If You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It

October 28, 2013

IMG_0564Recently during a trip to New Mexico I was hiking just outside of Santa Fe in the Sangre de Christo foothills. Due to a wrong turn I found myself at the trailhead for the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve Trail. It seemed like a pleasant jaunt through an area that had originally been under water with a self-guided trail explaining where the original dams had been. It was a bright sunny day the trail was an easy stroll with lovely views and big skies and was exactly what I felt like. My enjoyment was expanded when I came across this sign that made me smile. “If you come to a fork in the road, take it – Enjoy the Mud, Avoid the Mud.”

Somewhat to my surprise this sign led to a continuing philosophical contemplation as additional meaning began to emerge. First I began to realize how frequently during this road trip I had inadvertently followed this sign’s advice. Often I had taken a fork without having any idea of where it may lead. Sometimes it led to the mud and sometimes avoiding the mud. Suddenly the wisdom of the sign’s suggestion became apparent. Accepting the mud and learning to enjoy it could shift a negative experience into a positive one.

The previous day I had got stuck in an enormous traffic jam on my way into Santa Fe. I was at a complete standstill when irrationally I had pulled out of the traffic and made a turn with no idea where it may lead. Finding myself on the side streets of the city with no idea of how to proceed, I noticed a local park with convenient parking. I pulled off and sat for a moment; I did not have a map of the city and I could not use my iPad without Wi-Fi. Suddenly I decided to “enjoy the mud”. I took my bike off the back and set off to cycle into Santa Fe. A moment of frustration led to a day of freedom. It was as though a weight had been lifted off my back. I followed my nose and eventually found a bike route that led me past all the traffic into the downtown area. I realized how much better I was served having my bike and not the car. I found a delightful bookstore and coffee shop “Collected Works”; I enjoyed the first really good coffee since I left Vancouver and I got my bearings on my iPad so I could plan a delightful unencumbered day.

Camping Moab

Camping Moab

I had a similar experience with Moab where due to a Saturday arrival and an astonishing number of tourists I was despairing of finding a campsite. I pulled off in frustration wondering what to do next. My plan was to drive back into town and find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi but as I pulled out I came close to hitting a passing vehicle. In embarrassment I adjusted and took an unexpected turn to the right. Now I am driving down a strange backstreet with no idea where I was going. It seems to be taking me away from town then as I reached a fork in the road I saw a sign, “Kane’s Camping – 4 miles” I followed a scenic drive along the Colorado River to an admittedly somewhat primitive campsite that became my home for the next two days. “Enjoy the Mud.”

My reflection expanded to embrace a broader vision. The sign on the hike became a new stop on the journey of the Soul. It presented a mystical moment when the way ahead was clearly signposted. The Soul journey always goes where it needs to go. The guidance was clearly about acceptance and surrender. The mud couldn’t impede me as long as I didn’t resist it. Perhaps it is not about sweating which fork we take but rather ensuring we embrace wherever we end up.

 Postscript: At this point I was going to quote John Lennon and his “Life is what happens” quote. To my surprise although Lennon used these words in his song, Darling Boy, he was not the originator. Allen Saunders who wrote the comic strips Steve Roper and Mary Worth first made this observation in 1957, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

An Engagement with Eros.

October 26, 2013

Recently I attended the last in a series of workshops on the Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance. The theme was the Beloved and as part of our exploration we did a simple practice exploring the relationship between Love, the Lover, Longing and the Beloved. Basically it involves taking four small pieces of paper and writing these words down, folding the paper so you no longer know which is which then laying them down in a cross: top, bottom, left and right. Each position carries its own meaning but the one in the lower position is about healing a wound. I had inadvertently placed Longing in that spot and immediately discounted it because as far as I was concerned there was nothing I particularly longed for so how could there be a wound. Basically I then engaged in some sleight of hand that switched its position to the place that seemed more appropriate. When will I ever learn?

A few days later I was sharing details of my weekend with a dear friend in Toronto and when I explained my confusion over “wounded longing” she began to laugh. Her response was a consequence of the fact that she had been the subject of my wounded longing about four and a half years ago. It had been an embarrassing and somewhat humiliating experience through which I felt somewhat betrayed by my Soul. I had been brought a series of incidents that I perceived as explicit guidance to pursue her. These included a profound dream, a series of synchronicities and serendipity, oracles and feelings that all seemed designed to move me down this path. When it became obvious that my feelings had nothing to do with her at all, I felt like a victim of a bizarre cosmic joke and even to this day could never make sense of the events and had to consign them to the bucket that I call “mystery”.

Her laughter helped me evaluate what longing had led to my pursuit of her. She represented what seemed unattainable in my life: someone who is young, vital, physically beautiful, smart, spiritually aware to whom I felt a strong energetic, physical and emotional attraction. The fact that she was more than twenty years younger than me was likely a significant factor in my suppression of this longing. It seemed inappropriate, and inconsistent with whom I had become. I had consciously closed off to any exploration of this possibility with her and anyone else.

Now I realized that I was being asked to visit this wounded longing, to explore something that I had thought was in the vault. Frankly I had no idea how to proceed. I suspected that the healing of this wound was not through fulfillment so where should I look? I began with a contemplation to see what emerged. I could see clearly I had been suppressing something that was unfulfilled. It was likely a function of the aging process, of what Jung described as “the life not lived”. I had suppressed it because I had some judgments about it. I had already done the relationship with the “gorgeous 26 year-old” and I had no desire to go down that road for a second time. At times I felt frustrated that I was not drawn to women my own age or even close to it.

My second step was to seek guidance from an oracle. I chose Osho Zen’s tarot; it is my power oracle that often helps me see what I am trying to deny. Osho has that gift. To my surprise I drew Going With The Flow, “You are able to float now trusting that life will support you and take you exactly where you need to go.” It seemed like a positive omen to accompany me on an eighteen day, 4000-mile road trip to the American South-West.

As many of you know who follow these musings, James Hollis, author of fourteen books including What Matters Most, is one of my most important teachers and I always take him with me when I travel. On this particular trip somewhere in the wilds of Utah I began to listen once again to a lecture series from the above book. He always manages to both inform and entertain with his droll humour and modest manner and this was no exception however driving through the exquisite scenery heading towards Moab I would find myself occasionally distracted from his words. Then something grabbed my attention away from the vista, he began to talk about Eros as the powerful life-force of desire and longing. He suggested it must be respected not disregarded. “Wounded Eros seeks to heal; but neglected Eros seeks revenge.” In a eureka moment it becomes clear to me that Eros wants my attention. My suppression of this life force had led Eros to seduce me with the earlier encounter with my friend in Toronto, not to be fulfilled but to get my attention.

I feel that sense of awe that comes with a realization of the forces in the universe that desire to engage with us and if we are open to them magical things begin to happen but of we suppress them for too long Hollis suggests they can create monsters. I made a commitment driving toward Arches National Park that I will honour Eros, that life force of longing and desire, in whatever way it shows up in my life and that I will be open to and respectful of its power.

There is a Hindu proverb to which I ascribe that suggests that when we take one step towards God, God will come running towards us. I suspected that there would be some consequence to my decision to honour Eros but I had no idea what it could be. Any way I had a campsite to find, a national park to explore and a long road to travel. (Anyone wishing to catch up with my more physical adventures can do so at http://www.hangin.wordpress.com) Several days passed and I found myself staying at my friend Robert’s delightful place half an hour south of Santa Fe. During my visit he had a dinner party for three of his friends. One of them was a poet, a retired Federal Government employee who spent part of the year in Mexico. I felt drawn to her and as the evening progressed I realized that I was actually attracted to someone in my own age range. By frantically juggling dates that she mentioned, like being at college in 1967, I realized that we could not be that far apart in age and she was beautiful, self aware, interesting, smart and seemed a perfect correlation to my wounded longing. It was a pleasant encounter; she read some of her poetry and opened up about her life. It was only after she had left that it became clear to me that Eros may have interjected itself in my life but certainly not in hers. In hindsight I realized that I had done all the work to create the engagement and she had done nothing. She had not even asked me one question about myself. Feeling crushed, I drew rune to solicit a second opinion. The response could not have been more clear: Isa – Standstill. “You may be powerless to anything but submit, surrender, even sacrifice some long cherished desire.” So my first encounter with Eros was to feel sadness, disappointment, somewhat letdown yet I also felt energized, alive and vital with a sense that these feelings were positive rather than negative. And there was a gift, it was still possible to be attracted to someone of my own age even if a rarity.

My next stop was Ghost Ranch, an exquisite retreat center eighty miles north of Santa Fe. I had no idea what to expect. I was there because of a recommendation of some friends and because it was where Georgia O’Keefe painted. I was only there two nights and my primary focus was going to be hiking, a landscape tour and spiritual reflection. Yet Eros was not to be denied. While walking back from dinner a beautiful, Hispanic looking young woman engaged in conversation with me. She had been with a group that were hiking the Kitchen Mesa trail and had noticed me on the trail. “I was so impressed that you were doing it on your own”, she observed. I shared with her the moments of terror I had experienced descending a fifteen foot chimney. Her name was Jessica she was a lawyer from DC who was doing advanced yoga teacher training. Besides her beauty, she was articulate, smart and obviously on a path of self awareness and then she said, “You have lovely eyes, they pick up the colour of your shirt.” Then she was gone to class. Normally because of the age difference I would have shut down my feelings telling myself not to be a stupid and unrealistic. This time I honoured the God Eros. I allowed myself to feel the joy of a lovely connection; to feel the desire to pursue her but not act on it. I saw the difference between the two encounters. She had engaged with me and our connection had been a shared one. It was a sweet and delicious memory of my Ghost Ranch visit.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea. I draw a rune Kano or Opening. The rune of renewed clarity, dispelling the darkness that has been shrouding some part of your life. The words of Winston Churchill spring to mind. “This is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”