Take the Steps You Can See

I was a free range kid. When I was four years old, my father bought a piece of raw land on a small wild lake in Ontario. To my young eyes, and my young feet, it was a long way from the end of the road to that piece of land.

As I helped to create a trail through the bush to the future site of our cabin, I felt like an important part of a wonderful adventure. The presence of my father made everything OK. I was never fearful because he wasn’t.

I also had brothers, one older and one younger, whose lack of fear helped me to be unafraid. That worked most of the time, except when one or the other of us would deliberately try to scare the bejaysus out of the other two. More good stories there…

That time of connecting with the gifts of the earth has stood me in good stead throughout my life. Like you, I’ve had tough times. Lately, with Covid still very present in our reality and in our minds, the situation in Ukraine, the deteriorating… I don’t need to go on with this list.

As for so many, the effect on me has been that sometimes I lose perspective. When that happens, I go outside and connect with the natural world in the same ways I learned when I was a little boy. I notice that the birds, the rabbits, otters, seals, fish, frogs, and the plants are still being themselves, unperturbed by the things that humans choose to get very perturbed about. They respond not to what might happen but to what is happening. They deal with it as they know how; they don’t wish that they had more of one thing or less of something else. They help me to remember that in some deep way, all is well.

If you haven’t already stopped reading because of that last comment, here’s what I mean: when your nose is up against the black dot of everything that’s wrong in the world, try stepping back (see this post for more about the Black Dot). Step back another step, then several more steps. Step all the way back to where you can see this beautiful Earth as it is in those amazing photographs from the moon. From that perspective, our human problems are less overwhelming. Allow yourself to know that in some way that is beyond each person’s individual problems, beyond the problems of our communities, our societies, and the human population, the Earth will go on.

If you can accept that there is something bigger at play, some larger influence, some creative or universal influence that is not hiding but witnessing, allowing, and loving what we are and what we do, it is much easier to stay back from the black dot. Even with that understanding, there are times when I can be in that perspective and times when I feel like I’m right up against the dot. I’ve learned that I like being back from the dot a whole lot more than I like having my nose rubbing on it.

Where’s the middle ground? Is there a healthy place between the black dot and the moon, a place where I can be aware of the magnitude of what’s not right, and still be a functional person and make a contribution? Here’s an analogy that has helped me in finding a course between being against the black dot and being somewhere out in the cosmos.

When I walk in the woods and go off the trails in dense bush, I may find myself in a place where the what’s ahead seems impenetrable. This is especially true when the light is fading and most of what I see around me is dark. It’s just a wall of green and gray, darker here, lighter over there. I have learned that if I keep my direction and walk as far as I can see a clear path, another clear path will open. Sometimes that is a long stretch – by “long,” I mean perhaps 20 feet – and sometimes it is short, just two or three steps. I have learned to have absolute confidence that a way will open up. I just couldn’t see it from where I started. So I’ve learned to relax and be in the adventure, not to anticipate difficulties or create them in my mind. There’s always a way.

I’ve learned to apply that same approach to times in life when I’m not feeling that I have a clear path ahead of me. Everything ahead looks dark, and I can’t see how to get through. I’ve learned that if I take the few steps that are clear and then pause and look around, the next steps will show themselves.

When I’m off the trails, my destination is not often specific. I may just have the intention to explore unfamiliar territory. I might have decided to investigate something that I know is in the direction I’m moving but have not yet seen. Sometimes I just want to test my ability to navigate and come through.

There are other times when I have a specific end point in mind. At those times I move faster, with a greater sense of purpose and desire to reach my objective. In those times I’ve discovered that I still have to follow the path that shows itself. It has taken me many cuts and bruises, confusions and contusions, to realize that what works when I’m moving slowly has to be applied as well when I want to move quickly.

Again, so it is in life. It helps me in my daily life just to take the next step, to appreciate and enjoy the experience that is being offered to me while I continue to move in the direction I’ve chosen. When I need to move quickly or feel impelled by some sense of urgency around a deadline or a schedule that seems too full, I remind myself that whatever I’m doing right now is what’s important. That helps me be fully present in the moment so that I don’t get a metaphorical twig in the eye or have my metaphorical legs lashed by trailing vines with thorns on them.

The lesson is directly transferable from the bush to the human world. If we take what works for us in a natural setting and transfer it into our daily lives, our relationships, our work, life can be easier, less stressed, better.

June 28 2022

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