Citizens of Two Worlds: Embracing the Duality of “Majesty” and “Muck” in Our Transformative Era

This Earth Day, we’re reflecting on words shared by our Executive Director, Karen Doyle Grossman, at the Metamorphosis Forum this past fall. 

She writes:

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on WHY were we all born at this particular time in history? Because it is clearly an inflection point on a grand scale. From a Platonic view, our souls agreed to be here together to fulfill a purpose. 

Before pondering this further, let me introduce two different characters I’ve become acquainted with recently – Majesty and Muck. 

Majesty is a bald eagle. I’ve seen more bald eagles this year than ever before. And each time, I envision this one, glorious female eagle I’ve named Majesty. I feel awe and excitement and an immediate sense of grace when I see her. Majesty is undeniably beautiful; she represents the highest, keenest vision. I have no complicated feelings or even a thought process about a Majesty sighting – just an intuitive, aesthetic arrest.

And then there’s Muck. Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is pull up the shades and stick my head out the window (to smell the day). One morning in 2020, I pulled up the shade and jumped back. Just 12 inches away, standing on the roof right out the window, was an enormous black bird, with an impressively large body and a wholly unattractive face, head, and neck. I peered out and saw that there were three more just like this first one, whom I called Muck. They were huge! I soon saw that there was what’s called scientifically a “committee” of vultures roosting on our chimney, roof, and surrounding trees. And I later learned that when they take flight high above in their mesmerizing circles, it’s called a “kettle.” When they are feeding on a carcass, it is fittingly called a “wake.”

These black vultures’ migration patterns expanded during the pandemic, and now Muck and his pals are seasonal residents. I initially felt a lot of resistance towards these birds. They are ugly and foreboding. But after spending time getting to know them, I now feel deep gratitude and respect towards them. They look funny for a reason – it is easier to keep a bald head clean. They poop on their own feet, which seems gross, but their poop is an amazing cleaning product – kind of like hand sanitizer. Their stomachs are highly acidic so they remove diseases like botulism, cholera, and anthrax from the environment. And when they circle high in the sky in their ominous way, they are inviting the sun’s illumination to purify their feathers of parasites and bacteria. They show what it means to transform an old form and prepare it to become a new one.

Aren’t most of us, born at this incredible moment in history, being asked to be like Muck? To do much of our work in committees, be fully present and engaged at too many wakes, and then to soar up in a kettle to allow the light of illumination to transform the old forms.

We must have occasional moments of Majesty to inspire and strengthen us. It is essential that we make space for receiving the grace of those intuitive, sublime moments. But our day-to-day work is with Muck. 

We must honor both and invest our energy enabling both. This is what it means to become a Citizen of Two Worlds. There is the world we see and read about and experience – the manifest world.

And then there is a world that, as the Himalayan tradition says, “the conscious part of the mind fails to grasp…that which lies beyond the spheres of time, space, and causation.” And according to many teachers, this is a higher aspect of reality – this unmanifest world that is unseen and unknown. The Majesty.

So why not just aspire to the highest heights? Why do we need to do the very hard work of being both?

Simply, because that’s who we are – we are Embodied Spirits – as Muck, we are human forms dealing with our everyday existence doing (hopefully) the best we can – and we are Majesty – unique sovereign souls with the ability to soar above the mundane and transform into the essential beings that we actually are.  

Many traditions and even certain realms of science suggest, as the Himalayan tradition has said, “That which takes place in the physical world is a mere reflection of what has already taken place in the inner world. The nature of inner life changes the quality of external life.” That powerful connection is our shared mission because tinkering at the frayed edges of the outer world is not working.

It sometimes seems like the external world of 2024  is an absolute disaster. There are existential threats at multiple levels. Millions of species and specific countries, territories, communities, cultures, languages, ecosystems, water tables, and other vital entities and systems are at risk.

And yet, there is also so much light and love in some of the most desperate places. For a part of my career, I had the opportunity to travel to what are called “fragile states” – fragile because of conflict, corruption, political or economic or environmental upheaval. But what stood out to me the very most in every place was the presence of human dignity. A dignity fueled by light and love. 

Where does that light and love come from when one’s outer circumstances are so difficult, even horrifying? Increasingly, I think that’s an essential question for all of us to figure out. It is certainly one I ponder in my own study and practice. 

We need to stay attuned to these essential questions both so we can withstand the crumbling of the current external world, but also so we can help to pave the way for a beautiful metamorphosis. Like Muck and his kettle and the Grandeur of Majesty, like citizens of both worlds.

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