“If you’re not in a good feeling, ignore everything you’re thinking.” Sydney Banks
New year, Monday morning.
I start up the fire-road at Sorich Park, still stiff and tight from last night’s six-hour drive home from Malibu. The rain has stopped and a gauntlet of thick wet fog hangs over the sides of the steep ridge I’m trudging up. My head is awhirl with worried thoughts about the year ahead. And money. Early the previous year I’d been laid low with throat cancer, the treatment of and recovery from which had throttled my energy, business plans, and income for most of the year. Improbably, 2017 had been the happiest year of my life, a year of both healing, connection, and learning. As the year-end approached, my energy had returned to normal an. I was ready to get back to full-time work.
I had spent the first weekend of the new year at a workshop in Malibu called “Renewed in Spirit,” led by three teachers of The Three Principles, a simple but empowering understanding of how life works which I now share with others through my coaching. Much of the weekend was a conversation about the nature of wisdom, its omnipresence in our lives, and how simply we can access its guidance.
I had been brought up on the belief that wisdom is, as my mother used to say, ‘scarce as hen’s teeth’. To be granted wisdom, you were either old and gray, of distinguished character, or a doer of extraordinary good deeds. But in the past three years I’d come to understand that we are all born with all the wisdom we’ll ever need in our lives. In fact, a single insight of wisdom had transformed my journey through cancer into a fear-free experience of deep connection with life and loved ones, uncomfortable and painful at times, but otherwise just another of life’s cornucopia of experiences.
I’d arrived in Malibu feeling optimistic but with a lot of background noise in my head about the new year—getting up to speed, filling my coaching practice, increasing cash flow, etc. In the following two days, I learned that worrying about one’s goals or objective was an unnecessary add-on; worry is not only a low quality source of motivation but it also tends to distort one’s vision, a dark lens turning potential flecks of gold into lead, transforming a strategic investment in some new branding into an unnecessary expense.
By our farewells on Sunday evening, however, I was in a nice feeling, with a deeper understanding that my worries were entirely a product of my thinking, not of my circumstances. I saw that wisdom is a bottomless well of fresh thinking for any question, challenge, or circumstance of daily life. Invoking its counsel requires little more than patience, a quiet mind, and looking away from what you already know, remember, or have learned.
Through a lens darkly
So here it is Monday morning and I’m half way up the ridge when I realize I have my worry glasses on again. The weeks ahead are now filled with bills to be paid, potential pitfalls to my plans, and a general mood of doubt about how to proceed. I stop for a moment and look west toward Mt Tamalpais, the top of which is hidden in clouds. I notice my low mood and its accompanying swirl of dark thoughts. I remember one of the weekend’s take-aways—feelings are the expression, or felt experience, of my thinking in the moment. I need to get quiet, to allow fresh thinking to emerge.
I continue up the hill, noticing and allowing my thoughts to move through my head as one watches clouds moving across the sky. My mood remains but it’s a little quieter in my head. I come to an intersection with the main fire road that snakes through these hills towards the bustling city of San Rafael in the east, where I can see the sun clawing its way through a retreating line of rain clouds. I look up to the next hilltop; the halfway point of my loop, and then turn to look down the hill I’ve just climbed. I’ve been a way for three days, I think to myself. My gut clenches; I have a ton to get done. I should really get back…get to work….get going! I sigh, but then noticing my negative lens on the situation, a brighter thought occurs. Five more minutes to that next hilltop; then I’ll turn back.
As I start up the rain-soaked road, I see a couple and their golden retriever approaching. He looks to be in his late fifties, with a stylish western hat, rain slicker…and…I blink in amazement…no shoes or socks! In the chilly January morning air, he is deliberately stepping thought the thickest, deepest streams of brown-black mud on his side of the road. With each step, mud oozes around his toes and feet. The tops of his feet shine bright pink in the cold air.
Remembering my own barefoot boyhood summers on the Maine coast, I smile. We pass each other, me stepping carefully down the drier side, he up to his ankles in mud. I say, “Don’t you love it when the mud squeezes up between your toes!” Eyes focused on the where to put his foot next, he only laughs. But his wife turns and smiles warmly. “Do you know about the secret trail?” she asks.
The Glasses Come Off
I turn to look at where she is pointing, a few paces ahead to the left, a non-descript single-track path runs off the road into a thicket of brush and spindly acacia. I have hiked this road dozens of times and never noticed the trail she is pointing to. “It follows the ravine and across a meadow and meets the fire-road by the water tank,” she says. “It’s quite magical after the rain.”
Suddenly, the dark glasses are gone; the way forward becomes clear. Without a nano-second’s hesitation, I turn and take my first steps down the narrow trail through the undergrowth, into a new day.
“Don’t tell anyone!” she calls after me.
I laugh out loud and turn to answer. I can’t fully describe what happens, but in those few moments since she first spoke to me, my universe has shifted. Every leaf, branch, and blade of grass brims with life and possibility. I’m filled with a sense of well-being wherever I look, including my plans for the weeks and year ahead. Now I know for sure. I know it’s all working out and always is. With wisdom as a guide, there are no problems, only a life to live.
Through the canopy of trees I call to her, to him, to the mud, to everything that is listening.