Last night while reading I was reintroduced to a character I first met back in my teens: Po Campo in Larry McMurtry’s classic western novel, Lonesome Dove.
This personality comes on the scene in the middle of the book and blasts a breath of fresh air into the rigid mentality of the cowboys who make up the Hat Creek Outfit steering a herd of cattle up to Montana.
First off, he refuses to ride his donkey or one of their horses, saying it’s uncivilized to ride another animal, given that we are also animals. So he walks amid cowboys on horseback who hardly ever dismount, unless to eat or sleep.
Upon meeting the first crew members, he invites the youngest: “Get down and walk with me, young man. We might see some interesting things if we keep our eyes open. You can help me gather breakfast.”
Unexpectedly, the young man Newt gets down and joins.
“To Newt’s surprise, Po Campo put a friendly hand on his shoulder. He almost flinched, for it was rare for anyone to touch him in friendship. If he got touched it was usually in a wrestling match with one of the Raineys.”
So here’s this unpredictable element who arrives from nowhere, bringing a novel way of relating – to other beings, to life, to the rhythm of life.
Po Campo says: “I like to walk slow. If I walk too fast I might miss something.”
“‘There ain’t much to miss around here,’ Newt said. ‘Just grass.’
‘But grass is interesting,’ the old man said. ‘It’s like my serape, only it’s the earth it covers. It covers everything and one day it will cover me.’”
I have this sense that in Po Campo I’ve met something of a Taoist appearing amidst unrefined cowboys in the rough country of post-Civil War Texas.
Take life slow. Look around in that slowness, or you might miss something. Watch where you are, not where you’re going. Don’t be in a hurry. You’ll get there eventually. Enjoy the place you find yourself in. Interact with it. Reach out and touch it.
Grass is interesting.
Our monkey minds – I’ve named mine Matilda for the time being – are always so concerned with a future destination. Goals and objectives and arrivals. Always looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
But what about turning on a light IN the tunnel and having a look around. Really experiencing where you currently find yourself?
The seeker who seeks not what is ahead, but seeks to experience what is presently alive in this place, here and now.
This all reminds me of Alan Watts.
Po Campo and Alan Watts would probably have been good buddies, laughing at the joke of life.
In his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity Watts points to the insanity of living with an eye set only on the future. Like listening to music in order to get to the end. That’s not why we turn on our favourite tunes. We listen to music to enjoy the rhythm and pulse of being alive now. We’re not looking for the grand finale. That’s not the point in a piece of music.
Life is a symphony. It’s all happening here and now.
Watts writes: “But tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present. Since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”
Imagine how foiled Matilda the monkey mind feels, everlastingly missing the point. Poor Matilda is always trying to protect me by inventing all potential disaster scenarios that I could encounter in the future and telling me how to prepare to avoid these dramatic crises. She’s quite the slavedriver – mentally whipping to get me to do any number of things to avoid imagined future chaos. Then she’s got all these ideas of how we can be successful, proving our worth and feeling amazingly, months or years down the road. Matilda is so out of touch with the present. The feel good moments and success of the here and now. She’s always missing something – missing the interesting grass which covers everything around me.
However, this creature who I am discovering myself to be, is actually not worried about the future at all. She’s a passive existential splenic projector and uniquely designed for exquisite existentialism.
True self Abeth lives somewhat like a bird or a butterfly, alive in her own levitation. Feeling into the vibrations of the air currents and the energy of the earth beneath. Alighting when invited to participate in some playful process which brings the potential of savoring the sweetness of life. Otherwise she soars separately, watching from a distance. Seeking only the aliveness of life.
Aliveness is a state of being which has inherent electricity, plugged into the waveform of life itself. There’s an individual experience of the universe in this electrical frequency.
A frequency of being which gives rise to doing from time to time, being born from a state of non-doing. These moments of activity are the individual waves cresting and falling on the surface of the deep sea. The foundation, however, is that deep stillness and silence of being.
It is akin to that slow walk of Po Campo’s, where you keep your eyes open so you don’t miss one blade of interesting grass. All here and now and happening in this present moment.