Stories have been vital to the Wide Sky Men’s Council, stimulating thoughts, feelings, and discussion.
A touching old Jewish story illustrates the fact that we do not have to depend on existing structure to make powerful ritual expressions:
Once upon a time there was a great traditional ritual for the inner protection and nourishment of the people. The rabbi and all the people of the community went to a particular tree, in a particular forest, in a particular place, on a particular day, and performed a highly prescribed ritual. Then, so the story goes, there were terrible times. A whole generation was scattered and the ritual was forgotten.
When things got better again, someone remembered that there was an old ritual for protection and nourishment, but he could remember only its overall structure. The rabbi and the people went into the forest, but they'd forgotten exactly which tree was the right tree. So they chose a tree and performed the ritual as best they could. And it was sufficient.
More hard times came, and another generation was excluded from the ritual. Somebody remembered that in the old days their ancestors had gone into the forest and done something, so the rabbi and the people went out into the forest and made up a ritual. And it was sufficient.
And then there were more bad times, and much more was lost. The people remembered that in the good old days their ancestors had done something or other, but they didn't know when or what or where. So they just went out and did the best they could. And it was sufficient.
And then there were more hard times, and all that was left was the vague memory that in the olden days somebody had done something. So the new generation went out and improvised and did the best they could, intending their new ritual to be for the protection and nourishment of the people. And it was sufficient.
The moral to this story is clear: No matter what you do, whether you did it "right" or "wrong," it will be sufficient as long as you do it with consciousness and in the best way that you know how. That is the nature of ritual.
A group of devotees invited a master of meditation to the house of one of them, to give them instruction. He told them that they must strive to acquire freedom from strong reactions to the events of daily life, an attitude of habitual reverence, and the regular practice of a method of meditation which he explained in detail. The object was to realize one divine life pervading all things.
"In the end you must come to this realization not only in the meditation period, but in daily life. The whole process is like filling a sieve with water."
He bowed and left.
The little group saw him off and then one of them turned to the others, fuming, "That's as good as telling us that we'll never be able to do it. Filling a sieve with water, I ask you! That's what happens now, isn't it? At least with me. I go hear a sermon, or I pray, or I read one of the holy books, or I help the neighbors with their children and offer the merit to God, or something like that and I feel uplifted. My character does improve for a bit -- I don't get so impatient, and I don't gossip so much. But it soon drops off, and I'm just like I was before. It's like water in a sieve, alright. But now he's telling us this is all we shall ever be able to do."
They pondered on the image of the sieve without getting any solution which satisfied them all. Some thought he was telling them that people like themselves in the world could expect only a temporary upliftment; some thought he was just laughing at them. Others thought he might be referring to something in the classics which he had expected them to know -- they looked for references to a sieve, without success. In the end, the whole thing dropped away from them all except for one woman, who decided to see the master.
He gave her a sieve and a cup and they went to the nearby seashore, where they stood on a rock with the waves breaking around them.
"Show me how you fill the sieve with water", he said.
She bent down, held the sieve in one hand, and scooped the water into it with the cup. It barely appeared at the bottom of the sieve and then was gone.
"It's just like that with spiritual practice, too", he said, "while one stands on the rock of I-ness, and tries to ladle the divine realization into it. That's not the way to fill a sieve with water, or the self with divine life".
"How do you do it then?" She asked
He took the sieve from her hand, and threw it far out into the sea, where it floated momentarily and then sank.
"Now it's full of water, and it will remain so", he said. "That's the way to fill it with water, and it's the way to do spiritual practice. It's not ladling little cupful’s of divine life into the individuality, but throwing the individuality far out into the sea of divine life."
There is a young prince, son of a king and queen who rule a nation on a plateau that sits about three thousand feet above the sea. Between the towns of the plateau and the sea below are sheer cliff walls.
Like everyone in the kingdom, the young prince grew up with stories about the Goddess of Love who, the culture believed, lived in the moon. The prince and the culture he lived in believed that the mysteries of the night, of loving, of childbirth, and even of the tides were secrets of the moon.
Like all young men of the kingdom, he had grown up waiting for the day he would play his part in the moonlight. Like everyone in his kingdom, he had stood on the cliff's edge looking down at the water, seeing the track of the moon on the water, wondering what great powers could be his if only he could touch it there, on the water. The legends of his people called the track of the moon on the water Aluna. The legends of his people, legends that had been passed down for centuries, told of a young prince who would one day climb down the terrible cliff to the ocean's edge and there discover a way to touch the track of the moon on the water?to touch Aluna, the Goddess of Love. When Aluna is touched by the young prince, so the legends said, the curse of life would be removed from the kingdom: no more drought, no more disease, no more death, no more suffering.
As the story begins, the prince stands on the cliff's edge, strong, feeling well trained to make the hazardous journey, ready to be the one who fulfills the prophecy, finds ultimate love, touches the track of that moon goddess as she lies out white and beautiful on the ocean.
But, as he ought to be, he is afraid. Many young men, some his peers, most of previous generations, have climbed down the cliff to the ocean. None have ever returned. The king and queen are frightened too. The prince has asked his father for permission to make the journey. His father has refused his permission, more than once. The prince has gone to his mother, and she, too, has refused, even more frightened for his safety than her husband. If you even try to make the journey, his father has threatened, we will disown you.
The prince comes away from the cliff's edge and goes back to the castle. He has made a decision. He finds his mother and tells her he will go despite what his parents say. She tries to convince him not to. But she can see he is determined. She can do nothing to stop him. She wants to go to her husband and get him to force her son to stay, but the prince tells her if she does that he will never speak to her again. Without her husband's knowledge, she packs her son a pack, filled with necessities. Begging him not to go, she sees her son off that night. The kingdom hears of the prince's rebellion, and some of the braver souls, who do not fear the king's wrath, make a small bonfire and a celebration at the cliff's edge. The prince puts the pack on his back, and as dawn breaks, he says his goodbyes and begins the climb down the sheer cliff:
As he climbs, his father is still nowhere to be seen. His mother's tears echo in his ears. In his mother's backpack, the prince has hidden a small ornament his father gave him years ago when he was a boy?something to remember his father by. It is heavy, made of gold.
Already the climb is difficult. The voices at the top of the cliff recede, and the wind and the cries of seagulls pierce his ears. For the first time in his life, his mother's and father's world behind him, he feels a strange and powerful aloneness. The climb gets more and more difficult.
As his first day of climbing ends, his muscles feel like jelly. And that night, unlike most nights, there is no moon. He cannot continue climbing, for he can see nothing. He can only remain fastened by trembling fingers and toes to the side of the cliff. This is the case the next night as well. By the end of the following day, he has climbed perhaps two thirds of the way down. He has thrown off all the weight he could?all the tools he carried, all heavy clothing, even the items in his mother's pack. He hangs onto the gold ornament his father gave him, his mother's pack (though it is empty), and just the barest clothing. That night he again hangs to the side of the cliff by tiny juts of rock, delirious from lack of sleep, his muscles ready to give up at any moment.
But the next day comes, and he manages to climb down further. He falls onto the sand at the bottom of the cliff, collapsing in exhaustion and relief. He sees the bones of other young men who have fallen. He crawls to the water's edge and falls asleep.
When he wakes up, it is dusk. He is sore, still trembling, but touched by joy. Like all young men, he has no doubt he will be able to achieve his goals, touch Aluna, and find his future, and very soon.
But as he sits at the water's edge, watching the moon rise, as he watches darkness shroud the ocean and Aluna appear shimmering on the water's surface, he sees no way to get out to the track of the moon on the water. He gets up, walks around. He explores the beach, looking for enough driftwood for a raft. There is not enough. The more he explores, the more he knows he cannot swim out to the track of the moon on the water. He sees no evidence of other young men on the beach, no matter how far to the east or west he walks. They must have swum out and never comeback. The sharks will have gotten them, or the sheer arduousness of the swim.
Hearing something to his left, he turns to see a traveler coming towards him. This is definitely not someone from his own kingdom. He hails the traveler, tells him his mission, asks if the traveler has seen others like him. Have they been successful at communing with Aluna?
"Of course," the traveler responds. "It's not hard to touch the track of the moon on the water. Not hard at all. But it will hurt a little." And the traveler gives instructions. "Through your arduous efforts, you have climbed down into a land of fantasy. You now have certain powers; what you imagine will be so. In order to get Aluna's attention, you must close your eyes and bring to your vision all the women you have known?your mother, your sisters, women you have seen, girls and women whose fine company you have enjoyed. As you bring them to your mind, they will appear here on this beach. You must then take a knife, which you will imagine, and cut off all their hair. Once you've done that, throw their hair on the water. It will form into a net. The net will slowly move out to Aluna and entrap her light and bring it back here to shore. Can you do that?"
The prince nods. This makes some sense. How can he attract or entrap Aluna if so many other women still occupy his mind? He must cut off their hair. He must show Aluna he knows she is the supreme and only Goddess.
The prince closes his eyes. He imagines his mother, his sisters, a girl friend, others. When he opens his eyes, they each appear. The traveler is gone. The prince tries to speak to his friends and family, tell them what he has to do. They stand mute, without resistance. He knows their hearts are hurt as he cuts their hair, but he has no choice. As he cuts the hair off each girl and woman, she disappears.
When he has finished, elated, he throws the hair out onto the water. For a moment?perhaps in real time, in our time, that moment is six months, or a year, or five in a man's life?he feels successful, he knows this will work, for the hair is forming into a net on the surface of the small waves, moving out toward Aluna!
But then, as quickly as the net formed, it begins to dissolve. Have I done the ritual incorrectly? he wonders. He has done what the traveler said to do. What's wrong? Why is the net dissolving so rapidly?
The hair laps onto shore like seaweed. The prince sits back down, imagining the women again, his mother, his sister, his girl friend. None appear. He closes his eyes, trying again, and again, without success, to bring them back. Meanwhile their hair lies all around him, lifeless on the shore.
The prince is sitting at the water's edge, the hair all around him. He is hurt, ashamed, unable to call back the women. He does not know what to do. Then he hears a voice saying, "Ho there!" He opens his eyes. It's another traveler, coming from the other direction. This traveler sits down next to him.
"You look pretty sad," the traveler says, smiling kindly. "I bet I know what's just happened to you." The traveler accurately describes everything the prince has just gone through.
"Well, what happened?" the prince asks, irritated. "Why didn't the net work?"
"It was not meant to," the traveler says. "My brother, who gave you those instructions, was merely sent to test you. The Goddess of Love needs to know if you have the strength to love her alone, above all other women. You have proven you have that strength. Now you are ready to meet Aluna. I have been sent to show you how."
Eagerly, the prince listens as the traveler describes what he must do. "In this land of fantasy, you have exquisite powers. To embrace Aluna, you must reach your hand deep into your chest, pull your heart out of the cage it rests in, and hold it in your palm in front of you. Aluna will see, by your actions, that you are capable not only of holding her supreme above other women, but also you are capable of giving your whole heart to her. When you hold your heart out to her, she will come for it, and take it, and you will have succeeded in your goal. Now close your eyes.
The prince closes his eyes, understanding what he must do. He has proven his loyalty to Aluna by cutting off the women's hair. He has put the real women he knows in their place so that the supreme Goddess can occupy him fully. Although it hurt the women, still they were not really hurt, for he had imagined it all. And now he must prove his utter servility to love, to Aluna, the Goddess of Love all men desire to serve?the creature all men wish to give their hearts to.
He plunges his hand into his chest. Amazingly, his hand pushes through his flesh, like a fist through soft ground. He wraps his hand around his heart and pulls it out. He holds it out to the moon in his hand, feeling it pulse there.
For a moment? a moment that might be a year or five or ten in a man's life? he feels the rightness of his actions. He opens his eyes, and it seems the moon is moving closer to him. For a moment, he knows this will work!
But then the moment passes. The moon stays where it was, as does the track of the moon on the water. His heart dries in his palm, and his chest feels empty.
He puts his heart back in his chest. Now he's angry. It is an anger that distracts him from the sorrow of having hurt the women of his life; it is an anger that distracts him from the feeling of emptiness he felt when he tore his heart out and offered it to the moon. The anger turns, after a time, to grief.
The prince, you'll remember, had cut off the women's hair, felt the moment of bliss, been disappointed. He has tried pulling his heart out of his chest; he has felt the moment of bliss, but again it doesn't last and doesn't bring him any closer to the Goddess of Love. He feels angry, afraid, numb.
Into these feelings comes a third traveler. The prince hears him coming but does not even look at him. The traveler sits down next to him.
"Get outta here," the prince hisses at him.
"I understand how you feel," the traveler offers. "Hear me out. I have sat where you sit. I know you are angry and hurt. But your ordeal is almost over. On the quest for real love," the traveler says, "you are put through tests. The first will always be evil and hurtful to others, the second will. be hurtful to you. None of my brothers has been wrong. You came to this place a naive young man. You did not know the extent of your powers. My brothers have shown you the extent of your powers. My brothers have shown you how to hurt others and how to hurt yourself. Now I will show you how to achieve what you came to achieve, for now you are ready."
The prince silently vows not to be naive again. He does not jump at the chance to hear clever advice from this third traveler. "Leave me alone," he says, "I'll find my own way.
"I'll leave you," the traveler says, rising to go. "But when you can't find your own way do this simple thing, bend down to the water's edge and drink. This is a land of fantasy. You can drink the water until you have drunk the whole ocean into yourself. The track of the moon on the water will then be within you. Think about it." And the traveler is gone.
The prince sits and stares at the moon, at its white reflection on the water. He thinks: Could this traveler actually be right? Isn't it worth at least trying his advice? What can it hurt? What if I could really drink all the water and get Aluna to come into me, to be a part of me?
Looking around, seeing no one about, the prince gets on his hands and knees and puts his lips to the water. He sets to drinking the ocean. It goes down his throat, and more of it goes down and more of it goes down. He drinks and drinks and drinks. His eyes see the water level decreasing, yet his body keeps taking the ocean in. He begins to see fish and water life, coral and underwater hills, and still the water goes in. He sees the track of the moon on the water disappearing, and he knows it is disappearing into him. He allows himself to feel a wonderful ecstasy as the last drop of water touches his lips.
The prince feels powerful for a long moment. He feels filled up and complete in a way he never has before. He knows Aluna is in him now. What a feeling that is! Oh, the moment lasts!
Then something begins to happen?a feeling of terrible bloating. The moment of ecstasy is passing too quickly, passing into a feeling of explosion. The prince tries to hold the water, but it comes flooding out. It pours back into the ocean bed.
The prince lets it out but then bends down again, begins to drink. He was so close to real ecstasy this time, so close to Aluna. He must make this work.
He drinks again. He drinks it all up. He feels full, complete, whole.
Then the bloating, the flooding out. And so he tries again, and again. Drinking, letting water out, drinking ..
Finally, he sits back down. He was so close, so close.
The prince begins to weep. He has never felt so empty, so much like a failure, so stupid. He cannot understand whether he is following the instructions incorrectly, or whether the travelers are liars, or whether the legend is impossible to fulfill. He feels very small, as if he is a pawn. He does not feel he has any real power to determine his destiny.
The prince looks down in the water and sees reflections of his parents. He wishes his father was the kind of man who could have given him permission to make this journey and some gifts that would help him know what to accomplish and how to accomplish it. He wishes his mother were with him now to take care of him, for she has always loved him and always will. She is the only person he has ever really trusted. Especially after what the travelers have done to him, he thinks maybe she's the only person he will ever trust.
He weeps for his father and mother. He weeps for his loneliness. ?The prince stares out at the track of the moon on the water. To be a man, he senses now, is to be alone.
He looks up the beach, his eye startled by movement. Coming toward him is a dwarf, a tiny man, hobbling up the beach. This must be another kind of traveler, he thinks numbly. I should just kill him, but I am too tired.
The dwarf greets him and sits down. In a rasping, old man's voice the dwarf asks, "What are you doing here?"
"Don't you know?" the prince answers. "All the others have known. "
The dwarf shakes his head, moving his hands in the sand like a child making a sand castle. He forms a turret, he sculpts a wall, saying nothing.
"You really don't know?" The prince can't believe it.
The dwarf shakes his head. "I was just walking up this beach and saw you sitting here so sadly. I thought I would try to help. What are you doing here?"
This dwarf must have no fantastical powers, the prince thinks, if he doesn't even know why I'm here. The dwarf isn't really worth talking to.
But the prince begins to talk. He doesn't think at first that he'll really say much, but in his sadness and loneliness he tells the dwarf everything: how he set out to remove the curse of life from the kingdom; how he met three travelers; how he did what they said but nothing worked; how he feels he's lost his soul; how the track of the moon on the water still remains far from him. "If this is love," he tells the dwarf, "I want none of it."
The dwarf nods. "I see. Now your mission is to touch the track of the moon on the water, yes?"
The prince nods.
"And why don't you swim out to the track of the moon?" the dwarf asks.
"Because all the other men must have done that, and they must have died. I see few bones, few skulls on this beach. They must have all swum out. When the water was all inside me, I saw the monsters that lie at the bottom of the sea. I value my life; I cannot swim out there."
The dwarf stands up to go. "I am not the wisest of men," he says, "but it seems to me you will never accomplish your goal here on this beach. You have two choices, but only you can make them: climb back up to the kingdom, or swim out toward Aluna. Not all the young men have died, I can tell you that. You'll find most of them on islands out there."
"They must have died," the prince exclaims, seeing no islands on the horizon. "The curse of life has never been removed from my father's kingdom."
"Nor will it ever be. Love is not the remedy of all pain and fear. Your father's prophecy was wrong. If you seek love, you must swim. To swim, you will have to throw off that backpack, for it will weigh you down. You will have to throw out that gold ornament, too, for it will weigh you down. All the powers you need are now within you."
This is a strange and different song. Throw off his mother's backpack? Throw his father's gold away? Swim out into the water where all is unknown and dangerous?
The dwarf says, "I will be on my way. Best of luck to you."
The prince watches his back until it disappears up the beach.
The prince knows he cannot climb back up to his parents' world. What is left but to swim out? Maybe there are islands out there he just can't see from here.
The tide is coming in. The water begins climbing up his legs. The prince lets the cold chill of the water touch his ankles, his?calves, then his knees. It sends a chill through his body, a chill up from his thighs. The water climbs up beyond his thighs now, touching his genitals. The chill moves through his whole body.
He slides into the water. He begins his swim. After a few strokes he pauses, treads water, looks out toward the horizon. How strange! There are islands. And they are within swimming distance! Why couldn't he see them from shore?
He sees villages, ports, other swimmers. He swims hard toward one of the islands. Getting closer to it, he sees people coming to the beach to welcome him. Very close now, he recognizes an uncle, and another, and other young men from his village. The swimming, although it exhausts him, excites him. He finds he has magic in him, magic in the form of constantly renewed strength to swim.
Safe, he drags himself up onto the beach. He is embraced by his relatives. He hears about the men's experiences with the travelers, and how they had to swim out in the end. He hears about many young men who never made it to, the island?some still wandering far down the beach, some trying to climb back up the cliff and falling, some swimming out in fear, losing their strength, and drowning.
He asks where the women came from and hears that the prophecy in their land was that a princess would descend the cliffs of their world and touch the track of the sun on the water. The women who tried to fulfill this prophecy met travelers who led them astray. But finally some of them, like the prince and his uncles, made it to the islands.
That night, as a welcoming ceremony, a great dance is held. All the people on the island dance in the moonlight and welcome the prince into his new world.