“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”Henry David Thoreau
As I sit here thinking about the concept of a life’s journey, it occurs to me there are literally thousands of path metaphors I could use. You’ve heard them all…
Sometimes the path of life is narrow, or dark, or filled with obstacles.
Sometimes you have others to walk with you, while other times you’re alone.
Sometimes you stumble or get lost.
Sometimes you wander aimlessly or take shortcuts that lead nowhere.
Sometimes your destination seems close, so you forge ahead.
Sometimes the path ahead is hazy and unclear.
Sometimes you have to forge a new path where there was none before.
Sometimes you need to slow down to enjoy the scenery.
Sometimes you have to look back in order to understand how far you’ve come.
See what I mean? I could go on and on. “Life path” imagery is so overused that it starts to sound trite and meaningless. That’s why I don’t use it. (Right, I just did, but I’m getting to a point.)
Besides their overuse, one thing I don’t like about path metaphors is that they make an incorrect assumption. They assume that there is an unambiguous, fixed destination somewhere out ahead that you’re moving steadily toward. And if you’re not moving toward it…well, then you’re not on the “the path.”
Which way is the light?
The first time I heard Coner Oberst’s song, Zigzagging Toward the Light, I fell in love with it (so much so that I almost named this blog after it, but that’s a different story).
The song symbolizes a journey through life, but one that’s realistic about the struggles most of us face. I don’t know about you, but my path has been anything but straight.
The imagery portrays a zigzagging but rewarding path through life. We have a vague sense of direction and purpose (the “light”) but we struggle along the way, often feeling lost and far from home. Love hides from us “like city stars” but can suddenly surprise us when we least expect it.
“Then how the circumstances change,” leaving us suffering again, just another lesson for growth as we pick ourselves up to continue. Because life is imperfect and unpredictable, we must find ways to enjoy the journey, singing our “bounder’s song” along the way.
It’s not a straight path. But somewhere up ahead is the light, directing us through opportunities for love and growth amid the chaos.
How to love your path to growth
Deliberately choose your path
The more I look around, the more I worry that most people live their lives with a continual feeling of disconnection and purposelessness.
Do a quick Amazon search for books about “finding your purpose in life” and you’ll get over 4,000 results. This should tell you that a great many people feel a deep yearning for meaning. I don’t know what all these books recommend, but I hope they contain words similar to these:
If you don’t consciously choose a path, one will be chosen for you.
Your job, your family, your spouse, your friends, your daily responsibilities, the media, your preferred forms of entertainment — all of these competing demands have a way of overwhelming you to the point it’s hard to maintain a sense of higher meaning.
Living detail to detail or distraction to distraction keeps you focused on the mundane.
Ask yourself regularly: What do I want to live for? What path am I choosing right now that will lead me toward happiness, fulfillment and a higher purpose?
Notice and embrace the zigzags
I just got off the phone with someone who lost her job and has been searching for a new one for eight months. She’s discouraged. I know the feeling because I’ve been there. But looking back I can also see that every job loss I had ultimately led to something better.
Did you ever walk a switchback trail up a mountainside? Or drive around hairpin turns on a hillside road? The paths are built that way for a reason. It’s so the imposing height of the mountain can be overcome a little at a time. When you climb sideways for a bit, suddenly the mountain is not so powerful.
Take time to notice the sideways directions your life takes. Learn to embrace them. They have a funny way of leading to growth, which you’ll be better able to see as you get a little farther down the path.
Look up from the path
In Up from Your Life, James Taylor sings of someone who is seeking answers but not finding them. She has lost faith in God and humanity, and no longer sees meaning in the world.
He reminds her that even in the sometimes hopeless “ongoing game” of life, there’s still a deep meaning running throughout existence. That meaning always exists, whether we see it or not, like an “ancient and sweet” river connecting all things.
To find meaning in the journey we’re on, we have to regularly look up from our lives, realizing that there is much more to existence than our mundane, often painful circumstances.
Look up frequently to remind yourself of where you are on your path and where you’re going.
Learn to love your path
Last night I had a long discussion with a friend who’s an ordained minister. We talked about whether it’s possible to find spiritual satisfaction in today’s world.
We both agreed that hunger for spirituality and growth is a common human phenomenon, but that it can be difficult to find a proper way to fulfill it. Spirituality is often primarily an inward journey, so it’s up to us as individuals to continue on the path, surrounding ourselves with others who can support and nurture us along the way.
No one else can feel or understand things the way you can, and this makes the journey uniquely your own. Learn to embrace it as a way to more fully realize what you’re meant to be, zigzags and all.
And when you walk it, be sure you can, as Thoreau said, “walk with love and reverence.”