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Say you’re looking for freedom. A wilder life. Something More. You glance at an ad: 1,350-acre dude ranch for sale.
It’s impossible and you know it. Even so, the idea just won’t go away. It’s like the ad has a neon sign flashing at you, making you dream, and just when you thought you were done with that kind of stuff.
Suddenly, you are there. Not dreaming – THERE. You see it all: You in your Stetson looking out over those wide-open spaces. A few hundred nicely grazing cattle. A dozen horses, all healthy, strong and well-trained. You have that bow-legged walk, the kind of swagger that’s so much a part of you, nobody can take it away. You taste the residue of dust in your mouth and laugh because it is so-damned-amazing here, even the dust tastes good.
It dawns on you that you’re free. You’re home. You’re good. Really, really good.
And then you’re not.
Then you’re back in your lousy underwater-mortgaged house trying to figure out how to take the kids to the dentist before or after school and maybe get a moment in edge-wise to work on your “personal growth.” You’re not free, you’re you.
That’s pretty much what it was like the day I had my first and only full-blown awakening experience. I can’t tell you how long my moment of enlightenment lasted because it seemed to have happened outside of time and space. I suspect it was only a split second, but it could have been a full three or four.
You’d think that flicker of the candle wouldn’t even be remembered 17 years later, but here I am, still thinking about it, still talking about it, still letting it blow through me like a wind that clears everything. That moment of whatever-it-was changed everything in my life, including the trajectory that brought me to these words at this moment, here with you reading right now. It allowed me to know things that are supposed to be impossible to know.
As you might imagine, I didn’t see a dude ranch in my moment of awakening.
It’s just that I can explain a fictional dude ranch better than I can explain what I actually saw and felt. We all have a reasonably reliable inner idea of a 1,350-acre dude ranch, even if we have never been to one. Few of us have any kind of inner idea about awakening. Maybe that is why I have not attempted to write about this in the 17 years since that moment. At least until now.
How do you explain something you’ve never actually seen? How do you describe the way a huge, powerful horse moves with your body as if she knows you, even though you have never ridden such a horse? How do you explain the taste of beautiful dust in your mouth when it’s not actually there in any way you can prove?
And what about the real kicker? That it didn’t last. That after it changed you, it then returned you to yourself - your very flawed, very human self?
Again the 1,350-acre dude ranch may be of help. As it turns out, a dude ranch does not only offer a still, silent look out into vast open space for days on end. When you actually look up the meaning, you realize “dude” means guest. That’s right: Your beautiful dream is a guest ranch.
As in breakfast is served.
These people paid good money for their own bow-legged walk and your job is to provide it. And muck the stalls. And pay the bills. Suddenly this whole dream dude ranch thing isn’t so dreamy. From the looks of it, it’s just life on bigger terms.
Same with enlightenment.
Turns out there are people to serve. Lonely, hungry, achingly inauthentic people. Demanding, rude, entitled people. Growing, reaching, hoping people. People like you.
At first, the space between the “you” of that awakening moment and the ordinary you is wide – 1,350 acres wide. You want to share what you saw, and felt, and now know, but who wants to listen? When you try to speak of it, everyone just nods in that way people do when they think you’ve gone a little crazy.
Then, slowly, and with great effort, you start to get the lay of the land on the ranch you bought. You tame a few of your inner-bucking broncos. The business of the ranch – which is to say your offering to others – becomes more routine.
For example, on arrival day, we’ll call those Mondays, people are difficult, if not downright belligerent. By departure day, say Sunday, they love you. They love the ranch. They love life. They might even love themselves a little bit more. The transformation they asked for came, not because you are a brilliant cooker of breakfast but because you were smart enough to turn them out on their own for long walks during sunrises and sunsets. They never knew what hit them. Which is good, because if they saw it coming, they would have found a way to dodge it. People are weird like that – afraid of what they say they want, especially if they want it a lot.
By Sunday, you feel better, too. You can again rise above the to-do list and remember the worth in the dream. You realize your own heart and mind have settled a bit. Sure, another obnoxious, ramped up, out-of-their-comfort-zone group is about to arrive. But in the space between Sunday’s departures and Monday’s arrivals you remember the perfection you once saw. You take a moment for your own quietude and let it work on you. The sore spots. The ever widening bow legs. You take a ride out with your beautiful four-legged partner and commune in one of the far off spaces you have yet to explore. You enjoy the few early wildflowers that have bloomed.
You feel tired, but it’s a good tired. A worthy tired. You sleep well, realizing that everything really does work out for the best, just as you saw in your vision.
You understand that very little of this, if anything, is to your credit…
…and the idea intrigues you. Who gives us a dream? Who awakens the cowboy with an out-of-the-blue idea that tugs “Here, look this way?” After all these years, I still haven’t a clue. Some days I call it the Tao. Other days, God (in a totally non-God kind of way). Occasionally, when I am feeling humorous about it all, I call it The Mystery With A Opinion.
All I know is that, as far as I can tell, I didn’t do anything to deserve my split second of experienced perfection. If I somehow earned it, I don’t recall how or when or where. Others have worked a whole lot harder at being a “seeker” than I ever did. So if it is a matter of reaching or achieving or even deserving, I can’t help you out with the details. But I can tell you what I’ve come to suspect.
I’ll need the early blooming wildflowers for this one.
I find it interesting to note that every year, a handful of wildflowers bloom a day or two earlier than all the others. Out of nowhere. Out of seemingly nothing. For no good reason except that maybe the Mystery With An Opinion had an early wildflower blossoming opinion that day.
I imagine one of those in bloom looking out at all the closed-tight buds and, surveying the dreary landscape, wondering what the world is coming to. Why are all her fellow flowers so “stuck” – don’t they know what’s possible? Can’t they see how blooming changes everything?
She tries to inspire them, coax them, and even beg them to listen to her about what is possible. They don’t listen. How can they? Their ears are locked up tight.
In truth, the early bloomer is the one in error. She doesn’t understand that the very thing that caused her to bloom will be offering itself to all flowers, everywhere, when the moment is ripe. When that time comes, the whole field will be awash in color and beauty. Every painfully tight bud will spill out into the world. And then the world will change because it is in the nature of the world to change when the right season is upon us.
Then what happens?
Again, I don’t know. But I do have ideas.
When this blooming/awakening/enlightenment/bought-the-ranch happens to you and me and all of us together, I imagine we’ll stumble over who gets to make breakfast. Monday’s will be as beautiful as Sundays. Some of us will go back to the cities because that’s where we like it. And anyway, we know now that the Mystery With An Opinion goes with us everywhere and anywhere. It is now an adventure, not drudgery, to live. We will look at our lives with the amazement we now reserve for a meteor shower on a clear, blue-black night.
I might be wrong about this, either partially or completely. But here’s the thing: So far, nobody’s shared a better story with me and I’m all about choosing the best story I can imagine. Why? Because even the best story I can dream up doesn’t hold a fraction of the power and grandeur I experienced in that moment 17 years ago.
I’d tell you more if I could, and I will when I can.
But for now, how about this? How about we each put a fictional Stetson on in our imaginations so that when we meet, we can tip our hat to each other? This will be our signal that we both understand that somewhere deep into our metaphorical 1,350-acre ranch, early wildflowers are blooming and - someday - we will all know everything it is impossible to know.
Happy trails to you...