The canyon fans out before me, and the gorge slices through the rocks below. Though I’m only a ten minute drive plus a ten minute walk from town, there isn’t another person in sight for miles.

I cross three streamlets nestled in thick foliage, and ascend a ridge to sit under a medium-sized oak tree, the small leaves of which afford spotty shade. It’s still late morning, and the hundred-degree day is still a few hours off.

A lot of junk has been going on, and thoughts and emotions flow by faster than the rushing stream a hundred meters down. It takes the better part of an hour of passive observation for the mind to grow quiet so the brain can be fully present. Despite the heat, that’s not hard to do amidst such grandeur.

The canyon has expanses of sloping grassland, brown and bone-dry by this time of the year after months without rain, and they are dotted with many oaks. An imposing sheer curtain of rock forms one of its sides, and on the other side, more angular and jagged rocks cap the canyon.

The narrow gorge cutting through the canyon is a 30-meter wide chasm of volcanic rock, in some places black and glistening in the baking sun. Huge slabs and boulders are strewn along the stream at the bottom. The rocks define chutes of converging and cascading water, which have claimed the lives of more than a few inebriated college students over the years.

Though the gravel road is open and it’s the end of the week, only three vehicles pull into the small parking area a few hundred meters away. Their occupants, all solitary males, exit various trucks only briefly, to stand and stare down the gorge, and then get back in their vehicles and drive away.

A few hours spent away from town, with all its useless busyness, brings stillness, silence, renewal, and insight. Truly, I don’t understand how most people go on. Perhaps by shutting off and shutting down the very capacities that make us human, and potentially, human beings.

Given its almost complete erosion in this culture, one wonders, what is character? Is it some kind of inner substance we’re born with, which then either grows or degrades, depending on how we live our lives?  Or is it something that is entirely the product of the choices we make during our lives?

Obviously, there’s some genetic component to personality that we’re born with, something that may or may not be related to previous lives. As every parent knows, some children are born more unselfish, thoughtful, and kind, while others are born more selfish, willful, and hurtful.

But even though reincarnation is a fact, it isn’t the truth. The truth is discovered in living a life of non-accumulative learning, no matter how much of a sot or saint we were in a previous life.

To my mind, three basic factors arise with this question of character. One has to do with ‘the choices we make.’ Another is the issue of the will. Finally there is the question of the nature of strength and weakness.

We only choose when we’re confused. When we’re clear, there is no choosing, because we simply see the right thing to do. To live a good life means realizing that though there are always choices, there is no choosing.

One’s character grows stronger when one is continuously finding out what’s true and what’s false, and acting accordingly. But there has to be a strong intent to understand oneself, and others.

Weakness on the other hand is a continual avoidance of ourselves. That always involves the exertion of will.

We’re taught that willful people are strong, but they’re actually very weak, because they are completely ruled by their conditioning and self-centeredness.

We’re all a mixture of good and bad qualities of course, but character, which directly relates to essence, is what really matters. Indeed, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Martin LeFevre