“You ever wake up at night panicked about the fact that you will cease to exist some day?” Sam asked knowing the answer but waiting anyway.
“You do too?”
Even the question made my stomach knot up.
“Of course,” Sam said. “Once you’re past a certain age a ship has sailed. It’s the awareness of death. It changes how you live for the moment. You either panic and try to get the right things done as soon as possible taking short cuts in a manic race – or you relax and just do you. Life is only a string of moments and creativity is maximized by being in each one – without filter. Knowing that death comes for us all, what is there to fear or lose by being our true selves? Even if going where the fish are gets you lots of fish…”
Sam started laughing. Then he snorted.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Well it’s a perfect statement for us right here and now. It’s that there’s no worse feeling then going fishing all of your life without knowing that it is not fish you’re after.”
“There’s a few times I chased a thing only to not care a bit about it a few years later,” I said looking at the callouses on my hands.
Sam nodded. “Leaves change colour.” He continued talking as he picked up the pace downhill.
“Let’s get back to the inside part of being yourself. Thinking and feeling are like quicksand. The more you thrash about in it trying to get somewhere the more suffocated you become. You can’t outthink the thinker. There was a video game once where the bad guy could read the players mind. So when you pushed the controller buttons the bad guy in the game knew your move and you couldn’t shoot or hit him. The trick was to use the player two controller. That’s how it is when you try to think about who you really are or what you should be doing. I’ve only figured out one way to beat the bad guy in real life…”
“The zone,” said Sam.
“Like meditation or something?” I asked.
“No, well a little.”
“Like third eye stuff or centering chakras?”
“No. Stop. Listen,” said Sam laughing. “Did you have a lot of coffee or something today?”
“Caffeine and ephedrine. Why?”
Sam stopped on the trail and turned to me. “Why would you do that?”
“Because it makes a shitty day better,” I answered feeling the blood rush into my face.
“You’re not enjoying our walk?”
“No, I am actually. I just take it I guess out of habit and to make myself more alert and engaged,” I said stumbling through an excuse. “I don’t like being quiet and unengaged when I’m around people. It makes me look slow.”
“You’re just a calm person that’s bored easily. We’ll get to that. It’s ok. It’s good actually,” Sam said nodding his head.
I felt a sense of peace wash over me. It was nice to divulge a sort of secret and not be judged for it. Sam didn’t judge. It made me feel like I could ask Sam about anything whereas any time I asked a question at work, or to my father, those people would get angry or frustrated. It made me never want to ask anything of anyone.
“You still with me Ray?”
“Oh yes, sorry.” I was drifting off into my own quagmire of thoughts.
I was sifting through everything I’d taken in and was trying to sort it into usable pieces.
“No need to be sorry. The mind is a great place to get lost – sometimes.”
Suddenly I felt much younger than Sam but I didn’t mind at all. It was comforting actually that maybe someone finally had answers.
“So I was talking about the zone,” Sam continued, “A dog is happy when it gets exercise, food and shelter. Right?”
“We would be too if we didn’t think so much. Kids play and don’t contemplate their mortality. The day you became aware of death is the day your ego started directing your actions to somehow… become immortal. To have kids, to leave a legacy, to find your purpose, to keep the universe from falling apart. But people don’t realize they’re just not that important to the universe. Just do you. Move. Have some fun.
The universe and mankind will continue to exist, until it doesn’t and so will you. And that’s pretty much it.”
“That sounds a little depressing,” I said at the bluntness of the idea.
“Does it? Not to me. We read books to learn something about ourselves and the world. We want to become better and change something about our lives. But what is worth implementing? There is a lot of crap out there held up as holy grails of knowledge for our time. But at one time, people used to burn at the stake for owning cats. Now I have six.
Becoming what is better? What self needs improvement in self-improvement? Who is setting the bar of achievement?
People believe that somehow, age constitutes validity and truth. That the Bible or Tao Te Ching or some other text has authority and wisdom. The Mayans did human sacrifices and the Christians burned women at the stake. What did they know?
Age and authority mean nothing. Which means although you have only a limited amount of time, you’re free to do what you want because nobody knows what the hell is really going on.
This means you can stop giving your power away. A stubborn child that doesn’t want to eat vegetables has more of a grasp on the truth than most of us.”
I didn’t have much to say to that. But it did sort of make me feel relieved. Like I could venture out and do some of the things that really fired me up for a change instead of trying to always “Do the right thing.”
Sam wasn’t looking at me and he continued talking as he walked.
“We are all on a conquest of happiness. And happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. You just need to know what the light switch is.”
“Did you just quote Harry Potter?”
“I did indeed. And even more funny is that you already know what that light switch is, only others are hiding it from you.”
“I don’t get that. Who’s hiding me from myself?” I asked confused.
“Almost everything. Social norms, work, parents, bosses, TV, radio, they all do it. They tell you things that you should like, and hate, and the whole time you know deep inside what turns you on. You know what you feel is right and wrong and what things are sometimes open for discussion depending on the circumstance.”
“You mean my gut feelings.”
“Yes. Everyone has a modality or way where they slide into the zone. It could be moving their body, it could be reading or writing or putting together old cars. The zone is the silent wisdom of losing yourself in something so that you stop thinking and start living.
This is why be yourself everyone else is already taken is such solid advice. This is why Mr. Emerson said, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” The iron string is a metaphor to trust your intuition inside. Just do you.”
I felt like I needed another break. Walking with Sam was like a really rich chocolate desert where after a few bites, you needed to stop. It was almost too much. Time was required to savor, to incorporate and absorb.
I didn’t want to lose any of the words so I pulled out my phone to write some of it down. Something fluttered past my head though, and I ducked. A chickadee circled back and landed on the end of my phone, twisting it’s tiny head inquisitively to look directly at me.
I stood transfixed. The little bird sported a robbers mask and proudly displayed a monotone rainbow of soft greys.
“There!” Sam said quickly.
Startled, the bird flew away and it hit me how sad I was to see it go, even after only a short time of intimacy.
“I just sacrificed one moment for many I hope,” Sam said looking a little sorry.
I heard him speak but was still scanning the surrounding branches for the bird.
“Ray, the trick is that there is nothing to figure out. You just had it. You were being yourself and it didn’t require going on a spiritual quest or taking part in $4000 silent retreat. When you get lost in the moment like that, you’ve got it all figured out.
All you have to do is wake up and do more of the things that you enjoy and less of the things you don’t. We will always have to suck up certain things we don’t want to do. Society has a tightly woven fabric of things that cannot be avoided, but there is still room for us.”
“We can still play more, ” I said understanding.
“Yes. A kid, a dog, a brute, a beaver making a dam; they’re all doing it. Be yourself everyone else is already taken, is a plea for your authenticity. It’s a good call. But the bottom line is that it’s still just a quote.
Quotes are only language and not life manuals.
You don’t have to try to be authentic. In fact, if you’re trying, you’re not. And when you try to do the right things because people tell you too, you’re getting further away.”
Sam and I walked in silence for a while, the shuffling of Sam’s bare feet through the moist fallen leaves were the only sounds besides flitting birds and whispering trees.
“Ray,” said Sam pausing, “How are you doing?”
“Good,” I replied scanning the sides of the trail, “Just processing.”
“Sometimes knowing what something is not, helps you know what is,” he said. “Be yourself everyone else is already taken does not mean you are an entity carved in stone and eternally unchanging. You’re not a this, or a that. There is already nothing else like you out there. You will often find that in the doing, by having done, you’ll realize later what you were. Simply by following your desires and passions while turning the gaze of your heart away from those things that darken it.”
That made a lot of sense to me. Things were easier to process in hindsight and often you really have no idea where you are going or even where you want to go.
Sam continued – “Therefore whatever you do naturally, is fine. You can morph, change, become more, stay the same. Doesn’t matter. I say this because sometimes we feel the urge to follow the decree “Trust Thyself,” but the action you want to take is inconsistent with things we have done in the past. It’s not who others think we are. “I’m a loner,” you’ve labeled yourself. But you start to find yourself wanting to get out and try a new judo club. Remember the leaf that changes colour. If you naturally break the loner mold that you put yourself in – that’s fine. People sometimes stay stuck in order to avoid disappointing themselves or others who expect certain unchanging characteristics or behaviors.”
I blurted – “Stuck but wanting to move causes anxiety.”
“Exactly,” said Sam nodding his head. “But why keep looking back? Who you were is a shadow. The caterpillar that changes to the butterfly doesn’t question the change but is 100% itself as a metamorphosis. Butterflies with those stupid wings look silly to caterpillars. Suppose you contradict yourself; what then? Who cares? We learn as we go. The ship changes course, destinations change. You’re the captain, you decide.”
“People at work tell me I’m confrontational. That I have an attitude and I should know my place,” I said a little ashamed of myself.
“That’s because they are weak and unconfident in their own abilities and decisions. People that know what’s going on always have time to explain things patiently to people that pose legitimate questions or concerns. Especially when the work being done benefits them. People keep you in a box for their convenience and out of insecurity. Say what you want to say and do what you want to do without guile or subtlety. Tomorrow, feel free to change your mind. You are not chained to your memories. A piece of knowledge tomorrow can change everything. Each day is potentially a new you. ”
The cabin came into view below us through a gap in the Canadian maples. The rocking chairs on the porch awaited us and I was eager to rest my congested legs. My locked calf sucked the life out of me.
Gingerly, I negotiated down the rocky steps covered in moss and roots. “You know, my gut has always said I should be a writer – not an electrician. I just haven’t seemed to be able to make money with my passion,” I said quickening my steps as the trail descended.
That’s when Sam said something that cut like a knife.
“How’s your training going?”
My stomach knotted and I fumbled over my words. Nothing intelligible came out. Sam was merciful and kept the conversation going to save my pride.
“Following your intuition is one of the greatest acts of courage. It’s such a subtle battle. There’s no parade or fanfare to encourage you or coddle you if you fail. But great people have always followed their intuition in silent stoic protest. They feel that the absolutely trustworthy is seated in their heart and working through their hands.”
I stopped on the path causing Sam to turn and see what was the matter. But nothing was the matter. I just had a light bulb moment.
“Sam, I just realized that I die every day I’m not true to myself. And I do it just to survive and delay the big death at the end. It’s scary but maybe one day of 100 percent me is better than years of walking dead. I’ve let my training go, myself go and my dreams have been getting none of my best. It’s got to change but I’m stuck.”
Sam turned so I couldn’t see how happy he was but I knew. He floated in the joy of a successful teacher for a few moments before speaking. Feelings like those needed to be rolled around in, smeared all over the body before the waves of reality washed it off.
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