Few people know there is a secret entrance into La Mancha from beyond the Western Wild Lands. The old road behind the Lost Boys drops sharply downhill and then turns, ending at a chained gate. Beyond the gate is some sort of beatnik community, as best I can tell. Roxi lives out there somewhere. And I’m guessing so do the people who play the drums at night.
I had no idea this other world existed. I never followed the road beyond the Lost Boys because it seemed to go nowhere. I didn’t realize it turned north and led out of La Mancha altogether.
On the other side of the gate is a horseshoe-shaped road. To the left and right are modest old homes nestled quietly among the trees. This truly is the deepest part of the Valley, and it feels like an ancient forest; dark, green, and shady. I stepped over the chain and walked across the road to look into a dark and ominous patch of forest that intrigued me. A muted bouquet of bird and insect sound/smells wafted up from its depths.
I didn’t notice a man standing near me.
Whatcha lookin at?
No, I was just amazed to find this place. I thought there was only one way in and one way out.
Out of where?
Out of La Mancha.
Is that what that guy is callin it now? What do they call him, the wizard?
Yes. He’s the Wizard and it’s the Land of La Mancha. There’s the Tower and the Chapel and the Welcome Center and the Fang & Feather. And that’s not even mentioning Williams Village with Tuscan Hall and all the other stuff. Art everywhere. Hidden statues in the wild places. Lots of secrets and stories.
Huh. He sounds like a busy fella. But you never answered my question. I asked what you were lookin at when I walked up.
Oh. I don’t know, was just looking at this – whatever this is – and just, you know, listening to the sounds coming out of it I guess.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. You seek the Tao.
We stood there a few seconds looking at each other. Old man. White hair and a crazy beard. It seemed like hair was exploding out of everywhere. Up from his collar and down from his face. Medium height. Faded and well-worn clothing. He had some kind of satchel hanging over his shoulder.
I don’t know how it is where you live, but in Texas you aren’t going to find a lot of folks talking about the Tao with strangers on the street. It’s a first for me and I’ve lived here all my life. On the other hand, as I’ve noted before, we are in Austin and I am a newcomer. Maybe the Tao is a popular topic of conversation in the Deep Valley.
I figured it was up to me to get things moving again, so I looked right at him and said,
Tell me about the Tao.
What he said was beautifully said, obviously prepared and practiced. The depth of it and the beauty of it hit me hard.
The Tao is everything that exists in a single moment of time. A blade of grass bending in the wind is Tao. A dolphin breaking the surface of the water is Tao. A chip of cement falling to the ground is Tao. Every grain of sand, every drop of water, every molecule of air, everything that exists in a single moment is Tao.
The Tao is so vast it cannot be known by any one person. And yet, however many things ARE, a far greater number of things are NOT. The Shadow of the Tao is everything that might have been but was not. The children who were never born, the wars that were never fought, the lovers who missed meeting on the subway.
When a new moment is born, everything that might have been perishes and everything that will be becomes the Tao.
He paused and we stood there together thinking for a few moments. And then he spoke again.
That’s how I define the Tao anyway. And godammit if a man can’t define the Tao for himself, what the hell do we need it for?
He stuck a hand in his pocket and pulled out a little notebook. He fished a stubby pencil out of another pocket.
Hang on a second. I gotta write somethin down.
He wrote some things down and crossed out some other things. I was just about to get tired of waiting for him when he put the notebook away and looked at me again.
Okay. Now this is the meat of the matter. Or is it heart of the matter?
I thought for a moment. I think it’s heart of the matter.
Okay then. This is the heart of the matter. This is the shit you need to know. This is the main lesson to be learned from the Tao.
When you are free in your soul and present in a moment, with no thought of the past or future, you exist completely in the Tao. Sorrow and Anxiety cannot touch you there.
He nodded and started walking down the horseshoe road. I said something to him. I don’t remember what. He called back over his shoulder.
We’ll meet again.
Then he waved his index finger around in a circle above his head.
Everyone around here knows me.
I grabbed my notebook and wrote everything down as faithfully as I could. I know I got pretty close. Maybe not the exact words but close. I don’t know his name and he didn’t want me to take his picture.
The thing is, just a couple of days ago I was talking with a friend and she asked me how long it had been since I laughed. Not giggled or chuckled. A big laugh. Hearty and out of control. You couldn’t stop laughing if you wanted to. How long has it been?
I’ve been so lost in sorrow over my former life I told her I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed like that.
She said, Oh. And then we sat for a moment, thinking.
The thing is, I need to find this old man again.
I need the Tao.