It was the moment of birth, a cold jolt into a naked existence, when I was set down in the middle of a long dirt path with miles ahead and miles behind. I’ve been on this road before, though I have no true memory of it. I have no reference for the journeys I’ve taken in advance of this one. I do not know how many steps have brought me here. I have no recollection of the me that died in this very spot some time before. I know only that I came back to this world to continue a journey begun long ago.
My travels along this pathway are filled with the reassuring footsteps of people I love. I started out in the arms of a mother, a father, a sister, a brother – a family – who helped me along until I could stand on my own. Then they held my hand, teaching me what it meant to love and care, how to look to the side and observe, to learn, seek knowledge. Along the way more people joined in and there was always, as I needed it, a hand to hold. They are the hands of people in my life who have loved me, those I have loved – an ever-growing family bonded by heart and soul.
At some points along the path we let go of those hands to walk a stretch alone. Solitude, not loneliness. Lessons. Some stretches are deeper than others, and we find ourselves wandering beneath a dense canopy of treetops into a darkness. Fear. Trepidation. Doubt. Should I go? SHOULD I GO? Stopping for moments or weeks, sometimes even years. Worrying about what’s inside the inky blackness. Wondering what’s beyond it. Letting our minds trick us into believing that it will be too hard, too lonely, until we’re left conjuring all sorts of reasons why it is safer to stay where we are. We convince ourselves that change will happen for us. Only it usually doesn’t and we sit, waiting, hoping, praying, wishing until we have no choice but to take a first step or die right there in the middle of it all, too afraid to move. We walk, run and crawl when we have to, pulling ourselves through the frightening stretch of each unknown, until there is a clearing where we are okay to rest, to breathe and nourish ourselves in the presence of beauty. We look up to the night sky and see the vastness of the stars, knowing that countless others we can never even begin to name, are looking up at the same limitless expanse and even in our most solitary of moments we can feel that we are not alone. There are billions who look out just as we do, and if we listen with the entirety of our being we can hear their prayers, even as we shout out our own.
Ever and again, out of the forest emerges a new soul as two paths come together. As you look into each others eyes you see beyond the deep pools of color and into the light behind, and you smile, say hello. I’ve seen you before. I know you. You reach your hand to grasp theirs and walk within a sudden and inexplicable familiarity, letting protective barriers give way to the ease and warmth of love. Two souls wandering, connecting and discovering life together until the moment comes when your hands slowly loosen their grip and slip apart. You feel the softness of their skin slowly fall away until that very last, slow grazing of fingertips and they disappear back into the darkness.
This road need not always be so hard. We fill it with as much beauty as we allow ourselves to believe in. We listen, we engage, we learn, we see, smell and hear and then choose what we take along with us. There is always beauty if we are willing both to see it and in the absence of that, in our willingness to create it for ourselves, of ourselves. But the ever present dangers of distraction and ditches are always there, too. It happens sometimes that we wander too close to the edge and fall into a wide and deep opening. We struggle to get out. We panic. It hurts, first to fall and then to feel trapped and helpless. Are we alone? Can anyone hear us? Are we too ashamed to call for help? To weak to yell out for another to hear? Do we sit in stunned silence at where we find ourselves…buried, cold, frightened, miserable…and believe that this is where we must stay? Are we too weakened to struggle up the steep walls? Will we fall again and again? We all fall into some deep dark pit and curse it for what it has taken us away from. What we often neglect to see is that there may be some hidden treasure buried with us – in the beauty of the patience we have to endure. Maybe we will be lucky enough to see a hand reach down to aid us, but there are so many times when the task of escaping the ditch is ours alone. Resilience. We’re forced to dig, sometimes deeper within ourselves to a place we never knew existed, and find the strength to survive the hardest of times. We climb and keep at it because we know that eventually we’ll make it out and walk away even if a little bit damaged. But wounds close, leaving scars as reminders not only of the pain we lived through but also our ability to heal.
It is those difficult and darkest of times where one only needs to remember – it is not a time for despair, it is a time for belief. You have a choice to sit on the path or in the deepest holes and stay, feeling sorry, feeling hurt and angry and sad, motionless and dying, or you stand up, you believe, you do not even bother to reach your hands out to feel for what’s before you in the dark, but you move, you risk everything and believe in the truth that your path will guide you to where you need to go. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and run, screaming, but what lies ahead is what is right and you need only keep moving, keep believing, to get yourself there. Believe in yourself, in your purpose, in your travels – even when no one is there to believe in you – especially when no one else is there to believe in you – and you will not only find that you make it out of the darkness to new and beautiful vistas, but you develop a sharpened sense of who you are, a new confidence to power you through the next darkness and the one beyond that. What you need to make it is inside of you.
* Matsuo Basho