I got away from the city for the past few days.
The quiet is incredibly rejuvenating.
In the wilderness, I’ve let my mind wander some. One of the things that occurred to me this morning is how, especially in my youth, I revered the sniper and the tracker for essentially the same reason: they cooperate with their environments skillfully, achieving their goals with patience and stillness, and take great care to cultivate their powers of observation as a primary factor in their work.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Well, I must be on a list somewhere.” I definitely have been since childhood. One of my favorite websites was all about the life of a sniper. From the art of fieldcraft and camouflage to the science of ballistics, to the strategies of survival deep behind enemy lines; this website, the films I had seen, and the games I had played had me fascinated.
I couldn’t help but crawl around in the wilderness for hours on end with my pellet gun, scope, and binoculars, not shooting anything at all, but just observing the environment, inner and outer, controlling my breath as though I were to take a shot (aiming as best I could at some particular leaf off in the distance, for example), and cultivating the patience and fortitude required to be unbothered as I let bugs crawl over me.
I suppose there was a kind of melting into the landscape that I accomplished.
In that same action of non-action, of persistent and attentive observation, I suppose I was exercising my powers of focus, and I was getting to know my mind in a different way than would have been accessible if I were more engaged in less unconventional pursuits, like video games and girls.
(That said, I would later, around age 12, become #1 ranked player worldwide, by kill-to-death ratio, on a particularly popular WWII-themed video game server, playing the game Day of Defeat, wherein my only mode of playing was as a sniper.)
I must have reveled in the idea that these skills, silly as they might have seemed at the time, would be something that I might call on some day, if – god forbid – they became necessary.
I was never interested in the idea of killing an animal, let alone a person; that is, unless there were a very good reason, whether feeding my family or protecting it for example.
Still, I’m sure it put me on a list somewhere. Most kids aren’t reading about how to setup a perimeter, create the ideal camouflage for a given environment, and build a hidden survival shelter in the dead of winter; and it seems like that sort of subject matter, along with other things on my childhood reading list like weapons of mass destruction and how computer viruses work, it seems like that would probably throw up a red flag on some automated system somewhere.
I felt as though that were the case then, even as I used a dial-up internet connection. Many years later, it was revealed that the government of my country was doing just that: tracking the behavior and media consumption of practically everyone.
So I’m on a list somewhere alright, along with everyone else.
I just might be on some lists that are more special, more menacing than others.
The thing is, though, all this was pure fun for me, with no bad intent about it. I was just fascinated and excited to learn. With regard to weapons of mass destruction, for example, there were actually very prosocial motives. I wanted to find out how the problem of WMDs might be solved in my lifetime. With sniping and tracking, I also just wanted to know how to hunt and feed my family off the land if necessary.
Today the idea of self-reliance remains a kind of odd grey area in our culture. We are supposed to be the most independent culture there is, and yet we are now more dependent on our fragile civilization than ever, if only because it is what will make or break the future for all of us.
I see clearly that there is no place to hide for me as some lone tracker in the forests and fields, operating in service of my small band and no one else. The real game to be playing is closer to that I aspired to in studying weapons of mass destruction.
The real game is to be of service to the whole lot of us, all of humanity.
This I learned sometime later in adolescence, or as a young adult rather.
Now I am still learning to most effectively embody that lesson in my everyday life.