“The story of Heracles and the Golden Apples begins with failure…” I said.
“It does,” replied John, sipping his latté. “Just as, in the first story, with the Wild Mares, Heracles gets a bitter lesson that never leaves him, with his failure to protect the life of young Abderis, despite his success in overcoming the wild she-horses.”
He stopped, then, and looked at me very seriously. “Failure is very important… it not only teaches us about success, it teaches us about the fragility of both – and the existence of a third … thing.”
He had lowered his voice when speaking the word ‘thing’, as though its impact had been pivotal in his own life. For a short while I watched him drink his coffee, saying nothing. I decided we could afford to come back to it – he had, inadvertently, touched on something far below his confident exterior and I wanted to know more…
“If we didn’t have adversity, we could never really do anything, could we?” I ventured.
John looked up, shocked. “That’s really good,” he nodded. “It touches on the basic polarity of the universe. We can only ‘do’ when there is a raw material to do with.”
“And that is opposition?”
“Perhaps a better word is resistance, which removes the idea of hostility – though hostility may still apply…”
“So, sometimes we overcome the resistance and a new thing, a third thing, you called it, is born.”
“Born, yes–excellent word! Born of the struggle, just like birth itself is a struggle.”
“And sometimes we don’t win…” it wasn’t a question.
“If we always won, there could be no winning.” He sat back, drinking his coffee, looking thoughtfully upwards, shaping what he wanted to say. “But winning is as illusional as losing, since our birthright – our true birthright – is to be the agents of the right change…”
“The right change…” I said, musing. “Like the Buddha’s Right Action?”
“Exactly so,” he said. “Which has nothing to do with winning or losing, and may involve the invocation of the simplest action, or even one of deliberate sacrifice… as you so bravely chose to do with our little piece of theatre last week.”
He watched while I cringed at the memory… “Two worlds?” he said.
“Are you, perhaps, thinking about the choice of ongoing worlds that depended on your decision at that point?”
I thought back to the woman sitting at the table, forced–no, resolved–to carry on holding the world because there had been no other ‘right thing’ to do…
“You didn’t give me much choice,” I said, looking into his eyes for something.
“Would you have wanted me to–” there it was… the truth. “Didn’t it change you, in a small but significant way?”
My voice was a whisper, “Yes.”
“Success feeds the ego, unless we watch its effects very carefully,” he smiled. “And we spent many coffees talking about the outer rim of the enneagram,which is the world of the ego – to which we shall return, once our quest around this zodiac of labours is done.” He drank the last of his coffee. “Did you feel that your heroic gesture of last week fed your ego?”
“No.” I answered, truthfully. “It felt like it fed a different part of my ‘interior’.”
“And you didn’t feel you had failed in any way?”
Suddenly, it was there–the picture he was carefully painting, I grasped at it. “No–neither success nor failure… just a sense of rightness, whatever the world might have thought!”
“The world apart from Rose?”
I laughed then, remembering the unlikely partnership that occasionally manifested on the strange stage of our Monday coffee-shop meetings. “Yes… darling Rose.” I looked behind me to flash a look of gratitude at the cafe’s elderly owner; but she was nowhere to be seen.
“But last week she was there when you needed her?”
And she was completely present to your ‘suffering’, and came, from nowhere, to stand beside you, offering the most unlikely and exact help…”
I nodded, lost in the bliss of the memory of that help.
“Heracles had a ‘Rose’, too” John said. “but despite the skill of Nereus the shapeshifter, Heracles never saw the help being offered… Often, it’s right in front of us, but we are looking for something else, something the rational mind decides we need for the problem it cannot solve…” He allowed himself a grin.
“So, he had to find it through his wanderings around the four directions of his world, eventually discovering the key by not looking for it, but helping someone else…”
I’ll swear there was a tear in his eye as he got to his feet, grabbing his raincoat, then kissing the top of my head before striding out into the deluge of a mid-November morning. That and a smile…
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
All images and text ©International copyright, The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, 2015.