On Maps and Getting from Here to There

journey adventure
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photograph

“We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

For years – maybe even most of my life – I have thought that there was this Road that I needed to find, this pathway to happiness and security and success. And I believed that there must be some kind of map, with rules and instructions to be followed, to get me safely from here to there.

Most of the time, of course, the Road was perpetually out of reach, the map in the hands of everyone else. In fact, I often wondered if there might have been some kind of special Life School where little boys and girls were given their own personal roadmaps, and that the class was full by the time it came for me to enroll. I missed out on getting that secret map and, while everyone else seemed to know about the detours and the shortcuts that could put them on the fast track to the success-happiness-security trifecta, I was always a step or two behind.

I watched them – all these people who seemed to be so sure of themselves, who seemed to have the answers, who seemed to always know what to do – and marveled at their effortless movements. I watched and observed, listened and imitated, in the hopes of creating my own ad hoc roadmap, a kind of “Idiot’s Guide to Getting through Life” perhaps.

If I could just find the Road, I thought, then I could minimize the risks and create some kind of insurance policy, then I could get safely from here to there.

But looking for that Road, and searching for some kind of map or fixed set of rules, has only led to a whole lot of second-guessing and, when things didn’t go as planned (because when do things ever go as planned?), there was a fair amount of regret and frustration. And what I have learned the hard way (is there any other way to learn, really?) – and what I am continuing to learn – is that there are no guarantees or insurance policies. There is no secret set of instructions, no guidebook, no map set-in-stone.

There is the natural tendency, I suppose, to want to find a roadmap or some well-travelled road, preferably one that is well-lit with lots of flashing signs and arrows telling us to “go this way” or “turn around.” But life is unpredictable and crazy and sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

It’s only natural to crave some level of security for ourselves and our loved ones, to try to minimize the risks and create some level of certainty. So we try to create a roadmap. We tell ourselves that if we do this or when we have that, then it’ll all work out, then it will be okay, then we’ll be on the right path. We tell ourselves that if only we were smarter or richer or prettier or whatever-er, then we could get our hands on the map with all the answers.

And when all else fails, we tell ourselves to just do our best. But aren’t challenges to do our best just a benign form of perfectionism? And can we ever really achieve our best? Because there is always more, there is always better, and to do our “best” at any one thing at any given time, we must sacrifice something else and be less than our best at everything else.

Maybe all of these when/then rationalizations, these smarter-richer-prettier-whatever-er wishes, and these do-your-best challenges are just misguided attempts to create that illusive map and find a perfectly safe Road – something that just doesn’t exist.

But if there isn’t a roadmap, if there isn’t a Road that will lead us safely from here to there, then what is there? And what, in the world, can we rely on to help us get through this confusing maze of Life, with its twists and turns and two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of progress?

Well…

There is walking, putting one foot in front of the other, doing what we can with what we are given.

There is fumbling around in the dark for a path only to realize that the only one we find is so dark and so hidden that we’re not even sure it’s a path at all, except that we have to go somewhere so it might as well be that way.

There are wrong turns and there are readjustments. There is falling down and standing again. There is reaching out and holding hands and picking each other up along the way.

There is advice – some good, some not-so-good – that we can choose to follow or ignore. There is a tiny voice that we can hear if we would just stop moving and be still for a minute.

There is kindness and patience. There is courage and hard work. There is taking care of each other.

There is the journey, the adventure, and the joy in stumbling through this thing, together.

Someone (I think it might have actually been Conan O’Brien – who would have guessed?!) once said, “If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

And maybe that is the roadmap we should be trying to create. Maybe that is how we get from here to there. Not with comparisons or when/then’s or best’s or wishes to be something-er.

Just kindness and patience, courage and hard work. Just walking together and taking care of each other.

Because, deep down in my heart of hearts, I believe this to be one of life’s Universal Truths: that if we are kind and brave and patient, and we work really hard and we take care of each other, amazing things will happen. Amazing things are bound to happen.

Amazing things are already happening.

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This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her photos. Make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is both stunning and inspirational.

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3 Comments

  • Hi At this moment I am on a deck looking at the Ram Dass library at the Omega Institute in New York – in part as a birthday present to myself and in part to get a handle on some health issues. I find it prophetic that your posting came right now … I’m sure the ‘road home’ back to Chicago will be a kinder one after a week of personal indulgence and learning. I love the road home. Thanks for your post.

  • Nice post! I’m not so sure there is anyone out there who really has the roadmap. I know I sure didn’t. Maybe everyone is faking it the best they can and they ones who look like they know where they’re going are just super-confident in themselves. That’s my theory anyway.

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