Dear loved ones:
Here’s a peek into my life story. My calling. My heart. Here’s what it looks like from my internal landscape, a backdrop which I know better, probably, than the world I try to carve a living from. I hope you learn something about me you didn’t know. And I really hope you will see a little bit of yourself as I spin my tale.
Lets’ say you’re walking through the forest and you look up through the treetop openings on a spectacular clear night and there it is, the North Star, good ol’ Polaris. So you start walking in the direction you generally know as north. Well, that’s what I do. That summarizes how I follow my heart’s passions. Let me show you more.
Days become nights and nights silently sneak back around to become days again. And I continue through the forested landscape that seems to me to be even easier to see when I close my eyes. I navigate hills and valleys, and splash through streams lined with Aspen groves nestled among Pine and Fir trees. Sometimes, when I reach the edge of a grassy meadow and I’ve surveyed to make sure no one’s looking, I run, leap, tuck and roll a few somersaults until I feel dizzy. So I lie on my back, spread my arms and legs and start wiggling like I’m going to make a snow angel, only there’s no snow. I watch the cottonball clouds slowly stop spinning. Then I think to myself, “This is good.”
Weeks of travel turn into months. Sometimes, several cloudy, stormy days and nights go by and I can’t see the North Star, but I’m okay with that. I don’t really even get anxious or surprised that I get disoriented once in a while and discover I’ve walked in circles. The next clear night will come soon enough.
All this time, I realize I haven’t found any paths running North/South. I keep searching for one hoping to speed up the trek, but really the terrain isn’t that bad and I like the journey more than I ache to arrive at a destination. Meanwhile, I keep crossing plenty of trails running East and West. Some of these trails are well worn with traffic, and occasionally I notice some have signposts telling travelers where they’re going. I can easily name these trails because I’ve explored them extensively. My footprints are recognizable on each one. Signposts read:
- Better Life Boulevard
- Lord Over Lane
- Take It To The Next Level Lane
- Weight Loss Way
- Short Skirt Street
One time, while pausing at one of these intersections, a man spooked me as he ran by me carrying a shovel. His eyes were glazed over and he didn’t want to be bothered, but I shouted out “Hey mister, where ya headed anyhow?” And he shouted back over his shoulder, “Why, to the Land of Shiny Rocks, don’t you know?” You wonder, “Gosh, a Land of Shiny Rocks sounds kinda nice.” Then I sensed something inside again, that strong urge to keep moving north.
I learned a really great lesson from an Indian I came upon sitting beside a buffalo he’d killed. His spear lay alongside the buffalo and I noticed its tip broke during the kill. The Indian said he didn’t mind if I watched while he prepared the meat to take home to dry, as long as I kept quiet. I saw him strike a piece of obsidian he’d brought with him with a regular old round rock and fashion it into a skinning knife. Next he needed a knife to remove flesh from bone, so he took that same skinning knife and, with a few more strikes with the round rock, fashioned it into a butcher knife. When the butchering was done, the butcher knife was then converted into a slicing knife to complete the job of preparing the meat to carry home. Finally, he took the slicing knife and, with great care and skill, using a short piece of deer antler, created a new spear tip. I sometimes surprise myself at how creative I can be sometimes too, especially when I find that what I used to get by yesterday, suddenly isn’t what I need to face the challenges of today. So I adapt.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I need to tell you there are periods when I wonder where the heck the creativity went? Did is dissolve? I would encounter serious threats to my survival. I’d check my tools and discover I’d forgotten how to use them. The inner voice of counsel and wisdom I’d come to rely on grows silent.
New voices inside my head whisper questions, doubts, and criticism. Am I sure I should be heading north? Shouldn’t I be on a trail? I’m floundering. Time’s wasting. Turn back. I wonder why it seems so hard to go north in an east/west world. Then I move on again….north, of course.
Now this may seem like a solitary life I’m describing to you, and you’re right because it’s such an interior life, but, as I look back, something strange seems to happen over and over. Whenever I cross one of the east/west roads, I soon bump into another person, here and there, all huddled up under a tree. So I go up and huddle up under a tree next to them and say. “Hey, you okay? Need any help?” Then they may start to talk and tell me about some of their problems and pose questions like, “Gosh, life is supposed to be getting better, how come it’s not? Here I am floundering. And can I tell you about these voices I’ve been hearing lately? They seem to shout at me, “Time’s a wastin’, work harder, be better, be prettier, be smarter, get to the next level.”
I listen to these stories. I realize that I usually really like the people sharing them and posing their questions, but I never seem to have any answers. So I just thank them for telling me about themselves and get up to start my own journey again. I might also tell them that I think I can hear some answers to my own problems if I listen hard enough to the really quiet, almost whisper of a voice that seems a lot like the same urge I have to go north. I like the look I sometimes see in their eyes when they seem to remember that they have heard whispers beyond the shouts too.
My journey might seem to you like a dream, or like life’s happening to me, more than I’m making life happen. But, here’s more of how I see it. The urge, the drive, the passion to go north isn’t something I made up, that’s been initiated from someone, somewhere besides me. It’s like I know I’m part of something bigger than myself and my role is to respond, as best I can to that unmistakable urge. But my response comes from a place deeper than a set of choices. If it just amounted to making right choices, I think I would have tried another direction, an easier path. I know myself well enough to know I don’t make right choices very well. But I respond well to invitations, and life is a series of invitations to me. Invitations to struggle, to suffer, to stumble forward. And for some hard to explain reason, I never feel alone very long. I figure the invitation is coming from some unseen inviter who likes it when I say yes. That yes seems less like a choice and more like “Well, of course I’m gonna respond. You’ve been inviting me northward a long time now, and I enjoy the company.”
A few years back, my awareness of not being alone took shape in the form of a rock. Yes, I made friends with a rock. It’s a large rock, about my height, but nearly three times longer than me. Only, you can’t see it. I can only see it once in a while myself, and usually with my eyes closed. It just showed up one night when I was walking through a dark valley. The experience correlated with one of several job losses I’ve encountered. It was so dark, I could see nothing, but I heard shouts and screams that startled me. I think I laid down and curled up in a fetal position and fell asleep from exhaustion. When I awoke, I still couldn’t see a thing, but I reached out and touched this rock. I felt around trying to gauge its size until I found a rough spot just big enough to grab hold of. In that instant, I wasn’t alone. I was just a rock, but I think it represented something more like a person because I no longer felt alone. I fell asleep again, but this time with a deep sense of security.
Now, can you keep a secret? That rock keeps following me. It must be going north too, because I keep surprising myself by closing my eyes, usually during that slumber right before sleep, and reaching out my hand and, there it is again. It feels just like a rock, rough and heavy, and I’ve never seen it move, but it keeps showing up in the new places my journey takes me. That rough place that formed a handle I could grab hold of at first, is still there, only it seems like it’s getting smoother from the wear of my grip.
Since making friends with this rock that follows me around as I proceed north, I think I’ve slowed my pace some. Though I’ve always seemed to value the process and the journey more than any eventual destination or sense of “I’ve arrived,” these days I seem even less inclined to get somewhere else or become someone different. I still feel the urge, the passion, the compulsion to go north, but, when I close my eyes and stare at the rock, I think I sense it whispering something to me. It whispers, “you’re at home when you notice me.”
During these moments of remembering, I glance around to make sure no one’s watching, and then I run, leap, tuck and roll a few somersaults until I feel dizzy. I lie on my back, spread my arms and legs and start wiggling like I’m going to make a snow angel, only there’s still no snow. I watch the cottonball clouds slowly stop spinning. Then I think to myself, “This is good.”
Ron Silflow (originally created June 2011)