My first night on the trail, I stayed at a large campsite in Little Yosemite Valley. The hike in was a steep uphill climb for 4.5 miles and it took me most of the day. I was feeling the need for conversation, so I ended up at the communal campfire with an eclectic group of hikers. There was a group of young boys there, and with them a few group leaders.
Mike was one of the leaders, and he shared with us a story that I am now going to share with you. Imagine yourself sitting fireside with me, stars bright overhead, a warm glow on our faces, and maybe some marshmallows roasting in the flames.
Once upon a time there was this child. Someone told this child there was a great secret to be learned in life. This great secret was the secret to happiness. Well the child quickly became obsessed with finding the answer, so he started asking around.
He asked his mother and his father “what is the secret to happiness?”
His parents told him they had known happiness and they had known sadness, but they didn’t know what the secret to it was. They suggested he ask his grandmother, who had many more years of experience. So he walked and walked all the way across the city to his grandmother’s house to ask her “what is the secret to happiness?”
His grandmother told the child, “I have known much happiness, and I have known much sadness. I have experienced many things in my long life, but I can’t say that I know the secret to happiness. But I know someone who would. In a palace far, far away, there is a wise king whose knowledge is as broad as the ocean. He would definitely know the answer.”
So the child decided he would travel across the world to meet this king and find the answer he was seeking. He traveled for months and months, across the oceans and across the land. And finally he arrived at the palace, exhausted and weary, ready to meet this king. Along his travels he had heard tales of this palace, and he wasn’t expecting much, as he heard it was a plain place, with not much going on.
He walked up to the king’s quarters, and discovered a long line of people, all waiting to ask the king some question. He was frustrated that he had to wait even longer after coming such a great distance, but the line moved quickly and soon enough it was his turn. He approached the wise king and told him, “I have traveled a long distance to ask you this question, I must know the answer – what is the secret to happiness?”
The wise king replied, ” You saw all those people waiting in line, they too had questions for me. But I didn’t just give any of them the answer. I first gave them a task to complete, and once they complete the task, then I reveal the answer. So I have a task for you. I want you to explore my palace, experience it, learn about it. And I want you to report back when you’re ready and tell me what you learned. And to make it a little more challenging, you must carry this spoon here with two drops of oil in it, and you must not spill it. Do this, and I will tell you the answer you seek.”
So the child went out into the palace, and began walking around. He heard commotion, and he saw some shiny things, he avoided the crowds of people because they bumped into him, and he focused very very hard to avoid spilling the oil. He was proud of his concentration and decided to wander back to the king and complete his mission. When he returned the boy exclaimed that he successfully wandered the whole palace without spilling the drops. But when the king asked him to explain the palace, the child realized he couldn’t remember anything about it because he had been too focused on the spoon. So the king sent him out again, and said this time he must really focus on the palace.
This time, the child looked around and saw that this palace wasn’t plain at all. In fact, it was filled with the brightest colors he had ever seen. The shiny things he had vaguely noticed before were great crystal chandeliers, reflecting bright light all around. The commotion was actually beautiful music, and the crowds of people were dancing along. He noticed an aroma, and followed his nose to the market where he savored the food, and found this food was the best food he had ever tasted. He began talking to people and realized that each and every one of them had amazing stories to tell. And in the midst of this, he suddenly realized that he had found something incredible!
He rushed back to the king and told him all about the palace, everything he experienced. He talked and talked, and asked the king again to please tell him the secret. The king mentioned the oil, and when the boy looked down he was so devastated to see that he had totally forgotten about the oil and spilled it all.
“I failed,” said the child sadly, “now I will never know the answer.”
The king smiled and said, “but don’t you realize… you learned the secret to happiness all on your own. You experienced all of life as fully as you could. You smelled every smell. You really tasted each bite. You met so many people and heard their incredible stories. You saw more clearly than you ever have. Surely you must know by now, that this is the true secret to happiness.”