Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Somewhere, there’s a precious little patch of nature, in harmony with itself and its inhabitants and capable of accepting a few more visitors. It’s beautiful there, as I suspect you were already picturing. I want to think about the different ways one might be a visitor to that place as a metaphor for something that’s dawning on me about me.
First, it feels useful for me to imagine just what type of place it is…. Don’t we each have an archetypal environment that feeds our soul? For some, the vastness and fierceness of the desert; for some, the dynamic and expansive coast; for me, it must be part forest and part open space. And there is water and it is fertile and fecund in a way that fills your nostrils, tickling hormonal responses because we are way more olfactorily driven than we will ever be able to explain. Or at least I am.
To be honest, I think my forest/ open space isn’t on this continent… I used to imagine it being in Africa, but now that has shifted. It’s somewhere on earth where Buddhism or Hinduism was birthed, and I know that’s true because typing it out loud here makes me draw in a deep slow breath to feed the giant tears that formed in my eyes to mark the materialization of that true thought in my mind. Besides, it has to have monkeys there. And bamboo.
Anyway, now the visitors. There are all kinds of ways to visit, right? Some people go to a wild place only from their couch – ensconced safely with their climate control and anti-bacterial hand lotion, the magazine and website idealized version is just fine, thank you. Other people want to go to a wild place in person, to conquer it, in an attempt to own it, often in the process destroying it– the hunter or the developer who then names the “lodge” they build after what they destroyed to get theirs ( Fox Run, Pheasant Lane, Apple Valley Homes… You know the drill). And then there are the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” folks. Sometimes these folks tromp in (gently and reverently tromp, of course) and demand that the trees answer questions like “what are you?” I align myself with these people, but I’d like to be more realistic about having zero impact. You know, for the sake of the metaphor.
And first, I’m not asking the tree. Not that I don’t think she has any answers, it’s just that I lack the audacity it takes to assume I can understand such ancient slow language. Besides, I get that the purpose of the question is that we are all one so I’m really just going to ask myself and let the tree do its thing in peace. Who am *I*? What am I? What do I do? What am I here for? You know, those big deep obvious questions we should contemplate way more often than “paper or plastic.”
And I’m certain that, on my less mentally busy days, I’m capable of hearing answers. Not that I’m in any way expecting to actually REACH enlightenment, but I see my capacity to move towards it. I am a good student, there are good teachers, and so so many paths, right? But why are there paths? Because someone was willing to do more than just leave footprints, and for me, that is the key.
The point here isn’t zero impact. It’s positive impact. It’s harmony. It’s co-evolution. When Max goes into the forest, he sees and saves little creatures I rarely even notice. The sceptic in me sometimes bemuses the apparent futility of that… How can one little boy make a difference in this big, giant ecosystem? But to that one caterpillar/spider/turtle/whatever, well it was a lifetime of difference. I love that the ancillary impact Max has there in that moment is that he is my teacher. If that’s not fair reciprocation for labor pains and doing laundry for 16 years, I don’t know what is.
So in relationship, what’s the goal? I don’t want zero impact. I also have no intention of being the one responsible for slash and burn. I want to help create. I like to carve magic wands and walking sticks from fallen branches. I like to watch the boys move the rocks in that cold creek to change the flow of the water. I might not notice the caterpillar in distress yet, but I’m perceptive when it comes to emotions, to people in distress. And when I’m properly tuned in, that allows me to be of service to others. I would never want to not have that impact.
But here’s the rub… Sometimes the only “help” that is needed is to witness, duh, to take only pictures. I adore freedom and fluidity and that integrated form of boundary-less-ness that lets me genuinely connect with people I love. I love being that brave and vulnerable… and alive. But sometimes I overstep, over share, muck around in other people’s stuff uninvited and unintentionally cause harm. I am acutely sensitive to this when I strive to avoid over-parenting. As parents, we don’t want our children to suffer, but if we just do it for them, we cause suffering because we prevent them from learning and growing.
So daily, I contemplate that balance with my adolescent boys. Now, I will start to do that in relationships too… To grant myself a little space and do a few more things on my own … so I can see how capable I am. And learn to let the adults I love do that for themselves as well. I will seek permission to help. I will ask. And then enjoy the path we craft together.