I’ve spent a good part of my life musing over such subjects such as happiness, joy, satisfaction, and freedom.

I just came in out of the valley after finishing a marvelous pinole powered run where I came to a very succinct conclusion of just exactly what freedom is.

Case in point. I’ve been thinking a lot about why Mexicans as a general rule are such pleasant people. I chatted with my combi driver coming back in out of the valley this morning and learned that he works 15 hours a day; every day. A smiling, friendly, open young man. A father of three. It’s his life and he leads it in such a positive way that makes me shameful for ever having complained about my measly 55 hour work week.

I was standing out on the street talking to my neighbor, Jose just yesterday afternoon. Another neighbor, Nieto was walking towards us down the hill who greeted me with his characteristic left hand wave, the motion of which is like him cracking a whip. He then announces either arriba or bajo depending whether or not he is going up the hill or down the hill. He then kicks it into a trot, always with a bright-eyed smile on his face. This is an old man we’re talking about. I asked him this morning how old he was and he told me he was 83. He still makes huaraches. In fact he is the old guy who made my young nephew, Max’s sandals.

I see this old man 2-3 times just about everyday. And he’s always got a smile for me and I would suspect he does for everyone else too. I asked Jose a mostly rhetorical question, ‘How can an old man like that keep operating up and down the hill, carrying sandals and materials and work all day long, every day?’  Jose’s unsurprising answer was that he doesn’t stop moving. For someone that age to stop moving is to cripple up and die.

Is Nieto a free man? Most decidedly. Does he know it? My answer to that would be, ‘Does it matter?’

And you can find out for yourself  whether or not you think you are free by answering the following three questions:

  1. Can you stand on your own two feet, i.e. are you self-sufficient?
  2. Do you have a reason for living? A purpose?
  3. Does your purpose in life give you satisfaction?

If you can answer yes to all three then you are free. If you can’t then my next question is ‘why the hell not?’ As in, ‘Why aren’t you self-sufficient? Why don’t you have a purpose? Or how can you bear to live an unsatisfied life?’

Looking at question number 1 – Can you stand on your own two feet? – brings to mind Siddhartha (from Herman Hesse’s tale of the same name) and his job interview with the rich man.

Siddhartha was a wandering Sadhu right up until that point he met a beautiful woman and then needed money to please her. The rich man asked him what his skills were?

‘What can you do?’, he scornfully asked Siddhartha. Siddhartha replied, ‘I can think. I can wait. And I can fast.’

So here is a young man standing in rags, owning barely a bowl to piss in and his reply to the rich man belies a power of such self-sufficiency that he is the true master of the universe, and not the rich man.