364 – December 30
“You cannot put the same shoe on every foot.”—Publilius Syrus
The white-washed walls of the city of Santorini sparkle atop the steep cliffs that rise majestically from the cerulean blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Ships nestle in the harbor, surrounded by three islands that some say are the remains of the mythical city of Atlantis.
From the boat dock, you can climb the one thousand steps to the summit, or, if you prefer, you can ride a donkey—the local guides take groups up every half hour. Tour busses can take you around the island before dropping you off at the top. The fastest way to the city is to take the cable car. Some people find their own precarious way up the mountain, slowly and laboriously climbing over the rocks.
A few visitors go directly to the city. Others take the detour around the island, looking at ancient ruins, and arrive at the summit later in the day. Some play all day on the beach, and still others stay on the ship and just gaze at the stars from below.
Among the visitors, there are sometimes arguments about which is the better way to get to the summit. “The cable car is faster!” some claim. “But it’s more fun to ride the donkeys!” others retort. Those on the tour busses say, “Why go directly to the top? Enjoy the rest of the island first.” “Climbing is good for your health!” say the rest. But no one says you won’t get to the summit unless you take their route. The cable car riders don’t go to battle with the donkey riders. The rock climbers don’t throw rocks at the people on the stairs. No one ambushes the busses. It is clear there are many paths, and all lead to the city.
The citizens of Santorini are happy to greet the visitors, whoever they are and whenever they arrive. It makes no difference to them what mode of transportation the visitors choose or what time they appear. They may laugh gently at the slow climbers who choose the most difficult way. And they may wistfully regret that the sun-bathers at the beach or the star-gazers on the ship don’t make it to the summit this trip. Oh, well, they shrug, maybe next year.
You may come when you wish, how you wish. All roads take you to the top. Whatever path you choose, when you reach the city, you are welcomed.
“Whatever path I choose is the perfect path for me.”
Santorini is a beautiful jewel in the Mediterranean Sea. I visited the city again in 2008, when I was on a poker cruise (see the sights all day, play poker all night = heaven).
I thought of Santorini when I was writing The Wealthy Spirit and read a story by Deng Ming-Dao about people using donkeys to get to the top of a hill. Once at the summit, he said, “all the travelers stand in the same place…the donkeys are the various doctrines that each of us embraces. What does it matter which doctrine we embrace as long as it leads us to the summit? Your donkey might be a Zen donkey, mine might be a Tao donkey. There are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and even Agnostic donkeys. All lead to the same place. Why poke fun at others over the name of their donkey? Aren’t you riding one yourself?”
Since I was a child, I have come to believe there are many roads to heaven – that no one religion has exclusive rights to entry. It seems to me that if God is a loving God, wouldn’t He want to save all His children? Wouldn’t He provide many routes and vehicles to get to Him? Wouldn’t He send more than just one messenger and just one donkey?
I was speaking on finance and spirituality at a conference in Mexico, and a vision came to me of a mother at the Grand Canyon, talking to friends. Suddenly she turns and sees her baby crawling too close to the edge of the cliff. She can never make it there in time to save her baby, but there are a hundred people standing nearby. I described this to the audience and asked, “How many of you have children?” Most of the audience raised their hands. Then I said, “How many of those people would you tell ‘Go save my baby!’” With one voice, they said, “All of them!”
Marci Shimoff, who was also speaking that day, heard me tell this story and asked me where I got it. I told her it had just come to me and she nodded. “It was a God-shot,” she said.
Inspiration strikes unexpectedly, but most often when you’re in the zone of your work or meditation. This piece led me to writing a longer piece about philosophy, religions, and our search for The Force, as Obi Wan Kenobi called it. This became the last chapter of Zero to Zillionaire: “Lighten up on the Way to Enlightenment.”