Discovering the First Power

A single choice begins the soul’s journey.

I’m drinking the morning’s first coffee, looking out the window. The sun isn’t up yet but the sky is soaking up color from the East, staining the gray-black sky with an edge of oranges and red.

It’s snowing, big flakes drifting slow through the house lights. The scene reminds me of winter camping and the day I realized a simple truth.

 * * *

When Mark and I were boys we spent much of our time in the forest surrounding our childhood town. Winter didn’t diminish our need to escape our parents’ world and seek the freedom of our forest sanctuary.

We packed our tent, surplus sleeping bags, gear and all the necessary provisions we could carry. We hauled our gear down the road and forest trails giddy with anticipation for the adventure ahead.


Winter sun


We had a favorite camping spot we used throughout the year. We knew the best places to raise a tent, collect wood and build our fire. Returning was a homecoming.

The key to winter camping was fire. First, we gathered wood – lots of wood. A pile of dead wood was like money in the bank. It bought you warmth, hot meals, dancing light and precious campfire time. When you had twice the wood you figured you needed, you could then, and only then, set up camp.

The campsite was only complete when a fire burned at its heart. The simple, artful pleasure of arranging kindling and limbs into a combustion machine was ever-satisfying. Then, seeing a single match grow into a roaring fire was pure pleasure.

One year was particularly cold. The temperature dropped to -5 Fahrenheit over night. I remember sitting very close to the fire, enduring the sting of smoke for warmth and the sweet smell of burning logs. We filled canteens with boiling water for the sleeping bags before we turned in. 

Later that night it started to snow, big flakes, crisp and slow. By first light the tent walls rested on us. A deep layer of snow had buried the camp.

We put on our burning-cold boots and jackets and pushed through the snowdrift at the tent’s zipper door.

The camp was excavated with shuffling feet, pine boughs and gloved hands. Under the light, crisp snow we found the warm embers of our fire. Soon flames worked hard to melt an earthy circle in the snow.

By mid-morning Mark and I were thawing out our boots and warming our feet while sipping steaming cups of tea.

I remember a profound satisfaction as I sipped that tea and watched the fog of my breath drift toward the evergreens. The winter was beautiful, harsh and unforgiving. It made you think and plan and cope. It made you better because you had to be.

It felt good to challenge myself, to do something difficult and see it through to morning. The power of that started to dawn on me in those woods.

We laughed, cooked badly, sipped more tea and dreamed. The day was ours to spend in precious, wide open freedom.

Later I watched the smoke rising slowly against the tide of falling snow, relaxed, mind adrift. 

Something important occurred to me like a sudden breeze in the sparkling branches. Freedom was a choice. We could fall to earth like the fated snowflakes or we could rise from the fire of challenges.

Freedom isn’t real unless you chose it and exercised it. Making that choice, choosing freedom, was the start of life.

  * * *

I still hold that moment in my mind like a talisman. There’s magic preserved in that memory, clear and bright.

The power to choose freedom is the first power of an awakening soul.


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12 Responses to Discovering the First Power

  1. Monica says:

    A strong realization…beautiful.

  2. Fran Sorin says:

    I can visualize the entire story…thanks to your fine writing. Powerful thoughts. Your style of writing is personal and authentic. What a treat it is to find you. Fran

    • Markus says:

      Fran, I appreciate your kind words.
      All of our lives have amazing stories. Some are bold as the sun and some are hidden in the clutter of days. But, as you know, creativity can make those stories come alive and reveal the truths that guide us.

  3. Justin Mazza says:

    Hi Markus,
    The story was so compelling to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s amazing what we endured as kids just to have the feeling and experience of freedom. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to go camping when the temp was -5 degrees.

    • Markus says:

      Thanks Justin, I’m happy you liked it.
      Freedom is amazing stuff. Kids are thrilled and intoxicated with its discovery. But life can overwhelm us as we become adults making choices that bind us. We forget our freedom.
      Maybe we should give ourselves permission to be kids again, to grow, explore and discover our freedom anew.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for visiting Justin.

      -5 is not the half of it. Markus is the kid of guy to downplay the temperature. It was a blizzard! The wind chill was twenty below. This was just one of the many times Markus has tried to get me killed!

  4. lovely story! i enjoyed reading it. almost made me want to grab a cup of tea and flip through it like my favourite book :)
    i like particularly what you said in the end “freedom isn’t real unless you choose it and exercise it”
    so many of us get bound as a prisoner to our own thoughts of “i can’t do this” or “i have to do this”
    but we all have the freedom to choose and make a decision to change our lives or not
    Noch Noch

    • Markus says:

      Thank you for the compliment. Every time I think about that trip it puts me in the mood for a hot cup of tea!
      You are so right about being prisoners of our own thoughts. So often we see the bars others place before us, but are oblivious to the ways we imprison ourselves. Liberation takes recognition of the cages we build, a willingness to face our fears and the choice to fly free.

  5. Darrin says:

    Wow! I can’t help but realize that which I have experienced,
    multiplied by that which I have dreamed.

  6. Steve K says:

    Once,while we were all camping in the summertime, a group of us decided to leave the safety of the camp and camp fire late one night to explore the dark, outlying regions of the forest. If memory serves me correctly the group included you, Mark, Darrin, Dean and myself. I remember fairly well, in part, because we took a tape recorder with us, and I ended up being the keeper of that tape for a long time, until it ended up vanishing in the haze of life many years later. Anyway, after what seemed like hours of talking and tramping though forest and field, and then back to forest again, we came to a spot in the path through the wooded trail where I watched each person in front of me step over what appeared to be a branch lying across the path. Being at the very back of the line, when I got to the pathway obstruction I couldn’t help but stop and stare…what on earth had they all just stepped over I wondered, it looked odd? After some visual examination and further puzzlement I finally reached out my hand and passed it through the obstruction – it did not exist! It was merely a shadow created by the moonlight as it cut through the weeds and branches of the surrounding woods. I seemed rather pleased with myself for a moment, proud that I had not been fooled by the illusion as everyone else had been. …then I carefully proceeded to step over the obstruction and continue on my way, rushing to catch up with the group, which had made it’s way well into the dark distance ahead of me.

    • Mark says:

      You’re a deep dude Steve–a living koan at times. I sort of understand why you stepped over the shadow, but yet I totally don’t. At all.

      Like was it a tribalism thing? You choose to join in the merriment and frivolity despite the knowledge that it was a bit silly? Or like the other side of your self, balancing your skepticism with an enjoyment of the absurd?

      • Steve K says:

        In the moment I described, I felt I needed to understand the action I was about to take, feeling unsure of what I was going to do; my first choice was to not blindly follow those ahead of me, then to examine for myself the situation, and make my own choice! Upon discovering the illusion I felt to step over it at that point would be to blindly follow the convention that you don’t need to step over something that doesn’t exist, so I felt – not stepping over it, would have been as much of an “un-choice” to follow, as not stopping to question it would have been for me in the first place. At that moment the obstruction had appeared to be and became real for those ahead of me, and it called to me to stop and explore, it made more sense to me for the sake of Freedom and Free Will to choose to honor the illusion and give it the respect it deserved at that place and time – as pretty much everything in life is some kind of illusion. Thus I chose to carefully step over it and continue on my way. So in that sense, as Markus said, “I still hold that moment in my mind like a talisman. There’s magic preserved in that memory, clear and bright. The power to choose freedom is the first power of an awakening soul”.

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