Too often, we hear clichés (i.e. “be present”) with no definition or practical action attached.
I wrote this story while riding through the rolling hills and karsts of northern Vietnam—a 2-month practice of patience and self-awareness. My hope is that this simple tale exemplifies what it means to “be present” in each step of a journey versus rushing toward an expectation.
There once was a powerful leader who spoke of peace and enlightenment.
As his greatest works were written from the top of a mountain, many of his students asked to visit him. Two students in particular were persistent, and finally the great leader agreed.
He instructed both men to walk up the mountain. “If you trust in what I teach, peace will greet you at the top,” he promised.
The first man woke early and walked slowly, inhaling every time he lifted each foot and exhaling when it touched the earth. His eyes danced over branches, his hands brushed the trees’ leaves and bark. He asked the insects their thoughts, and he spoke to the wind.
The second man trudged briskly through the foothills, stepping over rocks intertwined with roots and swatting insects from his arms. His shallow breath matched his pace, as he hurried upward to the summit.
Once there, the quick-footed man roared with laughter for he had conquered the mountain. He had tackled the task and was sure to find peace and enlightenment here—just like his great leader had promised. But when he looked around, he saw no leader. He saw no cabin or makeshift hut where the leader might be.
“How will I find peace and enlightenment when my leader has not come to meet me?!” He wailed to the wind. Crouching in the fallen leaves, he looked out into the valley below. The afternoon clouds lingered in the sky, compromising his view. As he had arrived much earlier than the other man, he sat and waited for the clouds to pass so that he might find the great leader.
But the quick-footed man grew impatient and short-tempered. He had made his summit, yet was met only by the view of the ground below his feet. He resented his journey, for he felt no wiser than when he had left the comfort of his home. Finding no reward atop the mountain, he began his descent.
By the time the slow-footed man reached the top, the sky had surrendered to the golden dusk. He stood in awe of the setting sun, which the quick-footed man had not remained long enough to see.
So the slow-footed man stood alone, laughing at the joy of his miraculous journey.
The sun set over the valley, and the man knew he must descend the mountain. While he had also expected to meet the great leader, he felt his journey on this mountain was over.
He had learned from the branches and the insects and the wind. He had basked in the soft, golden light of the setting sun. He had no need to stay on the mountain or to ascend again tomorrow.
He had made his peace.
Act on this:
Which character do you resonate with?
Are you rushing toward a specific goal or expectation? Or do you move slowly and seek value in the small steps and lessons along the way?
Are you looking to find peace, happiness, or another reward? Or are you making your peace through practice?
Consider your journey. Appreciate where you are now and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Now, what do you want things to look like moving forward?
If you’re feeling too quick-footed, reframe your approach to goal-setting.
We learn from the in-betweens more than we do by waiting for that one gargantuan epiphany, because we’re presented with in-between opportunities far more often.
Focus on the small stuff to train yourself to tune in, think positively, and make healthy life choices. (This will also make the “gargantuan epiphany” easier to handle if/when it rolls around!)
Find your mountain and hike your own hike. If you trust in your process, peace will greet you at the top.