Quietly eating my lunch, I look up to discover a goat on the porch. We stare at each other for a moment, me trying to take in this very unusual event, she doing whatever processing she’s doing. I observe that she’s very short and quite wide, with lovely horns and a very gimpy right front leg. Oh, swell. Not only do I have a goat on my porch, I have a pregnant, three-legged goat on my porch. This was not in my plan for the day!
Fortunately there’s a dog yard, large and secure, that I can put her in while I attempt to find her people. Leading that goat to the pen quickly put me in mind of those “herding eels” or “nailing jello to a tree” images. No sooner had I closed the gate behind her than she commenced in earnest her efforts to get out. She climbed, she crawled, she butted, she bellowed; at one point she launched her little round self over a loose part of the wire, doing a decidedly inelegant belly flop outside the fence.
As I’m chasing her around, trying to corner her long enough to get a handhold on her horns I tell her, “I’m just trying to help you. You may not be aware of the fact, but I happen to know mountain lions roam these hills. A fat little goat would be a tasty treat for a mountain lion.” My reasoning falls on deaf ears; all she wants is out. She has no idea where she’s going when she gets out, she just wants out.
I can see my own life in that; I can see a lot of people’s lives in that overwhelming desire to “do it my way.” I often refer to it as a “devotion to bad decisions,” but I think its proper name is karma.
If there’s no larger perspective, all that’s available to us is egocentric karmic conditioning’s perspective. What dominates our experience is all that “no, no, I don’t want that, I want that…” energy coursing through the body.
Years ago I heard someone say that the curse of intelligent people is their need to have their own experience. Smart folks are not going to take someone else’s word for anything. We want to find out everything for ourselves, prove it to ourselves, make up our own mind, and make our own decisions. But going to egocentric karmic conditioning to have our own experience is not producing what we think it’s producing. (This in no way contradicts the Zen admonition to not believe what the teacher says but rather to find out for yourself. That’s encouragement to go to conscious compassionate awareness for information, not a karmically conditioned “authority.”) I recently heard a young woman, aged twenty years or so, say to her friend, “I’m so glad I’ve past that age of just believing everything.” Oh, my dear, I thought, if you only knew where that belief has landed you!
People often say to me, “I have trouble with authority figures.” “Yes,” I respond, “the authority figure you’re used to accepting inside has trouble with what it perceives as external authority figures.” I’m suggesting that the internal authority figure is the one a person “should” have trouble with. It is the source of information that results in about 99% of the suffering in people’s lives.
“Doing it my way” can often masquerade as independent freethinking, an expression of who I really am. But when I watch that little goat, hell-bent on following the information she’s getting, regardless of circumstances, irrespective of her own best interest, I recognize all of us when we are operating out of unconscious urges and unexamined desires.
The whole thing was a marvelous projection exercise.
It causes me to appreciate once again the Buddhist approach to karma and the Buddha’s admonition to work out our own salvation diligently. Our lives really are up to us. We get to do things our own way, live out bad decision after worse decision, choose experience after suffering experience until we’re ready to give up the ego’s “better ideas” and give our lives back to life to live. It’s a very good deal.
Epilogue: Forty-eight hours later she seems to have forgotten she ever lived anywhere else and has settled into a quiet routine of tree-trimming and snoozing, undisturbed by anything except her duties as guard-goat, alerting all to the arrival of unfamiliar noises. I am striving to emulate her let-go-the-past-be-here-now orientation to life.