Once there was a man who had reached the middle of his life. He decided it was time to contemplate his worth and re-evaluate his direction. So, leaving his friends, his family and most of his earthly possessions behind him he trod off into the woods where he could think undisturbed.
When he entered the woods, he didn’t know if he was doing the right thing, but he knew he had to do it. At first the beauty of his new surroundings filled him with awe and wonder. Soon he learned how to listen to the sounds of nature and as weeks turned into months he slowly found himself changing. Every now and again he missed the people he had left behind, but the great beauty of his new environment lured him further into the mystery he was seeking, and he could not turn back.
In time, he learned how to listen to his own thoughts. He could see his mind in the trees and feel his emotions in the bushes. The perfect balance of nature that surrounded him was starting to become him. The fighting that used to go on within himself was slowly beginning to disappear. At first he was frightened for although he hadn’t realised it, the turmoils to which his mind was accustomed had kept him company. Now they were gone, and instead there was only the great stillness of nature.
More time passed and he began to realise that he could no longer categorise people about whom he used to hold opinions. He began to see the unimportance of classifying all the little things that used to trouble him. Now he had a different problem. With a clear mind, empty of wearisome worries that had always vexed his spirit, what was he to do? In the past, the voices of others with their strong opinions had somehow guided him. The effects of other people’s lives had impinged on his own so much that he never really had to concern himself with what direction his own life would take.
After two years in the woods, he began to wonder if the outside world had changed much, He thought of the people he had known, wondered what they would be like now. Then he discovered an amazing thing about the change that had taken place within himself. All he had to do was to think of a person and somhow, through some strange miracle, he instantly knew what the person was like now. At first, he found this difficult to believe but after a while, he discovered what the woods had done to him. He could touch a leaf and know when it was going to rain. He could somehow sense the presence of even the smallest of animals hundreds of yards away. And always, he would be right. Something had brought him in tune with the perfect harmony of nature. The slightest upset in the ecological balance to which he had grown accustomed would instantly attract his attention.
For the first time in his life he realised that he was a part of God’s creation. He had read about this state of being in books. He had secretly dreamed of it, but this was different. He was actually participating in reality.
He sat down and leaned against the trunk of a giant Sequoia tree to contemplate. Somehow, in ways which he did not understand, he had put himself through years of emotional torture. Then he had tested his ability and his desire to survive amidst the natural elements which were unfamiliar to him. And, much to his amazement, here he was, intact after all. Would he spend the rest of his life in the forest, or would he in time go out to meet people like he had in the past? The question perplexed him, because he knew he could never tell anybody about what he had found. In some ways he was frightened that the strength of the people’s desires would bring him back to all he had discarded. Still, after two years in the woods he was growing lonesome. It was not the same kind of loneliness he had known before his journey. He longed for the sounds of nature in people. The long months alone had made him silent. He wanted to share what he had found with others, but he also knew that he must preserve it for himself.
He remembered how it had once seemed so important to try to reform the world, or perhaps redeem it from some vague, impending doom. Now, he did not have the same feeling. He had found his identity amidst the trees and flowers. He had witnessed how everything in nature fulfills itself in its season. He, too, was now filled with the abundant joys of nature. For months he compared everything he felt in the woods with what he knew he would feel from people.
Here, in the woods, he watched each moment renew itself through the vividness of the ever-happening Now. Regardless of the weather or the changing days, there was great peace inside. He picked up a tiny flower and stared at it. Somehow he knew the flower would be able to answer him. Without words the flower filled him with joy. And he realised that it was doing this without losing any beauty of its own. But, he had picked the flower and he knew it could grow no more. This saddened him. If only he had been able to get his answer by looking at the flower without picking it from its natural habitat . . . Then he became enlightened.
If he left the forest to enlighten others, he would be removing himself from his natural source. How long could he endure? Like the flower he could only look for a while and then fade. He decided it would be wiser to stay within his source. The Now, after all, was not something to boast of, or even lead others to, but rather to experience for oneself. He smiled as he thought, “Let all who want to know venture into the forest themselves, where deep within the recesses of their mind and hearts they will feel the wind, taste the rain, and let the gentle wisdom of natural law guide their journey.”
Source: Adapted from Martin Schulman, Karma of Now Volume IV with added tones of Siddartha by Herman Hesse