Sam continued talking while I gained ground to close the gap between us.
“Lies divide you and shatter your integrity. Especially the lies you try to sneak by your soul about yourself. They leave you collecting pieces of your best self and cradling them in doubt and fear. A fully integrated person is one who knows the shadow and light inside and doesn’t scold or applaud either. What you act on is choice. A lot of choices you make are based on fear. Mostly fear of repercussions. Losing your job. Going to jail. Getting a ticket. Public outrage. Simple embarrassment. The biggest mistake is seeking approval. That, and wanting others to speak well of you.”
Sam turned right down a path without warning. I jogged a couple steps to catch up just as Sam sat down on a log.
“This is one of my favorite spots,” he said pointing at the water as it bubbled and twisted slowly over the smooth rocks. “I love the way the sun breaks through and makes the little diamonds on the water.”
This coming from a guy that used to trick guys into drinking chewing tobacco spit from a beer bottle while playing pool.
I gave the water a quick glance. “So what do I do? What’s my next step?”
Sam smiled and caught me in a cold stare -“Nothing. But that’s not what you want to hear.”
My jaw tightened as I shook my head in confusion.
Sam tried again. “Can you sit not giving a shit while everyone around you throws tantrums trying to get you to do things they want?”
“No,” said I shifting my position a little, “Even thinking of all those expectations makes me anxious.”
“Did you ever feel this frustrated, confused and anxious when you were on tour, walking through a minefield, leading the rest of your supply convoy to deliver those ceramic roof tiles?”
I thought about it. “No. I was completely focused on not getting blown up.”
“Exactly. You only get those anxiety feelings when you don’t know what to do. The ego needs a task to chase. Even in bad or dangerous situations like a minefield, if you know what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re just super pumped. But not frustrated. Division is anxiety. Being yourself as the mission is the cure.”
That was about the most profound thing I had ever heard because it was true.
Being excited, scared, and amped were just different levels of the same emotion. Feeling frustrated and stuck with too many inputs however knotted me up inside.
Sam could see I was getting the point. “I’m not trying to be confusing. It’s just the topic is a hard thing to convey with simple words.”
Sam still twirled the pine needle and then nodded his head knowing what to say next.
“You can get rid of that stuck feeling Ray. Trust yourself and follow what your gut is telling you instead of allowing the stinging jungle vines out there to drag you down. Look at this,” he paused and held up the pine needle again.
“Learn to trust your intuition and flashes of mind. Trust yourself more than the voices of authority washed in the muddy waters of public opinion. This pine needle is obviously not a leaf. Without trying to be a pine needle, it is one. If it tried to be a leaf it would fail. If it actively tried to be a better pine needle it would be like trying to prick itself with its own point. It would be so busy trying to be something it already is that it would be doing itself less. It’s already doing one hundred percent pine needle without trying. Everything else is confusion and frustration.”
I raised my eyebrows a little as it started to sink in.
It excited Sam to see he was getting through. “Creatively, you must be yourself because the competition will be less. You offer something unique and unique has a high value when in demand. Great works of art all teach the same lesson. They teach us to stick with our spontaneous impressions with good-humored inflexibility. Especially when the rest of the world disagrees. If musicians, rebels, poets and heretics hadn’t, great works would be lost to time and we would still worship the sun.”
My mouth opened a crack and then I shut it.
Sam smiled. “Go ahead. You had an idea didn’t you?”
“Out with it then. Speak your truth without a filter. It’s a rare thing,” Sam said patting me on the shoulder.
“So while it’s impossible to not be yourself, you can do less of what other people think you should be doing. At lease the things that goes against your gut.”
“Nicely put. And that the less you do what you think society, convention, whatever expects of you, the more you, you become.”
“Sometimes the best way to play the game, is not to play the game at all,” I said proud of myself.
“Yes, and that’s where we should stop this conversation. What you just said is all there is to know,” Sam said throwing the pine needle into the water. He stood transfixed for a moment watching the needle drift out of sight and mumbled, “That’s a whole other topic for him.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that and I looked around as we walked, stewing on what we had talked about.
“So Sam,” I paused.
“Yes,” Sam said picking through a small wild blueberry patch without looking at me.
“You seem to share the opinions of Ralph Waldo Emerson a lot.”
“Oh you know of him?”
“Yes. I read his books too,” I said.
“Well, I do share a lot of his opinions actually,” Sam said hunching over to smell the blueberries, “You recognize him in what I say?”
“Yes, you speak with his flavorings.”
“Well that’s a compliment,” he smiled. “Every author I’ve read has tasty morsels but few chefs make only delicious meals,” Sam said finding himself funny.
“Did you have more tasty bits?”
“Tons. One that has stuck with me that’s relevant here is that there is a time in every person’s life when they realize that envy is ignorance and that imitation is suicide. That you must take yourself, as you are, for better or worse. That no kernel of nourishing corn can come to you but through your hard work from the given plot of ground bestowed at birth.”
“Be yourself everyone else is already taken and trust thyself,” with a dash of, “Just do you and add in some elbow grease.”
“I’m sensing a theme Sam,” I said stepping high over an exposed root across the trail.
“You do sense a theme indeed. Most people hold back on what they feel. They don’t show the world what they really are. There’s a kernel in everyone that is so bizarre and weird that it makes life interesting for the individual and the people around them. It will even annoy some but without a change in the ocean floor, we don’t have waves to surf.”
I cringed. “Trusting yourself and giving your gift to the world takes a lot of fearlessness and courage.”
“Maybe. It could also mean not giving a flying fox tail and letting the cards fall where they may,” he said raising an eyebrow. “That’s why I like martial arts, it helps me fear others less so I can be more true to myself. But I could also go the other way and simply not fear death. Then I’m free to do whatever I want without spending so much time training.”
Sam pointed to the right where the path diverged. “We’ll take this one and loop back to the cabin.”
I stutter-stepped and veered to the right to follow Sam. The pace was quickening and my calf was still cramped from my failed attempt at running.
I sucked in the cool mountain air in big gulps. “What if you don’t know who you are? That seems kind of like a prerequisite before you can be yourself doesn’t it? How do I know where the real me starts, ends, and what I’m doing that’s just self-deceit?”
I tripped over a drop in the trail and Sam pointed to another exposed root, “Watch that one too.”
“Thanks,” I said. Sam obviously knew the trail well.
Without even watching where he was walking he looked back to me and continued. “You decide what you want to do. Not what label you want, but the act that you want to spend time doing. In order to do something well and with ease, you require some skill at it. Which requires time and practice to refine the natural gift. Copying greatness is a learning tool. But it creates only shadows of both the original and your true genius. It’s a ghost of what you’re actually capable of.”
“See, you need a boat to cross a river, but once you cross the river you don’t carry the boat on your shoulders for the rest of your life. You learn how to do the thing you love doing to the best of your capabilities from someone who knows more, but when your skills are good enough to let you express your individuality, you bring that gift to the world.”
“But it’s actually quite a bit simpler than all that,” Sam said gliding past branches and thistles.
“Go on,” I said catching everything he sidestepped in the face.
“After you dance around the quote, “Be yourself everyone else is already taken,” and try to figure that out. You run into the quote know thyself, first seen carved in the stone of the temple housing of the oracle of Delphi. So you try to find yourself which is like trying to look at your own eyeball. You learn your skill and all that has to do with the outside world. The job and the person you portray to the world etc. Follow?”
“So far, yes.”
“Inside is a different story. The fact is, you are who you are and you can’t be anything else. You’re already doing it. You can’t change or be anything other than who you are because it’s still you that’s trying to change you. It’s like a leaf trying to become pine needle but it’s trying to leaf itself into being pine needle. A leaf can’t even become a different type of leaf. There are so many types of leaves. Each one does it’s own thing. It is it. Who judges which is the best leaf? So what is there for a leaf to aspire to then?”
I took a deep sigh and Sam smiled at me and continued.
“Even the change from green to yellow, to red, to orange during the fall. Even though there is change, there is still leaf. Let’s stop for another couple of minutes. It’s hard to think while you walk. You like deer?”
“Sure I guess.”
“This is a great place to see deer. Just down there in the swampy bit,” he said pointing. “They like to come and chase each other and munch on all that long grass. Or maybe it’s to take a drink. Not sure. They like it here anyway.”
I didn’t scan the swamp below. My mind was trying to put the pieces together.
“So to apply this to my writing then…”
“I try. Anyway, I don’t want to stay poor so I write what’s selling and not what I really want.”
“How’s that working for you?” he asked
“It’s not but I feel like I have to cast my net where the fish are.”
“Again. How’s that working for you?”