A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step
Being around Mr. Babushnik was always great fun. There was so much energy and deliciousness when one was in his presence. No matter what the weather was like, whether it was cold and damp with a blustery wind filled with the ominous predilection of rain, or whether it was overly hot, the air limp with moisture, still for Mr. Babushnik it was always a delightfully warm spring day. It was, of course, his deep rooted joy that made it a pleasure to be with him. And thus it was natural that the same question would always come up: What could I do to be more like him?
For here was the contradiction. When one was with Mr. Babushnik the world was a wonderful place, filled with pleasures and opportunities. However, when I went home the joy was not quite as rich. After a few hours you might again notice the clouds and that my life didn’t quite work just right. The world seemed filled with ominous threats and sad tidings. And no matter how much I would try I could not make my world a better place than what it already seemed to be.
So finally one day just after Mr. Babushnik had awoken from a nap on the park bench, I finally asked my question:
R: Where can I begin?
Mr. B: A most peculiar question.
Mr. B: Well, I presume you already have.
R: Have what?
Mr. B: Have begun, of course. Why else would you be here?
R: You mean with you.
Mr. B: Yes, but it wouldn’t be any different if you weren’t. You still would have begun.
We weren’t really getting anywhere, at least as far as I could tell. And though the mental merry-go-round did seem silly, it was delightful in itself.
Mr. B: It doesn’t make any real difference how you begin. Do you see those paths over there by the boat pond? Can you see where all the paths intersect?
Mr. B: Well let’s say you were standing in the middle where all the paths crossed. Would you know which path to take?
R: Well, if I knew which way I wanted to go.
Mr. B: And if you didn’t know where you wanted to go would you just stand there?
R: Well, for a little while, perhaps.
Mr. B: But then what?
R: Oh, I guess I might get bored and I would pick a path.
Mr. B: Which one?
R: I don’t know
Mr. B: Exactly. But you would choose one. That’s all you have to do. It makes no difference which path you take. All that matters is that you take a step, a first simple step.
R: And have I taken that step?
Mr. B: You are here, aren’t you? The question always is asked. Where does one begin? It really doesn’t matter where or how you begin. Any path will do, at least in the beginning. For in the beginning, they’re all right, or all wrong, depending on your point of view. But to start, there’s the important thing.
I nodded meekly.
Mr. B: But I must warn you that first step can be a real doozey.
I looked up, a bit concerned.
R: Is it dangerous?
Mr. B: Certainly can be. And frankly most times it is quite dangerous.
My eyes widened with a growing sense of fear.
R: How is it dangerous?
Mr. B: Why, you begin to believe.
R: Believe? Believe in what?
Mr. B: Well, almost anything. You start believing in magic. You may believe in miracles and healings, angels or demons, UFO’s, telepathy and other supernatural powers. You may believe in synchronicity and the importance of other coincidences. You may believe in saints and sinners. Why, you might even believe in God.
R: Is believing in God dangerous?
Mr. B: Certainly can be. Just look at the world.
R: But how is believing in anything dangerous?
Mr. B. Because a good 99.99 per cent of belief is superstition. Personally, I am not sure about that extra .01 per cent.
R: But why is it dangerous?
Mr. B: Well, it is very much like those cartoons you watch on your television, where the wily Coyote is chasing the roadrunner. The coyote is so intent on catching its prey that it doesn’t realize it’s followed the bird right over the edge of a cliff. The bird can fly, of course. And for a brief moment the coyote is suspended in the air, flying as if by magic. But when it realizes that there is no ground underneath him, then what happens?
R: He crashes to the ground?
Mr. B: Exactly, and he’s far worse off than before he was chasing the bird.
R: So is this spiritual journey just like coyote chasing roadrunner? You run after the bird like crazy, never catching it and just crashing into canyons, being blown up by dynamite, being run over by railroad trains?
Mr. B: Pretty much. I told you the first step is a doozey. Those cartoons really are quite deep you know. You should watch them more often. In general, the first step or two on the path feel great, an entire new world appears, everything is hunky dory— for a while. And then, in general, your life falls apart.
R: But, I don’t understand why.
Mr. B: Because you’ve become superstitious and you no longer operate very well in your old world.
R: I think I see.
Mr. B: Except there is one other thing. You can’t go back.
Mr. B: To your old world. For once you’ve taken a step over the cliff, you simply can’t turn around and go back to your old world.
R: Why not?
Mr. B: There are many reasons, but primarily because it’s no longer there. For your old world was held together by superstitions and magic as well. You never noticed that because everyone around you believed in the same superstitions. There was so much agreement that you never could know that it was a completely made up magical kingdom that you were living in already.
A silent shiver ran through my body. Somehow I knew Mr. Babushnik was right. There was a flush of energy, a color, a brightness that I felt, the impelling truth of what he was saying. Yet at the same time I felt a tremble of panic. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted now.
R: I am not so sure I want to take that first step.
Mr. B: Too late. You’ve already taken it.
Mr. B: You are here aren’t you? You are already thinking these thoughts. That’s all it really takes.
R: But if you can’t go back, go home, then where do you go?
Mr. B: Oh, that’s easy. You get to make up a whole new world, with new rules and laws. It’s really great fun.
And with that Mr. Babushnik closed his eyes. He was silent. I could barely breathe. In a moment his head dipped slightly, his own breathing shifted and he went back to his nap.