Mitch’s World: Message in a Bottle
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Mitch’s World: Message in a Bottle

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It’s funny how things can come together. A number of seemingly unrelated events occur randomly, and then suddenly, almost as if drawn together by the hand of a cosmic tailor, these seemingly random events form a pattern and the pattern has a meaningful, almost profound significance.

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It is magical: the right message delivered without warning at precisely the right moment. How? When? Why?

Who knows… I’ve just learned to open myself up to whatever forces are at work in the universe and let whatever it is that’s supposed to happen, happen. And, generally, happen it will.

What does it look or feel like when it does happen? Like this…

My wife went shopping a while ago and I tagged along. I make it a practice to wander off and leave her alone when we go. She doesn’t like to feel rushed with me “hovering” around and I don’t blame her. Consequently, there almost has to be a bookstore close by where she can deposit me so that after she is done she will know where to find me. As we were leaving the store I noticed a book stacked on one of the kiosks near the exit. The title and cover graphics caught my eye, and I stopped to take a closer look only to realize that I had once known the author.

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After she realized I was no longer by her side and the dialogue she thought she was having with me was really a monologue, she came back to get me with that impatient, “my five-year-old has wandered off again” look most of you married guys should recognize!

“I know that guy!” I said.

“The author?”

“Yeah, I knew him years ago… Not well, but enough to hang out at his house a few times. He was crazy! But, he was a world-class gymnast.

“We would go to his house, he would climb up on the roof, jump off the roof onto a trampoline, do the most incredible stunts you’ve ever seen, and then dive from the trampoline into the pool! It was something to see!

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“He left to go to school at Cal, (University of California at Berkeley) but was almost killed in a motorcycle accident that was supposed to have ended his career and I never ran into him again. All I do know is that after the accident he came back to win a world championship! It was quite a story.

“I wonder what he has to say.”

By that time, we were late and despite my curiosity we left the store without the book.

A month or two later, we were sitting on a train moving across Alaska from Denali National Park and Preserve to Whittier, opposite a young couple headed for the same vacation. The woman got up to leave and the book I was just talking about fell out of her bag and onto the table.

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I told her I had known the author once upon a very long time ago, and asked if she had read it, and, if she had, how she liked it.

At first, she didn’t believe me. After all, how many times have you met someone who knew the author of a book you were reading?

I shared my story with her, pieces of which were part of the book and she got really excited. She finished the book the night before and spent the next few minutes telling me how she thought it would change her life. Then, she pushed the book across the table, “Here, you read it and let me know what you think.”

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Like many of you, I live a fairly complicated life filled with lots of different kinds of responsibilities. And, like many of you, I deal with a fair amount of stress that seems overwhelming at times.

Family, business, friends, industry responsibilities, time for personal enrichment and the challenges of everyday life are enough to carve deep chunks out of any of our lives. With so many demands coming at us from so many different directions, it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important.

Fortunately, I have a wife who allows me to do all the things I feel I must do — as long as I allow her to drag me away from it all every so often so I can take a deep breath and regain some perspective. That was what this vacation was supposed to be all about — time off the grid, time away from the shop, the cell phone and all the pressure and responsibilities of “modern life.”

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It was working, and a book I had almost purchased just weeks before, but hadn’t, appearing as it had, mysteriously and without warning, was just a quirky coincidence that would make an interesting, although, purely incidental story as we shared our adventures with friends and family after we returned home.

I took the book back to the room and began to browse through it. The story was set in Berkeley, just after the author left for school. It began with a chance meeting between the author and a man who would become his spiritual guide on a quest for inner peace, the meaning of a full and rich life, and spiritual enlightenment — interesting vacation reading after leaving the world a quarter of an inch away from feeling totally used up.

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The author talked about achieving success without satisfaction, accomplishment without contentment, achievement without happiness. He talked about living simply: shedding responsibility and learning to look deep inside for the source of the true peace each of us seems to be searching for, yearning for. I’ve read it all before: different authors, different approaches, same message. At least, it all seemed the same until I tripped over a short passage in which the author’s spiritual guide kept asking the author the same two questions: “Where are you, and what time is it?”

Initially, he answered the way any of us might, with the physical location and time of day.

Ultimately, however, he realized that both answers were inadequate and incorrect.

“Where are you and what time is it?”

The answer turned out to be as basic as an answer can be. I am here, and the time is now!

When we bumped into the couple from the train the next night, Lisa asked me how I was enjoying the book, I told her that I had just finished it and had enjoyed it very much. We talked about what the author had to say about life and living, and then I asked her what she found most meaningful. She thought for a moment and then said: “The ‘here and now’ stuff…” At which time I realized that was the same message that had resonated with me.

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Almost everyone I know is always either living in the future or held prisoner by the past. We’re thinking about what we will do or have to do in order to become successful, or remain successful. Or we’re worrying about losing what success we’ve managed to accumulate. We’re focused on working our way through a seemingly infinite “To Do” list that keeps us focused on where we’re headed, but allows little or no time to reflect on where we are or where we’ve been. We’re looking backward, apparently to learn from our past mistakes, without taking the time to understand whether or not whatever it is was we did or did not do was really a mistake in the first place!

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It seems to me that we’re always going to, or coming from: we never just “are” — leaving no place for contentment, no room for satisfaction, no time for reflection and certainly no chance for the kind of peace almost everyone I know yearns for.

Most of the automotive service professionals I know live to serve. They care about their customers. They care about their employees. They care about their communities. They give until there is little or nothing left to give, often at the expense of their personal lives with precious little time left for their families.

Too many are “Crisis Junkies” who live to solve the impossible problem, fix the impossible vehicle. The only time they are at peace is when they are so deeply immersed in what they are doing there is no time for where you are going or where you’ve been. The only time and place that exists is “here and now,” because anything less than linear concentration, laser focus, won’t work.

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Too many chase success as if finding it will be the solution to all their problems. They are running as hard and as fast as they can without really knowing if where they are going is really where they want or need to be.

Finding this book and the wisdom an old acquaintance had to share after almost 40 years was like finding a message in a bottle: the map to priceless treasure. It reaffirmed what a lifetime of searching and struggling has taught me: treasure is worth nothing without peace.

There is no peace as long as you are restless. The harder you work, the more you strive; the more ardent your search, the less likely you are to succeed, because the peace you seek is already yours. You don’t need to find it. All you need to do is accept the fact that it is there — all around you, already yours.

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Does that mean that you can quit working, cross your legs and sit under a Banyan tree? I don’t think so!

But, you do need to make sure that what you are doing is consistent with your values, talents, interests and abilities; consistent with who you are and who you wish to become. You do need to make sure it is something you truly love to do, and you do need to commit yourself to the excellence inherent in doing it well, doing it as well as you are physically and mentally capable.

You can’t search for it. That will only take you further away from where you need to be. All you can do is recognize that the only time you really have is now, and the only place that matters is here — where you are and who you are with right now. If you can train yourself to do that, if you can open yourself to the here and now, the next time you find a bottle at your feet, you just might discover a message inside that is capable of leading you to a treasure of profound consequence.

Worth Noting The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman is a personal account of the author’s spiritual quest to unite the diverse realms of body, mind and spirit. He combines Eastern philosophy with Western fitness routines to create the true essence of the “peaceful warrior.” In 2006, the book was made into a movie (Peaceful Warrior) and starred Nick Nolte and Scott Mechlowicz. www.danmillman.com

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