This is an excerpt from Finding Mastery #141 with co-founder of the Esalen Institute, Michael Murphy, in which he explains the importance of finding the right balance between being and becoming.


Michael Murphy: We have to respect the need in all of us at times for a time out. Whether it’s during the day, or it’s on weekends, or for Sabbaticals. We have to learn to be skillful in living in the two worlds, the world of being and the world of becoming.

There’s a great symbol in India, the paramahamsa. Now this is another Sanskrit word. The paramahamsa is a bird that flies, the swan, whatever it was. A mythical bird that flies with one foot in the water, and it means it’s permanently rooted in brahman, but it’s always in the water at the same time.

Now that would be an ideal to shoot for, and there are times when some of us can do that, where we’re in both at the same time. But very often, you get that foot in the water, and kerplunk! Down you go like a pelican, down after the fish, except you may or may not get back out.

You gotta learn how to not get swallowed. Plotinus, the great mystic, said the source of all suffering is that the soul gets lost in its works. Came down from the high heaven, this is the Neo-Platonist, and into this world, and lost the ecstasy and forgot. So Plato talked anamnesis, remembering the divine. Now you remember, you come back to it.

Now you come back to it, then what do you do? One temptation is just stay up there in this bliss, and that’s one whole approach in the early 60s at Esalen, there were a lot of people preaching that, “Don’t get down here in this dirty world,” but I had chosen to try to be in both like the paramahamsa. And that’s the challenge, I think, for those of us who want to be both in this high being, and keep growing in it, and yet be down and serve in the world. That’s a challenge.

Michael Gervais: How do you spell that?

Michael Murphy: Paramahamsa. P A R A always means kind of beyond, and it’s the hamsa is the bird, the bird that’s out but in. Para hamsa. Hamsa, H A M S A. Para, P A R A.

Michael Gervais: Okay, new words. What a great story.

Michael Murphy: Yeah, the birds have one foot in the water, so you can do both at the same time.


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Michael Murphy is the co-founder of the Esalen Institute, a key figure in the Human Potential Movement and author of The Future of the Body and other books on topics related to extraordinary human potential.