The Road of Self-Improvement

Submitted into Contest #239 in response to: Write a story where your character is travelling a road that has no end.... view prompt

19 comments

Inspirational Fantasy

I slowly trudged along a muddy road, rain dripping down my face. The mud stuck to my feet and made a squishing sound with every step - thwak, thwak, thwak. I had just started my journey and I was already so tired I was ready to give up. I made frequent stops along the road to rest my tired muscles, for not only was the mud an obstacle, I carried a great weight upon my shoulders. When I stopped to rest, all I could do was obsess over the weight on my shoulders and curse the road ahead of me. After a brief rest, I stepped back onto the muddy road and churned my way forward. It didn’t take long before my feet were sore, my legs ached, and my back tightened in pain again.


 I came across a man who was far along in years. He was dressed in white and had a white beard that hung down to his mid-riff with white hair circling his bald head. He sat with his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees. He opened his eyes and insisted I sit with him.


“How long,” I asked.


“As long as it takes.”


“Do you offer help?”


The old man just nodded and said, “Although you cannot see it, everyone travels a similar road. It is a road that never ends. You cannot switch roads, but you can change the condition of your road and how much you carry with you on your journey.”


“How do I do that?”


“Start with hatred. Let it go and learn to forgive. Here, sit like I am. Close your eyes and relax your mind. Concentrate on all the people, things, and ideas that you hate, even dislike, and forgive them, forget about them. Don’t let them bother you. Let people have their opinions and ideas because you cannot control them. Let your hatred and anger blow away with the wind.


“Now focus on jealousy, envy, and covetousness. Accept who you are, your abilities, and be thankful for what you have. Do not yearn for what others have or can do or how they look. Release those negative emotions. Let them wash off you with the rain.


“Then reflect inwardly and think about all the things that make you feel guilty. Think of all the things you have done wrong, that you knew were wrong, and repent. Say you’re sorry to yourself, forgive yourself, and never do those things again. Don't let those moments haunt you. Expel them from your mind and bury them with the dead.


“Replace all that negativity with the positivity of love. Look deeply within yourself. Who do you love? What do you love? What makes you happy? What are your principles? Carry these things with you on your journey and your load will not only be light, but it will also be like riding the clouds.


“That is how you lighten the load. You must work at lightening the load while changing the road.”


“How does one change their road without switching their road?”


“Start with integrity. Do as is expected of you in every situation, no excuses. Show kindness to all whether they deserve it or not. Be charitable to those who are in need without question. Help those who need help. Be faithful and trustworthy towards others. Respect the elderly, your superiors, and those in positions of authority. In all things be gentle towards all things, slow to anger. It will take time, but if you practice these things, the condition of your road will improve.”


I sat there with my eyes closed as I listened to him talk. When I opened them, he was gone. Feeling refreshed, I got back on the road and pushed my way through the mud. The mud was up over my ankles, which made for a slow and tiresome pace. I resisted the urge to take any more breaks, knowing I had to do the work.


As time passed, the rain stopped, and the mud got shallower. As I traveled on, the sun came out and warmed my cold bones. The mud eventually turned into a dirt road amongst a forest of trees. The air was filled with a wooded scent of cedar and pine. I got to enjoy listening to the leaves rustle in the wind and the birds that chirped. Squirrels barked as they jumped from branch to branch. A deer crossed the road with an enormous set of antlers. He stopped and stared at me for a moment, letting me admire his beauty, and then he was off. The dirt road wasn’t as exhausting as walking through mud, but it was hard on my bare feet. Still, I moved forward.


Dirt turned to cobblestone and ran amidst a garden of exotic flowers. A collection of every flowering species from around the globe; a sea of green dotted by every color in the rainbow and some that were not. Sweet and floral essences, intoxicating to behold. Bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds put on a ballet amongst their delicate petals as birds bathed in their statue baths and fountains poured water into ponds where colorful coy fish swam. The cobblestones were gentler on my feet than the dirt road, but they absorbed the heat of the day and were hot, but I knew a gentler road lie ahead.


The cobblestone gave way to a cool, soft white sand that embraced my toes. The smell of saltwater invaded my nostrils as the ocean came into view. The sound of the surf gently splashing against the shore relaxed me as I walked on, watching the seagulls fly overhead. The sun began to sink below the horizon, casting shades of yellows and oranges out across the water. The sunlight soon faded away to a moon so big and vibrant it touched the water and shimmered across the rolling waves. The stars too seemed so large and bright that you could reach out and connect the dots, bringing the constellations to life. I was busy admiring the moon and stars when I heard a voice behind me.


“You have done well, my friend. Your load lightened, your road got easier, and you found enjoyment along the way. The Road of Self-Improvement never ends, but I'm afraid life does. You walked a long and prosperous journey. It's time for you to rest at last."

February 26, 2024 22:10

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19 comments

Jack Kimball
04:56 Mar 01, 2024

Great job Ty! Does this have anything to do with Zen Buddhism? I read some time ago, The Art of Happiness by His Holiness Dalai Lama. I’m not Zen Buddhist, but the book was really really good and along the theme of your story.

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Ty Warmbrodt
05:30 Mar 01, 2024

Actually, it's based on the Bible in its condensed form, once you remove rules, regulations, rituals, history, those sort of things. I'm not Christian or Jewish, but I find the book interesting.

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Rebecca Detti
14:06 Feb 27, 2024

This is beautifully told. Thank you Ty. I love a character transformation within a story and a tale for us all on self improvement. Thank you!

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Alexis Araneta
08:34 Feb 27, 2024

Lovely job, Ty ! Great imagery, as usual. If only it were as simple as that. Hahahahaha !

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Ty Warmbrodt
17:52 Feb 27, 2024

I know, right. Not a realist story, but I find very little of that inspirational stuff realistic.

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Michelle Oliver
23:03 Feb 26, 2024

Oh, if only it were so easy to let go of the burdens that weigh us down and smooth the road ahead! This is advice I believe we should all take on our life journey. Well done Ty.

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Mar 04, 2024

Definitely some great ideas in this, though as others have said, easier said than done :) I like the road gradually changing as the story goes on, but there's also a subtle shift in attention. The narrator focuses less on the road itself, and more on the surroundings, actually being able to enjoy them. That's a neat effect. Critique-wise, the opening is a little heavy. I mean, the lessons imparted by the mysterious man in white - there's a lot of them and they come all at once. Of course they're needed as they're the point of the story, ...

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Ty Warmbrodt
22:14 Mar 04, 2024

Thanks for the feedback. That's good stuff.

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Hannah Lynn
22:28 Mar 03, 2024

Thanks for the good reminders in your story, Ty. It can be hard to switch up our thoughts sometimes but it does change everything, positivity attracts positivity.

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Wally Schmidt
00:39 Mar 03, 2024

What a lovely parable. A joy to read. My heart feels lighter.

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21:14 Mar 02, 2024

An inspirational read, well done!

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Russell Mickler
14:30 Mar 02, 2024

Hey Ty! Such an inspirational message of personal growth and self-improvement. Rich imagery, vivid parallels with muddy burdens and exotic gardens. Well-developed and presented. Nicely done! R

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Jeremy Stevens
00:39 Mar 01, 2024

Great journey Ty.

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Myranda Marie
21:07 Feb 28, 2024

Everyone, everyone, everyone needs to read this! I am not only impressed, but so inspired. Just what I needed today!

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Ty Warmbrodt
21:47 Feb 28, 2024

Thank you, Myranda for the very kind words. I'm glad you liked it.

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Trudy Jas
16:59 Feb 28, 2024

A winner, Ty! A lesson we all need to read and read and follow. by the way, the old man with the long beard does it reach to his "mid-riff" maybe?

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Ty Warmbrodt
02:49 Feb 29, 2024

Yep. Good catch. Thank you.

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Mary Bendickson
17:42 Feb 27, 2024

Nice inspirational journey. A life well lived.

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Kristina Aziz
16:25 Feb 27, 2024

Love the fable feel of this!

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