“The only hope of transforming the world from the ‘tsunami of violence’ is for each of us to Become the Change We Wish To See in the World. Bryant McGill shows us the way.”
–Dr. Arun M. Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi
I think we are all born with a certain theme to our lives. I’m not sure I believe in destiny, but I do believe in themes. There are themes in my life that I see over and over again. A life theme is like a common thread or a topic in your life that keeps recurring. For some, the thrust of their life is marked by some vague ambiguity with a few pleasant keynotes here and there. For others, the theme of their life is a dull pain with piercing keynotes of agony. Some lives are burdened with a sense of no destiny whatsoever — which is their theme. For me, I spent most of my life running away from my themes, but I eventually discovered you can’t run from them forever — they always reappear. They’ll come back in one form or another until you finally acknowledge them. It was not until I embraced the themes of my life, what some people call destiny, that I began to be released from them, or rather released into them.
You see, everything is trying to complete itself in this world and we are no different. We search for what we believe is missing, to fill the gaps; to complete ourselves. If only the world taught us we are already born complete, but it seems to teach us the opposite; digging a huge hole in us that we try to fill — too often in destructive ways. I would like to say I searched for my completion with intelligence, deliberation and dignity, but it was more like an awkward fumbling; like stubbing your toe in a dark room. Sometimes I reacted more like a wild animal than a dignified person. At some point in your life, you start to ask yourself the question of whether or not you can get through that dark room without breaking your leg. You start thinking that there must be a better way to learn the lessons that you need to learn, without so much pain. Yes, I would like to say that it was because of my brilliance that I found wisdom and completion; that would’ve been nice, but it’s not true. Pain was my compass in life. Unease and fear were my guides; not angels, but my own demons. Suffering is one of life’s greatest teachers. And if you’re not a very good student, then these teachings will be continually tragic. As it was for me; I was a poor student and had to learn the lessons over and over again. But as I will attempt to impart in the book; tragedy contains opportunity — the greater the tragedy, the greater the opportunity.
Life’s pressure is equal to your resistance. Your grief has endless time. Your sadness is bottomless. Your worries are relentless. Your resentment is unquenchable. Your fears are unmovable. Every dimension of your suffering will instruct you, Until you have learned your essential lessons.
Some people say that life is just a classroom where we come to learn all the things that we need to complete ourselves. But why does it have to be so hard? I discovered that it doesn’t have to be hard and there are easier ways. One of the defining moments in my life was in learning to not unnecessarily resist things. Willfulness is often a mindset of self-battery. It’s very tricky, in that it can seem like strength when really it is just arrogance. But you can’t resist the whole world. It will wear you down over time. In fact, it seems like the whole purpose of life is to humble you, and made humble we certainly are — or will be.
I have been humbled more than once in my life. Memory is pretty merciful, at least in my life. Much of my distant past is so vague it seems like a dimly remembered dream. Trauma mercifully seems to blot out the periods of its betiding, like a compassionate amnesia, but many sweet moments are also lost in that personal fog of war. And so, my childhood is a landscape of forgotten beauties. When I close my eyes I travel there like a walk in the night where I only see shadows and highlights of fading memories. But the one thing I continue to grasp for is the innocence of that little boy; a child who was curious about everything — who was always laughing and making others laugh, but who in private had many fears and troubles.
I spent a lot of time alone as a child. In the dark woods covered in thick Kudzu vines amongst giant oaks draped in sleepy Spanish moss, I would spend my time day-dreaming. This is where my dialogue as a writer began, as whispers back and forth with the trees. The open flowers and honeysuckles were like microphones — they were all listening to me and understood me, and I drew understanding from them. It is in nature that I found my voice through my own imaginary world — an only child with no real friends. Alone in nature I was safe from the remarkable bullies who tormented me and tried to pollute my innocence with their demented cruelty, fear and self-loathing. Like it had been put in them, it was put in me; they transmitted their fear to me like the disease it is — their viciousness, ignorance, and rage infected me. The way the Kudzu vines strangle a forest is how my innocence was overcome; a slow and relentless act of suffocation and domination that stole a part of my childhood.
Much of my life has been a mourning of my loss of innocence; an attempt to reach out to that scared child and save him — to excavate him from his demolished spirit which was swallowed in the earthquake of coming-of-age with no sense of belonging. When you don’t feel loved as a child you will search for belonging for the rest of your life because you are afraid of love. Not belonging becomes a safe place. I belonged to that loneliness. I belonged to the woods. I belonged to the red clay roads. I belonged to the blackberry vines and the blue jays. I belonged to the crimson and white azaleas. I belonged to wildness and the wind. As a Son of Dixie, I would whistle, hum and sing — alone. I looked like a character from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; dirty, bruised, sun-kissed and freckled. I was just a little boy running around barefoot on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere Alabama. I may have been a hick, but I could run! At dusk, often on my way home, I would run barefoot through a five-acre field of dew-covered grass. I was running wildly on the tips of my toes with such speed that all I could hear was the loud wind blowing in my ears. I felt like Mercury or an Indian brave, and my energy seemed inexhaustible. I could run like the wind; feeling my power rushing through me. That memory is a highlight in childhood. It’s the freest I ever felt in my youth.
Everything I write about is really about freedom. Freedom is everything; being free from falsehood, fear, control, and your own demons. A heart’s call for freedom can be its own form of bondage in a world of liberty lost. Nothing can torment you more than yearning for freedom in a world of civic enslavement. No more trees to climb; no more careless adventures; no more dreams — just living a scripted life where you barely even remember who you are, only who you were told to be. Our routine and responsibility becomes a form of amnesia where we forget who we are while we slowly die inside. Many more die by routine than by corporeal death. But you can remember again. You can be free. You can reclaim your innocence. You can dream again. You can awaken.
A new chance can begin through your inner-life by making peace with yourself through total acceptance. You can co-exist peacefully with your past and present when you learn to respect your journey. You can rekindle the fires of your imagination and let the light lead you to the best of what is old, and all that is new. I have learned that the past cannot be left behind. A rich life-story is dependent on every chapter from beginning to end. It is always the things we run from or try to forget that hold us back. Forgetting your childhood is like a form of child abandonment. I believe the reason writers write and readers read, is to remember. The way to move forward is to simply remember; remember who you really are. It is only when you accept who you truly are that you can access the potential of who you could be. I have remembered who my true self is, and this remembrance has given the treasure of myself back to me and has kept me alive. May you discover the wonderful treasure of yourself too. May you walk the path of your dreams in delight, with grace and ease. To live fully awake and to feel fully alive and free is the most courageous of all dreams. But, the wake-up is not always fast; sometimes the wake-up comes in an instant, but sometimes it takes a lifetime.
From a young age something kept whispering to me, that things were not right with the world; that something was not right with me, an innocent by-product of an unnatural and dis-eased society. There was a call in my heart to journey beyond the path placed before me, and one day, I answered that call. As a troubled teen, with deep turmoil and fear in my heart, and with two apples and twelve dollars as my only possessions, I walked to the highway at the end of my country dirt road, stuck out my thumb, and like a leaf in the wind, I blew away into the great, wide-open world. I hitchhiked thousands of miles away. I left my friends, my family, and my hometown, and I did not return or communicate with them for the better part of twenty years. I went on a journey; a journey that lead me within.
At a certain point on this journey, I began disconnecting from the construct of illusions in the consumer driven, consensus-reality called, “the modern civilized world.” I turned off the television for two decades. I unplugged myself. I worked to erase the programming that had been sewn into the fabric of my consciousness by our society’s hidden masters. I began dismantling the artificial edifices that had been erected in my heart, mind and soul since birth, by unknown builders. Brick by brick, word by word: advertisements, slogans, cliches, judgments — layer by layer, I took down the false idols and symbols of identity, belief, self, pride, ego, ambition, and so-called knowledge. I questioned every belief and fact a person can “know.” I doubted everything, especially, all of that which I professed to “know” with absolute certainty. Something in me told me not to believe! Unknowing became my comfortable friend.
I began teaching myself meditation and spending quiet time in nature. In the quietness, I could hear the whispers from within, “Freedom. Truth. Beauty. Peace. Love.” My fear began to diminish and I finally felt more supported, self-assured and safe. I stood outside and looked up into the vault of the heavens. I invited truth and the universal power of creation into my life. I let the animals, the sun, the stars, the moon, the insects, the elements and the quietness become my guides. And as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And so it was, that when I was ready, my teachers did appear. One after the other, some of the greatest minds in history would open their lives and hearts to me with their friendship, mentoring and tutelage. Eminent naturalists, great poets, renowned thinkers, prolific authors, great spiritualists; these elders all appeared one-by-one, each offering me a gift, which was selflessly given in love, for they knew then what I know now. They gave me what I wish to give to you with each word I write.
Decades later when I would learn of the Zen mantra, “great doubt: great awakening; little doubt: little awakening; no doubt: no awakening,” I could only smile knowing this simple truth had already transformed my life in so many ways. Buddha’s admonition that one, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense,” had been a path I had instinctively followed. That very ethos had led me to a grand reunion with my original self, my authentic-self, my higher-self, my true soul, and my innermost beauty.
All of my teachers had prepared me for meeting my greatest teacher — myself. When we connect with ourselves we commune with a perfect partner for learning. Connecting with yourself and knowing yourself is a monumental and life changing event. Once you connect with yourself, it is impossible to be lonely or desperate. Loneliness and desperation are only possible when we lose touch with our beauty within. Connecting with myself changed me, opened me and healed me, and it all happened because I had begun to love myself and see the positive in life. I had been touched. I had awakened. I looked around and saw that the ugly world was a different and more beautiful place because I was different and more beautiful. I had somehow emerged on the other side of the looking glass. I was on the beautiful path; a positive life path, walking hand-in-hand, with the dreamers, believers, lovers and keepers of the vision of a kinder and more beautiful world.