Sunday, 16 October 2016
An empty pay-phone on a busy street is ringing but no one’s answering it. I walk over to it,
check that no one’s waiting for a call and pick up the receiver.
“This phone call will change your life.” A nondescript voice tells me; I can’t tell whether it’s a man or a woman on the other end, but for some reason I listen further. “You are in pain; you don’t understand what is happening in your life. You want to change it but you don’t know how.”
I shrugged and replied. “But that could apply to anyone’s life, surely?” I didn’t know who I was talking to, or the reason behind the phone call but I just couldn’t put the phone down.
“That maybe true, but you answered this call; no one else.” The voice replied. “In time you may choose to pass on what you’ve learnt to others, but right here and right now this is about you. Right now you’re trying to ascertain my voice pattern. Am I male; am I female? What nationality do I belong to?” The voice continued, as if reading my mind. “Does that really matter?”
“I guess not,” I replied.
“But you do have a pressing question for me, don’t you?” The voice remarked.
“Why.. why am I here?” I asked – I didn’t even need to think about it.
“Ah, now that truly is the one question you’ll have to ask yourself.” I shook my head, puzzled by the sudden change of tack.
“No, that’s not what I meant.” I said, a little put off by the obtuseness of the answer. “I meant – why am I here, talking to you?” The voice at the other end of the line chuckled in a benign way.
“Why are you here talking to me? Good question.” The voice replied. “Why did you answer the unattended phone? Why were you walking down the street at that particular moment to hear the phone ring? Why did you wake up at that precise moment this morning to set into motion those very same events that led you to this particular stretch of pavement to hear the phone ring?” I couldn’t quite grasp what I was being told, this was all too much.
“How did you know that this particular phone was unattended?” I asked.
“Is that really so important?” The voice countered. “It’s ironic that with all I have just said to you and its implications, the one thing that you choose to pick on is the most inconsequential.” The voice paused as I tried to cogitate what was being said to me. I looked around at the world carrying on regardless and felt somehow separated from them; the phone booth was its own bubble of time.
“Does the phrase ‘as above, so below’ mean anything to you?” Asked the voice, sensing my confusion.
“Is that where nature uses the same basic patterns from the smallest fern leaf to cloud patterns and population densities?” I stumbled, trying to find the right words. “It’s part of chaos theory, isn't it.”
“Very good. Doesn't that sum up your life; what is happening to you, right at this very instant? Isn't this a reflection of your life in its entirety.” The voice explained. “What you are doing now is a direct result of what has happened to you previously.”
“How do you mean?” I couldn’t understand the parallel.
“Your reactions are governed purely by your past. Would you agree with that?”
I paused for a minute. It would have been very easy to lie over the phone, but I knew that it wouldn’t have served me. “I think that’s feasible, yes.”
“Well then. Your behaviour now is eighty percent reaction; fifteen percent future planning and I’d say only five percent living in the here and now. Now would you say that’s an honest assessment?” I felt very uneasy about this because I suddenly felt very transparent; this person seemed to know exactly how my mind worked and I felt extremely vulnerable. “Stop trying to defend yourself.” The voice interrupted. “You have no position to stand by, I simply asked you a question. Was my assessment fair? Allow me to rephrase it: Do you find yourself worrying about the past and the future?”
“I would say that your assessment is correct. I worry more about the past than I do about the future, but I still worry if I’m honest.”
“And why would you not be, hmm?” The voice asked and chuckled. “What would you possibly gain if you lied?” The voice was quiet for a second. “What is your life currently like at the moment?” I frowned, this was the question that I had been dreading from the beginning.
“It’s a kind of non-starter, I think.” I replied. “Not great.”
“And you wonder why…” There was an ironic edge to the voice. I was just about to question the tone when it continued. “From what you have just told me, with three quarters of your life you ‘worry about’ the past and for the rest of it you ‘worry’ about the future….Where, may I ask, in amongst all this angst, is your present?” I tried to answer but I couldn’t. “Where is your present?” The voice asked again, with more urgency.
“Right here, right now?” I answered, borrowing the phrase from earlier.
“Right here and right now.” The voice echoed. “As above, so below. Because you worry about your past you automatically worry about your future, for what is the future except more of the same?” There was a sarcastic edge to the voice. “BUT! All this time you are ignoring the very thing that could free you from those shackles, and allow you to live each and every day afresh, with no worries. What is that you are so foolishly ignoring then?”
“The right here, right now?” I asked sheepishly.
“Yes, but don’t look at it like that. I am offering you the keys to freedom. Don’t let the truth slide through your fingers, grab at it with both hands!” I remained quiet, unsure of what to say. “You are being given a chance at freedom. Is that something that you want? If not, put the phone down and walk away. It is your decision.”
I almost did put the phone down. I couldn’t believe what was happening, all I did was pick up a bloody telephone… All I did was answer the call….
And all of a sudden something clicked in me and I understood what was being said. “I want the chance at freedom!” I replied, and I could feel the determination in every word.
“You are already free. We are all free but do not know it.” There was power in the voice and I could feel the truth ring in every word. “And it is so easy to realise that. Shall I tell you how?”
I nodded before saying, “Please.”
“It’s simple… Don’t worry!” I laughed at this, I just couldn’t help myself. It seemed so simple but ultimately absurd!
“If it’s so simple why don’t more people do it?” I asked.
“Like you, people allow their pasts to define them. People treated them bad in the past so they have to carry that with them for the rest of their lives.” There was irony lacing every word and I understood exactly what was being said. “Just because something happened yesterday and over a thousand yesterdays doesn’t make it true, and doesn’t mean that it will happen the same today. Nothing is certain. Your car may have started every day for the last five years, but it could all break down tomorrow.
“Your best friend or worst enemy could die tomorrow; you could die later on today with no warning, so how is worrying going to help that?” I was reeling now, this was irrefutable. “All the worrying that you do about the past.. has it ever really solved anything?” The voice asked. “Has it ever really helped you?” The tone was definitely mocking now, but I couldn’t help but smile.
“No, it hasn’t.” I replied.
“Right.. and all the worry about the future; all the ‘what if’s’, the supposings and possibilities.. does it make them happen any quicker or help your peace of mind churning through all the endless permutations?”
“No, it doesn’t” I replied, beaming now.
“Right! The past doesn’t hold you and nor does the future. The only thing that really matters is the right here in the right now. And if you stay in the right here, right now what is there to worry about?”
I paused for a minute. A thousand thoughts assuaged me; a hundred excuses and all the doubts and worries that had plagued me for time immemorial; but for once I could see right through them. I knew them for what they really were. I could almost stand back from them and filter them into boxes labelled ‘past’ and ‘future’. Not one of them was relevant to the present, the right here in the right now. I don't know how long I was silent, but when I said “None of them” the voice on the other line said one simple word:
“Correct.” And hung up. I placed the phone onto the cradle and turned to watch the world once again.
The street scene that played out around me seemed changed somehow; more at peace – or maybe that was a direct reflection of how I was feeling. I walked out of the telephone booth feeling completely different to how I was when I entered it. Neither the past nor the future held me and had no direct bearing on who I was.
The past and future do not hold us to who we are; they don’t actually exist in the right here, right now for all that exists is the now, and in that is total freedom.
I knew that I had to share this…. More people could benefit from this, as I had.. but how? ……. And then it dawned on me…..
If you hear a phone ring in an empty telephone booth, answer the call. It could only change your life…..