In Inner Ramana, scribed by one my teachers, Regina Dawn Akers, the comparison is made between the mind and the circus. That, for a time (maybe lifetimes), we are fascinated by the circus. We love the acrobats, the trapeze artists, the sword swallowers and bearded ladies. We love the bright colors, the music, the costumes, the lights, the gasps, the drama, the cheers,… the drama.
But, deep within us “there is a desire […] to settle within the meadow that surrounds the circus tent”, and a vague feeling, much like an old memory, that it is there in the meadow where we will be met with an everlasting tranquility, and a show more beautiful than we could ever imagine. A real show.
The circus is the mind as it springs forth thoughts that grab our attention and draw us into the story of how many clowns will fit into the car, or, in daily life, how important we are, or how terrible we are, and what was said by whom to who, and the ecstasy of getting what we want, and the heart-wrenching disappointments of not getting what we want.
There’s a joke I was told by a tour guide in Ireland: My previous job was a trampolinist in a circus. It had its ups and downs.
Our lives, dictated to by the mind, can be like this — lived in perpetual ups and downs.
But if we don’t follow the minds’ thoughts, if we just open the curtains and watch the show from outside for a while through self inquiry practices and meditation, then the feeling of the sun on the back of our necks, and the grass under our feet becomes more compelling than the show inside the tent. And, with practice we notice a quiet love for the meadow, so that even away from our meditation cushions we stop stepping through the curtains, until eventually we live our daily lives with its ups and downs, but we remain fully outside, laid down among the wild flowers watching the clouds pass in the blue sky above.
I was reminded of this teaching watching The Greatest Show last weekend — the musical movie of P.T. Barnum’s life. I have no idea how accurate the depiction was, but the storyline seemed to show this lesson beautifully. Barnum has a family he is smitten with and seems to live an idyllic, if what humble, life with them in New York City. But he longs for more excitement, and so starts a circus.
After a few years of success, however, Barnum’s thoughts turn away from the circus, and he declares he wants to give people what is real, rather than what is fake.
It is as if this point is his awakening — that he longs for something more meaningful, and senses it exists. But, instead of choosing the meadow, he chooses another show — one more opulent, more grand. He chooses the opera, the very epitome of drama, and its promise of high society and respect — the opposite to his time in the circus where he was loved by the common people.
Not long into his tour with his opera star, he realizes he has mistaken what “real” is, and his journey ends in sorrow for all who know him.
Realizing all he has lost, Barnum returns home long enough to revive his circus, but he has understood that the circus is no longer what he desires — now he chooses the meadow. He retires from his role as ringmaster, and chooses to spend the rest of his days with his family.
A wonderful reminder that the meadow was always there, and is always there if we can let go of the allure of the circus of the mind.