(Written by Keith L. Jensen on February 11, 2009)
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
(Four Quartets, Quartet No. 4: Little Gidding V by T. S. Eliot)
Dancing, swaying, moving freely back and forth. Freely entering within and freely letting go when the time is right. As children, this dance of life came so effortlessly, so freely. There is no living in regret of the past or fear of the future. There is always just the now—the ever present now. And moment to moment, life is a celebration, a dance of joy in celebration of every beautiful moment. The rain is falling: dance for joy. The family cat just had kittens: dance for joy. Daddy is arriving home from work: dance for joy. Mommy is baking homemade chocolate chip cookies: dance for joy. JOY, JOY, JOY! Seen through a child’s eyes, life is a joyful celebration. Ah, to live constantly like this! How would that be? Could it be possible? Oh, how I wish and hope it might be.
To a child, there are no limitations. The portals to life’s possibilities are entered through doors with well oiled hinges—doors that swing freely back and forth. As a child, you enter in and out of life’s possibilities effortlessly and gracefully. One day you’re going to be a fireman and the next you’re going to be an explorer. Anything and everything is possible. There are no limits. There’s no thinking and worrying about: Can I or can’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? There’s only simply receiving grace and love like a flower receives sunshine and water.
But then, the hinges on the doors to life’s possibilities start to rust one little belief at a time. These beliefs creep in quietly one little thought at a time. They start out so small and seemingly harmless. One by one these beliefs are learned.
●You can't do it.
And a bit of rust forms on the hinges.
●You can't ask for help.
And again, yet another bit of rust starts to form.
●You need other's approval.
More rust forms. The doors still swings back and forth but not so easily and gracefully as they once did.
●You're not working hard enough.
And now the hinges of the doors of life’s possibilities are really getting rusted. They no longer swing easily back and forth. Just opening them to get a glimpse at the other side is taking more and more effort.
●You're not spending your time on the "right" things.
One after another and again and again, these types of limiting beliefs are heard and believed. After so many years, the hinges of the doors of life’s possibilities become rusted and frozen shut. And no effort on your part—no matter how hard you try—can force them loose and get them swinging back and forth—to and fro—as they once did.
For some reason, that’s hard for me to explain, I’ve always seen doors to old barns as a metaphor of portals to life’s possibilities. There is just something about old barns that holds such a world of possibilities. My growing up years were all spend in the rural community of Sun River Valley, Montana. This area consists of rolling hills of prairie grasslands and vistas of flat topped buttes. Giving life to and tying the small communities of the valley together is the meandering Sun River. In a belt along its shores are the “woods” consisting of cottonwoods, willows, chokecherry, and buffalo berry bushes. The Lewis & Clark expedition passed through the valley in the summer of 1805.
Like no other barn that I’ve ever seen over the years, this one calls to me. I let go of my grandfather’s hand and run over to the doors. Gripping the edge of a door with both hands, I try to jerk it open. The rusted hinges creak and shriek in protest, but the doors remain closed to me. I get sweaty and hot tugging and pulling, but nothing I do seems to make any difference at all. No matter how hard I try and no matter what I do it seems as though this barn is going to stay closed to me. I fall to ground in despair and defeat. Tears of sorrow stream down my face.
(A view of the Sun River Valley from the air)
There are a number of wonderful old barns I remember seeing as a kid growing up in Sun River Valley. As a child I was only able to explore a couple of these barns. However, they ALL called forth—and still call forth to this day—my spirit of exploration and curiosity. There’s just something about barns that calls forth my spirit of adventure.
(John Zeller’s barn: along highway 200 and three miles east of the town of Sun River)
(Christensen Brothers’ barn: along highway 200 and two miles east of the town of Sun River)
As a kid, the two barns I remember exploring were my cousins the Nielsen’s barn and that of my cousins the Warnick's barn. Wanda Nielsen, my aunt, is my dad’s younger sister. Donna Warnick, my other aunt, is my mom’s older sister. Both the Nielsen’s and the Warnick’s owned dairies when I was a boy growing up.
My younger brother Larry and our Nielsen and Warnick cousins use to play for hours in the lofts of both of these barns. Using our imaginations, we’d invent all kind of games. One day we’d be holding off attacking WW II German soldiers with our “pipe” machine guns mounted in the windows of the loft. The next day we’d be holding off attacking Crow and Blackfoot warriors with our trusty “Colt revolvers” and our “Winchester lever-action rifles.”
When we weren’t in life and death struggles with our wily enemies, we were exploring and inventing. We were always discovering and finding all kinds of amazing things in these barn lofts. As kids we were always baffled by how adults could put such amazing “stuff” in these lofts and just forget it.
And speaking of inventions, we came up with some doozies. One of my favorites was a zip line we invented at Nielsen’s. We hooked one end of a cable to the rafters next to the big loft window at the front of the barn. The other end of this 80 foot length of cable we hooked to the back bumper of Nielsen’s red 1948 Dodge Power Wagon. Putting the Dodge in “compound” gear, we slowly drove forward until the cable was taut. To this cable we attached an old horse drawn wagon or buggy single tree yoke we found among the treasures we’d discovered in the loft.
And then with a whoop and a holler, we’d take turns holding on and hanging from this single tree yoke as we leaped out of the loft window and zipped down to the ground. Talk about fun!
As a kid, we had so much fun playing in barns. It seemed as though there were a whole new world of magic and wonder just waiting for us within their walls. And the barn doors always swung outward easily, effortlessly, and welcomed us in.
Sometimes when I’m by myself driving through the country, I’ll still hear the faint call of an old barn I see along the road—a call to enter and to explore and play. But then I remember that playing is for kids and not for 50 year old men. And yet I still can imagine and hope and believe. Sometimes when I let go of limitations and close my eyes and imagine, the following story comes to me:
I’m 50 years old and a man, AND I’m 10 years old and a boy. I’m out exploring with my grandfather. We follow a winding path through a tangle of trees down along the river—the Sun River.
(Along the Sun River near the town of Sun River)
After a while we arrive at an abandoned old red barn—a barn that I’ve never seen before. The doors are hanging askew and the hinges have rusted shut—rusted shut just like our minds have done because of the many limiting beliefs that we have heard and bought into over the years.
And then I sense my grandfather’s presence. He smiles at me kindly and walks over to the doors. From deep within the pocket of his old jacket he pulls something out. His back is to me; so, I don’t see what he’s taken from his pocket. But, I hear this slow rhythmic click-thump . . . click-thump . . . click-thump . . . like the beating of a heart. I walk over and see that my grandfather has an old oil can in his hand. I can just barely make out the letters on its rusted and pitted surface. How strange! They read: grace.
With each beat, with each click-thump, from the spout of the oil can, there flows green living oil. Slowly it seeps into the rusted hinges. Excitedly, I grab hold of the door and begin to try to pull it outward. With a kind hand on my arm, grandfather stops me. He tells me to wait and be patient. He shows me how to start gently moving the door back and forth just a little at a time.
Slowly the rust starts to break away and the door begins to move more freely. With a smile on his face, grandfather says:
“This is a different kind of door. It doesn’t swing outward like most doors do. This door will only swing inward. And it will only do so when you’re ready to go. Are you ready, my son? Are you ready?”
I’m excited and kind of scared all at the same time. And yet this feels right . . . This feels like the thing to do. So with a smile on my face, I take a big breath and just let go. I stop trying. To my delight and with no efforting on my part, the doors open and swing inward, and I enter within. And the funny thing is: The world within is bigger and broader and deeper and more real and with more delights and wonders than anything I ever imagined while on the outside.