In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Mr. Pirsig relates a story of some pilgrims climbing a holy mountain. Though I read it years ago, the story struck a chord with me. I paraphrase by memory:
One particular climber was trudging up the mountain, his pack seemingly becoming heavier and heavier with each step. As he slowed his pace he noticed that other pilgrims were passing him on the narrow trail, even though they didn’t look any more fit or well trained than he was. Some were older, even to the point of elderly, and some were mere children, where he was a man in the prime of life. He began to take things out of his pack and stash them in shrubs and crevices along the way to lighten his load, but even still, he couldn’t keep up with many of the others.
After the climber was exhausted in his efforts, and frustrated to the point of anger and even rudeness toward other pilgrims, a diminutive man with a dark blue woolen cap strolled with ease up to his side, and sat on a rock next to our subject. The man had no pack at all – just the modest clothes on his back, white hair and beard to give an impression of wisdom, and wrinkles about his temples and forehead suggesting that the wisdom came with a price, as it most often does.
“You look like you need a friend,” he said.
“I need some energy,” the climber responded.
The old man looked deep into the younger man’s eyes, as though he could see deeper than the climber wanted him to, and asked, “May I speak to you as a friend?”
“Nothin to lose . . . shoot.”
“There are pilgrims on this holy mountain, and there are climbers. I can usually tell the difference, and you my friend, are no pilgrim.” Despite the gentleness and seeming compassion of the old man’s tone, the climber was a little indignant.
“Who are , , , Why do you judge me like this?” the climber inquired.
“The pilgrims on this trail take each step as a gift to God, and God enables their steps in return. Whether young or old, strong or weak, the pilgrim is climbing to grow. You sir, have a different motivation. You are climbing to prove you are already grown, relying on nothing and no one to help, except this heavy pack on your back and your own will.”
“But I’ve trained, worked out, dieted . . .”
“They climb to grow; you climb to prove you’re grown.
To the pilgrim, the mountain is static and he is dynamic,
but to the climber, you are the fixed object, trying to make the mountain smaller.
This is why you fail.”
There are two types of people, whether businessmen, fathers, politicians, clergy, or climbers – the static, out to prove everything is smaller than him, and the dynamic, who recognizes the true landscape around himself and walks with his fellow travelers taking each step as both a gift to and a gift from, God.
God help me to grow in wisdom and humility, accepting wise counsel from friends.