I’m Just as Surprised as You

An Unexpected Philosophy)

In the most recent chapter of The Long Walk to Alquoran, I had a moment where I explained the protagonist’s ability to stick to a path for fifty years. I said that he had seen many others start on the same journey, but one after another they fell off while he still continued. The difference between him and them was that he had embarked on the journey from so far away that he knew it would take his entire life to complete it, while everyone else started out near enough to the destination that there would be time to return home and continue their previous lives afterwards.

The convenience of the other travelers proved to be their curse, though, as it meant that they were constantly thinking about the old lives they had left behind and were anxious to return to, eventually eroding all their resolve to see the journey through. The protagonist, on the other hand, had no life beyond the journey to look forward to, for him this path was everything, and as such, he was able to let go of any other expectations.

And I genuinely believe there is a true principle here. In my experience, most of us fail in our convictions because we try to implement them in an otherwise identical lifestyle. We think that a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier will be enough to change our diet, even though we’re still keeping all the same patterns of stress and laziness in the rest of our lives. It doesn’t work. Drastic change requires a commitment to restructure one’s entire life around the desired transformation.

But no sooner did I write this explanation into my story than I wondered where on earth it had come from! As I already said, at its heart is a philosophy that I personally believe, but I had never before verbalized that philosophy, even to myself!

But How?)

I knew this, I believed this, but until I wrote those words in my short story, I wasn’t even aware that I did know and believe it! So how was it that my fingers were able to find the expressions that had evaded my own mind?

Well, obviously if my conscious mind was not aware of it, then it must be the idea originated in my subconscious mind. Oftentimes we have hints and vague feelings that there are truths and opinions hiding beneath the surface, but we struggle to enunciate them so long as it is the conscious mind steering the ship. Sometimes to find out what all of our self believes, we have to give a voice to the subconscious mind.

The Tactile Revelation)

And story is such an excellent place to do just that, because the physical act of writing invites the subconscious mind to the fore. We consciously think as we write, but we also subconsciously tap our fingers or turn our wrist to physically form the words. Sometimes secret thoughts get transferred along with the muscle memory and strange and exciting ideas come out as a result.

Indeed, stream of conscious writing is a therapeutic exercise in which you try to surrender the act of forming words and sentences entirely to the subconscious mind. You simply write one word after another without thinking about them, trying to get to the point where the pen is moving almost of its own accord, revealing parts of you that you never knew were there.

It is a notion that we often resist, but truly there is more to each of us than even we ourselves know. I cannot verbally tell you all my secrets, but if I write quickly and long enough, I might be able to jot them down.

In fact, it wasn’t just one surprise revelation that I had in the last chapter of my short story, it was two. Because often our inner truths do not live in isolation, they are linked to one another, and when you start to pull on one another might very well follow.

After my story suggested that meaningful change required living an entirely different life, there was also a paragraph about the protagonist almost giving up his journey when he began to doubt that he would ever reach the destination. The shift that got him through that discouragement was when he made the road itself his destination, not the temple at its end.

And this ties to another inner philosophy I didn’t know I had until I wrote it into the story. Too often we become obsessed with an image of who we want to be and what we want to accomplish, which may or may not be possible given the uncertainties of life. We don’t necessarily have to give up our ambitions, but we get more peace in life when we decide to derive our contentment from the act of becoming instead of from the state of having already become.

Epiphanies and Revelations)

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that writing stories can pull out secret parts of our soul like this. After all, this exact phenomenon is extremely prevalent in stories themselves. Think how often we have a protagonist who finds an inner truth that they didn’t even know was there.

Think of Frodo who only wants to carry the one ring to Rivendell, then return to his quiet life at the Shire. Think of Jacob in the Old Testament, who prays to be returned to his father’s home and all the comforts therein. Think of George Bailey who wants to leave his sleepy home and have great adventures in the big, open world. Think of Charles Kane, who domineers one circle of life after another, ever chasing for satisfaction.

But what happens to Frodo? He sees the pride and arrogance of so-called heroes at the council of Elrond and surprises himself by exclaiming that he will be the one to carry the ring to Mordor.

And Jacob comes to a strange land and meets Rachel, with whom he is so smitten that he forgets all about his hurry to return to his home, and instead serves her father for seven years, then seven years again!

And George Bailey discovers he has a previously unknown streak of loyalty, which causes him to kick his lofty dreams further and further down the road, until he realizes that he will spend his entire life in sleepy Bedford Falls.

And Charles Kane never does find his satisfaction, but with his very last breath realizes the answer was inside him all along: rosebud, which means the idyllic childhood that he was torn from and subconsciously yearned for ever since.

Like the character in my story, each of these men’s preoccupation with their old or expected lives had to be given up for something new. Each of them had to lean into the journey, giving up a known life for an uncertain end. And like me, each of them discovered passions and convictions that they did not know where in them until the very words came spilling out of their mouths.

It’s a funny and unpredictable world we live in, where even our own hearts are a mystery to us. But don’t worry, so long as we continue the journey and let our creativity flow, we will find the truths in time.

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