What kind of man am I?
Every morning, as I get ready for the day, I look in the bathroom mirror and think, “What kind of man am I?” It's a brief time as I shave usually, that I make eye contact with my reflection, and note the increasing number of gray hair and new lines. It makes me smile mostly. When I'm not looking in the mirror, I forget how old I am. Most of the time, I feel 16: hopeful, strong, calm, and secure. Then I confront my reflection and laugh when I see that aging man. The inner image I have of myself, is not what my physical body looks like.
A long time ago, there was a man I knew who exercised a lot, and he kept a cartoon on his tool bench door. It showed an older man with a thought balloon looking in the mirror and imagining a muscular, very buff perfect specimen of a man, but in reality he was not very muscular, quite rotund, aging, and not nearly as handsome. He was smiling at his reflection, because what he saw was not at all what his physical body really was. It didn't mean that much to me as a 20 year old, but as I continued working there, and had my first child, gained a little weight, turned 30, noticed more gray hairs, well that little cartoon had much more meaning.
Most of the time, we're busy with work, or family, or church, or our organizations, or doing chores and we don't think and really meditate on who we are. We glide along, get things accomplished or not, and move on to the next thing we have to do. But as we get older, at least in my own times spent doing work, my mind turns to thinking about, “What kind of man am I...really?”
The times gardening, walking the woods, collecting plants to make cordage, stalking an animal, rock climbing on a sheer cliff, are the times when I am the most reflective about this question. Being with Nature, the creation of the Source, and being cognizant that I am part of it, not separate from it, are the times when I feel the most awake and aware.
Our ancestors long ago lived in harmony with Nature. There was no heat in their homes unless they went out and collected the best wood that they could find in order to get warm. The wood could not be gathered at all times or places, and as they gathered the source of wood would diminish unless more trees were planted and carefully harvested. Those who thought about it, if they possessed wisdom and knowledge, would create the very best stoves that they could, to burn less wood and produce more heat, because otherwise all the wood would be used up in an area, and they would have to go too far from their homes to gather it. They carefully burned it, cooking while heating, and doing without perfect warmth and not wastefully using up resources since it would run out.
All of their tasks were like that. Whatever they could raise and collect, only came in its season, and preparing for a lean season and a lack of availability, and planning for traveling to new sources, was the only pragmatic means of coping. That was the kind of people that they were.
Today, most of us are not agrarian hunter gathers. We are specialists who flick a switch and use up natural gas or electricity to heat our homes. In exchange for comfort, we work at a job that most of us despise, and work whatever time is needed in order to not have to live like our ancestors.
A long time ago, I was catching a ride with an acquaintance, and he said, “You know, there really are no free men any more.” As a young man, with little experience, but newly married with a child on the way, it made me a little angry. As I sat there, I felt that stir up, rolled my eyes, but respectfully asked him what he meant. He was a good 30 years older, and said kindly that most of us cannot take care of themselves, garden, hunt, ride a horse, defend themselves or their families, build a house, chop any large amounts of wood, fix a leaky roof, etc.
It made me angrier as I sat there. Well of course I didn't know how to do most of those things. I felt like I didn't need to. My gosh, this was the 20th Century. We sure didn't need to live that way. While I admired my ancestors, and that they had those skills, and regularly read magazines like Mother Earth News, and enjoyed Nature, well I felt like it was anachronistic and silly really to bemoan the relative ease of modern life.
Being wired to be a reflective sort of person, but being young and foolish, I argued with him a little. He was very kind and considerate to me, and smiled and explained about getting older and the important of being truly awake. His politics were different than mine, he was pretty liberal, but an honest spiritual sincere man, so his words had meaning and I respect him.
It planted a seed, a mustard seed. If any of you have ever seen one, you know how miniscule they really are. That seed might have died, but being inquisitive and already loving Nature, and being conservative and respecting the people who came to this country, I could see great wisdom in what he was saying. That seed fell on some soil, and as it germinated, it pushed down it's roots, and tiny leaves emerged to spring up for the Light.
Yes, we don't need to learn any of the old skills. We can eat from jars from major food chains. We can live in homes made by specialists. We can work at places to get money to buy what we need and shiny toys. But as I bought into that materialism, more and more, I was unhappy with working long hours, spending more time away from my family, and felt like life was good but very hollow.
Spending time with the Source and with the community of believers, I gathered strength, and doing work with people in order to share the Source made me happy, but ultimately most of the time I spent on working for others and acquiring things. The two very different philosophies seemed at odds. What I learned about the Source, and the people who believed in it in history, was a far cry from modern life and the kinds of specialists that we had become. The communities that we lived in seemed estranged from each other in actuality, and we seemed to be headed for a time when the old skills died and became lost to time.
“What kind of man am I?” That question has haunted me for many decades of my life. Not in a bad way, but in an unceasing pulse, a twin heartbeat, a rhythm, a song that makes me wistful. Because of it, I found more excuses to walk the woods, learn to make things, learn to repair things, learn to grow and collect things, hone the old skills.
I think that real Freedom, the kind of Freedom that is spoken of in the words of the Source, in the words of Patriots, in the words of wise elders, will never exist by tapping into materials produced by specialists. Real freedom comes from being able to be more self-sufficient and being able to share bounty from it, as well as teach others to learn it. The more we spend on relying on others in a lifestyle that is not sustainable, and governed by materialism, the more unhappy and unfulfilled and lonely we will be. At the very root of that wistfulness is the realization that we are not Free as long as we are dependent upon a lifestyle that is not based upon the Source and the Freedom of living in harmony with the Earth.
All communities will produce specialists that is a normal progression based upon efficiency. Healthy communities that are Free will have individuals who can provide some materials themselves.
I think it was Tom Brown Jr. who said (and I am no doubt paraphrasing), “when a man stops wearing moccasins he made, he can no longer feel the bones of the Earth”. I think that the separation from feeling the Earth is part of the loss that I feel when I wear store bought shoes that were made by impoverished children in factories far away. That may seem silly to you, and unrealistic, but when we have specialized so much, that we abuse others to have cheaper and cheaper things for our convenience, and no longer are reliant upon gathering materials from sustainable resources, from things made locally, then I think we are lesser people and slowly enslaved.
That's the kind of man I am.