A Fish Tale

Originally published Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I am not a fisherman.

I grew up on a lake in Montana and I am not a fisherman. I have fished. I’ve sat along riverbanks, trawled on boats, stood in the middle of streams, and shivered on ice sheets in the middle of winter. I am not a fisherman though.

I’ve hooked perch and carp. I’ve pulled in a sucker and a very small rainbow trout. The perch were the easiest to catch because I would take a lantern and pole out at night, go into Magpie Bay, sit on a neighbor’s dock and reel them in one after the other. The lantern attracted so many perch that I didn’t even need to bait my hook. Drop the hook in the water and a perch was bound to snag itself.

I am not a fisherman. I never had a fishing license. I’ve never woken up at dawn in order to go fishing. I’ve never fished for more than thirty to forty minutes at a time. Even the one time I was deep-sea fishing, I became bored very quickly and preferred to watch the ocean instead. The most compelling piece of evidence I can offer as to why I am not a fisherman is I can’t clean a fish.

Take my brother as a point of contrast. My brother is a sportsman, a term that encompasses being a hunter and a fisherman. My brother would willingly get up before the sun in order to drive an hour to go fish at some obscure river for an entire day. My brother would not willingly get up at any hour to go to school. My brother would sit on the ice that covered the lake for hours, checking homemade ice fishing poles, clearing ice from the holes, and drinking coffee from a thermos. His fingers would be red and chaffed and each fish he pulled out, he would toss on the ice until it was dead and then with his fillet knife quickly and efficiently clean it.

The cleaning is the real sign of a fisherman. You see the stereotype fishermen who bring home their catch and have their wives clean it. Those aren’t fishermen. Those are guys taking a weekend and pretending to be fishermen. Real fishermen takes his catch, handles it, cleans it, and fillets it. The cleaning is a matter of pride. Much like baiting your first hook with an earthworm, cleaning is yet one more step in becoming a real fisherman. I ran into problems in cleaning. First, the bones of the dorsal fin always stabbed me like needles. Second, the damn fish is so slippery and the knife is so sharp that I have the basic fear of slicing open my hands. And third, the smell of fish does not come off your hands, no matter how much soap and lemon you use. The guts don’t bother me. The innards are usually what disturbed most people, or the sound of descaling. Neither had much affect on me. Growing up in the country, there are just things that don’t bother you much. If it isn’t cute, furry and a pet, there is little emotion attached to dead animals.

The third and last step is cooking the fish you catch. Once again, my brother had this down pat. He would create a beer batter for perch and fry them up. Freshwater perch are small fish and don’t yield a lot of meat, so it does take five or six to make a meal for one person. That is five or six fish that need to be cleaned before they can be cooked. Once cooked, the perch tasted terrific. I cannot attest to the exact recipe that he used, but it was basically this:

1-cup all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon baking powder
¾-cup beer
½-cup milk
2 eggs

There had to have been some other spices in the mix. The fish fillets would get dredged through the mix and tossed in heated oil until golden brown.

I am not a fisherman and I don’t pretend I am. I never owned a fishing pole, though I found many that I used. I never had a tackle box, but I would walk the shoreline looking for lures that trawlers lost when the lure snagged on rocks or sunken branches.

Just because I am not a fisherman does not mean I don’t have a fish story to tell. Seeing that I am not a fisherman though, my fish story actually doesn’t have anything to do with fish. My fish story begins at Kim’s Marina, a small marina on Canyon Ferry Lake in Montana. The marina had two or three long docks that people could park their boats at. Off to the left of the main docks was a smallish area with a simple dock that people would swim in and like this one occasion, fish. I can’t directly recall my age when this occurred, but I had to be in my mid-teens, maybe 14 or 15. My Dad, long since retired from the Post Office, worked at the marina as a handyman. The marina was only two miles from my home and the owner’s son was my friend. So I had all sorts of reasons to be on the dock on that summer day with a fishing pole, pretending to fish.

When I fished on a dock, I had two methods I used. A bobber was my preferred method. The red and white plastic doohickey that would float on top of the water and jiggle if something was nibbling at the hook, the sign you need to jerk the rod and set the hook in the mouth of the prey. Using a bobber meant just sitting and that can get boring. So the second method was casting. That was fun but reeling the lure in at a steady enough speed so the hook didn’t settle on the bottom was difficult. I’m sure real fishermen understand at what rate you need to reel in the different types of lures to make sure they are at the appropriate depth to catch the type of fish you want. I lacked that knowledge then and still lack it now.

Often my hooks would settle on the bottom and I would spend ten minutes trying to undo the snag. That is what happened on this fateful day at Kim’s Marina. I snagged something on the bottom. Luckily for me, the hook seemed to get free fairly easily. When I pulled the hook from the water, there was a wristwatch attached. It was an older watch, waterproof, luckily and it was still working, though thoroughly caked in mud and muck. Probably the best thing I could have caught seeing I don’t have a problem cleaning a watch.

I wore that watch for several years. I wore it all the way through high school and into college. My freshman year of college, I went to South Africa. The story of why and how I went to South Africa is unimportant at this point in time. The important point was I was on the beaches of Durbin South Africa, swimming in the warm and intimidating Indian Ocean. Intimidating because I had only ever kind of, sort of swum in the Pacific Ocean and intimidating because of the shark warning signs that were posted on the beach.

As I bobbed in the water, struggling against the giant waves and dealing with the rip current, a mysterious thing happened. The current was so strong, it stripped the watch right off my wrist. The watch I had caught with my fishing prowess in Montana was suddenly a part of the Indian Ocean.

To this day, I wonder if that watch had a specific destiny it was trying to fulfill. Maybe it was on a journey back to the factory that created it somewhere in Asia. No matter what the truth of the watch’s journey was, it remains my one and only fish tale that doesn’t have anything to do with fish. That’s okay; I’m not a fisherman.


Originally publishedFriday, July 23, 2004

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Frank Herbert wrote this as a litany of his futuristic vision of religion. It is often quoted because it is real. It is meaningful. It resonates with us. We know in our hearts, in the depths of our soul, that fear is a vile and weak reaction. Those who cower in fear are forever enslaved.

Fear is the mind-killer.

When we fear something, we cede power to it. At that point, rational thought no longer works. Fear corrupts logic. Fear can actually make us act against our self-interest by creating a mirage of what our self-interest actually is. We fear something and we think by avoiding it, by giving into the fear, we are acting in our self-interest through self-preservation. We assume that which we fear will destroy us. We make that assumption because we have rolled over and given ourselves fully to our fear. We become the puppet.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Every time we cave to fear, a part of us dies. It can be a slow painless death though. We may not even realize it is happening, like falling asleep in a room filled with carbon monoxide. A slow gentle death. Whether you die quickly or slowly, painfully or painlessly, the end result is the same and it is a matter of whether or not you choose to rage against the dying of the light or accept it with nothing more than a whimper.

What has fear prevented us from doing? What choices have we made only because we feared one path over the other? There are many metaphors that come to mind when discussing fear and how it destroys us. Imagine a man who has capsized his boat in the ocean. The boat sinks and he is left floating above it. The shoreline is miles away but visible. He wears a floatation device and knows how to swim, but he fears being in the ocean. The fear has led him to hold on tight to a rope that is tied to the boat, which is now resting on the bottom. He lashes the rope around his waist believing that if he can stay put, help will arrive. As the tide comes in, he is held tight by the rope. The waters rise above him and his life vest wants to lift him above it. Soon the water is above his head and he drowns.

Admittedly, that’s a pretty stupid man, but the metaphor is sound. Do we hold onto our fears stronger than we hold onto the willingness to save our lives?

Fear is easily dismissed when it comes to life and death situations. In the movies the person who has a fear of heights needs to jump from one building to another in order to escape a certain death. Guided by competing fears, the fear of death wins and the person jumps, overcoming the fear of heights.

What about if the issue at hand isn’t a life or death issue? How do we handle fear in those cases? Take the fear of rejection as an example. It is a common fear that most of us have experienced. No one likes to be rejected, but many of us have an absolute fear of it. Being told no, in our warped belief, will destroy us in ways we can’t even imagine. Some of us are able to overcome the fear and actually take the risk. The more often the risk is taken, the greater the chance that the rewards will be reaped. Those of us who never overcome our fear, will never reap the rewards. That is a fact.

Fear of the unknown is the one fear that gets to most of us. Before us are two paths, one that is clear and known, though one that we really don’t want to take. The other path is completely unknown. There are no guidebooks, no rumors about, nothing. Taking that path means accepting whatever horrible, awful things might come along. We can imagine all sorts of ways in which that path might destroy us. Many of us can’t see the potential rewards as being worth the risk. A few of us, though, who don’t allow fear to control their lives, forge onward and walk into the darkened path, facing the unknown, taking the risk, and possibly reaping the reward.

Too many of us will take the clear path, because known risks and sacrifices are more acceptable than unknown risks and sacrifices.

What are you afraid of? Rejection? Failure? Success?

Personally, fear of failure weighs heavily on my mind. I fear making decisions that will leave me homeless, leave me bereft. One of the reasons for that fear is the lack of a solid safety net. Most people have families they can fall back on to help them through difficult times. I cannot. Some people have significant savings they can use to bridge those gaps, my savings while existent, is less than significant.

The laws of chance dictate that if risk isn’t taken, no rewards can be given. Unless we ante up, we won’t have a chance to see if we can win the pot. Failure is assured by not playing. And we can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we won’t ever fail. Failure occurs more often than success. Luckily, while we may hold onto our failures for the rest of our lives, the world as a whole only cares about our successes. We have the world’s permission to fail as often as we need to until we succeed. All the world cares is we never stop trying. Stop trying and then the world will brand us as a failure. Better yet, we need to not worry about the labels success or failure and just keep doing. Keep moving. Like a shark, we die when we stop moving.

Fear nothing.

Roosevelt wanted us to fear fear. Quite the contrary, we should fear nothing. We should realize that we are the masters of our world, our universe. Fear should never be taken into account when calculating risk. Fear clouds our judgment and does nothing to truly protect us. Fear is the reaction of the weak. We can be frightened by something, but never fear it. Fear is what the deer feels when it freezes in front of the headlights of a car at night. Fear contributes nothing to survival, except in those rare cases where non-movement and inaction prevent you from being killed. We can easily see now how fear is a throwback reaction to being hunted by small brained reptiles who could only find their prey when the prey fled.

Embedding the Essence

Originally published Friday, July 16, 2004

Past Lives

Once engaged in a conversation with people who believe they have past lives, you’ll quickly discover that the jokes are real. Everyone seems to have been Napoleon, Caesar, Nefertiti, or Martha Washington. Sure, every once in awhile you’ll find someone who claims to be a serf in the Dark Ages who died of influenza while working in the fields, but they are rare. The skeptical mind wonders how so many people could have been Joan of Arc in their past lives. If more than one person claims to be the same person from the past, many would argue that this discrepancy of logic is enough to be able to dismiss the whole concept of past lives.

What is it that is reincarnated, anyway, when people discuss past lives? Is it recycled souls? Is it mental energy that gets passed along? What mechanisms of physics and metaphysics are coming into play to allow one person alive right now to be able to recall that he was once someone else in a previous life?

With absolute certainty, there are several hundred different theories out there relating to the how’s and why’s of past lives. Each theory is most likely well documented in a book, the author of which is willing to, for a small price, help any one of the many readers of the book to find their past lives. For whatever reason, many people need to get in touch with their past lives. Some may be trying to address a wrong that was done to them. Others might be looking for something better than the lot in life they currently have. Whatever the reasons, they are looking.

Embedding the Essence

When presenting a new view on an old subject, it is best to state the new view boldly and brashly as if one were sweeping the table clear. Throw away all the old ways of thinking, because this new way of thinking will replace everything that has been. It is the revolution in the metaphysical world. So while what is about to be stated is being stated as if it were the new paradigm, it is no better or worse than what has already been said on the topic of past lives.

Living beings have a life energy in them that makes them living. When death occurs to a living being, that energy is released. When a new being is created, the reserve of life energy is tapped and the new being is alive. This energy will be called ‘essence,’ the stuff that makes you who you are.

Think of the essence as water. A human being requires, for the sake of presenting this argument, one quart of essence to be alive. A dog requires a cup. A blue whale requires several gallons. Upon the creation of a human, a quart of essence is withdrawn from the energy reserve. When the human dies, that quart is returned to the reserve. If that human lived an intense life, it is possible that life becomes embedded in the essence. When the next person is created and the reserve is tapped for another quart of essence, it is possible that a portion of the previous person’s essence will get drawn up into the bucket. Since this essence has a bit of the last person embedded in it, the new person may be able to recall events from the last person’s life. Essentially, the new person has the past life of the old person.

It is fairly simple to see how a person that truly embedded the essence, lived a full and vibrant life, such as Napoleon or Martha Washington, would release that essence back into the reserve and affect so many people created with it. Most people don’t embed their essences with anything worthwhile, so that portion of Martha may recylce over and over, breaking up smaller, merging with lost portions, and constantly recycling until something more significant becomes embedded into that portion of the essence.

Historical figures who have done significant things obviously are the types to have deeply embedded their essences with their personalities and deeds, making them more likely to be recalled when that essence is drawn into new lives. New lives may only take a portion of an embedded essence, which makes it possible for multiple people to all have a portion of the same historical figure.

The Key to Immortality

Embedding your essence is the key to immortality. Without a proper laboratory to be able to experiment with essence, there can only be speculation on what effectively causes an essence to become embedded with a person’s memory. Fame seems to be a factor, as does passion. Since fame is a difficult element to master, passion seems to be a better element to focus on.

To achieve immortality, one needs to fully embed his essence with his life. He needs to strive to make as many moments in his life mean something significant. He needs to be filled with passion as often as he can. Doing this increases the likelihood that some part of him will become embedded into the essence, which upon his death, will be released into the world to be reused for someone else. If the life is truly passionate, truly significant to him, then the new lives created with that essence would recall it. He will live on in all the new lives created.

There is no control, though, on how that essence will be used. The new life created may very well be a cricket. Yes, there may be a cricket out there right now that has the essence of Elvis. A dolphin born last year may have the essence of Princess Diana. On the other hand, right now, you may have the essence of a particularly passionate bear in you. Terrorize and abuse a dog and that essence, filled with the fear, pain, and trauma may be used to create a new child, a child who will for no apparent reason have a fear of the world, remembering it as being cruel and unkind.

Live passionately, help others live passionately, and be kind to all living things.