Must Be The Hoe

In the beginning of a season, there’s renewed interest getting astir in midair. Spring must be looming somewhere. I decided to go for a run, circling my finite trajectory of a small town.

The cherry trees alongside my path are deep into an apathetic existence, trademarked by winter. Yet somehow you can tell, beneath their bated breath they’ve been quietly embracing themselves for another round of transient blossoms, which might come with the spring, before everything recedes into a humdrum again – that would probably last for the rest of the time.

A few other people came out to stretch their legs too. Joggers in this season are self-absorbed, perspiring an air of quiet introspection. Squinting their eyes into narrow slits, typically they fixate on some invisible inner thoughts.

Somehow it reminds me of Google Plus, my favorite social media of a bygone era, a virtual playground for dreamers of all ages, full of beating hearts and throbbing pulses. Where almost everyone had in mind composing this great song of their own, or painting that masterpiece of all time. Writing a bestseller to appeal to the mass population, or contriving some esoteric philosophy to content a select few. Where you would see someone deep in the winter of his life still anticipating a life to truly begin, a grand mission of some sort to be accomplished, or an unconventional love story to come to fruition.

As unassuming as you might seem to be, the buzz is there, dormant underneath every surface. You could almost hear the whistle of an upcoming train getting started, gathering speed from the far end of an underground tunnel.

You direct your gaze far off into the distance, over the hazy blue mountain peaks; you feel something infill your chest to the brim – ah, those remote seashores, they are places you have yet to sightsee.

You look back on the crowded streets around, with people performing some mundane routine, with the merry little everyday life flowing by, you feel as if being stuck in the middle of a place desolate, a dead traffic light hanging overhead, time suspended in an infinity …

Once, I came across a Web site designed for people to post their life story in one sentence. Like cold-pressing a handful of olives into a mere drop of extra virgin oil, people condense the gist of their tale into a few words –

“She would have got more done, but she had cats.” A woman drafted her own epitaph this way.

“Found true love, married someone else.” Someone wrote his memoir in six words.

A comic summed up his show-biz career, “He started at the bottom; he aimed for the top; he ended up somewhere below in-between.”

Another person reflected on life with an open-ending question, “What am I so afraid of?”

As I remember it, there’s inner chafe in every case. So much was said in a single sentence, although everyone is basically saying the same thing – if they got to choose, they would start over and rewrite the story, taking it up a notch. The stark contrast between inner ideal and outer reality is a recurring theme in all stories. Turns out all people have been one person living the same life, only in disparate exterior forms and different time periods, while the intrinsic narrative is a same old story ever repeating.

What enables you to endure the everyday humdrum, is this unproven yet tenacious faith that the current situation must be provisional, merely a necessary means to some better end. The present moment is for practice only, just to get you ready for the best that is yet to come. Deep down you hold on to an idea – I am special; I deserve something better than what I have now; I am a rarer breed, one of a kind, destined to unfold into something interesting. If all you’ve been living so far is a life unexceptional, you feel as though you’ve never truly lived.

It’s a mystery how you got this groundless notion “I am special” in the first place. Occasionally, you take a look in the mirror, and all you see is something plain ordinary. Yet we feed on the self-charging idea “I am special,” like Everest climbers clutching at oxygen cylinder – life for sure would become invalid if the grip was ever slackened.

Every now and then, I try to remind myself of this Zen parable –

There was a farmer who’d spent his whole life plowing a field with a hoe. His hard work brought about some harvest, but the harvest always gave rise to further desire. He felt like being towed by an invisible hand, treading the same circle over and over again. One day, a Zen master walked by, happy and free. The farmer wanted to attain that kind of liberty, so he got rid of everything to follow the master.

The only thing he carefully stored away, is the hoe. After all, it’s a fine hoe. Throughout his whole life, he had been depending on the hoe for a livelihood.

So he became a diligent disciple of Zen. After many years in the pursuit of enlightenment, however, he still wasn’t happy. Then one day, he realized something – rushing back home he took out the hoe, and he threw it into a river. A mighty splash! Finally, he’s truly free.

This unsubdued desire to actualize oneself, this obscured yet never letup wish to be someone special – what is it? It must be the hoe.