The Tao of Elvis
Elvis Presley's life-from innocence to addiction, obscurity to fame-was a quest to balance opposites.
BY: David H. Rosen, M.D.
The rise and fall of Elvis reflects what has happened or can happen to each and every one of us. We all have a choice. We can follow a healing path of "egocide and transformation." Or we can choose a self-destructive path, as Elvis did, which ended his life prematurely. Elvis might have had "taking care of business" as his motto, but he wasn't able to take care of himself. His family and the Memphis Mafia (Elvis's entourage) were also not able to do so. Why wasn't his maxim "taking care of Elvis"?
Elvis represented both the best and worst of the American dream. Music critic Bill Holdship touched on this when he said, "Elvis is loved, he is hated. He was a genius, a fraud. A saint, the devil. The king, the clown. Even more than when he was alive, Elvis has come to symbolize everything great and everything hideous about America."
In 1956, after several successful national TV appearances and many hit songs including his first gold record for "Heartbreak Hotel," Elvis was criticized as being vulgar, inciting riots, and contributing to the moral decay of America. But what others saw as immoral, Elvis saw as merely different. He felt he was expressing not raw sexuality, but something akin to spirituality. Elvis didn't like his negative publicity, yet he was Taoist about it, saying, "There ain't nothing I can do about it so I have to accept it, like I accept the good with the bad, the bad with the good."
People everywhere struggle with the same thing that Elvis struggled with: the conflict between good and evil, and their true and false selves. Our only salvation is to transcend and transform the divided warring factions within ourselves. Elvis lost the human battle, but his life and death can provide us with wisdom and a deeper understanding of ourselves, we need to let go of and transform our false selves. We need to shed inauthentic personas and acknowledge our creative genuine selves as well as our own inner, spiritual natures.
Elvis is identified with the archetypes of sorrow, suffering, and sacrifice, which are part of the process of becoming sacred. He was on a spiritual quest, and he said the reason he always wore a Star of David, or a chai, the Hebrew symbol of life, and a cross was so that he would not be "kept out of heaven on a technicality."
Apparently Elvis didn't find enough meaning in his suffering, but perhaps we can by looking into the Elvis mirror. The task of our own healing journeys is to transform our battling opposites into a sacred whole so that our lives have meaning and ongoing creative purpose. In this way we can be compassionate with ourselves, rejoice in the spirit and soul of Elvis the human being, and allow the archetypal Elvis to flow with the mysterious Tao.