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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What a Rusty-Led World Would Look Like

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My first order of business would be to change many of the illogical things in the world. I'll probably think of other things later. Since this is my world, I'd be strict in some areas. I'd compromise some freedoms just so I could get my way.

The super widescreen format for movies would not be allowed as the only available option, because it's used in order to get people to buy larger and wider screens. And have you ever wondered why an animated movie would be in widescreen in the first place? It wasn't filmed. They could have gotten the same wide angle and increased the space above and below.

TV shows wouldn't be able to have their logo in the corner of the screen for more than the first five seconds of the show. It's distracting to me, because I know that it's there. If they thought that people didn't look at it, then why would they put it there? And they wouldn't be able to block off the bottom of the screen with promotions for other shows, particularly the obnoxious moving ones. We get the idea. You REALLY REALLY want us to watch this other show you have. You're practically begging us.

Reality shows would be no more. They're the least real thing on TV.

Movies with an R rating would also be available in a PG version.

Weekends would last three days, and the work week would be four days.

Cars blasting their music as loud as a sonic boom would be legal for target practice.

College football would have a playoff system. What a concept, huh? First of all, the Bowl Championship Series is a misnomer. It's not a series. It's a few instances of individual games. If only about 40 teams each year have any shot to win the championship, then it doesn't serve all of college football. There are almost no opportunities for Cinderella stories. We need an 8-team playoff. The universe won't be in equilibrium until this happens.

Litigation would be drastically reduced. Lawyers spoil all the fun for everyone. Their overall cause, while generally noble, is all too often applied in a self-serving manner. They currently don't have to answer to anyone, and that's what's so dangerous.

Advertisers would have to back up their frivolous claims, otherwise they wouldn't be able to advertise. Imagine that...

No one should be allowed to arise in the morning before 8:00 a.m. What's the hurry?

The junk e-mail industry would be more aggressively targeted as criminal and virtually eliminated in the industrialized market. Third-world countries allowing the activity would be shut out.

Junk mail flyers in the postal mail would be eliminated. Unsolicited mail would also be eliminated.

William Shatner would not be allowed on television.

There would be more mainstream television programs showing real debates and public forums on real moral, philosophical and religious issues, by people who have actually studied in these areas, and who don't have a hidden agenda or are politically motivated.

Restaurants would not be allowed to serve unhealthy food, high in saturated fats, cholesterol, calories, or in other unhealthy formats.

Harmful substances such as cigarettes and hard liquor would not be legal. We already pay too much to fund these addictions. Also, nearly half of all traffic fatalities involve drunk driving. If the weapon were instead guns, people would be much more alarmed.

Special interest groups would not be able to get into the pockets of political groups. Policy would not be determined by loyalty to money.

Computers would make sense. Oh wait, that's another life.

Politicians would not be able to zone their voting areas to fit their desired criteria.

Baloney and hot dogs would be discontinued. Is this as far as we can progress in this area?

Everyone would go metric, including clocks. Units of time would be broken down into increments of 10's.

Flashy banner ads on the Internet would go away. What is this, Las Vegas? I'm trying to read.

John Stossel would be on TV at least three hours a day.

There would be a zero tolerance policy for felons. Depending on the degree of the felony, they would be exiled to a particular island inhabited strictly with other felons of the same ilk. There would be no return from these islands. If you don't want to exist peacefully in the mother country, you are banned from it. You decide where you want to live — but you can't change your mind after the fact. You choose your own destiny. When you abuse your rights, you lose your rights. People who take advantage of freedom but instead wish to compromise the freedom of others would not deserve the same freedoms.

And the next most important thing to consider after crime prevention is parking. When you make the layout of cities, keep buildings and landmarks spaced enough to leave room for parking. A very novel concept, I know, but historians centuries from now will look at the 20th & 21st centuries scratching their heads saying, "They thought they had technology, but they couldn't even manage where to put their vehicles. What a bunch of morons. They tried to keep everything so close together that they squeezed themselves up into the sky. And spaces in parking garages are way more costly than on flat land. Also, before you build up, or even before you build at all, build down. City planners had a gene missing or something." (No offense to any planners out there. I mean it in the nicest way possible.)

TV cameramen would just hold the camera still so we can see what's happening.

Television would not bombard us with rapidly changing images every half-second to second. That's not motion. That's interruption.

TV commercials with adult themes would not be shown on programming before 10 p.m.

Entertainment cost has increased 4 or 5 times over in the last 30 years, even adjusting for inflation. People should be able to afford a trip to a sporting event, in a good seat not already swept up by some corporation, and not need to pay $5 for a small cup of soda (with a lemon in it — ooo, that's got to be worth about $3 right there), or $30 to put your car in a parking stall. Athletes and owners can get by earning $1 or $2 million.

No more sales. No more coupons or rebates. No more contests. I don't want to be a winner. I just want to buy a simple product at a simple price, without all the fanfare attached, which I'm paying for in the end. Sales are merely posturing and grandstanding. Give us one fair price so that we're not looking at a moving target.

No store items marked as "7 for $4.00" or "5 for $3.00". Just tell us how much one costs. That's all we need to know. It doesn't help me to know how much 7 cost if I'm planning on buying only 1.

Lotteries would be eliminated. They feed on addictions. And they do good things. Whoopee.

Shorts should not be allowed to go past the knees. I've seen them down to the ankles before.

If kids can't wear their pants up around their waists where they belong, then they can sit in some room somewhere where no one has to look at their underwear, until they've learned how to properly wear clothes.

Not wearing a seatbelt would not be illegal for adults who are driving by themselves. A single-car occupant should be treated just like a motorcycle rider. We need to make hundreds of other things illegal before this should even show up on the radar screen.

License plates should be trackable by monitoring devices on all main highways to help locate stolen vehicles.

Basketball games would not be allowed to have timeouts every 15 seconds at the end of the game. You've practiced the plays a hundred times. Just play the game.

Fouls in basketball would not be a reward for the defense. Whenever the announcer says "that's a good foul," I wince.

If a batter is hit by a pitch, only the batter and the pitcher are allowed to get in a scuffle, and everyone else would have to watch.

I'd invade Venezuela just for kicks.

I'd heavily fund the massage therapy industry.

Amateur writers would commonly receive grants to encourage them.

And then I'd bequeath the job of world ruler to someone else, because it's too much responsibility.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sorting it All Out

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Here’s a thought experiment in random access musings, purposely chaotic as an object lesson, and because it fits my frame of mind at the moment, plus it’s fun ruling your own blog. I’m not always like this — but I play one on TV.

Have you ever wondered how much RAM you have in your brain? Well, it’s probably a good thing that we don’t have more, because that could make things rather confusing. One of the key components of computer systems is how much short-term memory they have, so they can juggle tasks and borrow resources temporarily.

Perhaps you’ve considered just how your brain decides to sort important information — such as the day and time a TV show comes on — from trivial details such as, say, your name. It’s more than repetition, because a lot of things stay with you after even one occurrence. What would it be like if your short-term memory stayed with you for several days instead of just a few seconds or minutes? First of all, it would be very difficult to relax. You’d have hundreds of different details stuck in your brain. You’re at the grocery store making a purchase, and the clerk says, “That will be $28.47.” You go to enter your PIN number, and the amount gets jumbled in your short-term memory with all the other details, and you accidentally punch in your home address, and your number gets rejected. You’re embarrassed, and everyone’s looking at you saying, “Should’ve gotten the upgrade.”

So many details flying around would be confusing as heck. Do you know how sometimes you'll ask yourself, "Have I done that yet, or was I only thinking about doing it?" Isn’t that a fun feeling? You'll try to remember if you took something out of the freezer to thaw — oh, like maybe that shoe that you wanted to wear later (it could happen). But then you get sidetracked with the little ones asking their legendary answerless questions, and so your brain takes an unexpected detour.

We're told that the brain mercifully shuts out about 98% of the input it receives (give or take 3% — I don’t recall), however this can quickly be reduced to an ability to shut out only about 10% when a 2-year-old is tugging on your sleeve, followed up quickly by whatever they can grab on your person, and then as they're pelting you with and endless barrage of inquiries that come in layers, you brain does amazing things. First, in order to avoid instant senility, it hollers out to the cerebral cortex, "Information overload! Stop transmission immediately!" You’ve processed too much at once.

You’re now watching a 2-year-old in slow motion with the sound turned off — and unfortunately no subtitles. You nod a lot to humor them, meanwhile they think you’re crazy for suddenly not being able to comprehend your shared language. You know… the one you taught them? We wonder why kids get confused at their parents, though you can’t fault the poor parent for employing basic survival techniques.

So then good luck to whatever it was you were trying to postulate prior to that. Your brain shut down the plant so that there wouldn't be a meltdown, and took all the firing synapses with it. You’ve lost your train of thought before, yes? Well, this one left the station and derailed in outer Mongolia, never to be seen again. This is why it's not ideal to try to make life-changing decisions while in the presence of toddlers. If you look closely at their clothes, you'll see the warning label.

But... at the other end of the spectrum, if you did retain your short-term memory for a few days, you'd have multitudinous thoughts competing for your attention all at once, and maybe interchangeably. That would get old pretty fast. Can you imagine trying to have a conversation with someone like that? If you’ve talked to young children before, you might have some idea of it. Teachers of youth know what I’m talking about…

Adult: “We are kind to one another because that makes everyone happy.”
(child raises hand)
Adult: “Yes, James?”
Child A: “My brother fell off his bike.”
Adult: “That’s nice. So, who can tell me what it means to be kind?”
Child B: “I just burped. It smells like lemons.”
Adult: “Thank you for that. Is ‘kind’ being nice or being mean?”
Child C: “You’ve got hair in your nose.”
Adult: “Well, that was educational for all of us, wasn’t it?”

This is the alternate reality provided to us by varying age groups within our species. They remind us that communication is not something to be taken for granted. We’re processing our own form of 0’s and 1’s between us, and it’s a miracle that it can all transfer from one person to the next without breaking down. Brains are pretty complex things, and it's fortuitous they are able to process so many things in a relatively simplified manner.

Didn’t this article have a point? Honestly, I don’t remember...

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, some of this post was written under the influence of a child talking in my left ear, and incredibly I answered most of their questions at least semi-coherently, though now I'm curious why they're taking money out of my wallet.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Things I've Learned in Life

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Life goes through seasons, and each of them are teachers of different things. Sometimes you learn through watching others, and sometimes you learn by doing things yourself. While we're given many lessons through our own experiences, if we're fortunate we learn a lot of our lessons by following the successful paths that others have set before us, without having to trudge through every experience firsthand.

Aren’t we glad, for example, that we don’t have to personally test every bottle to see if it’s poisonous, but instead that there are warning labels on them? And if you should see someone keel over from drinking one, that ought to be a clue to you as well.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being an individual; being somewhat of a non-conformist in order to think for yourself. We need much of that to be who we each are. Otherwise, we'd be automatons. There's a saying that goes: if two people agree on everything, then only one of them is doing the thinking. Yet there is still a balance that needs to be maintained. Too far one way, and you have no free will. Too far the other way, and you have no direction. At or near either extreme, there is no purpose.

If you believe in a cosmic plan, whatever it is, it probably involves the idea that we're all here on earth to help each other and learn from one another. We'd like to think that we can solve all our own problems ourselves, but it's not supposed to work that way, and it can't. We're supposed to need others. There’s no honor in going it alone.

And that's where it gets tricky. Here again, a proper balance is vital. We need others in our lives to keep us in focus, to support us when we lean too far one way, to motivate us when we lack our own motivation, to give us perspective that our own minds can't provide, and, among other things, to feel love. We're all here to potentially benefit and share with one another, and no one is exempt from needing that support to some extent, or from needing to give it.

Yet we need others in different capacities. Everyone can't be our best friend. Everyone can't be a confidant. Everyone can’t be our mentor. We've only got so much room in our inboxes. There are different levels for different functions. Likewise, everyone can't be there for us all the time when we're in need. The logistics just aren’t there. Hopefully we’re able to find that right niche for each of those important people in our lives, so that our friendship basket doesn’t crush those on the bottom. It needs to have some semblance of orderliness to it.

It's said that the foolish learn from their mistakes, while the wise learn from the mistakes of others. We think we know what's what, but if we did then we would be perfect, and not too many of us are the last time I checked. If we're smart enough to find those who are wise in the areas we may not be and gather advice from them, we can save ourselves valuable time, effort and aggravation.

If we’re all going through a maze, let’s say, and someone we trust has been a little further down a path that we’re curious about and they tell us it’s merely a dead end, it can spare us the trouble. We can all help each other this way, as we’ve all been to different places. And the path that will get us through the maze may not be clearly defined or understood, though there are clues that can help us stay close to it. We can save ourselves a lot of unnecessary backtracking. A little backtracking may provide good exercise and be unavoidable, but continuous backtracking can give you muscle cramps and get you all turned around.

Most of us do seem to have good intentions. Those good intentions, however, still won’t give you the ability to reinvent where the maze goes. Life at its core is admittedly rudimentary, though curiously in a zigzag sort of way. The shortcuts aren’t really shortcuts. They’re banner ads for causing more traffic. And then you get stuck in the maze.

Be good to your friends, and help them find their way within your ability. If you’re getting lost, stop for directions. If you’re near the main path, lots of other people will be coming through.

And this is what I’ve learned from the wise — those who simply have been further down some of the paths or know someone who has.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simple Wisdom

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The nice thing about wisdom is that it can be shared and used by all who would partake in it. You don't have to be the one who thought of something to learn from it.

Here are some pieces of wisdom lint which have clung to me as I've walked through life...

Don’t fight forces… use them.

When your soul speaks, take great notes.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the joy.

The wise also make mistakes, just not the same ones as before.

Most people would rather be certain they're miserable than risk being happy.

Don't try to leap a chasm in two jumps.

You can either shuffle the cards indefinitely, or sit down and play the hand you're holding.

If you're going through hell, keep going.

Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.

The details of our lives will be forgotten by most, but the emotion, the spirit, will linger with those who shared it, and be part of them forever.

Only someone who understands something completely can explain it so that no one else can understand it.

It's always easier to solve someone else's problems.

I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.

Whenever I have half a mind to do something, I just think about it twice, and then do it.

If you want to be worshipped, go to India and moo.

You should live each day as if it's your last. And you wouldn't do laundry on your last day, would you?

An unbreakable toy is useful for breaking other toys.

Children are lucky because anytime they want to lose weight, they just take a bath.

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.

Never underestimate the possibilities of the universe.

I could teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who knows what they want.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Inner Drive

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When someone says “that’s a beautiful car,” I’m thinking to myself, “What are you looking at? It’s a hunk of metal.” What is it about cars that makes them supposedly attractive to people? Why are Corvettes allegedly ‘easy on the eyes’? Why are Jaguars aesthetically pleasing to the observer? Is it that those curved hunks of metal look better in the right places?

I can’t think of automobiles as works of art, I guess because I’m more utilitarian. I can’t get around the truth that the car’s principal function is to get me from Albany to Timbuktu, and then hopefully back. The degree of elegance to which it performs this task doesn’t come into play on my radar screen until I'm back home safely eating popcorn and the car's already parked. Points for style don’t work with utilitarians. It’s the cake, not the icing. Hmm. Not 21st century enough, eh?

So I suppose we’re talking about a piece of art that gets me to work in the morning. I’m artistically driving from city to city, whether I realize it or not. We’re a bunch of artisans rolling along down the highway, with one piece of art passing the other, in a kind of symbolic Byzantine nod to the superiority of one sculpted work over the less impressive contemporaries. Traffic, therefore, is a montage. And you thought it was just something that made you late for appointments.

If a car didn’t have wheels, then perhaps I could see it more aesthetically, but I’m considering too much the moving parts to put it in the same class as a Rembrandt. Cars are closer to being contraptions in the Wonka chocolate factory than they are to being bona fide museum displays.

So then this also raises the question: why isn’t a school bus considered attractive? Is it not ‘sleek’ enough? Aren't its midtones captivating? And if not, why don't they build school buses to be more visually appealing? Do other cultures look at Volkswagen Beetles as being stunning? Is stylishness all in the eye of the beholder? These are the things they should talk about in those car magazines, but they're occupied with championing design, handling and performance.

Many car owners seem to have a special pride about their hunks of metal. They act like it's an extension of themselves, that it fits into their persona like any other characteristic. They are one with their mode of transportation. Some mortals seem to enjoy working on their cars every day on the calendar, as if it’s some hallowed ritual that must be performed, though that’s antithetical to me. I would only work on my car in three instances: a) If the pope told me to and I were Catholic; b) If I suddenly no longer had 762 other more important things to do; or c) I was dead. Other than those, there’s no compelling reason to work on a car that I can see.

When you get down to it, a car is a shell. It’s a snail with a chassis. Deal with it. I hate to demystify whatever castles in the sky some of you may have built up over your lifetimes, but someone had to do it sooner or later. That thing out in your driveway is a junkyard waiting to happen. It has no soul, and it won’t take you to the promised land. Look inside it — it's no more than an ambulatory cocoon.

Motorholics keep their works of art well-polished, much like a trophy. Cars can be status symbols. If you have a car with a certain insignia on it, that can denote prestige, sophistication and wealth. But before we start frothing at the mouth, let's get back to the original purpose. A car takes you places by rolling along a road, and then with that accomplished it attempts to let you do so comfortably while having an enjoyable time. However, the road doesn’t care what emblems are attached to the car, or how much you’ve shined the tires. Those are just for show.

People look for excuses to use their cars even when they don't have somewhere to go. They'll just go out for a drive. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's an interesting development. Does this happen in other areas of life too, where we use something just for the sake of using it? Do you turn on a light just because it flips your switch? OK, then. You proved your point.

Perhaps cars have transformed more into mobile living spaces over the years. If we could get wheels under our house, might we be tempted to take it around the block for a spin? Are we finding ourselves with the urge to be in constant motion? One thing about being on the road is that people are always coming and going. Neither direction can figure out which is preferable, so they alternate. "We'll go this way, and you guys go that way. If you find something, tell us, otherwise when you get to the end, turn around and we will too." It's the law of vehicular distribution.

The anthropomorphizing of the machine is part of the industrial age's post-evolution vestiges, but it’s a phase we will hopefully soon overcome, because cars have done nothing substantive to deserve this form of admiration.

Have you ever wondered why cars come in different flavors? But the thing is that it’s just like M&M’s — all the colors taste the same. It wasn’t until I was 11 years old before I learned this revelation, which is also about the same time I stopped playing with cars. Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Acoustic Contemplation

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Up to this point, all my posts have been planned out in advance, and refined to within a millimeter of their lives, so I'm going to try something different today and just write from scratch in one sitting and see where it goes. Sometimes musicians make impromptu recordings without all the production trappings and just let them take on their own direction, and those can be interesting in their own right. It doesn't have to be anything special, but it can be a nice change of pace. Informalizing formality can be tricky, but probably everything's simulated to some extent anyway, so you have to pretend you don't know that and play along like you do with anything else. Like how you eat macaroni and cheese even though you know the orangeness of it doesn't really come from cheese.

Do you ever start thinking of something, and then after a while you ask yourself what made you think of that, so then you start retracing your mental steps, and it's funny how one thing can trigger another. Kind of a six degrees of separation in your head. That seems to work better for me when I'm in a quiet moment, such as just before falling asleep and my mind is wandering. You could also do it completely consciously, though being fully aware of what you're doing could hinder the process.

When I started the thought process, it was simple enough, just thinking maybe about something that had happened that day, or something I was planning on doing the next day. Or it could have been how people experience linear time differently based on their perception speed and their total accumulated time of consciousness since birth. One of those, anyway.

I'll be thinking about some dialog from a TV show, like NUMB3Rs, where they were talking about probability factors, and it will take me back to 10th grade math, and then I'll picture my teacher, Mr. Brandt, who was my favorite teacher, and then I'll think of when I saw him a few years ago when I went back to my hometown to attend my grandfather's funeral. Then I think of some of the people I saw at the funeral, and my previous associations with them, and a clerk at the grocery store who reminds me of one of them, and I think of the head of cabbage in the produce section, which reminds me of somebody from church. And then I'll think about standing in front of a large congregation of people at church, and picturing each of them as different types of vegetables, which will bring to mind Archibald Asparagus from a children's video, and then I'll think how fans at a professional basketball game will wave styrofoam tubes in the air when an opposing player is shooting free throws and this is something condoned by the league, but it doesn't faze the shooter because they do it continuously so that it blends in to its surroundings like the sound of a vacuum cleaner doesn't disturb a baby after a while but a much quieter door shutting would, but if the fans at the basketball game would shake them for a few seconds and then suddenly stop, and then start up again, and then stop, that would mess the shooter up, because he'd get out of his rhythm — the fans are inadvertently helping him get into a rhythm by allowing him to shut out the extraneous stimuli in his periphery... And then that segues nicely into the entropy of the universe affecting my granola cereal in the morning, turning the whole sequence into a tumultuous yet innervating existential sojourn. And so this is why I can't get to sleep that easily.

Many times it will take me probably 20-30 minutes to fall asleep at night, even if I'm dead tired. I suppose I could be melatonin challenged, but I think it's just that it's hard for me to wind down at the end of the day, especially when I've been thinking about so much.

I've heard that it works best when trying to fall asleep to imagine a blank slate to clear the thoughts from your mind. Yeah, like that's gonna work for me. If I consciously think of a blank slate, then that engenders several other thoughts along the same lines. Besides, to the creative mind, how can anything be blank or empty? The artist in me sees the blank slate and wants to paint something on it. Nice try, but everything means something. In my world, you can't suck the meaning out of an entity and leave only a vacuum. I do a nice Monet on the canvas, and then think of myself as a world-renowned impressionist, and where I'd live if I were that rich... Somewhere overlooking a large bay and where the only sound was a butterfly flapping its wings. And then my other home would be in the woods, with 200 acres of unadulterated timber surrounding me on all sides. Did somebody say sleep? I've got conscious dreams to pursue first. I'll fall asleep when my synapses keel over.

Meditation at least lets you cogitate to a certain degree. I've read that in meditation, you're supposed to not concentrate on a particular thought, but just let the thoughts flow. I can see the ambitiousness of this in theory, and for the most part I can do it. But then a truly interesting thought comes by, and I have about a quadrillion mental magnets that are drawn to it, like little piglets congregating to their mommy when it's feeding time. My brain needs nutrition. So much for that.

Have you ever tried to not think of something? For the next ten seconds, don't think about elephants. Remember, no elephants. Don't picture them at all. Ready? Go.... Thousand one... thousand two... thousand three... Hey, you're not supposed to be thinking of elephants. Anything else but elephants. You've got numerous other choices, so it shouldn't be hard to forego just one of them. Think about certified public accountants eating chow mein atop a pole in the Serengeti while dressed in mumus. Lots of other possibilities besides elephants.

People have asked me why I like rainy weather. Like I know my own psychological makeup and have Freud living in my shirt pocket... I'm a doctor, Jim, not a shrink. The best I can tell is that rainy and overcast weather makes the sky seem closer to me, and I find that comforting. Like a giant grey blanket covering the atmosphere and tucking it in all snug. So there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Untitled Mountains

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The mountain was steep and treacherous. Ascending it would not be an easy task. Alas, it would require a great deal more than a perfunctory attempt, for many had come and turned away before reaching the heights. But I was either going to make it or die trying...

After days of arduous climbing interspersed with rigorous introspection, I eventually approached the summit. In the distance I saw the entrance to the guru’s cave, where he lived to stay clear of the elements. As I drew closer, I pondered who I was and what it was I wanted. He was expecting me.

“Come in, my son,” he offered. “You’ve had a long journey and need rest.”

“Yes,” I nodded, “I come seeking wisdom. Fatigue is but a by-product for a higher purpose.”

The guru poured me a warm drink, and as we sat down over the crackling embers, he regarded me. “Tell me your story,” he said, in a way that expressed interest and compassion.

“My story… is incomplete and I want to finish it, but I will tell it to you as much as I know,” I explained.

He shifted his legs and leaned back to get more comfortable. “I am going nowhere, and time is what we have. Please go on.”

“I have questions, but I don’t know if I could be asking better questions. I don’t know how to ask what I need to know.”

“Please, my son… Don’t trouble yourself with such minutiae. I would like to hear about you foremost. I would like to know your struggles.”

“I guess struggles are normal then, aren’t they? There’s no way I wouldn’t have them, right? That makes sense... Well, there’s a song where the singer says he’s seen fire and he’s seen rain. I think I know what that means. I’ve seen both...” And then my voice tailed off.

The guru looked at me sympathetically. “And tell me how they made you feel.”

Gathering myself, I continued. “Together... they made me feel empowered. Alone, they made me feel lost and wandering.” I shook my head. “I search for answers… I don’t know…”

“What is it you wish to have answers for?”

“What’s it all about? Can you tell me what the meaning of life is?”

The guru paused and grinned, an indication he had once been where I now was. He looked me squarely in the eyes. “And why do you think you need to know it now?” he asked. “Isn’t that what living life is for?”

“Hmmm.” I pondered this. “So I’m not supposed to know yet?”

“What are you going to do when you find out, my boy?”

“Uh… I don’t know... I suppose I figured it would bring me peace.”

“Oh, it’s peace you want. That has its merits, and someday you will have ultimate peace, but in the meantime you will be disappointed if that defines your happiness. Life isn’t about arriving somewhere, it’s about getting there. Don’t look for perfection, but only work toward it. You can have high expectations, and this is noble. Yet temper that with patience as it comes to you incrementally.”

“Tell me more about this. What kind of peace can I hope for?”

“A reassuring peace that comes and goes will be more common. And there are other less agonizing ways of finding any kind of peace than in searching for that Holy Grail of the meaning of life. Knowledge alone doesn’t bring peace, and it’s not even a requirement.”

“So then… how do I go about finding at least occasional peace?”

“The answers are inside you. No one can learn them for you. Peace only comes from within. I can no more give you peace than I can give you my own hopes and dreams.”

“How does one look inside himself?”

“There are a few ingredients for this. You must look carefully, and shut out all the paraphernalia. Analyze the things that truly matter the most to you. Listen to your subconscious more. It will give you a clearer picture. Trust your instincts. Pay attention to them and you will learn how to recognize when they are trying to tell you something. These all take much discipline, and you will get frustrated,” he said purposefully, making sure I was following him. “And then lastly, you can see your reflection in others. Look closely at them and you’ll see yourself better.”

I was overcome with the moment, and listened intently as he continued. We spoke into the night, and I felt as though a weight had been lifted from off my shoulders. I slept well that night, and my dreams came alive.

In the morning I bade farewell to the guru. He was soon a memory, though still present.

My day-long journey back down the mountain had a different tone than my journey up. What was night was now day.

Coming down from the mountain with renewed vigor, I met a passer-by at the bottom who was on his way up. “Do you seek wisdom?” I asked.

“I am indeed seeking wisdom,” he said. “Do you know the way?”

“I do. As do you, in fact. The guru will tell you merely what you didn’t realize you already knew. The way is found without climbing mountains. The way is within your reach right now.”

“So you’ve met with the guru...”

The man and I regarded each other, and we spoke into the night.

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer