As kids, we pursued activities we actually wanted to do, i.e. things we’re “drawn to” do and not things we had to do. Fear did not govern us, wonder almost always did.
At ten years old, the late great writer and man of wonder, Ray Bradbury, wrote himself a simple note, placed it inside a tiny tin box, and hid that box inside a squirrel hole atop his favorite oak tree. Thirty years later, Bradbury returned to the same oak in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. Lumbering up the tree, 40-year-old Ray reached inside the old squirrel hole and pulled out the now rusted tin box. Sitting on a thick tree limb, Ray opened the lid and retrieved a tiny scrap of paper from inside. Written on it were three simple words: “I remember you.”
I once told this story to a dear friend at dinner. He took a breath and began to cry. I too feel chills from this story. It says all there is to say about the joys of childhood versus the exhaustion of adulthood, and how a child’s wonder is central to who we are. Worn down by the stress of modern life, we can easily slide into darkened moods and ask ourselves, “Is this it?” about our lives. Yet, Bradbury’s example gives us a way out of the darkness – and it begins by harnessing the power of wonder.
When I read Ray Bradbury novels and short stories, I’m whisked off to lands of Martians, haunted carnivals, forbidden books, and crisp autumn winds. When I light a candle and read his stories of misting cemeteries and flickering fireflies, I’m reminded that life doesn’t have to always be about jobs, bills, and getting things done. I’m reminded that we adults could use a little time to ourselves, some time to feel ten-years-old again.
There is something innocent, timeless, primal, and yes, barbarian, about being a kid. Marauding the neighborhood like feral dogs on bikes, we lived carefree and in the moment. We had fears, of course, but unlike adult fears, our fears were (mostly) limited to the neighborhood haunted house, the witch next door, and that Satan colony deep in the woods across the lake.
As kids, we did not fear looking ridiculous or believing in silly shit. Why? Because feeling wonder was more important than looking cool. So… we dug holes to China, thought baseball cards would make us rich, and believed our next dirt clog war against the hated kids up the street might be the war that ends all wars. For most of us, being a kid meant living in an alternative universe from our parents and other adults, a wild ride through a series of thrills, spills, and self-engineered adventures. Fear did not govern us, wonder almost always did.
So how do we cynical adults feel the magic of wonder, the magic of being a kid? Besides living vicariously through your own kids, I suggest pursuing activities we actually want to do, i.e. things we’re “drawn to” do and not things we have to do.
In his books, Mastery and Laws of Human Nature, author Robert Greene calls these “drawn to” interests our “primal inclinations.” Think back to when you were ten or maybe fifteen, what activities did you simply love to do for the sake of doing them? In other words, what things would you do if you could never brag about doing them?
For me, since I was 14 I’d always been drawn to lifting weights and reading history. When I read about castles and sieges, legions and kings, myths and gods, I felt wonder billow inside my soul – and in turn those stories inspired me to heave iron like a barbarian! For you, wonder might have come thru drawing, writing, riding, running, camping, fishing, or reading. Just think about what you loved to do as a kid or teenager and do it, man! Make the time. In doing so, you’ll “remember you.”
For centuries, philosophers, shamans, and writers have pondered why we have “primal inclinations.” (Why am I drawn to X and you are drawn to Y?) Their answer is that we humans are not born a blank slate. Each of us, as American Indian Activist, John Trudell, suggests, is “born with a genetic memory that goes back to the ancient.” That memory is the Barbarian in You.
The Barbarian in You is your essence, your energy, your soul -- your absolute truest self. The Barbarian in You is what you feel when you are fully engaged in your drawn to pursuits. He is your connection to your ancestors and to the ten-year-old you. When you pursue your “primal inclinations,” you awaken the Barbarian in You.
So light a candle and tell a ghost story. Escape to the backyard and gaze upon the stars. Open that old book and drift away to your mythical past. Just don’t fear looking ridiculous and be open to believing in silly shit. In doing so, you’ll “remember you,” you’ll escape “Is this it?” and you’ll flourish as a human being.