Someone once asked the great Indian sage Vivekenanda to explain the spiritual path. His short answer has guided me for years. I’ll paraphrase it here:
You wake up in a horse-drawn carriage, made of the finest materials: gold-inlaid mahogany, velvet cushions, silk curtains.
Your first thought is, “Wow, I must be a very important person.”
After a while, you draw back the curtains to reveal a wonderful landscape, with expansive forests, rolling green hills, and a clear blue sky. You wonder at the beauty that surrounds you. After some time, you see a lovely, medieval city on a hill, and think to yourself, “How much I would like to visit that town.”
You roll down the window and lean out. The splendor continues, as you see four of the finest white stallions pulling the carriage, with golden harnesses and elegant feather plumes. Even the coachman is dressed in the most exquisite silk finery.
Now you are certain of your importance… and your wealth.
“I daresay, coachman,” you say, above the din. “I would like to visit that town over there. Kindly turn at the next crossroads.”
To your great surprise, the coachman brings the carriage to an abrupt halt. As the dust settles, he turns slowly towards you, and with a gentle smile addresses you firmly.
“My dear man, this is not your carriage. This is my carriage. And we will go where I decide to go.”
For some time before getting on the path, I had had a similar, recurring vision, almost a film, if you will, in which I am seated in a red wagon, being pulled by someone offscreen. Once again, the landscape is hilly, like Tuscany in spring. As different towns pass by, I excitedly point towards them, imploring to be taken there. Each time the wagon refuses to turn, I feel confused, then dismayed, then petulant. Even my hissy fits can’t change my driver’s mind. Eventually I settle down and enjoy the ride.
The camera then pulls back to reveal a Hollywood set. The wagon is on a treadmill, the scenery is painted on a long canvas, moved by rollers to give the illusion of movement. There is no one pulling the wagon.