Sometimes it feels like there’s a trembling child inside me, even though I see a bearded man staring back at me from the mirror these days. One fun game is to let the little boy speak, instead of pretending he’s not there. This is a good game to play, because I’ve noticed as soon as I start pretending, faking it, the reality surrounding me seems to know somehow, like a shark smells blood in the water. At this, it immediately sets about the task of making me honest again, which often involves getting humbled in some way. Humbled: comes from the Latin root humilis (on the ground), which comes from humus (the earth, the soil). In other words, if I’m not being real – expressing my truest self in each moment – the intelligence of life will, sooner or later, bring me back down into the truthful dirt, the dirt from which I came, the dirt that feeds the food I eat, the dirt I will someday become again.

So, how to stay real? How to root down deep into the dirt of my truth instead of getting body slammed back into it after a trip up into the clouds? One way: let the little child inside me speak.

“I have no idea what I’m doing. Not a clue. Nothing but blankness.”

“I’m scared. Like, really fucking scared.”

“But what if it’s lonely? What if it hurts? What if I fail?”

Even just giving voice to the fear, the frailty, it helps. No answers needed. But sometimes answers do arise, from the old man inside. That’s the next level of this game, the expansion pack. The old man always offers something.

“You don’t need to know what you’re doing. You’re already doing it. It’s like breathing. You don’t need to know how, you just do. So keep breathing. Keep being you, and all the rest will follow.”

“And it’s okay to be scared. Nothing wrong with that. Allow it. Don’t pretend you’re not. Really be scared. But watch it, at the same time. Watch the fear. Where does it come from? How does it change? Where does it go when it’s gone, and what is it, anyway? What actually is it? Can you track it like that? Can you pin it down? You won’t be able to, because it’s a ghost in your head, a temporary state of mind, and its power over you is directly related to how much you believe it is real. Real, as in: the truth. The truth, as in: that which you are here to discover. So again, just keep breathing. Let your breath take you there.”

“And the question isn’t, ‘What if it’s lonely?’ because it will be lonely sometimes. Simply. Unavoidably. That’s just a part of it. Rather, the question is: ‘What to do with the loneliness when it comes?’ Here’s what: as soon as you accept it, it won’t be so unbearable, won’t be something you spend your entire life trying to escape. It’s just an experience, and the fear of it is another mind-ghost that very well might disappear when you take a good look at it. Embrace your loneliness. So much easier that way.”

“And ‘What if it hurts?’ you ask. It will hurt. Start the process of accepting that now, and spare yourself the dreadful anticipation. Watch your fear again. Fear begins somewhere with the rejection of pain, the belief that there might be some way to avoid it, by isolating yourself or deceiving others or hurting them before they hurt you. Or maybe a drug will do the trick, or some heady philosophy, or a guru with all the answers, or a lover. Fear can become the motivator for anything if you haven’t accepted that pain and disintegration are a part of being human. The You that’s in an active and compassionate relationship with your pain is the You that will set you free and connect you with every human being on the earth. The other you that refuses to accept your pain, your vulnerability, is the you that fears and suffers in isolation.”

“And your final question: ‘What if I fail?’ Oh, my sweet, trembling child. There’s no such thing as failure. There’s only experience. There’s only learning. It comes in different forms, but it is all equal, and it is all sacred.”

So I’ve been playing that game tonight – the little boy and the old man hashing it out in the silence of my empty apartment. And now it’s late, and certainly time to sleep. I’m heading out early for harvest work at this vegetable farm tomorrow, walking around barefoot in the dirt all day.

Join the walk

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