by Celia Coates
What’s a good person? What’s a good life? We used to have heroes as models to follow while we figured out how to answer those questions for ourselves. It’s been a while since American school children were told about George Washington and the cherry tree:
“When he was six years old, the story goes, George was given the gift of a hatchet and he used it on his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered the damaged tree, he was angry. He confronted young George who bravely faced up and said, ‘I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down that cherry tree.’ “
The trouble is that the story isn’t true. It was invented by Mason Locke Weems, an itinerant minister and bookseller, who wrote the first biography of Washington. Parson Weems wanted to show, “…that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.” * The story did not appear until 1806, in the fifth edition of THE LIFE OF WASHINGTON which had quickly become a best seller. Weems wanted to emphasize personal virtues rather than public accomplishments and to present,
“…Washington as the perfect role model, especially for young Americans.”
These days most people admire celebrities, not virtuous heroes. I was feeling snippy about this and was going to title this post, George Washington and the Kardashians – but changed my mind. Still, it is true that the people most often in the forefront today are there because they have wealth, glamor, status, and power rather than virtues – even made-up ones. Heroes are admired for who they are and what they do. Celebrities are followed because of how impressive their brand is. They’ve won the competition for how to get noticed. They are role models for our current top national value of doing what it takes to get ahead and live in luxury. Besides, they aren’t boring and we’d rather be entertained than stuck with serious subjects.
Why does any of this matter? Or, what is making me snippy? It’s not an attractive trait in a writer who would like to be wise.
A lesson from the New Testament (Matthew 19:24) teaches,
“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
That image certainly conveys extraordinary difficulty for the rich man, but why would the Bible say that? Because thousands of years of human experience have taught us that if we get caught up in the material world, we can lose sight of the divine world. The easy pleasure of riches can distract us from the serious work of evolving as people. I am sad about the time I’ve wasted in pursuit of good stuff rather than in working to become more conscious and closer to enlightenment. It’s easier to feel irritated (snippy) than sad.
One of my wisest teachers, Genevieve Lewis Paulson, has written,
“As a plant reaches toward the light, so do we reach towards enlightenment. In this reach towards enlightenment we start as unconscious sparks of God-consciousness and reincarnate over and over so that we become fully conscious parts of God-consciousness. We become individuated, but also a part of the whole and co-creators with God in the Divine plan.
The greater truth behind this process may only be apparent when we have completed it.” **
Don’t worry if your reaction to this quote is that it sounds too weird or too religious. It is natural for Genevieve to use Christian language to describe these truths, but she is also speaking the language of metaphysics and the science of subtle energies. We each have to find what approach works for us. The main point is to keep exploring, to keep asking questions about what is real and important. There are increasing numbers of people around the world who are seeking the same wisdom. Many want to know, really know, what makes a good person and a good life.
Here is one of my favorite stories about how we can get sidetracked by what appears to be real. An old friend, Bob Nunley, told me a story he learned from his father “Cap”,
C. L. Nunley was a storyteller in the mining camps of Southern West Virginia in the 1930s and he first heard this story from a friend who knew Edgar Cayce. Cayce was known as the “The Sleeping Prophet” because he was able to give highly accurate psychic readings while in trance.
Cayce was walking in downtown Detroit with a woman who had been a generous supporter of his work when they passed a tramp resting on the sidewalk.
The benefactor said in a loud voice, “What a horrible waste of a lifetime.”
Edgar said nothing, but he was troubled that the man had heard what she said. Later that day he went into one of his deep meditations to find what the Akashic records had to say about the tramp. He was astonished by what he found there. Then he risked offending his benefactor by telling her what he’d learned.
“How wrong we were in our assessment of the entity this morning.”
She asked, “You mean that tramp?”
Cayce went on to tell her that the tramp was the most highly evolved soul either of them would ever meet in this lifetime. He explained that the man had completed not just one but two perfect lifetimes, and for the second time could have chosen to turn into pure light for all eternity. Instead he chose to experience a lifetime of humility.
Bob’s father would end the story by saying,
“If we are that wrong about the tramp, what chance do we have of being right in our judging of anybody else?” ***
We can get badly off-track if we only judge by appearances. And that includes judging ourselves. We have to ask, “Who am I really? What do I think a good person is? What about a good life?” And we need to go far beyond admiring celebrities, or even learning about the virtues of heroes – we need to find teachers. They often show up in unexpected ways and sometimes are not even in human form. These times of incredible turmoil are teaching us a great deal about what really matters in our own lives and about what is needed for the common good.
Getting ahead or living in enviable luxury become unimportant when the world has turned upside down.
* * * * *
* This information came from George Washington’s Mount Vernon website.
** REINCARNATION: Remembering Past Lives, by Genevieve Lewis Paulson & Stephen J. Paulson, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul Minnesota, 1999.
*** This story first appeared in BRIDGES Magazine, Winter 2014, a publication of The International Society for Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM).
The image that leads this post, “Homeless Man,” is by Royce Glance, Pixy.org
2 Comments Add yours
Another interesting and thought provoking article, thank you. I was surprised to read this sentence: “I am sad about the time I’ve wasted in pursuit of good stuff rather than in working to become more conscious and closer to enlightenment.” That doesn’t sound like you at all, Celia.
Thanks for the thoughts and effort in writing this perceptive essay.
Food for thought.