Did you ever hear the story of how the Last Judgment was conducted in the mythology of ancient Egypt? There was a Goddess named Maat who held a golden scale in her hand. On one side she placed the soul of the deceased person and in the other side she put a feather. The idea was that they should weigh the same at the end of one’s life. What an interesting way to picture the goal of an individual life: to become as light as a feather. It is this idea that being should be lightweight that I want to reflect on for a moment.
Lightness of being is another way to say achieving “happiness,” or “peace of mind” in life. This means taking an active joy each day in the basics such as the rising of the sun, the singing of the birds, or the rustling of the leaves in the trees. It continues through the day in the recognition of people we know, realizing their happiness at seeing us, and feeling the peacefulness that our presence adds to each situation we encounter. It comes to an end as we return home after our business and reunite with our families and friends to share a meal together and relax in the evening hours before entering into a well deserved night’s rest.
Sounds great, but you and I both know that it seldom works out that way on a day by day basis. Things interfere with our happiness, many of them beyond our powers to control, beginning with the imperative to grow up. The seriousness of life is thrust on us when we enter school, go to church and generally learn all about the expectations of sitting quietly and behaving ourselves. This draining of joy from us continues right into early adulthood when we enter into more of life’s demanding events such as entering the work force or the military, getting married, raising children and losing more of our personal independence every day, not to mention our spontaneous joy in living.
We necessarily become more self-conscious as we grow up and that usually includes internalizing the voices of others who urge us to be more mature, more self-sacrificing and less selfish day by day. O.K., O.K, but if we aren’t careful we can gradually lose sight of our own freshness, our own spontaneity and the things that basically make us happy. We learn that being adult means worrying, conducting huge internal debates over every possible subject, and setting aside any natural joy for accomplishing our duty. How can our soul become light as a feather in the midst of all that seriousness?
Well, I am going to guess that in the first place we have to become more deliberate in our seeking of personal joy as we grow older than we once did. This means we have to remember to get outside every day and be available to nature so that creation can have a chance to work on us. We also have to learn to turn off the inner critic that we have downloaded into our being and which goads us into responsibility so that we can find times to be free and even carefree.
In particular we have to root out the false pride that keeps us from taking joy in smaller things, in the smiles of children in the touches of our beloved ones, in the flashes of real understanding we receive from our friends. We need to actively encourage these little moments of rest to take up residence inside us, alongside the larger moments of stress-creating difficulties and problems that so often bully their own way into our psychic lives.
There is another reminder from Egypt that can help us with all this. It is the two part question that Maat asks each soul as she weighs them in her infinite scale. “To whom did your bring happiness in your life; and who did you allow to bring happiness into your life?” Doesn’t that just about wrap it up in the area of lightness of being? To whom did we bring happiness to and who did we allow to bring us happiness? Talk about a bottom line.