There it was. A daunting challenge. We stared down at the work beneath us and wholeheartedly dove into our adventure.
You see, it was me, and the young son of a dear friend of mine, and we were slowly and steadily gathering scattered fragments on the carpet floor of his bedroom and matching them together to form a composite picture of his favorite crime fighter. It happened to be a puzzle of Iron Man, who is the superhero portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. in The Avengers.
While we were assembling the puzzle, the boy was wearing a full Iron Man outfit, lacking only the special Iron Man gloves that emit laser beams out of their palms. But don't worry, as I write, he's saving up his allowance and chore money to buy the magical gloves, so he'll soon be fully equipped and ready to become a perfect emulation of the technological genius he so admires. I know he will achieve the glorious transformation. He is devoted to his ideal, and he will take the steps needed to reach the mountaintop.
After finishing the puzzle, we watched the actual movie Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the film, Ultron is the nemesis. He is a specimen of artificial intelligence gone wrong. He conspires to destroy the world, even though he had originally been designed and created to protect it. Talk about tragic irony and a bad day in the computer laboratory!
Of course, on the verge of mass catastrophe, the Avengers save the day and rescue the human race from the diabolical machine. Notwithstanding some gnarly collateral damage and the death of a few minor characters, the dust of chaos finally settles. Our superheroes have prevailed, but they are left with the lingering questions: what role will technology play in our future, and how do we establish peace on Earth?
These are not fictional questions. They are very real. They are more relevant than ever.
In my quest to discover answers, I have found that, like my young puzzle-building comrade, I need to recognize who my superheroes and villains are. Oh yes, I need both.
So, who are some of my real-life superheroes then? Well, there are plenty. Some I have met in person; others I have not. Some specialize in spirituality and transcendence; others have mastered the arts and crafts of a worldly career. My family and close friends are high on the list. Some ones I haven't met include: Jesus, Buddha, Yogani, Yogananda and his lineage; great writers like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, J.D. Salinger, and John Krakauer; origami artists and mathematicians Robert Lang and John Montroll; a whole host of musicians from the distant past and in the present, like Beethoven, Mason Jennings, Michael Stearns, Daft Punk, Radiohead, the Grateful Dead, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and on and on.
And my villains? Well, my villains tell me which direction I don't want to head in. It's not so much that I want to kill my enemies as much as move beyond them. It's often been said the greatest enemy is within oneself, and I find that to be true. The enemy within is a teacher, a contrasting shade and color to paint the picture with more clarity and depth. And what a picture it is turning out to be!
So, my spiritual villains are the teachers who preach enlightenment as if the ultimate goal was to proclaim victory over the ego and mind (Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, Mooji, Sadhguru, Krishnamurti, Osho, etc.)
The beautiful thing is that we get to choose our heroes and villains, so the villains I just listed may be high on the list of heroes for other aspirants. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm fine with that. If you love those teachers, good for you! I won't try to convince you to stop loving them, and you don't need to convince me to stop regarding them as villainous. We can co-exist with our different opinions.
For me, enlightenment is a colorful thing. It's not black-and-white. It demands texture, layering, vibrant creativity and innovation. It's about being on the edge of existence—not blotting out existence with clever words coming from talking heads. I'm not interested in talking heads. I'm interested in dancing, robust bodies that are gliding through space with passion and brilliance.
So I say: Suit up, put on your laser-beam gloves, and let's get to work at saving humanity from the greatest enemy of all—ourselves.
Over and out.