Find the Path. Stay on the Path. Trust the Path.
For my birthday yesterday, I decided to treat myself to a sunrise from the highest mountain peak on the small island I’ve called home for the past year. Since I’ll be leaving this stunning place in a couple of weeks, I knew I wouldn’t have another chance and what a great way to greet another year — watching a sunrise from the height of 1652 feet. At 5am, I followed another car through twists and turns as we went up, up, up to the top of the mountain. The fog grew thicker the higher we went. When I pulled into a parking space, I considered calling it a day. Although you could see the top of the mountain, there was definitely not going to be a sunrise to greet me on this spring morning. I decided that just being up there on my birthday was still a great way to start a new year. I got out of the car, the cold wind shrieking, and followed the path to the mountain. I’d been there before, on clear days where you could see towns below you, mountain backs jutting out of the sea like a skipped stone moving across the water, so I had a general idea of the layout of the paths, the size of the summit. The fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the towns below or the mountains or the sea. I came across a couple taking photos and not wanting to disturb them, I stepped off the path to cut across an outcropping. I found the path on the other side and went from one information post to another, learning what wildlife the mountain supported and what it did not, what the mountain I stood upon was made of and how conservationists are working diligently to keep it pristine. You are here, one sign indicated. Yes I am, I thought.
The fog grew thicker, making the trees and the rocky mountain sepia in tone. I could no longer hear the voices of the couple. I followed the path back the direction I’d come. It ended. I turned back, still on the path. The path seemed to be moving down and knowing the parking lot was on the summit of the mountain, I didn’t trust that it was right. It was not going in the direction I needed it to go. It was going the wrong way. I stepped off the path. I cut across what I was certain was the same outcropping I crossed when I first stepped onto the mountain. It would take me to the right path. In the thickening fog, I walked longer than I had before. Stop. The fog thinned. The edge of the mountain was about ten feet in front of me. I turned around. There was a definite incline. I’d moved down the mountain. It started to rain. The cold wind whipped and swirled the fog. Since I could only see a few feet in front of me, I didn’t know exactly where on the mountain I was, if I was still on the front of the mountain or had made my way to the side. Even in the cold wind, I started to sweat. Go back up, I whispered into the heavy fog. I climbed toward what looked like two people — the couple I’d skirted past to give space. They’d been on the path I needed. Growing closer, the people morphed into two pines trees lashing in the wind.
Fear showed up, as it does, and told me what I’d done was stupid. Reminded me of all the things I should have done: slept in; waited another day; stayed in my car; brought a compass. Brought a compass? I don’t even know how to read a compass, I argued back. Fear only has hindsight, it lacks the imagination to see solutions, to see forward. I told fear to shut up. I told fear that it could browbeat me all it wanted once I was safely off the mountain. I calmed myself with the knowing that there had been people up on that mountain when I arrived. They’d been milling about, sitting in their cars. If I called out, someone would hear. They would help. Only my ego would be bruised and that would heal. Water trickled past my feet. Small streams I didn’t recall seeing when I first stepped onto the mountain. I splashed through them. Cairns that were half my height, cairns I knew I hadn’t seen before, rose up in front of me.
Find the path. Find the path. Find the path was my mantra.
I pointed my toes in the direction I thought the path would be, doing my best to keep moving upwards. Up. Up. Up. It started to sleet. I looked behind me. Nothing but white. I slipped on moss covered rocks, rocks that looked familiar. This is where I started, I said to myself without confidence. The path I stepped off of should be to my right, closest to my car. The path I didn’t trust should be to my left. I started to go right. Stop. Think. Be still and listen. I went left. My feet went out from under me. I caught myself on the soft green moss, grateful I hadn’t slipped down, back the way I’d climbed. I moved forward. The information post describing where I was welcomed me as I stepped onto the pebbled visitor’s path. I’d found the path. Now I had to stay on the path. Trust the path. I could feel the cold wind but no longer hear it. It’d become as familiar as my own breathing, my own heartbeat. Stay on the path. The path turned and cast downwards. This is where I’d turned back before. Where I’d lost faith in the path. Trust the path. It snaked right and started back up. I still wasn’t confident I was going in the right direction but I knew if I was on the path, it would be easier for people to find me. I walked on, staying on the path. It stopped sleeting. It stopped raining. A large sign rose up in front of me. A sign I saw when I drove onto the mountain. In the thick fog, I couldn’t see my car, but I knew where it was in relation to the sign. I followed the path, past parking spaces that had held others who’d ventured onto the mountain, now empty. They were gone. I reached my car. Thank you, I shouted into the thick fog. My hair frozen in strips and my face wind burned, I smiled at myself in the rearview mirror. I was okay. I’d made it out of the fog. I’d trusted the path.
The experience made me reflect on how often we find ourselves lost in a thick fog, unable to get our bearings? Unexpected life circumstances; relationships; jobs; loss and pain. Our own unfulfilled desires, the things we know we are meant to do but put off because we’ve gotten so far from the path that gave us joy we doubt that the path is still there. Or we lose the path, the one we were so certain was the “right” path, and stumble around trying to find it again, the ground slippery beneath our feet, unable to gain traction.
What if we learn to stop, to be still? Think about what it is we really need, what it is that our instinct, our knowledge gained, experience is telling us, even if others don’t agree or don’t understand. We learn to listen to ourselves. And once we find the path, even if it’s a new path, a different path than the one we were previously on, one we never imagined, what if we stayed on the path even if, at times, it doesn’t seem to be leading us in the direction we thought it should. What if we trust the path to take us where we need to go so we can become what we are supposed to be? What if all the constant movement that we are so sure is taking us forward is really moving us backwards or in circles? What if, in our desire to please others, to force our life to go a certain way, we’re really moving down the mountain, toward the edge? What if, when we’re overwhelmed, unsure of the next step, we stop? We grow still. We think. We really listen to ourselves, without judgement, muting fear. And once we find the path, we stay on the path. We trust the path to take us where we need to go.