Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘ring theory’

The Boy Within

Boy Me, ready for adventure

Boy Me, ready for adventure


You’ll never guess who I ran into this week. The boy within.

In Armchair Zen World, we follow a thought called Ring Theory. This says that as you grow, like a tree, your inner rings or younger years exist beneath the newer rings, the outer bark, your present age.

It’s sort of like that “inner child” thing that was popular philosophy in the 80’s and 90’s. I’m not sure what the pop philosophy was about, but I know I am the same person, within the same mind, as the me who was a boy long ago. I can still be as excited over a favorite toy or a rainbow or a shooting star or a fish on the line as I was then.

Boy Me suddenly popped into conscious reality one day recently. I suppose I may have conjured him up a bit as I posed the question “What would boy me think of now me?”.

Boy Me was very excited that we could drive a car, for instance. A dream of the future for a ten-year-old. Boy Me was astounded that we had so many wonderful grown-up toys we’d only imagined owning. A house, a car, a pickup truck, a fishing boat. More guitars than one person needs. And money! Money in my pocket, the freedom to spend it and the transportation to get to the store!

Grownup Me was a bit surprised. Grownup me had made the mistake of viewing his world from a rough patch of bark on the shadow side of the tree.

There are bills to pay. Work to be done, 60 hours a week dedicated to the prospect of bringing in enough money to pay the bills, hoping for no surprises. No end in sight to the treadmill, but a long upward climb to the end-phase, “retirement”. A future worry to worry about. Worry about how we’ll make money and spend money in a time that doesn’t even exist yet. A time whose conditions are entirely unknown, and could be better, worse, the same or non-existent by the time the human calendar and the endless clockworks arrive at that place.

There is rest to be had. Rest after work. Rest after dinner. Rest after resting. Rest up to go rest. There have been many years of working and mowing and painting and marrying-off children and burying friends and relatives. There have been decades of mortgage payments, nights in the emergency room, the decision to unplug life support. There have been cars stuck in the snow, stuck in the mud, stuck on the side of the road. There have been ruts in which I was stuck. Sometimes for years.

Boy Me was flabbergasted. Rest? Really? A house and land and money and a family and a car and a dog and so many wonderful things to be excited about, and all that can be imagined is rest? Are you kidding me?

Boy Me remembered being 10, 12, 15. Imagining someday. Someday had a house and land and a car and a family and a dog. Someday had money to spend, a fishing boat, a snowmobile, and time to enjoy them. Someday there would be grownup-ness, and I would be the decider. I would decide what time was bedtime, if there was to be any. I would decide what is good for me to eat or drink or how late I could have a snack or how many cookies were appropriate. I would decide if I would empty a candy dish in one sitting.

Imagined Someday would find me with the freedom to do as I please, within reason. To do as I see fit. To do, or not do if I so chose.

Grownup me was a little hesitant. A little grumpy. A little achy. A little tired. Worried about the weather for Sunday’s Leaf Pile Party. Worried about the approaching heating season. Buying gas, buying pellets. What if the combustion blower needs to be replaced this year?  There’s too much tired and worry and work and winter to be concerned with. Perhaps this is not a good time for childish thoughts.

Boy Me laughed. You grownups. You just don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you? From the perspective of the age of ten, I’d say you’ve achieved a place similar to a god, or perhaps a king. No one to tell you what to do but yourself. Thankfully, you still have all the functions you had as 10-year-old you. Arms and legs and eyes and lungs to go forth into the world, to read books, to select satellite channels, to buy gas for the mower, to haul in a smallmouth bass, to have lunch whenever and wherever you want.

Power tools and model airplanes and you don’t need anyone’s permission to use them!

It's good to be the king.

It’s good to be the king.

Sure, the whole having things and money and toys goes against the grain of eschewing wordly possessions, I suppose. Then again, this is Armchair Zen, not a temple.

Boy Me: What? You even have your own blog site and your own brand of philosophy?

Grownup Me: Well, yeah. It’s pretty easy when you’re a grownup.

Boy Me: But isn’t this exactly what we wished for as a child? To be able to have and do all these things? What are you waiting for? Let’s go play!!

Grownup Me: I, um. I thought there was something that prevented me from acting like a child…

Boy Me: Race you to the car!

Grownup Me: Bet I can be there first!


Be at peace,




Ring Theory

People speak of growing and maturing. People speak of childhood, their “inner child”, and childish behavior.

We grow as a tree grows, each year adding atop all of the previous years. Just as a tree, even a hundred or more years old, bears all of its life and history in its rings, so too, do people. A tree doesn’t outgrow its rings, nor does it seek to forget them, if a tree could do such things. (And how do we know it cannot?)

Those innermost rings, year one, year two, that great year and that bad one, they remain intact for the life of the tree. In fact, even after life has left the tree.

People are similar. You don’t need to work at “getting in touch with your inner child” any more than a tree has to work at keeping its rings in order. Those rings are there, they have grown, and will always be a part of you. When you see something you loved as a child, isn’t that love still real, isn’t it rekindled in the moment? It’s a feeling inside you, not a conscious effort.

Can’t we still like the taste of creamsicles and be afraid of loud noises? Can we really “outgrow” these things?

Spend time with children, and you will see that “everything old is new again” for you. Why is the sky blue? How many stars are there? Can I really dig a hole through the earth and come out in China? Do aliens have pets?

The greatest beauty of childhood is the sense that all the world is NOW.

Seek to realize that those rings are still there. They’re safely protected and as green and vibrant as when they were new.

Just as they do for a tree, those inner rings shape the person we are now, and provide a core. We can not escape that core any more than a tree can disavow its inner rings.

What rings do you live in? Which have you carried forward to this day? Your love of cats? Or Rollercoasters? Hot dogs? The Andy Griffith Show? Your fear of trains or falling trees or mean dogs?

Look for the rings you have left behind unwillingly. Those things that someone told you- or you told yourself- you had to outgrow.

Sometimes when something seems to pull at your heartstrings, it is pulling on your inner rings.

Just as a tree, we can’t always wantonly expose our inner rings, or they could be damaged. Some of them may be much too tender to expose to the harsh world.

Seek to see them, though, and to see how they affect the way we think and feel and act in our present day.

Let this help you to understand and be comfortable with the person you have become, or to change that person to be more like the one you’d imagined for yourself.

Deep in the recesses of your heart and mind, these rings are stored, good and bad. But the now of this world is your outer bark. Your rings are inescapable, but they are entirely within your control to reveal, to conceal, to befriend or to shun. 

Remember too, as you meet others, that we are each bolstered and burdened by the inner rings of our lives.

Beneath the bark, we are all the same.


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