It's been a quiet year of reflection. As I have come back home, I have travelled a bit and just wondered at times where my journey was going, what I was going to share, what I needed to learn...and all of those damn "I's" in the sentence put me on ice. There was a homeless man who I met in DC, who went by the name of "Fingers", mainly because he had arthritis so bad that it looked like they fused together. His joints were large and swollen, but he still managed to hold a drink. We talked about life and my travels, and out of all of it, I shared some of the lessons, I felt I learned. His dark brown eyes, looked dead into mine and I could see sobriety in them as he said one word, "Self." He sat upright. "You learn nothing, but self." Now, there are a couple of ways to take this wise man's words, because I never push away words from the elders. I turned those few words over and over again in my mind. That raspy voice executing a quiet authority that commanded respect because of the truthful nature that walked with those words. Everyone learns from doing, their experiences, but was I only looking from a perspective of personal application? How was I helping anyone or helping myself? And even in this action of helping, what was the real drive behind it.
We often reflect on those turning points in our lives by looking either backward or forward to another time, another dream, another moment--that is any other time but the present. We compare, contrast, and think, perhaps I should have spent our time in other ways, or had the foresight to avert or avoid our little disasters in life. The "had I known" quotient. How much of our life is wasted by not being in the moment? And as we look back, how much of that time was spent looking backwards or forwards instead of just being on the journey?
Neither good or bad questions, since this ground actually seems to repeatedly come up through varying sources that tell us to be ever PRESENT. Can you be ever present without self-obsessing? So I stopped. I stopped writing. I corresponded with others instead. My "aha moments" stopped. I replaced them with "ahhhh" moments. I stopped knowing everything and shut up. I went back to being the student of life, which is a proper perspective, in order to start doing things I had forgotten how to do, never had done before, or had thought I already knew. "I know nothing." Everyone knew I had stories to tell, but forget them for now. I was no longer the confidant on the road abroad, I was now the expatriate at home. Home?
A year was spent chasing my tail trying to just figure out my life. What was "I" going to do? When I thought about a regular job working for some sort of corporation, acid and bile filled my digestion. Listen to your stomach, it tells you the truth when no one else will. Friends and family were getting anxious for me. However, I did something completely strange...I embraced being clueless. I embraced being lost. I walked around in a void because everything I was touching and seeing wasn't "it". I searched through non-profits, government, corporations and even had a stint as a precious metals trader because of my zero belief in paper currencies, but still that hollow sound that echos.
So what do you do when you know you are not at that place where you need to be? In a word of doing, I was not doing. I was lost in deep thought, silence and trying the acquisition of patience. It took a lot to shut up my mind and to start digging into my character. What did I really need to think about? What was the real desired impact? Then, it began to happen inside of me. I began to start seeing what I wanted to see once I let go and knew nothing. This whole year, was about knowing nothing and being teachable again. It was more than physical possessions I had needed to let go of, I needed to let go of the known, the boundaries, the definitions, etc. in order to create that fertile ground to start learning.
"I have never." are three words that keep people from doing. The secret is, make the attempt even if you fail. You have no experience as a child, but that doesn't stop you from trying. A child is instructed, the task modeled and the child repeats and repeats until the task is satisfactorily replicated for a foundation where they begin to recreate and hopefully evolve to create something that shows their imagination. A light goes on. That is how you create a Tesla, an Einstein, or even better, a YOU to bring your gifts to the table. In China, I was honored to be called Lao Shi, which means teacher, because to me, that meant I touched their lives. In this journey, in various points, I have been surrounded by diverse peoples, population
sizes, and now, in this quiet small community where the population is numbered at 4,210. I am immersed with nature and the sounds of woodpeckers, tree frogs, and roosters. I smell the earth, see clear skies, and can see the sun rise almost 30 minutes prior to those who live in the city, with an unobstructed view of the horizon. The people speak slowly as though their thoughts continually simmer. Their words chosen with care, as to not offend. The earth is turned, the seeds are planted and the weeds are pulled. Character, not wealth is valued. Oaths are made with handshakes. Impressions are made by the quality of craftsmanship, not the contents of empty promises. There is poetry in the till, grace in the floating honey bees, and the paint and varnish of heels and make up is put away. To retain your soul, your essence, no matter where you travel in the world is one thing. To give of yourself, along the way, without expectation is quite another. The mastery of a child is "not knowing".
There was a Chinese parable of a student who came to a master to be taught the art of Zen meditation. The master refused the student because he refused to not know all he had learned in life. "You must first unlearn all you know and then I can teach you." Another way to look at it is how can new furniture be delivered to a full house. Maybe it took me a year just to know nothing and it will take me a lifetime to master the art of not knowing.