Bob struggled, out of breath, and nearly out of stamina, up the steep rocks of the trail, hoping he didn’t have much further to go. He’d thought he was in good shape, but this trail had just kicked his butt.
Sure enough, however, just at the top of this last steep incline, was the spot he’d been told about. Bob leaned his hands on his knees, keeping his weight forward so the heavily laden pack wouldn’t pull him over backwards, and off the steep precipice behind him. He took in the beauty of the small grotto, almost as refreshing as the air he gulped greedily.
Just on the other side of the small stream in front of him, coming down off a cascading waterfall, and making its way through moss covered stones, was a simple stone pedestal, carved around its edges with a lotus motif. Old, gnarled trees reached overhead, sheltering the small space from the sky, creating soft, dappled shadows on the leaf strewn ground. But for the trickling sound of the waterfall and stream, all was silence.
There was only one thing missing from the idyllic scene. The wise, old guru Bob had come to question. He looked around, and thus saw the vista behind which he’d been too occupied with climbing to notice. Breathtaking would be the usual metaphor, and if Bob had any breath to spare, it might have just done that. The rocky ridgelines of the surrounding mountains retreated off into the distance, each one just a little paler, and bluer, than the one in front of it. The stone pedestal was just in the right position to admire the view at its best, and to catch the sun as it rose in the east each morning.
There was a small trail, leading around a stone outcropping, just on the other side of the grotto. A very small trail. Bob walked over to it, looking rather tremulously at the wet moss covering the ledge, for the distance of about five feet. Just to the side of it was a drop off just as cliché as this whole outing was, Bob being up here to seek out a hermit for his wisdom. He hadn’t thought so before hand, but was suddenly feeling as foolish, as he was terrified, at negotiating the slippery ledge in front of him.
Bob looked at the grotto again, trying to discern whether or not there was some other way out. It was surrounded by high rocks on every side, but the one facing the view of the other mountains. The little trickling waterfall came out of a hole at the base of a looming cliff.
Bob could climb over the rocks above the ledge, but he doubted the old man did so to get to his little viewing spot.
He took his pack off and deposited it behind some bushes next to the pedestal. Then, taking a deep breath before he did, he took hold of what handholds he could find, and negotiated the treacherous mossy ledge.
Bob’s feet slipped a couple of times, and if he’d still been wearing the heavy pack, doubtless would have fallen and broken something, at the very least. But, finally, his heart beating madly, he made it to the other side. The trail going on from this spot was sparse and hard to trace, but Bob followed it as best he could, having to push branches aside, and even ducking below the ones that wouldn’t budge. He began to fear this wasn’t the trail at all, that he was getting himself lost, but then came upon a much more pronounced trail crossing his path.
He paused to catch his breath and weed leaves and twigs out of his hair, before proceeding, in what he hoped was the right direction. Very soon, he came to a small ridge looking down upon a small hut, surrounded by a lush garden. Bob descended the switchbacks and started to look for the guru.
“Hello?” he called out, not wanting to take the old man by surprise. There was no answer. Bob walked over to the small hut, reached out to knock on the old wood making up the door jamb.
“Hello?” he called out again, as he looked into the small space. Inside was a small fireplace, complete with cooking pot. A small table on which were an assortment of simple items, including a couple of bowls, a cup, and some eating utensils. The only other furnishings were a small chair, and a simple bed. Bob shook his head, wondering why someone would choose to live this way. Was this necessary to gain wisdom?
Just like the grotto, the guru was missing. Bob walked around the hut and into the garden, looking between the tall plants, and finally, just a few steps away, came upon a man hunched over on his knees as he labored with the vegetation.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Bob asked, just a bit perturbed.
“Yes,” came the simple answer, as the man continued to work.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I knew you would find me.”
“Yeah, how? Some mystical sense or something?”
The man chuckled. “You hiked all the way up here, took the hard way from the grotto. A few more steps, and my silence, weren’t likely to dissuade you from your path.”
“The hard way? There was no other way, save levitating or teleportation.”
The man sat back on his haunches and Bob got a good view of him for the first time. He was younger than Bob had expected, and had a neatly trimmed beard.
“You were looking in the wrong place. About fifty feet shy of the top of the trail leading to the grotto, a trail branches off and leads here. You think I would brave that slippery ledge?” The man shook his head and chuckled. “What can I help you with, young man?”
“I’ve come to ask the secret of happiness,” Bob said, feeling a bit foolish, now that he was actually voicing it. He was serious of course, but it sounded foolish, all the same.
The man stared blankly at Bob for a few moments, before a sad smile crossed his lips and he shook his head.
“I can’t help you with that.”
“Why? Is this some mystical thing? Are you saying there is no real happiness?”
“I’m saying nothing of the kind. What’s your name?”
“Bob, I’m Charlie. There is no secret of happiness, Bob, because there is no secret. If you want to be happy, be happy, it’s as simple as that.”
Bob felt confused, tried to organize his thoughts so that he could give a rebuttal, but Charlie’s--a wise man named Charlie?--statement had caught him completely off guard. As Bob was trying to think of something to say, Charlie sighed, picked up a long stick, and whacked Bob’s shin with it.
“Hey!” Bob said, as he backed away, bouncing on his injured leg. “What the-- why did you do that?”
“What are you feeling right now?” Charlie asked.
“What am I-- I’m effin pissed off right now, that’s what I’m feeling!”
“Why?” Bob shouted, amazed. “Because you just hit me with a stick, you--“
“No.” Charlie shook his head. “You are feeling pain because of the blow, the “effin pissed off”, you are choosing to feel. Why?”
“W-why?” Bob asked, amazed at the wise Charlie’s stupidity.
“The pain you have no choice about,” Charlie said. “It is a direct result of the blow. The anger, however, is a choice. Do you enjoy anger?”
“What? No, of course I don’t enjoy anger, I’ve struggled to overcome my anger, just like I’ve struggled to find happiness.”
“Ah,” was all Charlie said, smiling, and giving his annoying shake of the head.
Bob ripped the stick out of Charlie’s hand, and whacked Charlie across the shoulder with it, surprised all the time that he was doing it.
“There,” he said, challenging, blustering to hide his childishness. But, even to his ears, it just made it worse. “Doesn’t that make you angry?”
“No,” Charlie said, smiling and shaking his head, causing Bob’s irritation to rise.
“Well, you don’t feel happy do you?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“What? How? Why?”
“Because it is what I choose.”
“That didn’t make you angry?”
“Neither you, or that stick, have the power to make me feel anything, Bob. There will always be circumstances, where you have no control over what external forces encourage you to feel, though you have more power over them than you know. If your mood is constantly at the mercy of outside forces, then you are no better than a rudderless, oarless rowboat, at the mercy of the storm of external force. Wouldn’t you rather be happy than sad? Than angry?”
“Of course, that’s why I hiked my butt up this sorry mountain to talk to you--“
“Then be happy Bob. All you have to do is choose to by happy. It’s that simple.”
“You have no choice about the pain the stick causes you, and the rush of chemicals through your body will encourage you to react in an angry manner, but you can choose to ignore it and be happy anyway. You know, I saw a picture once, showing these women in Africa, carrying bundles of sticks for firewood on their heads that were bigger than they were. Do you think they enjoyed carrying that much weight for miles?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.”
“Yet they were both smiling and talking with another, as if they were just walking along in the afternoon sun, chatting. They were happy, despite the external force of that great weight on their heads, seeking to crush them. There are many people in this world who are alone, at the moment, yet are perfectly happy. Sure, they would prefer to be with somebody, but at the moment they are alone, and choose to be happy, despite the encouragement of loneliness to be otherwise. Let me ask you, Bob, would you rather be with someone who is angry, or is happy?”
“No brainer. Happy.”
“So, who do you think is going to attract someone? The one who is sad and lonely, or the one who is alone but happy?”
Bob just stared at Charlie, thinking. Charlie smiled again, knelt down, and started working on his plants again. Bob stood there watching as Charlie happily tended his garden, appearing to be completely content.
“I’ll come back to you to report my progress,” he said.
“Your choice, but it is not necessary,” Charlie answered, not taking his attention away from his work.
“Wouldn’t it make you happy to learn of my progress?”
“Again, you assume that you have power over my happiness, Bob.”
Bob turned and walked away, trying to feel happy, despite the confusion that riddled him.
“It gets easier with practice,” Charlie said from behind him.
Bob hiked back to the grotto, retrieved his pack. He sat on the pedestal, looked at the spectacular view, and worked on choosing to be happy.