Be Mortal

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

It was after 2am and, at first, I thought the screams were human. I was writing at the kitchen table and the screams brought me to the front door. My neighbor’s light came on. Faces peeked out of the window. They thought the screams were human, too. Kerri was suddenly standing behind me. “It’s a rabbit,” she whispered. “They scream like that when they are being killed.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “It’s awful. It’s the sound they make when they are trying to hold onto life.” The screams stopped. The neighbor’s light flicked off. They recognized the sound, too, and went back to sleep.

Kerri returned to her call. She was on the phone with a friend in distress. I remained at the door and stared into the dark night. It was silent. It was as if all of nature had stopped to listen to the screaming. Even the wind was still.

The fox pranced from the darkness into the center of the street. It was vibrant, sated. It stopped and was immediately still when it realized it was being watched. It stared at me and I stared at it. I’ve rarely looked for so long into the eyes of something so wild. Neither of us moved for several seconds. And then, as quickly as it had emerged from the darkness, it bolted and vanished.

My only thought came like a mantra: it knows that it is mortal and I do not.

Earlier in the day I’d read a passage from Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda. I’m completing my once-a-decade rereading of his first three books. I’m reading them very slowly this time, bit-by-bit, and sitting with what I read. The passage that rang my bell this day was this [I’m made some cuts for brevity]:

“Your reason is telling you again that you are immortal,” he said.

“What do you mean by that, Don Juan?”

“An immortal being has all the time in the world for doubts and bewilderments and fears. A warrior…knows for a fact that the totality of himself has but a little time on this earth.”

…”But, Don Juan, my point is that I’m always under the impression that I’m doing my best, and obviously I’m not.”

“It’s not as complicated as you make it appear. The key to all these matters of impeccability is the sense of having or not having time. As a rule of thumb, when you feel and act like an immortal being that has all the time in the world you are not impeccable; at those times you should turn, look around, and then you will realize that your feeling of having time is an idiocy. There are no survivors on this earth!”

Staring into the eyes of the fox I was shocked out of my immortality. Acting like an immortal being, having all the time in the world to indulge my doubts and fears or dream of greener pastures knocks me out of presence. Staring into the eyes of the fox I, for a brief moment, understood that being fully present in my life had nothing to do with achievement. Presence is not something to strive for and attain like a new car. It is not a study and the path to it cannot be found in a book. Presence is what we are. It is something we forget when we think we have all the time in the world.

The fox does not know time. The fox does not know judgment or indulge in doubt or entitlement. It literally has no time for that. It does not need to story its actions. It lives with what is, not with what it imagines.

2 Responses

  1. I too have heard that cry in the night. Haunting. I have never reread Castaneda, but it is time.

  2. Phew. Knock me upside the head. Right to the core you went.

    When my father died at my age 11, I promised myself (and have not forgotten) to ‘leave nothing left unsaid’, for there may not be another time.

    Beautiful, David, thank you.

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