignant squawk and scream. To this day, you will find the Mallard Prince and Princess raising their family on the humble edges of lakes and streams dressed in their modest yet handsome plumage. Peacock still has his extravagant feathers, but his clear, sweet voice has turned into screech of fallen pride.

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This month is the Fasting Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar. Last month I wrote about the relationship between the Milk Moon and the Fasting moon, how the first asks us to examine how we can be community that supports and individual, while the second asks us to examine how removing support can also help the individual. In addition to asking about how our refusal of resources can help others, the Fasting Moon also asks us to look at what sacrifices we must make for our own future good. Sometimes that sacrifice is physical, as in dieting for weight loss or pinching our pennies for a future expense, but sometimes it is emotional or metaphysical.
When an image or story or refrain keeps popping up in your life it means it is time to examine that lesson. My attention has been called to the idea of sacrificing the paramount position of my own ego multiple times over the last month or so. Peacock, in the story of the Mallard Princess, learns the hard way that being the best and most brilliant is not always the way to win the prize. This rings true in interpersonal relationships and teaching relationships, two ideas I have been exploring lately. It is even true in the kind of relationship I envision having with God.

My first class in my Masters o
f Arts in Teaching program at George Fox University was called the Professional Educator. We spent 5 weeks looking at historical and philosophical perspectives on public education and capped the class with a paper outlining our definition of a teacher. My definition explicitly states that a teacher does not see themselves as having learned everything there is to know about a subject or being infallible in their knowledge, the world is too complex for that. The time for enthroned professors in marble halls is over. I envision a teacher more as a guide, like a good park ranger. They have walked the path before, maybe many times before, and have background information to help interpret what the group sees along the path. They know, however, that each day brings new things to see and each set of eyes sees different parts of the whole. When I was a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park I painstakingly researched a presentation on the founders of the park and the building of the beautiful lodge. One day I gave my presentation only to find out that one of the men in the audience had been on the Civilian Conservation Corps crew that actually built the lodge. No, a huge ego does neither a park ranger nor a school teacher much good.

Like a park ranger faced with the immensity and complexity of the park they work in, a follower of the divine light is too small to see the whole story. God, in h
er vastness, knows the plan for your life and everyone else's life better than you can even conceive of. It is not easy to release the importance of your own rightness or knowledge. In the Tao De Ching the sage reminds us that to bend is to stay whole and that the bending takes courage just as the firmness does. Only an empty cup can be filled, but laying low requires sacrificing the ego. In the book of Mark, Jesus says to the disciples that ask to sit at the right hand of the master, "And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all." (Mark 10:44) I don't believe Jesus' death was required for me to be in communion with god, but his ultimate sacrifice to the larger plan is a potent symbol of the sacrifice the Fasting Moon asks us to consider.
A refrain that has been going through my head recently is "Be not afraid." Sacrificing our ego in relationships can be very scary and lowering ourselves, or being lowered against our will can be painful. Many of us, myself most certainly included, have a lot of identity and pride wrapped up in being good and right and knowledgeable. We are not, however, all knowing. The world is much, much too big for that. Laying low, bending and sacrificing to the relationship, to the dao, to god herself is the only way to be lifted high as the wheel turns around again.

Photos by jans canon and hypergenesb, please click on the links or photos to see more of their work on Flickr. Thanks!

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Full Fasting Moon 2009: Full Moon in the Fasting Moon
Full Fasting Moon 2010: The Old Man Who Made the Trees Blossom
I also discuss the Fasting moon energies The Fasting Moon is New post and in the The Positive Feedback Loop of Love post.


Anonymous said...

First comment, which is actually more of a post-script: isn't that amazing that you have been hearing "Be not afraid." at the same time I was getting the "Fear not" message from Shiva and Buddha. We must be on similar waves. Pretty cool!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh! One more thought: I'm not sure where your idea of "sacrificing the ego" comes from, but it seems like you are using a Buddhist perspective. Perhaps you mean it in the sense of "inflated sense of self-importance." Or perhaps you simply mean attachment to specific ideas, ways of being, physical and temporal pleasures that interfere with your next phase of development - what you call "identity and pride wrapped up in being good and right and knowledgeable."

But I guess I wanted to respond that in Jungian thought, the Ego is very very important, not something that your psychological system can do without. The Ego is the part of the Whole Self that maintains balance, between inner and outer worlds.

Perhaps instead of killing the Ego or cutting it off, you could simply put it in better relationship with the other aspects of your self (obviously many different thought systems could come into play here what specifically those aspects are). You could help the Ego sometimes not be "at the head of the V." Or at least be better informed by other aspects, so that it's decisions are better balanced.

Lastly, I just have to tell you that I have never found you to be an egotistical person, with inordinate pride. You have much to be proud of yourself..in the past, now, and going forward.

Alyss said...

Thanks for the comments. I noticed that we were both tapping in to "fear not/be not afraid" at the same time. The universe has a way, doesn't it?

As for your comments about sacrifice, let me say two things - one, a blog post from me doesn't mean it is a topic that is eating my soul and needs resolution, and two, I believe in cycles of moons and years and focus in my inner life. I probably am talking more about detachment than about sacrifice in the way you understand sacrifice, but in other ways I really do mean sacrifice. But that is the energy focus for today, this month, this season. Next month, next season, the focus will have shifted around and maybe taking care of my own personal needs will be forefront. Sometimes the Ego needs to be at the front of the V, and sometimes it needs to be well informed, and sometimes it needs to sit down and shut up. The key is listening for when each is called for.

Thanks for commenting!