Off the Path
“First of all, the beaten path is where everybody else goes. The natural flow of life is found in the heart of the woods, away from manmade roadways and trails.”
— Tom Brown, Jr.
Few things make me catch my breath in delighted surprise these days but this morning brought a small delight.
This morning I had "a lot of work to do" as I often tell myself. I stopped at a local park with the intention of sitting at the picnic table to settle in to work. Only. I didn't want to get right to work. I wanted to walk in the woods. Many, many days I over run my first impulse, I sit at the table and try to crank out the work I think must get done. Many times I tell myself that what my head wants is more important than what my heart wants, that my work has to come first, that walking quietly in the woods is a waste of time.
This morning I didn't tell myself those things. Without even having a plan, I left my notebooks in the car and sauntered off into the woods.
This is a public park with a play area, basketball court, soccer fields, and a well used vita course/running trail. The gravel trail winds easily through urban forest of tall pines and younger hardwoods and is almost never empty. It was quiet this morning because of the rain we've been having but still, I wasn't the only one on the trail.
After a few minutes walk I came to my favorite bench in a little clearing just off the main trail. Usually I'd sit but today it was too wet. I was tempted to go back to what I know - back on the main trail, make a 1/4 mile loop, and end up back at the car ready to pick up paper and pen. But something else inside called to me. What about this smaller trail - the muddy one without all the foot traffic? What about these signposts that aren't telling me exercises to do but are educating me about the forest around me?
I felt myself called deeper in. The further off the trail I went, the more slowly I moved and the more quiet I became. Fresh raindrops hung from vibrant green leaves and pine needles. Cicadas filled the air with their song. My mind softened.
Inevitably as my mind quieted, it filled to bursting with inspiration for the workshop I'll teach on Sunday. The very work that felt like a chore suddenly started flowing through me faster than I could catch it.
I'd been walking with my head down for much of the time when something called me to look up. That's when I found my little surprise. There, right at eye level, hung three ripe blueberries..
Earlier this month I went to Maine with hopes of picking blueberries straight off the bush and popping them into my mouth but alas, the blueberries weren't ripe yet! Seeing the blueberries in the middle of the forest this morning was like a mini-redemption. Such an unexpected surprise, such a delight. I hadn't even known to look for them and then, there they were right before me.
Of course, once I found the first bush I started to see them everywhere. Most weren't as tall as me but that didn't matter. I found them on the forest floor, lining the trail and in groups further off the trail. Suddenly I wondered how I'd ever missed them. They were EVERYWHERE! Seeing them opened my mind to wondering who was eating the blueberries. Who else shared the forest with me? Soon I was off down a mental tangent of recognition of my part in all of Life.
I didn't eat any (I know you are wondering) and eventually finished my ramble. Headed back out of the woods to record my thoughts for the workshop.
It's so funny isn't it? How we insist that work must come first. We insist that what the mind/ego wants is so much more important and relevant than what the Heart wants. It is so easy to let your entire life be kidnapped by an overactive mind. But what is really needed is the willingness to let your heart lead the way. The willingness to say Yes when the heart asks you to step just this way off the well-worn path of your life.
A lot of the time the conversation around comfort zones and stepping off the beaten path is about conquering fear or doing that thing that you really don't want to do but have to anyway. And yes, growth does happen when you do the scary or hard thing but let's not forget that sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone brings unexpected happy surprises. It offers moments of delight not just challenge.
Thing is, if you hold back and hold on to what is comfortable and well worn, you will never have the opportunity to discover what more could be out there waiting for you. But if you are willing to step off the beaten path, even if only briefly, you might just find something sweet that you never expected.
Contemplation: What is one small way you could "step off the beaten path" in your life today?
I'd love to hear from you in the comments below - Let me know what you do, how it goes, an what you learn from it.