There are a thousand little adult responsibilities that nag and bite at you. Tiny calls to your mind in every unopened email, debt to be repaid, and chattering task that spills out of your desire for productivity and obligation. Things that must be remembered, things that must be forgotten… lists of lists.
In a sense, the marching numbers are the flow of adulthood. They’re the routine, the debt, and the very ritual we can mistake for life itself.
In another sense, the marching numbers are also completely illusion – just busy time that consumes us away from our hearts. They represent an unrequested sacrifice of time to the artificial patterns of life we have purchased.
The truth is that there lies buried, under all that sand of your adulthood, a youth that profoundly feels. That youth is a mask too, for your infinite and divine soul, but your very individuality and mortality is that youth – not the busy marching numbers we forget ourselves into.
Do you remember the unquenchable ache of yearning desire? Deep down, you hunger so strongly that your chest hurts. Under all that adulthood, there are promises that you broke to yourself. Under the sands lie half-remembered dreams that break your heart if you think of them.
Do you remember the mystic illusion of light? That play of illumination and shadow that speaks out from the green pastures and crows that flow overhead… if you sink into it, you’ll sink into yourself. Deep down, under all that planning and those timetables, this current moment of ineffable beauty is a reflecting pool. In that pool lays our broken hearts and ecstatic joys.
Do you remember the adventures, the play, the sheer experience of living without purpose? Deep down, the freedom of the wandering child is within you still, after all these years. Deep down, the child cries if he or she no longer wanders. We’ve almost all bound and caged ourselves.
Spirituality is not about reclaiming childhood or healing the ache of yearning desire. Those are sentimentalities. It’s about remembering the ache, about letting yourself feel the pain. It’s about gazing out into the mystic wonderland, going into the rabbit hole, and reclaiming all those things we’ve buried under the marching numbers as adults. It’s about starting to wander again- but this time as an adult armed with the treasure trove of experience, this time deeply into the wilderness.
The detachment of spirituality is simply perspective and wisdom over the marching numbers. There will come a time when you must allow yourself to feel everything you’ve denied passage to. If you do not, if you turn back, you’ll die of bellyache.
Granite so hard that it will smash a hammer can be worn away by little grains of moving sand. And a heart that will not break under the great blows of fate can be eroded by the nibbling of numbers, the creeping of days, the numbing treachery of littleness, of important littleness. I could fight men but I was defeated by marching numbers on a page. Think of fourteen xiii’s– a little dragon with a stinging tail- or one hundred and eight cviii’s– a tiny battering ram. If only I had never been seneschal! To you a feast is festive- to me it is a book of biting ants. So many sheep, so much bread, so many skins of wine, and has the salt been forgotten? Where is the unicorn’s horn to test the king’s wine? Two swans are missing. Who stole them? To you war is fighting. To me it is so many ashen poles for spears, so many strips of steel- counting of tents, of knives, of leather straps- counting- counting of pieces of bread. They say the pagan has invented a number which is nothing- nought- written like an O, a hole, an oblivion. I could clutch that nothing to my breast. Look, sir, did you ever know a man of numbers who did not become small and mean and frightened- all greatness eaten away by little numbers as marching ants nibble a dragon and leave picked bones? Men can be great and fallible- but numbers never fail. I suppose it is their terribly puny rightness, their infallible smug, nasty rightness that destroys- mocking, nibbling, gnawing with tiny teeth until there’s no man left in a man but only a pie of minced terrors, chopped very fine and spiced with nausea. The mortal wound of a numbers man is a bellyache without honor.
John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights