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You Already Won the Lottery

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Many studies indicate that lottery sales increase when people feel a lack of control over events larger than themselves. The economy is a prime example of something that affects each person, yet cannot be readily predicted or effectively controlled. Economics may be championed as a science, yet it is more art than science and sometimes can seem as random as a lottery. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder are the first to feel the brunt of an economic downturn. Those who earn less tend to spend proportionally more of their hard-earned income on the outside chance that a lottery ticket might change their individual fate. It makes intuitive sense that people might turn to a game of chance when feeling that the deck is stacked against them and they are not being given a fair chance at life.

Lotteries are an ancient, almost universal form of public gambling. Throughout history, people have turned to lotteries in times of trouble, when faced with life and death dilemmas, even when trying to learn the will of god. Drawing lots has been used to choose winners as well as determine losers, to select scapegoats as well as to elect leaders. Chance has been used to divide land into "lots" and to draft soldiers into all kinds of wars. In the original Athenian democracy, random lots were used instead of formal elections to choose legislators. In Greek mythology young men and women drew lots for the honor of being sacrificed to the Minotaur. Lotteries have decided the fate of many and revealed the destiny of some.

In ancient China public lotteries served to help the poor, but also to finance the Great Wall of China. Lotterias raised funds to build the first city states in Italy and the first British lotteries began when Queen Elizabeth needed money for the Elizabethan War. Modern states have turned to lotteries to raise revenues in difficult periods, just as individuals invest in them as a way of sustaining hope in dark times. Some argue that in these uncertain times public lotteries are replacing forms of direct taxation as more and more states turn to public gambling for financial salvation.

Meanwhile, there is a bigger game and there is also a deeper lottery, one in which everyone can win if they understand the hand they have been dealt to begin with. The old Latin word lotteria originally referred to issues of fate and destiny. In Italian mythology, the original lottery involved a great earthen jar that was shaken at the time of each birth; the first chip that fell out became the allotment for that soul. The word lot refers to a "chip of wood," specifically a token representing one's allotment of inner qualities and gifts. Each person's lot in life includes natural inclinations as well as inherited limitations; each life has its unique share of fate and destiny.

In the old story one side of the lot was blank; it represents the side of us that becomes marked by collective forces that affect our lives in ways that we cannot control. We are born with a silver spoon or inherit nothing but the clothes on our back. We grow up in a time of war or are conceived as part of the benefits of peace. In the collective lottery we win or lose in terms of genetics, class distinctions, social background, and access to basic necessities, education and employment. History, culture and biology make their mark on each of us and there is little we can do about that.

Underlying all lotteries and games of chance is the idea that life itself is a great gamble, a surprising game in which unseen and seemingly random factors determine many outcomes. Modern culture may exalt the role of reason and the importance of facts, but modern science seems to warn of the universal presence of the Uncertainty Principle. Things are rarely what they appear to be and there is even evidence that winning the lottery does not guarantee security or contentment. Not all winners find happiness; some suffer great misfortune and loss as a result of winning big. As they say, be careful what you wish for; too much of even a good thing can lead to an unhappy result.

Being alive at this time can seem like losing the lottery in a big way as the collective level of life becomes intensely polarized and increasingly unfair. Yet there is another side to life and an inner inheritance that can give us a second chance at life no matter what circumstances we happen to be in. The other side of our specific lot is inscribed with a "divine word," a core symbol and inner imagination from which the true story and genuine purpose of our life can grow. When all the chips are down, it is our original allotment of talents and exact inner qualities that form the basis of our "self worth," that give each of us our best chance at life.

It is no accident that each hand has an identifying fingerprint, for each soul is unique and each is imbued with a potential destiny that can separate us from the whole lot. That's why people play the game, why most hold out for some chance that they could win the lottery and suddenly change their life forever. When seen from the deeper level of life it could be said that everyone has already won the lottery. Not in the sense that everyone can become instantly rich, that is one of the empty promises that people keep hoping for and blindly voting for. Rather, winning the inner lottery means finding the unique arrangement of qualities and talents that make each person unique and potentially a genius in their own right.

What makes each of us individual is not the outer influences of society, but the inner inheritance, the unique hand we have each been dealt. Regardless of outer appearances and separate from levels of formal education, everyone has some genius in them; that is part of the original lottery that makes each person unique, each soul meaningful and each life worth living. The real risk in life is to risk the life that was seeded in one's soul before birth. The real game involves living up to the inner standards of one's own soul.

What is most easily lost in a "mass culture" facing huge problems and massive debt as well as weapons of mass destruction is the importance of the individual. When it seems to be our mutual lot in life to be alive as the world turns upside down, when the essential values of human culture are in question and the outcome is greatly in doubt, it is the hidden genius of the individual that counts the most. Even when the game is rigged and 99 percent of people are denied a fair chance at winning or even working, it is the individual genius that imagines a greater life and can change the course of history.

No notion of collective freedom and no amount of good intentions can substitute for the felt sense that one's life has inner meaning, that one's soul is uniquely shaped, and that the inner spirit is aimed at something beyond mere adaptation and survival. Rich or poor, lucky in life or oppressed by it, we each must eventually accept the lot we were given and play the hand we have been dealt or else be but a pawn in a game where others determine the outcome for us. Everyone has their own allotment of genius; when all seems lost it is the inner flame of genius that can light the way even in the darkest times.

The next installment in this series will focus on the origin and the nature of the inner genius.