Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
May 13, 2014 Alan Cohen

pyramid-sepia A student told her spiritual teacher that she was suffering under “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” quoting Shakespeare’s famous verse from Hamlet. The teacher looked her piercingly in the eyes and asked, “Are you so sure that fortune is outrageous and it must bear slings and arrows?”

      The stunned woman replied, “But Shakespeare was a genius. He had penetrating insights into the nature of life.”

      “Maybe life in his time,” the teacher said. “But that time is not this time.  “We are moving from an old paradigm of outrageous fortune to a new one of blessed fortune. If you wish to dwell in the new paradigm, you will have to let go of Shakespeare’s words. Are you ready?  Are you willing?”

      Paradigms work for the moments they serve, but then they evolve to more expansive domains. Every belief system gives way to a greater one. Even science, which seems “solid,” is constantly casting aside old notions in favor of new ones. Sir James Jeans noted, “Science should give up on making pronouncements. The river of truth has often turned back upon itself.”

      The teachers and methods that once guided you, the ones that changed and saved your life, the ones that seemed solid as steel, may no longer be appropriate for you.  To the ego, that suggestion is quite scary. But, as Mahatma Gandhi declared, “I am committed to truth, not consistency.”  Just because a pathway healed or saved you at one time, does not mean it will serve you in the same way at this time.  This does not make the system, the people who represent it, or related experiences wrong. It just makes them outdated. For you, at least. The teacher or system may be totally valid for those who use it now. But you have a different path, and you must be true to it.

      Let’s take some beliefs and teachings that many of us have embraced on the spiritual path, and hold them up to the light to see if they still work for us. Karma, for example. Is it the ultimate truth, or does the principle of grace supersede it?  The religion you were brought up in—does it uplift you now, or does it bind you?   Following an external guru—it works for many, but does it work for you?  The notions of having to work to earn a living; or suffer to become free; or to have to walk through hell to earn heaven; or the belief that pain buys you anything worthwhile; or that sacrifice is required; or that one person’s self-diminishment results in another’s strengthening; or that one person’s death gives another life.  And do we really reincarnate in a linear fashion, or might we be One Mind living all lives simultaneously?

      My mentor once advised, “You must devour your teacher. You must go beyond what your teacher taught you.” We must honor the giants who have helped us, but ultimately we must stand on their shoulders. Those who have changed the world for the better have always questioned and transcended the world they inherited. If initial methods were the only methods, we would all still be writing on papyrus. E-mail? Crazy!

      I saw a display at an ocean museum showing several nautilus seashells, each larger than the one before it. The guide explained, “The same creature could have conceivably lived in each one of these shells at different times in its life. The animal spins the shell as its ‘house,’ and when it outgrows the house, it leaves the shell behind and spins a new home to accommodate its larger size.”

      We, too, outgrow the shells that once housed and protected us. For all of them we must be grateful. But we must also be great-full, allowing greatness to shine to us and through us in ever more expansive ways. In horticulture, there is one sure sign that a plant is healthy: the presence of new growth. If the plant is forming new leaves and flowers, it is in good shape.

      Likewise, we must always be forming new leaves and flowers to stay alive spiritually.  For new growth to come, the old leaves must fall away. They have done their job. They will be recycled by the universe to create new and more wondrous creations.

      Shakespeare rocks. He was a genius. Yet he was a writer for his time more than ours. Certainly he captured certain eternal themes. Yet new Shakespeares are being groomed even as we speak. Perhaps you are one of them, in your own unique way. The new paradigm might be flowing through you as a painter, inventor, or mother, You must be true to what is, not what was. Then you will be a living corroboration of the bard’s visionary prophecy that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


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 About the Author:

Alan-CohenAlan Cohen is the author of Enough Already: The Power of Radical Contentment.  If you would like to become a professional life coach or incorporate life coaching skills in your career or personal life, join Alan’s celebrated Life Coach Training Program beginning in September.  For more information about this program, Alan’s other books, free daily inspirational quotes, and his weekly radio show, visit, or email [email protected].



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