Flush with late summer’s riches, I lay on a stony beach by a river in a gentle-seeming wood. This is a deceptive time in the temperate lands, when the kindness of the sun’s fat rays at noon belies the imperative of the tasks of which the early dusk and biting dawn remind. Bounded on all sides by civilization, offering no opportunities for unmatched feats of mountaineering, these broad acres, too, are deceptive; the tourist-clogged trailheads are but tame speckles across a wild and untracked land, full of the capacity for cruel and deadly indifference to my soft-bodied wanderings.
A question emerged: what, within me, are these dark wilds, and what is without? What stores must I put up ahead of the waning light?
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The information firehose is at full blast right now, pinning me to the wall with a freezing torrent of threats and insults and urgency to act, lest all be lost. Everywhere I look, I’m told that the end is nigh, and only if I throw myself into the breach is there a chance of averting it, and even then, the chance is slim and the enemy constantly morphing in form and growing in strength.
I have no reason to doubt this; one need not be an accomplished student of history to recognize the patterns. Certainly, the actions of groups of people, manipulated to madness by zealots and then by each other, have often been directed to destructive and tyrannical ends. At times, it has been the actions of opposing individuals and groups that have amended or averted such outcomes. Where persuasion has a chance of prevailing, it is not wasted.
But in every case, at every turn, what I’m being told is this: “someone or some group is doing something harmful and YOU HAVE TO CONVINCE THEM OR FORCE THEM IF NECESSARY TO DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD OR YOUR WORLD IS GOING TO BE DESTROYED!!!” (emphasis in the original). Entirely possible. Again, history is replete with examples of Really Bad Things, that many people could see were bad things, but they happened anyway because the people who wanted them had power.
The problem with this line of thought is that, in every case, I’m supposed to take it on myself to make someone else do something. And that, my friends, is the definition of being in someone else’s business. What other people do is simply not in my control. I can try to influence it, I can try to protect myself from it, I can make clear the perimeter I am willing to defend, but that’s the limit of my reach. Everything else is hope and prayer.
And yet, there is much that IS within my control, and that is hard work, and worthy. Within the boundaries of this wood is an entire cosmos to explore and territory to tame. And in the taming of it is the answer to what actions I must take, be they inward, or outward. And these actions DO affect the great gyres in the world.
Am I telling the truth to myself, am I telling the truth to others when not doing so would constitute a lie? (This latter distinction is important; barfing all my internal monologue onto others or demanding that everyone bear witness to my opinion is seeking attention and validation, not acting with integrity, but staying silent when I can feel in myself that I am compromised if I do so is avoidant).
When I need the strength to go without hope or aid into the dark, when every step is a choice to take the action my heart knows I must take, against overwhelming odds and evil forces intent on my destruction, when the alternative is to pretend that I can return to an ignorant bliss, I turn to Tolkien, and read The Lord of the Rings. The Eye abhors truth; it resents and would destroy the gardens of those that tend it, no matter how small they are. That is its nature, and purpose, and I am grateful for it, as it serves to keep me honest. How would I test my bravery were there no challenge to it? Why toil at the harvest when there is no frost?
To be true when you perceive a falsehood take courage. It is the quest, and it does, indeed, stand on the knife’s edge, at all times. To stray is to fail. The Tower terrorizes with the Eye, manipulates with the Mouth, and much of this is done in such a way that the lackeys of corruption believe themselves to be righteous warriors.
But to stray means to abandon courage, to abandon hope, to abandon truth. The Tower is strong and there is no shame in losing the battle against it, there’s no shame in having the ring pried from my fingers. But there is shame in choosing to cast it from me into the keeping of another, shame in pretending that hiding from the Eye is righteous; there is shame in standing on the brink and choosing to put it on my finger instead.
There is shame in cowardice. And so my path is easy, and also hard; when I know how to identify the moments at which I am being offered a choice between denying or declaring what I perceive to be true, between cowardice and courage, my job is to choose the latter.
That’s all I can do. But it is much, and it moves the world.
I encountered a question yesterday, and it is profound. The teacher asked, why are you here? My answer arose immediately, but in new language in myself that I hadn’t heard before: I’m here to suffer. I’m here to bear pain, to feel joy, to want, to feast. That is the way chosen for me at the spark of conception, and at the drawing of first breath. There is no greater gift than to spend these hundred years among the wilds and the walls. The pull of attachment and the release of discernment, the torment of clinging and the peace of love; these are the gifts of this wilderness.
My task to burn my little way of truth, from spark to ash, leaving only the path I cleared, for others to tend.