How Do I Walk with Them? (On This Road)

My travels on this road take me to places light and dark, always with the hope of making it to a place of plenty, a place of happiness, a place of peace. Still, that place, if it exists, seems always out of reach.

Instead, I find myself traveling with people who are happy and sad, hopeful and despairing, courageous and fearful. Some of the people I walk with seem easier to travel with than others. Sometimes we walk together for quite some time; other times I can barely stand to walk one mile with them.

I decided that my attitude toward my fellow travelers was poor; I wanted to learn to walk with and enjoy the company of more and more people. I wondered how I might accomplish this.

I decided I would treat everyone the same – like their attitudes and feelings didn’t matter. When a fellow traveler was sad, I ignored their feelings and remarked on the pleasantness of the day; when another was angry, I asked them what their favorite food was. When another was happy, I never asked why.

This decision left me without many traveling companions. So I changed my tactic.

I decided I would treat everyone as if they were me – like I understood their experiences completely. When one was happy, I told her I was glad, but that she should enjoy it while it lasts. To the next who was angry, I told him that he was going to make bad decisions if he let his emotions take charge. To the next who was sad, I suggested she look on the bright side of life – that there is always something to be happy about.

Again, I was left with few traveling companions.

I did not know what to do.

I sat by the side of the road, tired and thirsty and alone, and watched my fellow travelers as they walked by. I noticed a gurgling sound behind me. Water was flowing out of the side of a small boulder. I dipped my hands in the water from the rock; it was cool and clean. I drank some of the water and splashed some on my hot head.

When I turned back toward the road, I could…the only thing that makes sense is that I could…see through?…see into?…my fellow travelers. Most of them were adults, fully grown…but I could see through or into them, to a child inside. Every single person, young or old, had a child inside, maybe three or four years old.

I began to speak to the child inside a man who was walking by. I greeted him like I would have greeted my friend when I was younger: “Hi! Wanna walk together?” His eyes widened, and he looked behind himself briefly. “Yeah,” he said.

We walked together for a while. When he got angry about tripping on the road, I talked to the child inside him: “Tripping hurts. I’m sorry that happened.” His frown faded, “Yeah, it does. I’ll be okay, though.” We kept walking.

I wondered what it would be like to speak to my fellow travelers, acknowledging the child inside them all.

I wondered if my vision would fade and I would forget to treat people like they are doing the best they can.

I wondered if all of us just need someone to listen and respond to the child inside. I wonder if that’s the secret to walking with anyone.

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

How Do I Get Where I Want to Go? (On This Road)

My traveling companions and I continued walking, taking all the turns that we believed would take us to the brilliant, safe, peaceful land in the East.

Some other travelers told us we were taking the wrong paths, heading in the wrong direction; others encouraged us and even traveled with us for a while.

But no matter how long we walked, how certain we were that we were making good progress, the shining East always seemed far away, and the dark West always seemed close and looming.

Despite our apparent lack of progress, my friends and I kept walking, kept encouraging one another.

One morning, as the sun was rising, I saw a vision; or maybe the sun in the East spoke to me; or maybe it was just a dream. The road around me filled with a warm glow. A calm silence fell over my world. I felt like what I imagine it feels like to be in the East – grounded, at peace, free.

A voice welled up from all around me, or maybe from inside me. It was a quiet voice, something like a whisper or a breath, but with the resonance of thunder.

The voice said, “You are here.

I had no idea what that meant. Of course I am here; what was astounding was that the warm voice of…whatever…the East?…was also here.

I did not know what to say.

“How do I get to the East?” I asked, hoping maybe for a sure route, or even a shortcut.

You bring the East with you.

That didn’t make sense, because I could see the East off in the distance, and feel the darkness of the West over my shoulder, threatening.

“My friends and I want to make it to the East to be safe and happy. We want to avoid going West because it is dangerous and dark.”

The voice did not respond, but the feeling of the East stayed with me for a while. I don’t know when or how it wore off. But as my friends started waking for our day’s travel, I couldn’t help but feel the East in their faces and their presence.

I decided I wanted to share that same feeling, be that same presence, with the people I met on this road.

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

Which Way Do I Go? (On This Road)

I continued walking and other paths began to intersect with my path. I met people traveling these paths.

Some people walked with me on my path for a while. We traveled together; we enjoyed each other’s company; we ate together; we kept each other safe at night. These people became my traveling companions. Sometimes we would walk together for days. Sometimes our paths would only intersect for a few hours. I cherished each companion for as long as we traveled together and never forgot one after our paths diverged.

As we traveled together, we noticed that the land far to the east was lush with vegetation and partitioned by meandering streams. The land in the distance to the west seemed perpetually overcast, even during the day, and dotted with skeletal trees and little shelter. My companions and I decided to try to travel to the land to the east. We could make a home there, find food there, live in peace there.

Some people crossed paths with me and my companions and told us we were going the wrong way.

“You should seek the land to the east!” one exclaimed. “Anyone trying to go west cannot be a good and sane person!”

“My friends and I are trying to go east,” I explained. “Are we going the wrong direction?”

“You are!” the stranger warned. “The path you are on will take you west!”

We thanked the stranger and turned around. After only a few minutes, another stranger yelled at us, “Monsters! You are headed toward the dark land!”

“We were told this is the path that leads to the east,” I explained, trying to calm the situation.

“You are wrong! You are trying to trick me! I will not follow you!” the stranger bellowed, running off in the direction we had just come from.

How are we to know how to go east if no matter which way we go we are told we are wrong?

My companions and I decided to do our best to head in the direction of the place we wanted to go.

Original Photo by Alan Heardman

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

What’s This All About? (On This Road)

I sit down on a rock and massage my aching feet. I’ve been walking for quite a long time. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t walking.

The path in front of me turns sharply around a curve on the mountain so I can only see a few yards ahead.

The path behind is partially visible, winding down the mountain. Some parts of the path cross lush fields and bridge bubbling streams. Some parts of the path get lost beneath dark woods and craggy fissures.

I can’t remember why I’m walking. As far as I know, walking is all I have ever done. I’ve never stopped to consider why I’m walking or where I’m going.

What is this path I’m on? Is it leading somewhere? Well, of course it is – all paths lead somewhere, even if the end of the path is not a place you would want to go. Still, the path leads somewhere, so I’m going somewhere, even if I don’t know where that is. But do I want to go there?

Why am I walking? Was I told to go somewhere? Do I have a goal in mind, or am I just enjoying a walk? Would I walk without having a destination? That seems quite normal – to walk without destination – as long as that is the plan. But what is my plan? It’s a giant waste of time to walk without a destination if you’re trying to get somewhere.

As far as I know, nobody started me on this path. I’ve just been walking it. I don’t really know where I’m going or why I’m walking. Maybe as I walk I can figure out where I want to go and what it means to walk this path.

My feet feel ready to go again, so I stand. I am unsure of my destination, but I’m certain it is not the middle of this road.

path

 

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

Have the Best Life No Matter What

My son Nathan, like all of us, wants more control in his life.

Nathan is in elementary school. Sometimes his classmates do elementary-school-kid things, you know, like saying the same word over and over again, or tapping on Nathan’s chair without end. Nathan asks them to stop doing such childish things, but often they keep on doing whatever they’re doing. Sometimes Nathan comes home frustrated because of the lack of control he feels in his life.

When Nathan comes home frustrated, sometimes he has a pretty short fuse. One perceived slight from his brother or his parents and his face turns red with fury. He exclaims that he feels like we’re all trying to drive him crazy, that we’re all out to get him, that we’re trying to make him mad.

I feel like that myself sometimes. Sometimes it feels like everyone is only concerned for themselves, and that they at best ignore me and at worst actively try to frustrate me.

My wife explained to Nathan (and because of my eavesdropping, to me) that she knows how to have the best life, no matter what people do around you. She said that if we do this one thing, then all of our relationships will get better, that we will be happier all the time, and that we won’t feel like people are just trying to drive us crazy.

Nathan and I were both listening breathlessly.

Amy said that, to have the best life, the best relationships, and the best level of happiness, do just one thing:

Believe that people have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can.

If we believe that people have good intentions, the irritating kid that keeps tapping on our chair becomes the bouncy friend who is just trying to have a good time. Maybe he doesn’t have a brother or sister to play with at home, so he really wants to play with…well, anyone.

If we believe that people are doing the best they can, the woman who’s driving like a bat out of hell and cut me off becomes the woman who had to scramble this morning because her alarm didn’t go off. I’ve had mornings like that.

If we believe people have good intentions and are doing the best they can, everyone becomes not an irritating jerk we don’t want to be around, but a person we can relate to. They transform from a selfish, no-good so-and-so to a person with whom we can sympathize, who we can relate to, who is an awful lot like us.

Suddenly the world is not out to get us. Suddenly we have escaped the imagined hounds pursuing us. Suddenly we are free.

May we treat our neighbors like they have good intentions and they’re doing the best they can, and may we relax into the peace we will have created for themselves and for us.

Posted in Insight

May Your Bookshelves Fall Down

We have a lot of books. A lot. And this is after years of whittling down our collection to the books we really like. It’s still a lot of books.

To accommodate all of these books, I installed some shelving in a corner in our living room, kind of up high but still accessible. We were planning on putting some of our many books on these shelves, so I was certain to find the studs in the walls to secure the braces to, so that they could hold the maximum amount of weight.

And boy, did we test their limits.

This week, while no one was around, the shelves on one side of the corner came crashing down. Based on the end result, we theorize that the top shelf fell first, the screws coming loose from the wall (apparently they weren’t long enough to really hold in the stud). The weight of the top shelf and all of its books overloaded the middle shelf, which also pulled free from the wall and fell. The bottom shelf attempted to bear the weight of 3 times its normal load, and it did well, until the metal brace gave way, resulting in a bent metal braces. All of the books on that side fell to the floor.

We had some highly breakable items on those shelves in addition to the books, treasured because of their meaning rather than their value. All of them survived, save one. The one that was damage can be repaired, though.

So, this week, our bookshelves fell down. It made a mess, destroyed my perfectly tuned book organizational system by category and perfect alphabetization, and left a few holes in the wall.

We decided to rebuild. We bought longer screws to ensure our shelves were firmly attached to the studs. We bought new metal braces to replace the bent ones. We also decided to reduce the number of books on those shelves, getting rid of about a quarter of them, and storing another quarter in a separate area.

Now, our shelves are lighter, stronger, and more visually appealing. We’re really happy with how our shelves turned out, but we never would have gotten to that chore, or done it as well, had our shelves not come tumbling down.

Sometimes shelves fall. It makes a big mess and creates more work for you. But fallen shelves also give us the opportunity to make things better than they were before, to reinforce what needs to be reinforced and to shed the weight that is holding us down. And our lives can be better because of it.

So may your bookshelves fall.
May you find the places that need to be shored up.
May you discard what no longer serves you.
And may your bookshelves be better than ever.

Posted in Metaphor

Your Religion Is Worth Keeping If…

I have talked to several people who have abandoned their religion for one reason or another, but the result is often the same – they used to practice a particular religion, and now they do not.

There are a number of good reasons for abandoning a system of beliefs or practices that you used to adhere to, but there are also a number of good reasons for continuing to practice a religion.

Here are a few reasons why your religion just might be worth keeping:

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it is Simple
If your religious system is so complex that you aren’t exactly sure what you believe, or if the rituals are so obscure that you can’t explain why you practice them or what they mean, chances are your religion is not benefiting your heart or your mind. Study hard to figure out why you do what you do and what you believe, or find a system you understand. If your religious practices and beliefs are simple enough that you can explain them to a child, chances are good that you understand them and they have meaning to you.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it Helps You Forgive
We all have people in our lives we will need to forgive from time to time. Practicing forgiveness is good for the one forgiven and good for the one forgiving. If your religion makes you more divisive and less forgiving, it’s causing you harm. If your religious beliefs and practices encourage forgiveness, though, they’re worth holding on to for your own good and the good of those around you.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it Makes You More Inclusive
Ultimately, any system of religion that does not include a vision for the entire world, for your healthy relationship with all people, will not serve you well. Our world is often perceived as smaller and more connected, and we need to understand our place in it and how we will relate to the diverse people we will interact with. If our religion makes us better prepared to live in a vast and shrinking world, it’s worth keeping.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it Fosters Growth
Are you the same person you were a year ago? Five years ago? Ten? Of course not. Are you the same person religiously that you were a year ago? Five years ago? Ten? I hope not. If your religion is stagnant and unchanging, chances are that it is dead and possibly dragging you down. If your religion encourages personal growth and development, if the you five years ago might think the you of today is a heretic, your religion is helping you.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it Encourages Questions
Sometimes the means of practicing a religion are confusing or don’t make sense to later generations. It is appropriate to ask why some things are they way they are, if for no other reason than for better understanding. Still, some religious practitioners think questions are evidence of a lack of faith rather than a lack of understanding or a desire to make things better. If your religion welcomes questions and adaptations, it’s worth holding on to.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it Envisions Who You Can Be
Religions are good at reminding us of who we are and where we came from, but it seems like some religions struggle with casting a vision for who we can be. Life is about change and struggle and growth, and our religious beliefs and practices should reflect that. We, as individuals and as societies, are changing and struggling and growing into our better selves. Our religion should promote that vision of a mature self and help us reach toward it.

Your Religion is Worth Keeping if it All Comes Back to Love
Above all, a religion worth keeping all boils down to love – not a hippy, feel-good, no pressure love, but a love that challenges us to forgive our enemies and practice non-complementary behavior. This love is not about what feels right to ourselves, but about self-sacrifice, empathy, and treating people the way they want to be treated. It is anything but easy and the only thing that will make our world worth living in. The religions of the world have different names for this practice and belief: “loving-kindness,” “compassion,” or just “love.” Regardless of the name, though, the concept is easy to understand but so difficult to live out every moment. If your religion points you back to love, keep it.

Whether you’re looking for reasons to keep your religion or to shed it,
may your motivation be to become the best, most compassionate person you can,
and maybe make this world a better place along the way.

worth-keeping

Posted in Insight