There are ancient stories around the world that seek to address what goes wrong for us as human beings—from the Greek story of Pandora’s Box that unleased disease upon the world, to the story of the fearsome Egyptian lioness goddess Sekhmet, who slaughtered humanity until she was distracted from her lethal mission by drinking too much beer. Myths and legends, folktales and religious scripture from around the world are full of explanations for the human condition.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the most familiar story that addresses human error is Adam and Eve. Since its originally telling, the story itself has been augmented with myths about the myth. There is no apple in the story as it is told in Genesis, and there is no mention of sex. Usually, when the story is referred to, it is dished out with generous helpings of shame, which is somewhat understandable considering that the original story deals with the source of shame in the human experience. But the reason for the story is not to perpetuate shame but to end it.
Here is a radically different view of what this story is portraying.
From the positioning of the story at the beginning of the Bible, we can guess that it was viewed as pivotal. Stories of the origin of things always are. There are actually many other stories in the Bible of what goes wrong for humanity. But this one has a privileged place.
The story is best understood if it is seen as something that’s happening within a person. The characters of the story are meant to portray facets of our human experience. Those facets of our human experience were originally portrayed symbolically in a way that was natural to the original storytellers. You find in many ancient stories that there are characters who are telling us something about our human experience. There are many words and concepts that we have today, for which they didn’t have words and concepts in ancient times—psychological concepts, for instance. And nonetheless, when you are willing to see the story as being about an individual, there are profound things being said.
When you finish reading this, you can decide that this interpretation of the story is irrelevant or unimportant. But I can almost promise you a good ride in the meantime. And perhaps, for you, some flashes of insight.
There are many symbols in the story that rise to the level of being a character. The serpent seems to play an evil role—the role of a troublemaker. The symbol of the serpent has been with humanity since ancient times. It is sometimes depicted, as it is here, as someone who is whispering evil things into the ears of human beings. But it’s also depicted as a winged serpent. It is Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerican literature and the winged serpent guards King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. What could this character represent?
The serpent in this story is a symbol of human awareness. That awareness can rise to an awareness of the world of potentiality, which has yet to manifest. This is the winged serpent who moves in the air.
Human awareness also encompasses an earthly reality. It is this reality that the serpent is bringing to Eve. As a result of what happens in the story, the serpent—human awareness—is banished to an awareness of only earthly things.
…upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Eve could represent many things. But in terms of what happens within us as an individual, I suggest that she is a symbol of what we feel. She is a symbol of our emotional body.
When your emotional body receives awareness of what’s happening in the world around you, your emotional body is subject to discomfort. So if it’s too hot, if it’s too cold, if things happen that we don’t like, the serpent brings us this awareness, and then the emotional body has some kind of response.
That emotional response is then reported to Adam. Adam represents your thoughts. He is your conscious mind. So Eve hears from the serpent, and then Adam hears from Eve. The conscious mind is constantly hearing things from the emotional body. The emotional body is saying, “I’m not happy,” and maybe even insisting that the conscious mind make it happy. “It’s too hot—turn on the AC.” That would be a simple one. But there are so many other discomforts of the emotional body. “I don’t like what they said. Do something about that.” “I don’t like the way this person looked at me.” And then the conscious mind is given a task. That task is ultimately to make the emotional body feel okay. No small task, I might add!
There is another important character in the story. In Hebrew it is “Yahweh Elohim” (spelled with the Latin alphabet, which is the one we use in English). In English, it is translated as “the Lord God.” The Lord God is another character within our own Being. It is our own sovereignty as a human being. It is the sovereign self. We may be able to envision that, in a larger context, the Lord God relates to some other Being someplace else. But understanding this story as a portrayal of our own immediate individual experience, consider that, whatever other meaning these words might have, the Lord God is your own sovereign Being.
We may object that the Lord God is portrayed as something separate from all the other characters. It sounds in the story like our own sovereign Being is somehow distinct from Adam, Eve and the serpent. But that is part of the value of the story. It breaks out components of what is happening within our human makeup so that we can gain a deeper understanding of what is happening.
This is one of the difficulties of our path back to oneness, which requires that we deal with aspects of our human experience that aren’t mixed together in a homogenous whole. In fact, these components of ourselves are in dynamic relationship with each other.
Here is how it is portrayed in the story:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (Genesis 3:1-3)
Here is another primary character in the story: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree of how things are going and whether or not you like it. Read the story with that meaning and see what it reveals to you.
Read this way, eating of the forbidden tree is engaging in an assessment of how things are going and how it is making you feel. And then letting your whole human experience be controlled by that experience. Your senses bring an awareness of the manifest world to your emotional body. Your emotional body becomes uncomfortable, or even in pain. Your emotions enlist your conscious mind in the process, in essence saying, I’m unhappy! This is bad! Do something!
Seen this way, what is clearly being said is that the tree how things are going and whether or not you like it does not belong in the hands of your emotions or your mind. How things are going does not belong in the hands of how you feel and what you are going to do to make yourself feel better. It is reserved for your sovereign self—the Lord God.
Let’s see how the story continues:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:3-5)
Good and evil are how things are going and what should be going on and what shouldn’t be going on, and how you can manipulate what’s happening to make you happy. And remember, the serpent is talking to Eve, the emotional body, saying, “You ought to take a big bite of this apple that has to do with knowing how things are going for you and how they should go.” Beginning to sound familiar?
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:6&7)
So Adam and Eve—thoughts and feelings—were originally naked, transparently connected to the sovereign self and the process of Creation. As we might describe it, there was a lack of self consciousness at the level of mind and emotion. That is natural if selfhood is carried at the level of the Lord God, the sovereign self.
The fig leaves represent self consciousness at the level of mind and emotion and the introduction of shame. That shame cuts us off at the level of thought and feeling from the sovereign self. Shame exists because mind and emotion assume a false sense of selfhood and importance for themselves, and with that a false sense of the importance of what I think and feel. So when the real self shows up—the rightful sovereign Being with the person—there is disconnection and shame.
This is the inner struggle that happens for virtually all people. It is what happens when we eat of the tree of how things are going and whether or not you like it.
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
Put in more modern English, “Where are you?” So remember, this is the authentic self, your authentic self and mine. There is the reality of self, hovering now in the background, and the conscious mind knows the self is someplace. But the conscious mind has just gotten full-time employment. It has assumed the job of making the emotional body happy. In fact, there is some overtime in that too. And so the conscious mind has gotten so fully employed with the distresses of the emotional body that self goes out the window. The conscious mind now thinks, I know who I am and what my life is about is in here someplace. I know that the sovereignty and the majesty and the magnitude of who I am as a human being is in here someplace. But really, I have hardly time to think about it because I have got so much going on inside, in my emotional body, that I’m now responsible for.
Nonetheless, the presence of the sovereign self hovers and calls out, as it always does, “Where are you?” In this case it was at least heard. And now, in response, come the excuses.
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (Genesis 3:10)
This is the voice of shame. I love what Matthew Fox says, which is we shouldn’t be talking about original sin. We should be talking about original blessing. And it’s true, there is an original blessing, and the original blessing comes before what happens prior to this part of the story. After all, before the story of what goes wrong, the breath of life is breathed into the first human being. Sounds like a blessing to me.
The religions of the world have tended to adopt that voice of shame that has been speaking to human beings. As it’s said, God created man in His own image and we’ve returned the favor ever since. So feeling shameful, we attribute a shaming message to God. But if you read the story, shame is what is happening for the heart and mind because of how they are functioning.
In the pattern of function that’s being portrayed, the back is being turned on the sovereign self, and that is the origin of the shame. That is shame, because shame has to do with a global assault on self, the loss of a knowing of selfhood. How else would it be, if you’re not paying attention to the messages of self—if you’ve turned your back on self and you’re paying all the attention to a troubled heart that you’re trying to calm down and make feel okay by shifting things in other people and in the environment in which you live?
With shame comes blame. As portrayed in this story, there can be a lot of truth to a blaming statement. But what it ignores is the choice that the conscious mind of the person made, which induced the experience of shame in the first place, remembering that shame is disconnection from the sovereign self.
And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me…. (Genesis 3:11&12)
Well, we’ve got two blames in one sentence! “The woman”—there’s the first one—“whom thou gavest….” “It’s all Your fault!”
…whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
If you see the woman as a symbol of the emotional body, what is being said is, “I was made this way! I have these feelings. It is hot out. This person did look at me funny,” or “My bank account isn’t where I wanted it to be. That’s really happening, and I really do feel these things, and it’s how I’m made.”
And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. (Genesis 3:13)
The blame in the story has a tragic humor. The emotional body is saying, “It really is hot out. My senses told me it’s hot.” What is reflected for us in the story is how damned justified we are for having our experience.
There are times when I sit in front of a person who is so full of accusation and blame for all the elements of their life experience that brought them trouble. They are experts in how things are going and whether or not they like it. And they don’t like it! I think to myself that I have no chance of changing their world view. The justifications they have are rock solid in their own mind. And it’s killing them.
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: (Genesis 3:14)
This is what happens to human awareness when thoughts and feelings eat of the tree of how things are going and whether or not they like it. Awareness now is not of the sovereign self or of all of the messages that are coming to us from the sovereign self—all the wisdom of the universe that’s coming to us to operate through the human mind and heart. Awareness is now on its belly, looking at all the little things that are happening in the living of our life. It’s eating of the tree of how things are going, and not liking it, and trying to make them go as our conscious mind thinks they should go to make our emotions happy.
Adam is designed to open up to the sovereign self, to the higher reality of selfhood that is us, and to receive all the messages of Creation that are coming to the conscious mind, and to be in service to that. And then to invite Eve, the emotional body, to be a partner, and have its own relationship with the sovereign self, and to play a part in Creation.
To accomplish that, we have to tell our own emotional body, “Yes, I know it’s hot out. Yes, I know they said something in a tone of voice you really don’t like; and yes, I know you’re unhappy. I know it hurts.”
So some of this has to do with how we deal with pain. There is physical pain, but there is also emotional pain. I think women generally are more ready to admit that. Men often aren’t ready to admit that they’re acting the way they’re acting because their emotional body hurts and they’re trying to make it feel okay. Ultimately, not a terribly manly thing to do. So, as men, we probably feel shame about it; and then, feeling shame, we won’t even allow ourselves to see what we are doing. Of course, women sometimes have this experience too.
When we admit what’s going on, we can admit, Yes, my heart is hurting, and sometimes it’s really hurting. Then we can acknowledge that we have a choice as to what we are going to do in that situation. We could devote the rest of our life to trying to make our hurt heart feel better, to heal all the wounds of our past, to never let those things happen again, to make ourselves feel comfortable. Or we could acknowledge what’s happening, and say to our own hearts, Yes, I understand. I see and I understand. And this brilliant mind is here to live. I am here to create and to invite my own heart—maybe my own hurt heart—into Creation. Yes, I know it hurts. But what is the heart here to do? In the face of all that, the heart is here to bring unconditional love, the power of Creation, into the world, to be a partner to the genius mind. I know it hurts. Love anyway. Give anyway. Create anyway.
You set yourself free when you say that. The heart is set free, and the heart has a chance to heal.
I wish I could say to people, “Why don’t you spiritually awaken, because if you spiritually awaken, your heart will be happy forever after.” But it’s not really true. You spiritually awaken and you feel the pain. If your heart is anything like mine, it gets buffeted in the living of life. It feels things. The serpent brings it things: “Hey, guess what? It’s hot. It doesn’t feel good.”
The difference is that an awake person knows where the joy and the satisfaction and the fulfillment of the heart come from. So the conscious mind can say, Yes, I know, it hurts. Love in that. It is good for you to love.
Love not only heals our own pain. It brings an influence and power into our world. And it’s setting our mind free to brilliantly think about how we express the power of love that we are into our world. We’re setting our genius free. We’re no longer a slave to the hurts of our own heart. Now we can create. And do you think that that’s a good recipe for being happy, ultimately?
It doesn’t look like that when you’re eating of the tree of what’s happening and how it’s going. When you’re eating the fruit of that tree, it looks like, if you got busy changing things around to make your heart feel better, it would work. It seems so logical. So what does it take to free our minds from this mental disease? I do believe it’s a disease of the mind. I see it in myself; I see it in my friends.
Later in this story there’s talk of a flaming sword, which goes every which way. This sword is a symbol of the truth of love. It’s held by cherubim, another allusion to sovereign Being, the Lord God that we are for our own capacity. Can we come in the name of the Lord God and wield a flaming sword, and say, Whisht! “That’s it. That’s it for me. I’m setting myself free. I’m setting my mind free. And in setting my mind free, I’m setting my heart free. I’m going to function on a totally different basis. I’m going to be a free person.
How would it be if every person you knew did that? What an explosion of creative thought there would be! When it comes to creative thought, the minds of so many people are lazy. But not really lazy if you consider that they have taken on a side job. Their real job is to use their mind for creation. But they have taken a side job, which is to make their emotional body happy. And their side job has become their main job. An obsession! In fact, they have become workaholics.
That starts an ever-worsening pattern, because when you don’t create, good things don’t happen in your life, and then the serpent’s got more to report on. More reports of bad things happening. Eve becomes all the more unhappy, and Adam is all the more vacant from doing his real job of creating a wonderful life, because he’s got more work to do to keep Eve happy, and it just keeps happening.
This is a self-created pattern that creates misery at every level—misery at the level of the heart, but then misery even in terms of what is unfolding in a human life. Magnify that for seven billion people and you will see what is happening on the planet. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Where does that vicious circle end?
It ends when we come in sovereign Being and say to our human capacities, Stop it. I’ve got the flaming sword. You’re working for me. If we can say it to ourselves, we can bring that same message to other people. Break the cycle. Create. Come in the name of your sovereign Being.
This is Adam and Eve revisited. I hope, as you reflect on these things, there are shifts that come for you and your life experience. And I hope that your winged serpent is set free.