Posted 26 August 2023 by Sal
Perhaps you are familiar with the story about the Sirens in The Odyssey by Homer. The Sirens, who lived on an island, were half bird and half woman. It was said that so alluring was their music and sweet singing that no one could resist them. To succumb to them was to meet your doom. Sailors who were passing by the island had to stuff their ears with wax so as not to hear their songs. If they did hear them, they would never make it home; they would swim frantically to the shore and be crushed to death on the rocky coast. However, if any mortal heard their song and managed to pass them by, the Sirens would die, as they needed their attention to feed their existence.
Odysseus was on a ship on his long journey home and sailed past the island of the Sirens. Upon hearing them, he took out his lyre and played so loudly that it drowned them out, so they could not be heard and he passed safely. When Odysseus managed to escape them by tying himself to the mast and withstanding their seduction, the Sirens threw themselves into the sea and died.
This story is a metaphor for how we become infatuated with the illusory world of mind, and in so doing, die to our essential being of freedom. But the story also reveals the means of how we are saved. Just as the tantalizing songs of the Sirens lured the sailors to the beach to meet their death, the tantalizing impressions in our mind lure us into believing their song and take us instantly away from peace.
Those impressions can be very compelling—the good, bad, pleasant and unpleasant impressions in our mind fool us again and again into believing the songs they sing. We are seduced away from freedom, leaving the safety of our essential being, the ocean of peace, and venture to the rocky shore of mental delusions. This is true of even the most sublime spiritual experience.
Until now we have had no option but to believe them because we have been taught to value them as the very essence of who we are. We have not yet come to know our true essence, where we are always safe from their harmful allure. But once we do come to know, we “drown out” these songs by abiding as our always peaceful, already-attained nature. This is what living freedom means.
Someone I worked with a few years ago observed about a well-known spiritual teacher, “ I just love listening to him, he speaks so beautifully about enlightenment.” Beautiful poetic spiritual texts and speakers in and of themselves, are perfectly fine and lovely and are often inspired by truth. But, because we have likely not yet come to know in ourselves the essence of their meaning, instead of waking us up, they usually lull us to sleep with their beauty and sensuousness, like the Sirens lured the sailors. We are not recognizing the essential message of the words in our own knowing/being, but instead are mostly caressed into a hypnotic state of mind by the sensuous feelings they evoke.
Beautiful spiritual poetry and language makes you feel good in the moment and is of course fine, but it is still an outward movement of mind and as such, the wrong direction for coming to know your essential being, which in fact is the real beauty and peace.
The Sirens that allure us are not only beautiful words and experiences. There are countless alluring plays of mind that draw us outwards toward them and away from our own inner self-knowing/being. In this way it is a death on the rocky shore of mind of the essential peace that is inherent as who we are. These plays are all of the negative and positive impulses in our mind that attract our attention and keep us asleep in a world of mental stories and impressions.
Painful and pleasant memories and projections, all of the repetitive thoughts and images that flaunt themselves before us in a seemingly endless stream of mentation are
Sirens distracting us from the here and now. They pull us into the illusory world of time, with its endless display of past regrets, anger, remorse, guilt, blame, resentment, feelings of lack, need for control and even the so-called good mind games of sentimentality and nostalgia.
As well, we are lured by the future fantasy world of fear, hope, stress, anxiety, expectation and desire. The allure of any of these Sirens can seem irresistible. But, just as with the Sirens who needed the attention of the sailors to thrive, and without which they would die, so it is with impressions and habits of the mind. Without attention, which is the fuel for their livelihood, thoughts subside. And when thoughts subside, the body and mind are given the space to come to rest in their natural, peaceful condition.
Just as Odysseus tied himself to the mast and passed the Sirens by, causing them to die, in any moment, when you turn attention to your essential being of freedom here and now, whatever thought is appearing in the moment ‘dies’. You are left in that moment with the peace and freedom that is inherent to who you are and which is always here, albeit mostly unnoticed. You find that you are already home and in fact, have never left. You see that stories in your mind are just as mythical as the myth of the Sirens in The Odyssey.
What are the sirens that distract you from freedom and bring you to suffering? You know them for yourself. Mental impressions and habits like fear, desire, the need to be special, likes and dislikes, and all your myriad impulses, demand your attention and distract you from your essential being, which in truth, is always here and now. You fall again and again for the songs of pain and suffering and never come to rest.
You may feel that the content of your mind has too much value and you can’t part with it. But, if you come to the point when you want to be free, then you have to be willing to give up the luxury of being a victim of anything, including all of your past and future myths and fantasies, and yes, even your traumas. Because, a free person is never a victim.
The good news is that the more you live freedom in this way, the more you see its value and the less infatuated you are with that which keeps you in delusion and causes you to suffer. You simply tire of it and its grip loses its power. But you have to be ready to embrace this, and that is usually the result of being fed up trying every other modality and finding little ultimate refuge there.
When that is the case, over time you can more easily come to rest in freedom, which is where you discover your true refuge. This can’t be rationalized or reasoned into. It happens naturally when the time is right for you, when the natural maturing of your humanness, mostly through being humbled again and again by life’s trials, and by not finding any real resolution, brings you to this point.
When you are at this point, (I call it grace), and you hear a message of freedom, of another way of being, it can very naturally click and then profound change can happen. You begin to value more the peace and freedom of your essential being instead of the countless Sirens that call you. This is living freedom.