By Sifu Joseph Simonet
In my adult life, I have always lived in extraordinary and beautiful settings. I once resided on the banks of a woodland river, in a stone cottage surrounded by several hundred-year-old cedar trees. Every morning I would walk along the waterway, listening to the voices in the current and immersed in the wind sifting through the rocks and woods around me. I have lived on the shores of the Puget Sound on Vashon Island. We had a stretch of beach immediately in front of our home, as I spent countless hours curiously seeking whatever interested me particularly crabs and sea life. For the past quarter century, I have dwelled in the snow-capped peaks above lake Chelan, surrounded by the majesty of the mountain ranges that ensconce the sparkling waters below. We have a very unusual dwelling as it is an Earth Berm home as there are wildflowers blossoming on my sod roof this time of year. As is my custom, every day I hike along the trails of this serene and somewhat challenging landscape. I find solace and illumination from my environment, I value the quality of my separate sphere in the world, and in every spare moment I take time to be physically present, intellectually engaged and emotionally immersed as is my way of being.
Over the many years of my life, as I walk, I contemplate my selves. Most of us think of self as a singularity residing in the present, but that view is but a spoke of the wheel in which to confine something so vast. After all, how long does the present actually last? The “now” is a fraction of a moment–most of our real essence actually resides in the past or the future. How can we trap all that we are and all that we will be into a mere breath and moment in time? I view myself as no exception, so I endeavor to assimilate the selves of the past and the selves of the future into my ever changing timeline. My personality, and I believe yours too, exists and is defined by timeline, by the phases of life and experience that we encounter. I clearly can remember back to how I was in every stage of my life. Sometimes when I hike at the Wind and Rock training facility, I have several Josephs, Joeys and Joes, who walk with me and I recognize that those people make up who I am and who I am becoming. Through all the trials, joys, triumphs and obstacles I have lived through, my self is formed, refined, defined and renewed–the conglomeration is all me and it has always been me.
I often visualize that I can see the 5-year old Joey scampering off, caring little for sticking to the confines of the trail. He is chasing butterflies, finding snakes and wrestling with his black lab, Rocky, totally absorbed in the moment of pure boy ecstasy. Then I see the 15-year-old Joe–he is kind of sulking, absorbed in the angst as well as basking in the glory of youth, looking for his place in the world yet at the same time thinking he knows everything. After all, it’s every teenager’s job to have everything all figured out! The 21 year-old passes him on the path with a quickened gait, as he is eager to try his hand at everything the day has to offer. Yet, he understands that he has a lot to learn and therefore proceeds with accumulating curiosity. This other Joe is about 25 years old, seeking stimulation and is rather impatient, easily frustrated and even angered at the encumbrances that inevitably cross his path. The 28 year-old is Joe is more assured, just now starting to predict and know the terrain ahead. However, he is often exhausted and diffused by the overbearing burden that comes with wanting to please everyone and wanting to be liked by all. The 40 something year-old Joseph walks up the hill with a more confident and driven stride, his thoughts are busily formulating how he is going to get to the apex of the mountain. He watches 15-year old Joe with a whimsical gaze and a knowing, empathic smile. Lagging somewhat behind is the 50-year-old Joseph, of whom is finally figuring life out, so he thinks. Increasingly aware of the toll that Father Time takes on all of us the 60 year-old Sifu Joseph sometimes has back and knee pain, but is still able to move like a warrior and thankful for every day of health and vitality. He lost his physical peak 30 years ago, however his mental acuity is at its zenith and he is only now realizing the potential of what he can create with his experiential and philosophical acumen. More than pleasing others and seeking approval, he now values genuineness and understanding from himself and others. This Sifu is continuously working on cardio training and development when hiking the trails, as it adds to his strength and creativity. More than ever, he is profoundly grateful for his children and career success such as it is, appreciating every day he can still move and think and feel, to share his work with those who would follow him.
At the end of the procession lumbers the 80 year-old Sifu. He uses a cane and steps with caution, taking his time without rush to enjoy the last vestiges of the twilight. My 80 year-old Sifu Joseph is rapidly declining and longs for a few more years, diminished but grateful, at peace. I often search for counsel from this aged sage, as he knows more than I and is wiser and more patient then the present me. He understands me more than anyone. Oh what a gift to be understood and sometimes it is the gift that one can only give oneself.
We often look back on our “old selves” as if they are separate from our being. We are perhaps embarrassed or ashamed of our mistakes, or we discount and dismiss the values we held before. Many of us look to our future selves with the dread and fear of becoming old, with trepidation that we will never truly arrive at our potential. Or, we simply don’t consider tomorrow’s self at all, and instead move forward transfixed by the transient and cluttered noise of the present. For me, my ability to enfold my present self with the selves of my past and future is a guiding light and wellspring of enlightened wisdom. When I find myself bogged down with work, embittered or stymied in my creativity and joy, I seek out the Joey who is off playing in the woods with his dog and I realign myself to the jubilance of living. When I lose sight of all that I am grateful for and become cemented in frustrations, I seek the counsel of the older Sifu, who is beholden to the offerings of his loved ones, friends and the universe of which he is truly a part. Every self in your timeline has particular gifts to give your present being, and tapping into those riches of insight, perspective and temporal life states can propel you toward a more fulfilling and complete existence. The self is many, it is a timeless sphere and embracing it as such is the quiescent ingredient of living fully in the now.