In this two-part essay, Shanti explores the path from the mind to living from the heart.
Procrustes was an innkeeper with a bed of gold, richly set with precious gems. There was no other bed in the world more valuable. And that was the bed that was used for the guests. Every night when a guest went to bed, Procrustes came to watch.
If the guest was shorter than the bed, he would have four very strong men pull on both ends of the guest, so that he or she became as tall as the bed. Of course the guest died.
If the guest was taller than the bed, that also sometimes happened, he would cut off his guest’s head or feet. Because the bed was so valuable, the guest had to match the bed, not the bed with the guest.
Procrustes lives in me also. I am an innkeeper too with a bed of gold, set with precious gems, which I use for my guests.
After all, like Procrustes, I also have the habit of measuring ‘Life’ according to my personal standards and my own values, the urge to stretch or shorten my guests and everything I encounter to make it fit within my mind and self-evidentities, the tendency to impose a claim on others and on ‘existence’ to conform to them and to prefer my dream over reality, especially, of course, where I experience the real deal as too raw, too gross to be true.
The role of Procrustes (meaning ‘stretcher’ or ‘puller’) is also made for me. Effortlessly, I play the innkeeper with my ‘closed mind’ (Milton Rokeach, 1960) as the precious bed of gold, the only and decisive measure. I am crazy about whatever and anyone fitting in, but I resolutely refuse to make room for those who are too small or too big for that, those who are hearing a ‘different drummer’ than I do. Without mercy, I measure everything and everyone, and I am busy stretching or sawing until they fit in seamlessly.
Whenever I take my mind out for a walk or a bike ride, I see that happening: how the mind comments on everything and everyone. Sometimes songs of praise are heard, when something or someone pleases me just fine, but more often I hear critical notes or outright grunts, especially when walkers, cyclists, cows, insects, physical discomforts, the wind and what not misbehave in my eyes by daring to deviate from my golden standard! My whole emotional household goes into a slump: I get angry and annoyed at such an obvious lack of respect for my standards and for the values that are so cherished and dear to me!
On any random trip, I see how all kinds of events and people have the same burning effect on me as being touched by nettles. Oncoming cyclists who continue to ride next to each other without giving way, so that it is impossible for me to keep an appropriate distance (Covid 19!), cyclists coming from behind who suddenly and narrowly pass me, people invading my territory, whose mere ‘appearance’ is already too much for me… And I am not even talking here about sudden downpours; they all tend to irritate me greatly.
But the release of those ‘nettles’ has begun, because at the same time it feels so hilarious to watch how my mind has something to notice about almost everything and everyone! I continue to laugh as I observe how busy he is, measuring everyone by my yardstick and fitting them into my bed of gold.
Enough is enough, I am done with it! I release everything and everyone with whom I do not have a signed and sealed agreement that they will happily adhere to my standards, of that expectation, and I make room, also for the larger and smaller sizes among us, without feeling the need to ‘stretch or refine’ until they fit seamlessly, willingly, or even unwillingly.
After all, although I blink my eyes more than once at what I see, in my heart (or, if you prefer, in my ‘open mind’) I feel enough space and respect for everyone’s individuality.
Besides as ‘Procrustes’, I can also approach ‘Life’ from there: ‘just letting the way of the heart shine through’. Nothing special, right?
I don’t have the impression that my mind (in the sense of ‘closed mind’ or ‘Procrustes’) functions so terribly differently from that of my fellow minds. Everywhere I hear the echo of commentary, of criticism and indignation, of measuring up each other, of the alleged superiority of one’s own point of view and one’s own values, of the malediction or even outright cursing of those who dare to take another standard, of the moral indignation about behavior that deviates from one’s own norm, of slashing down on people who fall short or overstep one’s own sacred and cherished ‘bed of gold’!
It seems that this ‘mind’ is limited by definition, is able only to see itself as an absolute norm and consequently is unable to accommodate that which deviates from its own ‘golden standard’.
However, to be identified with the ‘closed mind’, that is to be the innkeeper Procrustes day and night, is not our only possibility.
If Procrustes or ‘mind’ is our eagerness to take up the yardstick, to clash if necessary, to go to the boxing ring or to confront – our ‘ego’ against the rest – then ‘heart’ is an ‘one size fits all’ welcome, a willingness to respect and to meet the other, and whatever is different, our ability to connect. It allows us to experience that everything and everyone on our path is unreadable, but indelibly marked with a unique signature of ‘Existence’!
Once we are completely done with being Procrustes 24/7 and he no longer makes us happy, then this alternative automatically comes into play: living from our heart.
When you’re done with it, you’re ready for it!
When the gods handed out empathy and acceptance, the ‘closed mind’ was nowhere to be seen. He was not interested at all, he had something else to do. Everything has its own specialty, right?
The human heart was at the forefront; the gods were generous and there was more than enough… for everyone!
So ‘The One Million Dollar Question’ is, “Am I done with it?”
After all, only then, and then immediately, am I ready for it!
“The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose.
When pref’rences are cast aside
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
But even slight distinctions made
set earth and heaven far apart.
If you would clearly see the truth,
discard opinions pro and con.
To founder in dislike and like
is nothing but the mind’s disease,”
sings Sosan in Hsin Hsin Ming
To be continued…