Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trails, Paths and Forks in the Road

I recently went to one of my favorite parks where I could enjoy the tall fir trees, shady trails and sunlit ponds and streams. The Tualatin Hills Nature Park has numerous trails, some of which are paved and nice for bicyclists as well as walkers. Then there are the winding dirt and gravel side trails that meander more deeply among the bushes, trees and open areas. I have gone to this park many times and always try to take visitors there as well. While there are some small hills, the whole area is easily traversed by just about anyone.

And as is my usual planning (read, lack of) I just decided to get away from my computer and go. Of course, this day is another one of those record high temperature days for the Portland area. I think it was about 93 degrees. But then, what the hey, it will be shady in the forested park. It was, but it was still hot and I still enjoyed it.

A thought kept running through my mind as I hiked along, stopping to take pictures of the trails and pathways, and especially of the wooden bridgework that spanned the many wetland areas. At each fork in the path I thought of how we are constantly dealing with forks along our life pathways. In fact I wrote about it some time ago in one of my former newsletters.

For most of the time our life path is broad and easy to follow, much like our major freeway network that crosses the country. Once you are on it, you pretty much can go nonstop to your destination—almost. I don’t know of any freeway that goes directly to someone’s house or ends in the parking lot of a major shopping center, or even a downtown hub. To get to these places you have to take an exit ramp that leads to a smaller, often more congested boulevard or street. Sometimes you even have to make further turns onto even less traveled roads. This is particularly true if your destination is a campground in the mountains or along the beaches.

I couldn’t help but think of this as a metaphor for life. There are those who say that life is like a school. You are here to learn lessons, to figure out what you need to do to grow and manifest happiness, health and success. From my experience it seems that I grow the most through the decisions I make, the choices of which roads to travel. I have made my share of “wrong” turns as I am sure you have. But, I have usually found my way back to the main road, trail or pathway. I think the fact that I am here writing this article shows I did make my way back home!

As I walked through the Nature Park on this occasion, I chose to take mostly the side paths that I had not been on before. These paths were different than the nicely paved main paths from which so many smaller ones diverged. It seems to me that a different level of learning is encountered as we travel new roads to adventures. Nothing can be taken for granted. You have to pay attention. You have to clearly examine the markers at each fork in the path. Sometimes it will seem like you are lost or going the wrong direction. If you have maintained your alertness and paid attention to the markers along the way, you will usually enjoy the experience.

In life the forks in our path are often more challenging than those walks in the park. We may truly feel that we are wandering in the wilderness. How do we make confident choices under these circumstances? The only way I can answer that question is to look at how I have made my choices over the years. Looking back is certainly easier than having to make a decision right now, but a review will most often remind us that we did, in fact, come through those times calling for decisive action. Would we change some of those decisions using hind sight? Maybe. The important thing is that we made a decision. We moved on as best as we could.

A decision most of us will be faced with from time to time is how to respond to the actions or words of another person directed toward us in anger or frustration. At this fork in the road will we choose to have hurt feelings, or will we make a different choice? Is it possible to take a deep breath and accept that the person is frustrated and is trying to release that energy and get through the situation? Even if the intention is to hurt you, it is your choice to feel hurt. Making the choice to not feel hurt is not simply stoicism. It is a conscious response aimed at defusing the situation so that both parties, in calmness of mind can dialogue and move toward resolution.

It doesn’t make any difference which fork in the road you may be facing. Either path will offer a set of experiences from which you can learn and grow. If you have made a practice of paying attention to the markers along the way, each new choice will draw upon the confidence of past choices with which you were satisfied. Or, if you made a choice that did not provide the result you hoped for, you will be able to remember the markers—the side path brambles and thorns—and use that awareness to choose the other path.

Paying attention to the markers is simply a process of being aware. Be conscious in the choices you make. Let your deepest feelings of knowing open your mind and heart so you can more clearly see the potentials in the choices to before you. Most of all, remember that there is a guiding spirit with you and being aware of that is how we are able to know which choice will be most satisfying.

Once again, we look to Yogi Berra for advice: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Take it with confidence, anticipation and joy!

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