When asked, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answers, “Man.”
The mythological Sphinx’s riddle illustrates the physical progress of Man through life in a linear fashion: as a baby, Man walks on all fours; as an adult on two feet; and when elderly with three appendages through the use of a cane.
As I pack two folding canes, not used in almost three years, into my backpack, it strikes me that our trek through life is in some ways substantially more complicated to explain, but far easier to accept, when viewed through a non-physical prism. Physical aging may indicate a progression, but it offers little insight or comfort.
I prefer to think of life as an arc, perhaps even as a full circle, where one dies as one was born: an infant in intellect, yet infinitely wise in spirit and rich in soul.
The two collapsible canes have reclaimed a temporary place in my wardrobe due to the need for an MRI tomorrow, which in turn requires shutting down my pulse-generating batteries for the duration of the exam. I’ve had a nerve issue causing a shooting pain down my leg for over two months, and the MRI is for my lower back.
I have not had the deep brain stimulation units (one on each side of the brain) turned off in about two and a half years. I’m not sure what to expect, particularly since I now take time released Levodopa capsules that were unavailable to me before my 2014 brain surgery. So, I pack the canes next to my DBS controller in the backpack in case I am unable to walk.
The necessity of using two canes—four appendages—to walk aligns the Sphinx’s physical progression in the same circular direction as our spiritual journey: toward a non-judgmental peace with the world last experienced, by me at any rate, as a child.
Three distinct childhood ages come to mind, reverse markers on the journey to awareness: 15, 11, and 5. These are just my personal associations with phases of growth, or decay, depending on how you look at it, and I don’t imagine that the specific ages are important. They are probably different for each of us.
I think of life’s circle reversing for me somewhere around age 45, about ten years ago. Up until that point, I had considered historical knowledge, politic awareness, and keeping up with current events as critical to understanding the world. I had lost any semblance of childhood innocence and acceptance, not realizing that the harder I tried to understand life, the more impossibly complex it became.
So somewhere around age 45, I took a spiritual turn without really knowing it. I began thinking in younger and younger terms, looping back toward a childhood awareness, not yet even sure of why. Currently, I view myself, in spiritual terms, in the vicinity of age 15.
Fifteen was an age of exciting possibility, a world of simplicity and awe of the future. It was also a milestone of when I began dampening my awareness: it was the age when I started to drink. But mostly, 15 was a crossroads where I could still get excited about first love, could enjoy a walk through the woods by myself while simultaneously developing a fierce competitiveness and appetite for adventure.
Today, I try hard to shed my competitive nature while exploring the same intensely real feelings of innocence. Whether the world is a literal illusion, or merely a façade of Man’s ego and insecurities, at age 15 I was still mostly immune to the illusion’s distracting pull.
I look forward to 11, an age of exploration when only the most basic of emotions was important. Money held no sway; power was an empty word.
But most of all, I look forward to becoming 5 again, of looking through the wise eyes of a child bereft of life’s insanities. After 5, I lose sense of who or what I was, of identity, which is a transition that offers a real opportunity for internal peace.
We humans are universally imperfect and constantly changing. As a friend once told me: it’s tough being human. Yes, it is, but that’s okay. For now, this 15-year-old might be back to walking on four legs again, if only for tomorrow.
I look forward to traveling a path of non-judgmental acceptance someday: aware, alive, at peace—and naturally—on all fours.