by Ross Ulbricht

I’m turning 37, my 8th birthday in prison. I guess this means I’m in my late 30s now. Is there any significance to this? Our Earth is in roughly the same position it was when the little creature that would one day become me took his first breath…by screaming and crying. So that’s something. I assume all healthy babies do it that way. For the next year or so, I lived in an egoless bliss so pure I didn’t even form memories. Why bother? No ego to protect or aggrandize. Does that mean babies are enlightened?

Then one day, I pushed open the bathroom door. From my toddler height, I could see the underside of the sink to my right, the towels on the rack to my left, and my sister’s friend standing in the middle of the room. She let out a screech as loud as she could, and my little brain decided it had finally found something worth remembering forever, at least until today. As our Earth continued its dance with our Sun, more experiences were had and more memories made. What would become my personality and worldview of today were built up.

Now here I am. But who am I? And what am I? These are questions we can all ask ourselves. I’d love to know, but I’m okay with the fact that we still don’t have all the answers. I don’t believe this ego (identity, personality, whatever you want to call it) is all there is to me, despite what it thinks. It is a piece of survival machinery that we all have (like a hand or retina), still amazing and miraculous, just not all it seems to be. It’s a wonder to behold, but that’s the trick, isn’t it? To behold it rather than be held by it. In its grasp, it covers our eyes in a veil that filters all things through the following question: is this good for the survival of my genetic information?

Somehow, seeing this creates a little distance. It’s like a flaw in the system allowing privilege escalation. With perspective, we can do more than run the same old routines. This is the beginning of freedom…I think. A machine isn’t free. It’s a slave to its form and program. We must get some distance from the survival machine if we are to make any genuine choices at all, free from our past conditioning and instincts.

Sometimes it seems like the only way to do that is to recognize that it can’t be done! Then for a fleeting moment, at least we see how hopelessly trapped we are, and maybe — just maybe — something new becomes possible. In that moment, we see we are surrounded by and part of a process so wondrous, mysterious and magnificent that our petty concerns look like a mote of dust by comparison. In that moment (or should I say “this” moment because it’s always in this moment) our finest qualities can come out: compassion, love, generosity, humility, forgiveness, peace, gratitude, and a whole universe of ways we can be toward each other that goes beyond survival.

To answer my own question, no, there’s not much significance to me turning 37 today. In the grand scheme of things, there’s not much significance to “me” at all (or any of us), and I’m okay with that. In fact, it’s a wonderful, freeing way to see things. When you stop taking yourself so seriously, when you lighten up, when you play a little, it’s like peeling off all those layers of suffocating ego, like being a kid again, but with access to the wisdom you’ve gained over the years.

So, on this insignificant occasion, I raise my metaphorical glass to all those having fun the way kids have fun, and to the kids themselves. Don’t grow up too fast, and keep playing.