Stepping Stones of Life

Navigating One Step at a Time

Personal Photograph of Deborah Christensen

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”~ Thomas A. Edison

What are stepping stones in life?

We can be walking along, and suddenly we come across some stones or logs that we need to make our way carefully across to avoid some water or obstacle in our path.

Suddenly our attention which may have been wandering, or absorbed in our thoughts is focused on scanning the area, “Where is the safest place to cross?” and “Where we are putting our feet?” “Is this stone or log wet, is it stable, do we have a safer choice?”

We come across moments like this in life, where an obstacle we were not expecting appears.

There appears to be a way across however it is not entirely safe. There are stones or logs for us to walk on, so we need to focus a lot more carefully. We need to:

Slow down.

Take our time.

Think about what we are doing.

We all know the people (there are always a few) who when they see stepping stones decide to barge on through at a run and run across as fast as they are able. Invariably half way along they plunge into the water, emerging with a grin at the other end, trouser legs all wet, standing aside to let the others following more carefully behind pass.

They still made it to the other side. They still crossed. They got over. A pair of wet pants to show for it. That is all. But they slipped along the way.

Maybe in the process of slipping over on the rocks or log, they hurt their ankle, or grazed their knees? In the end, having to change their clothes made them wet, more uncomfortable and if injured led to delays.

So too it can be in life if we barge on through an obstacle. not thinking, not stopping to give a moment to breathe and consider where we are putting our feet, or considering what our next move will be.

We can ask ourselves, “Is this moving us forward in the direction we want to go or leading us on a longer route that will lead us away from getting to our ultimate destination?”

“In Zen, there is an old saying: The obstacle is the path. Know that a whole and happy life is not free of obstacles. Quite the contrary, a whole, and happy life is riddled with obstacles-they simply become the very stepping-stones that help lift us to a new perspective. It is not what happens to us in this life that shapes us, it is how we choose to respond to what happens to us.” ― Dennis Merritt Jones

Why slowing down and considering our next move can be useful?

Life is full of possibilities and choices.

Often none of these choices are inherently better, but they all could lead to different outcomes.

If we fixate on only achieving one outcome, this can affect whether or not our journey is fun, rewarding, challenging or painful.

Sometimes the question can be switched around and asked: “Do you want success in one narrow self-defined area, or do you want to enjoy what you are doing along the way?”

When ancient peoples walked along well worn and known jungle or desert paths they had to be mindful and careful. They still had to listen out for prey (kill or be killed) even though the track was laid out for them to follow. They still had to be careful where they placed each foot.

In the western world, we often race along; we hate slowing down.

Slowing down is seen as the enemy; however, it could be just the gift we need.

I will give a personal example.

  • I got burnt out and had a breakdown from work two years ago. I didn’t slow down even though I knew I was exhausted months before this. I was balancing on one leg in the end from exhaustion. I fell into the river, was swept downstream, crawled out barely alive, and needed other people’s help to recover.
  • It could have been much easier if I had only listened to my body. If I had realized that I was in the worst-case scenario, and it was terrible. Next time, I would get out earlier even if it meant changing jobs to work fulltime for less money.
  • Now with the benefit of hindsight, I have been able to self reflect. It is like I can stop and think, sitting on the river bank, looking around me, just breathing.
  • I can see a whole new direction. I am moving in an overall new direction. I am even following a completely different river now, and I love it. I am in flow. I could never have envisaged this river existed when I was on a lifeboat careening down the other river, without a life jacket and having lost my paddle. I was unable to see anything. I was not willing to get off, and the lifeboat capsized and chucked me out. I barely made it to the river bank alive.

If you lose everything, there are no decisions needed anymore. That door is closed.

It can take a while to find a new path, with different doors and windows, that you can make your way towards, or find a new boat and a new river.

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” 
Pablo Picasso

So, if you come across obstacles, it is good to slow down and contemplate your way forward. Step carefully. You may need to backtrack, or even find a different route, so you don’t get lost, bogged down in mud, or wander around in circles.

Sometimes, the destination we thought we wanted, may change.

If we fixate on only achieving what we thought we wanted when life has thrown obstacles in our path, it may stop us seeing all the other opportunities there are that we may not even have realized were options for us previously. These alternatives may lead to different outcomes.

Our journey can be exciting, fun, and full of opportunities, as well as some sadness and some delays. Or, our journey can ultimately become a source of frustration, stress, and dissatisfaction leading to depression, anxiety and disappointment leading us unable to see the sun or anything of interest along the way.

If we stop, and breathe, and take a moment even to sit and contemplate, we may realize there is usually more than one road (or river) to reach a destination, or we may determine that we are going to change our goal.

Either way, it is okay. There is no right or wrong. One person’s definition of success should not be used to define us.

Whether our life is a success or not, depends on how we view it, and a lot of that has to do with our attitude along the way and a lot less to do with how we get there, or even where we even end up going.

Obstacles are a given in life.

We can see them as points to slow down and take stock, or we can see them annoyingly, as things to “power on through” so that we can reach our defined end goal of success.

We can usually get through an obstacle using both ways, but slowing down and taking stock, can often open our eyes to see many more possibilities.

Maybe, where you thought you wanted to go, is not the end destination after all?

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”~ George Bernard Shaw