Take five people you like and five people you don't like. The ones you don't like probably make you feel less than exceptional in some way — less than worthy.
This concept of “less than” is troubling, but it's everywhere.
Advertisers rely on our feeling of “less than” to sell us their products: their promise is that we'll feel better about ourselves if we buy into what they're selling. Education quickly becomes competitive, even if it's not consciously intended — statements like “my son is gifted” imply someone else's son isn't. This system of comparison continues into adulthood, with some idolizing celebrities as if they were gods. From cars to clothes, degrees to job titles, a human being can easily become lost in this endless web of greater than/less than.
Today, while hiking in the mountains, I had an amazing thought: Who I am has nothing to do with what I do, but everything to do with what is breathed into me. A person's “net worth” — their job, their education, their background — isn't what their life is about. It's certainly not what my life is about.
It's recently come to my attention that there are some social activists who object to what some inner-directed people refer to as “going within.”
This objection, as I understand it, has something to do with the belief that “going within” is selfish — an act of self-absorption, avoidance, or denial of the world's problems.
I don't think so.
Consider this: farmers who are in for the long haul rotate crops and let certain fields lay fallow for a season, knowing that if they continue to plant in the same field season after season they will deplete the soil's nutrients and nothing much will grow.
“Going within” is really just another way of “laying fallow” for a while, a chance to renew, restore, and rejuvenate.
Spring has infused the atmosphere with the most intoxicating and memorable scents. When I walk out of my front door they immediately grasp at my senses and I hurry to enjoy them at close range. Walking is such a pleasure in the spring and most of the fragrances I enjoy — with their deep, heady perfume — reach their height in the evening. So with the dying embers of the sunset, I begin my olfactory journey.
I seek out the tall and stately Frangipani tree (the Australian Rainforest tree) which can grow up to 20 meters tall. It is an evergreen whose flowers appear in the spring and last through most of the summer. Its attractive branching pattern and cream-colored flowers attract lucky honey-eating birds and butterflies. I can sense the maddening fragrance of the flowers from a great distance and, as I approach, I inhale the intoxicating and soporific aroma, trying to fill my senses with its perfume. It's an angelic bittersweet scent and, when I sit directly under the tree’s enveloping branches, is utterly alluring. Eventually I have to move on — if I stay too long, it will mean a headache.
For a young boy living in a small cottage on the Irish coast, no one could have opened the door to adventure better than Big John the farmer.
There was nothing out of bounds: riding diesel Ferguson tractors and chattering reapers with sprung metal seats on the back; building giant haystacks with the long prongs of hay forks; getting blown backwards from the kick of his mighty shotgun; gathering bales of straw from morning till dusk in bare feet that had hardened through the summer months; coaxing milk from the cow to make butter.
And the reward for all my hard work was a Saturday night visit to the local picturehouse to see the other Big John, John Wayne.
One adventure stands out for me across the years and reminds me of the importance in a man’s life of knowing where home is.
I had joined Big John in his little rowing boat with a small outboard engine, and soon we were three miles offshore near the sunken wreck that promised good fishing.
Gravel roads — veins on the American heartland, dividing as they tie together. There's a natural progression. First come dirt paths, which eventually give way to gravel. Gravel roads then get converted into asphalt highways and highways grow even bigger, morphing into freeways. But freeways seem to leave behind the land they cross. It’s the simpler paths — like those gravel roads — that are most in harmony with their surroundings. When two vehicles meet on those roads they slow down: their passing becomes a conscious recognition. On a highway you are going to someplace. On gravel you are doing something. You are already there.
I have a fond memory, as a youngster, of standing on a gravel road that ran past the farm I grew up on. Looking at everything around me — the magnificent blueness of the immense sky, the living greenness extending to the horizon in all directions, the straight, cream-colored ribbon on which my feet were firmly set — gave a wonderful sense of peace. I was consciously aware that the earth beneath my feet was part of a vast, moving universe. I felt on top of the world, literally as well as figuratively. I felt completely at home with myself within that greater existence.