This is a spiritual allegory. You can read the previous story with Ruby here:
After her initial spiritual experience, Ruby taught others in her town about spiritual freedom. While reluctant at first, she was lured in by the desires of her friends and townspeople. They kept telling her that she had so much to give, and they wanted to hear what she’d discovered.
With all this encouragement, she decided to teach. The people gobbled up her words and hungrily consumed her gaze. They copied her movements and mannerisms hoping to unlock what she’d found.
Initially, Ruby experienced a combination of euphoria and trepidation. People actually wanted to hear her. She’d never considered herself to be anyone special.
The attention was quite a jolt!
Meanwhile the local religious community was open to her interpretations of the truth even if they didn’t agree with her.
So for all sakes and purposes, the gatherings and her teaching went fine. Yet, as time passed, she questioned why she was teaching.
Eventually, a longing stirred inside of her. It made her restless in a way that she’d never experienced. As the months went by, it grew further even as her gatherings grew, swelling to more than a hundred people from within and outside of the town.
While humbled, she saw the insatiableness of their desires. She realized that nothing she said or did could ever satisfy the people coming to her. And her own longing overtook her. She told everyone that she would soon leave.
Her followers wailed. They lamented. They pleaded with her to stay. They offered her things, promised to be better students, and said and did whatever they could to dissuade her from departing.
Seeing the level of attachment many people had with her, Ruby was further dismayed and emboldened in her decision. She gathered up her clothes, a pack, a walking stick, a compass, a hunting knife, and other useful items. She placed a good-bye note on her door and left in the middle of the night.
Beginning the Journey
The crisp air and the exhilaration of leaving spurred Ruby many miles through the first night. It wasn’t until waking up in the morning to the bubbling laughter of a river that she realized she had no idea where she was going.
“How foolish am I?” Ruby muttered. “Leaving my home with no destination.”
The river seemed to bubble and froth its laughter even more.
“Maybe this is good enough?” Ruby wondered to no one in particular.
The river laughed louder.
“Oh River! Do you find this funny?”
Then the river spoke, “I have seen many just like you. Your longing brings you here, but your ignorance blinds you.”
“You are right. Even though I have taught for years, I do not truly know this path. I have not walked it fully. Please show me a way if you know it,” Ruby replied.
“You do not want the way.”
“What do you mean? Of course, I want it. It’s why I am here.”
The river fell silent.
Ruby fell to her knees by the river. “River? River, please speak to me. Show me the way.”
Yet the river remained quiet.
Undeterred, Ruby decided to follow the river to see where it went.
Going to the Desert
Days went by with no further replies from the river, despite her many inquiries. One morning as she gathered food, she came face to face with a fat Waschbär. He loudly chewed on a fish he’d captured from the river and was surrounded by half-eaten portions of other fish, figs, and berries. Bits of food clung to the fur of his large belly.
“Why are you disturbing my breakfast?” the Waschbär grumbled, staring hard at Ruby with his beady black eyes.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Waschbär. I did not see you. I am gathering food to help me in my journey to follow this river.”
“Following this river? Are you mad? Stay where you are. There’s lots of food here. Or go back to where you came from. Don’t follow this crazy river.”
“Why is it foolish? Where does this river go?” Ruby asked.
“Don’t you know? You’re the one following it.”
Ruby shook her head. “I have this longing, and this seems to be the way.”
“You should forget such longing. It’ll get you killed. This river goes to the desert.” With that the Waschbär returned to gorging himself on his breakfast.
Perplexed, Ruby wondered why the river would go to such a place. A part of her strongly agreed with the Waschbär, but the longing strangely got stronger in hearing about the desert. She didn’t understand why.
As she left the area, she faintly heard the Waschbär say, “Enjoy your funeral!”
As Ruby continued, the land became less lush. It took longer to find food. Wisps of doubt formed into darker clouds in her mind.
What was she doing?
As she gathered food one day, she heard a voice say, “You better gather more.”
She looked around to locate the voice. No one was about.
She kept looking for the berries that had been in abundance earlier along the river, but the bushes which produced them were far fewer. Those that she found had already been picked clean.
“Try the figs in the trees,” the voice suggested.
She looked up to see a fig tree that she’d overlooked. In that tree, she saw a magnificent kuldne kull perched upon one of the highest branches. Its feathers shimmered with golden light in the daytime sun. She’d been so focused on the bushes that she’d forgotten to look up. The tree was overflowing with figs.
“The figs have just ripened. Other animals will come soon and pick the tree clean.”
Ruby thanked the kuldne kull, which then leapt into the air and flew off. She filled her pack with figs and continued on.
The days now were colder. The distant smell of autumn was growing, and there were fewer leaves, trees, and bushes to find kindling for her fires. She realized she should collect a little wood for the colder nights.
“You are right to look for wood. The nights will be much colder where you are going.” Again the kuldne kull’s voice came from afar. “Try the other side of the river.”
Ruby thanked the kind creature once more and followed the instruction. Once she’d collected a fair amount, she continued on.
Doubt and Fatigue
Ruby found herself getting tired from weeks of journeying and decided to pause a few days to rest. Yet, as she paused, her doubts grew more thunderous.
Where is she going?
What is she doing?!
Is there really a desert?
“What will happen to me in the desert?” she said aloud.
“You will die,” the river bubbled back.
The river did not reply.
“Why? Tell me more about this path I’m guided on.”
Still the river said no more.
Ruby’s stomach twisted into knots of fear. Despite that, her longing remained.
“I feel torn in two!”
“You are not the first,” the voice of kuldne kull said.
She looked up into the creature’s piercing eyes. “Is it true? Will I die?”
“If you are lucky.”
“What else do I need to have if I am going to make it in the desert? Please tell me. I do not know what I am doing,” Ruby pleaded.
The kuldne kull’s eyes continued to penetrate into her until Ruby felt like nothing but the thinnest of veils. “You will need to have much, much less.” Then he flew away.
“Everyone talks in riddles!” Ruby shouted. “How can anyone get any real help?”
But she pressed on.
The land became barren. Ruby could see larger expanses of arid plains and hills covered in thick brush. The trees here were much lower to the ground, almost beaten down by the growing pressure of the sun and the atmosphere of the land. She felt like she would both be crushed and swallowed whole here.
As she walked, she met a yellow-bellied marmot who also was following the river.
“Hello!” the marmot shouted far too loudly as they weren’t that far apart. “Are you going to the desert too?”
Ruby nodded, not much for words at the moment. Her fears and doubts were all she could hear.
“Then you’re going to find it too!”
“Find what? What’s ‘it’?” Ruby half-grumbled.
“True freedom!” the marmot said with a laugh.
Then Ruby’s longing came back full force. She gasped and fell to her knees. At last she understood what the longing was. Flashes of the heat of the desert came to her. She felt the power of the unblinking sun seeing through her whole being. She felt the gnawing hunger of fasting from all the enjoyments and pleasures that had filled her life. She felt her throat parched from purging emotions.
She looked up into the sympathetic eyes of the marmot.
“Not everyone has a longing like ours,” he commented.
“Why do I have it?” Ruby asked.
“Who’s to say?” The marmot shrugged. “We should travel together. I brought lots of snacks. I’m prepared.”
They set off together, but as the miles wore on them, the marmot’s good nature wore off. He grumbled. He spat. He swore. The shoes he wore were of great quality, but not for long distance walking. The food he brought was plenty, but most of it was not well-preserved nor could be well-preserved. Finally, his clothes weren’t meant for the snags of sharp brush or the harshness of the elements.
One morning Ruby work up, and the marmot was gone, leaving some torn clothing and tons of spoiled food behind.
Gateway to the Desert
At last, Ruby came to the gateway to the desert. A large stone arch carved by the river over millions of years marked the entrance.
“Thank you for your silent guidance, dear River,” Ruby said.
“You can never again be the person you are if you cross this threshold,” the river replied.
Ruby paused. She thought about her comfortable life, but the longing did not care.
“I can’t go back.”
“We shall see.”
“This IS what I want.”
“Then take up the last of me to quench your thirst,” the river said. “After this, I can guide you no further.”
Ruby stooped down to fill up her waterbags and followed the last waters of the river until they disappeared into sands of the desert.
Spiritual Allegory Interpretation
As mentioned earlier, this story follows the same Ruby first mentioned in this allegory:
In building off of that story, we discover that Ruby’s initial awakening isn’t the end of the story. It has only started it, and we find her as a deeper longing has taken hold of her.
What is this longing?
This is the longing for spiritual freedom.
Her initial realizations around freedom were just that–initial. They are tastes and glimpses that best serve spiritual seekers by inspiring them further. However, for most people, they think this is the point and tend of the journey.
Early in the story, I distinguish Ruby’s longing from the desires of her fellow townsfolk. The longing for freedom is a release from desires. Ego desires are all about continual goal achievement. They are never-ending. Additionally, the townspeople’s desires and how they treat her teaching like an object to be consumed are set up as a counterpoint to Ruby’s longing.
Ruby’s longing is critical. Without it, the true spiritual freedom seeker is lost. This longing is a kind of inner compass and inner motivation that will at times have to overcome personal desires as well as fears. Furthermore, it is necessary to overcome the inertia of our daily lives so that we break out of our patterns. Later on, longing serves no purpose or is counterproductive to realizing freedom. At which point it must be put down. But right now, in Ruby’s journey, it is critical.
Ruby’s humility is her next asset. Where so many spiritual seekers are not humble enough to admit their ignorance, she is. Therefore she can receive guidance. This is particularly notable as she has been a spiritual teacher, and yet she admits ignorance. So many spiritual people create greater levels of spiritual ego as teachers and healers, and they get stuck because they do not accept how little they know about the path for which they are facilitators.
Also, more than a few people end up teaching after an initial experience when they may feel they know the most, but actually know the least. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be helpful, but they’re not usually as humble as Ruby, and they don’t have any real perspective in regards to how little they know.
Thus, we see Ruby’s wisdom as she realizes the limitations of a spiritual teacher. She realizes that she cannot satisfy the desires of her students. Along with realizing that she needs to attend to herself, the choice to leave becomes clear.
At this point, she is very much alone in her spiritual journey, but she has the fortune of finding a guide–the river. The river is a spiritual guide rather than a teacher. It never really teaches her much. In our lives, spiritual guides can be anything that force us onto a path of self-discovery and ego dissolution. Heart attacks, loss of a child, break-ups, losing a job, losing a home, and many other instances are often the guides on the spiritual path as much as if not more than the kind person who offers advice. Usually, it’s suffering that points people in a new direction as they long for relief from it. Interestingly enough, Ruby isn’t driven by suffering as much as a deeper longing for freedom. In this way, her story is different than most spiritual seekers.
Again and again, Ruby is warned by different characters that she’s going to die, but this is purely metaphorical. The desert is a place of death, but not of the body. It is the Desert of Ego Death. However, when we’re identified with our ego, this process does “feel” like dying–even though none of us have actually died before to be able to know what dying feels like. Such is the ignorance, presumption, and hyperbole of the ego.
Otherwise, the river is pretty useless for information. It’s not holding back so much as it is not a teacher, but the combination of her longing and the direction the river runs–as much as suffering often runs in this direction–takes her in the direction she needs to go.
When Ruby meets the Waschbär, she’s meeting the spiritual seeker that found whatever it is they wanted. They found purpose, a soulmate, great Western Tantric sex, a community, a home, a family, wealth, or whatever. They are fat with it, and they have no interest in giving up what they have. Because Ruby doesn’t want things, nothing he says really matters to her. In the earlier spiritual allegory, she’d already been tested in terms of desire, and she’d passed those tests. She truly is trying to understand the longing.
But as is the case with many of us, fear and doubt grow in Ruby. That’s when she meets the kuldne kull.
The kuldne kull is a true teacher. He shows up when her doubts deepen, and that’s a form of grace. It’s always a beautiful thing when help shows up in this way; it doesn’t always. He directs her attention to things that she is overlooking–in this case the fig tree. Students often get trapped in what they can see, and one of the critical roles of a teacher is to help them see things–opportunities, issues, attachments, and spiritual tools–that they cannot.
Ruby isn’t searching for a teacher, so the kuldne kull doesn’t impose. True teachers rarely assert themselves into a person’s life. They have to be asked, often repeatedly. So he offers a bit of wisdom to bolster her amidst growing doubts and then flies off. Later, he returns again because Ruby has continued her journey. If she had stopped, he probably wouldn’t not have re-connected with her. But as she is taking another step in her journey (preparing by gathering wood), he offers advice on how to prepare at this next stage.
The gathering of wood and figs is simply a metaphor of the practical endeavors students must do to prepare themselves for the spiritual transformation brought about by ego dissolution.
Her humility and willingness to follow instruction are other forms of grace. These are traits all serious spiritual seekers must cultivate.
The further someone follows the spiritual path, the more a sense of being torn in two often comes up. Ruby has this internal conflict with her familiar ego habits and the internal longing that is taking her in a new direction. Quite frankly, most people turn back.
Next we meet the ill-prepared yellow-bellied marmot.
Firstly, there actually is an animal called a yellow-bellied marmot (the other creatures are real as well, just put them into Google Translate to find out what they are in your language). Secondly, “yellow-bellied” is a phrase meaning cowardly or fearful here in the U.S.
The marmot is a particular type of spiritual seeker. This type thinks they want spiritual freedom/liberation/enlightenment/Self-realization/whatever we want to call it. So they don’t necessarily get lured in by getting a soulmate or wealth or whatever as the Waschbär does. But they don’t really want freedom. Like many, the marmot either self-prepared or had someone who had no idea what the path would entail prepare them. Poor preparation happens because the person and their “teachers” don’t really know what spiritual freedom is. How do you prepare someone to swim across the lake if you’ve never seen water?!
In short, the marmot isn’t prepared. He’s practiced spiritual tools and learned ideas that don’t work on the actual path. This is seen in how the clothes and shoes aren’t right, and the food is spoiled.
So despite all this enthusiasm, he gives up the path.
However, Ruby arrives at the desert. This is where the guide can go no further. While a teacher can traverse the desert to support someone, many people and situations that guide us towards the spiritual path cannot. As such, these relationships and supports vanish as we step into a new phase of the spiritual journey.
It’s important to emphasize again that Ruby is still very much beginning. Despite initial experiences, having been a teacher, and the journey to the desert, this is all preparatory. In more real world terms, a spiritual seeker like herself would have been taking care of her body, her mental health, her emotional health, and her resources health. That last part means that she’d have her abilities to eat, have housing, etc. taken care of. A lot of spiritual seekers miss this part, assuming that “everything would just be provided,” and they often find themselves in serious moments of needless duress. Ruby would also have been doing different spiritual practices. That would all prepare her to enter the desert of ego death, and then it gets interesting.
Many people think that some of what I mentioned is “unnecessary” and/or doing all those spiritual practices was somehow the goal. Shouldn’t you just meditate and be there–wherever there is?
No. This is an organic path of unlearning, and the preparation is what allows someone to arrive at the sloughing away process of ego. Without the preparation, people don’t let go; they continue to unconsciously repeat their ego patterns. Tose that let go a little tend to only do it under significant pain and trauma (heart attack, loss of loved one, etc.). Then they immediately stop when they are no longer under such pressure.
So the end of this story is actually another beginning for Ruby. I’ll follow up with her story in the coming weeks to help you learn more about what it means to die an ego death in the desert. I hope you’ll join me.