From Here to There: Ruminations on Journey
By Martha Dallas
March 18th, 2012
“From Here to There: Ruminations on Journey”
March 18, 2012
Each of us is unique, with our lives one grand unfolding journey. And within it, our years and days hold smaller journeys. Thresholds and revelations are ever emerging, as we walk multiple, varied paths at once. The gift in this notion is that any moment contains qualities of beginning if we choose to see them.
But wonder with me for a moment: what precedes the start? What sets the stage for that first intentional movement forward? What is the terrain that births a beginning?
There is a change or a shift, sometimes caused from the outside, and sometimes from within. Sometimes it comes massively like an eruption, and sometimes it is a mere whisper with mysteriously distracting qualities. Always, at the core is some form of the question: “Why?”
Eruptive changes crack our lives apart in a sudden volcanic event: A beloved dies, or we suffer a terrible loss. Our relationships are shaken to the point of strangeness. Our world becomes crumbled, ruined, unfamiliar, destroyed – The smooth, clear solid path of life we once took for granted is now clogged with broken rocks and the branches of downed trees.
Our instinct is often to restore it. There’s a hunger for equilibrium. We yearn to fill lonely, dark caverns with something pleasurable and reassuring.
In the days following my mother’s sudden death, my sisters, dad and I met with a family friend who is a geriatric social worker. She urged us: no big changes for at least a year. Because you will want to make them. You will be hurting in harder ways than perhaps you’ve ever known and you will naturally look for paths out of the grieving journey. Because it is a journey. It’s a hard one. Painful. Lonely. Exhausting. Unpredictable. Full of ambushes. But hang in there. It’s your journey to go through.
The death of someone we love is the beginning of a journey. Of grief.
Sometimes the setting for the journey is not a massive external life eruption. It’s more like a tiny interior fissure. In the words of the poet John O’Donahue:
“In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you….”[i]
So what is it that kindles our courage?
I’ve been working recently with the idea that Inclinations toward ACTION will be preceded by CLARITY of what SUCCESS looks like.
I’ll say that again: Inclinations toward ACTION will be preceded by CLARITY of what SUCCESS looks like. The flipside of this idea is that when the way forward is uncertain, even if we’re itching to get going, it’s wise to wait for clarity to develop.
In college, some friends and I had dreamed about traveling the country together after we graduated. I really wanted to go, but when I tried to plan with them, they couldn’t afford it nor could they leave their jobs and join me.
Lamenting this reality over lunch with my mom, suddenly a new vision snapped into clarity: First, my grandmother had recently willed me some money. I would use that for a down payment on a car for the trip. Second, I would stop waiting for my friends. The clear realization of these two key elements: that I could afford a car; and possessed the courage to go solo – freed me to move forward, first with eager plans, then with the journey itself.
The mind’s eye is a powerful and essential tool on the journey. When we can visualize the scene of our destination and the path and manner of getting there, it fuels our whole system with the synergy to better fulfill the reality.
What’s more, there’s a pull on our imaginations when we can see part of the vision drawing us forward. When we can see part, but not all, there’s an impulse to imagine what fills the gaps, and moreso to imagine us as connected somehow to that vision. For sure, this was what pulled me forward on the trip I took around the country. Every single day was an adventure full of possibility.
And oftentimes, the vision must go beyond what we can see, either with our eyes or with our imaginations. It must align with our other senses and synergize to trigger that first movement.
Lucy and I once lived in an apartment whose main living space had a cathedral ceiling spanned by several 3-inch beams. When first we moved in my cat, Buttonup, exploring his new home, hopped onto the counter, and from there to the top of the fridge. As he peered about I imagined how he’d love to get even higher – up onto those beams! So I built him a ramp with little treads, to span the gap, and showed him what it was for.
Instead, in one smooth move of feline grace, he leapt to the beam.
The height and distance looked impossible, but he repeated it flawlessly to our rapt amazement. “Look, here he goes!” we’d say. And our conversation would stop as we witnessed his preparation… perched on the edge of the fridge… his eyes bound with intent to his destination, then wriggling up and down his spine to his haunches… electrical impulses lubricating his entire system to readiness – a sudden spring of flight -- and a soft, sure landing high over our heads.
But of course the first move isn’t always like that.
Last summer I was excited to try a new trail up Mt. Mansfield. My guidebook captivated me with the route’s description. It read: “This route has some rather difficult sections – including a short cliff and a crevice jump – making it one of the most exciting trails in Vermont!”[ii] I had to give it a shot. Off I went, curious as to when and if I’d recognize these noted features along the way.
Oh, I noticed them. On the way to the summit, suddenly, across the trail was a gap about 15 feet deep and 5 feet wide. The crevice leap. I am not built like my cat. I stood there alone on the rock and contemplated my next move. I had an instinct to leap across, and it seemed I could clear the distance, but the depth of air below spooked me. Too bad there was no space to get a running start. I sensed my pack would throw off my balance and momentum if I tried to leap, so I thought about throwing it across first, then following. But worries thwarted me. What if it slipped off the rock and fell way down? Or my water bottles fell out? Then what? I scouted about for an alternate route – a way to scramble down and then up the other side. Nothing. It occurred to me I might have to go back the way I’d come. No, I thought, I just need to muster my courage! Psych myself up!... I tried. I couldn’t. I just could not do what my cat Buttonup had done: gather that vision of success in my haunches and just go for it.
And then, from behind me came an older couple. I smiled and stepped aside while he, tall and long-legged, reached his hiking pole across and then vaulted easily to the other side. Then he turned and reached a hand back to his partner who, with his steady grasp, made the leap look easy. “Want a hand?” he offered. “Sure,” I heard myself say, jettisoning some pride in exchange for the grace of unexpected help. In all my puzzling, I had never even considered the possibility of a stranger’s helping hand.
The truth I learned is that having a hand to hold can transform the impossible into the possible.
Once, my sister was enduring the ragged, sudden breakup of a relationship. Her heart ached terribly. She was unsure and had lost all confidence in her inner wisdom. Uprooted, she was drifting fearfully and weakly along. I would talk to her on the phone and she would layer tears upon questions and phrases of futility. Though she was far away, our voices exchanging over the line held our connection secure. So I told her to imagine I was holding her hand. I said that where she was, she couldn’t see the sun, but from where I was I could. I said that I believed a time would come when she’d glimpse the sunshine. But for now she could trust in my word. This was her journey to go through and I was a friend along the way who held her hand, a friend whose footing was a little more sure at a time when she had pretty much none.
Words exchanged in love and trust can be the hand-holding we need to move on.
And words spoken with intent and promise can catalyze our intent to begin a journey. Precisely because of the risk, we hesitate to speak our vision until our readiness is sure.
Like many others in our culture, I have come to times when I wanted to lose weight. A few years ago was one of those times. During a vacation with my sister and her two kids, I told my young niece Rachel that I was going to work on losing weight. I said, “see this round, pudgy belly I have? The next time you see me it will be gone. So say goodbye to my belly.” And she did. She waved and said “Bye-bye, Martha’s belly.” This served as a promise to her, someone I really loved, whose trust I have, that I was going to do it. And I spoke this only after having the conviction that I really wanted to do it, could do it, and had a means of doing it. I remember this interchange with Rachel because that promise began a weight loss journey that ended in success.
Of course, with journeys like hikes, or my trip around the country, accountability adds an essential measure of safety. Telling others where you are going and when, links them to your journey. People who love you, in whom you place your trust, will pick you up when you stumble and fall or seek you out when you’re lost or missing.
Speaking the intention of the journey, the vision of it, the fears in it – giving voice to it builds its strength and power and helps with focus and direction too. I find it so cool that the word articulate means two things: first to speak about clearly, and distinctly – and second to join so as to allow movement. So finding the words that tell the story of our journey actually lubricates and connects the possibilities for its future unfolding.
When our lives are itching and stretching to move and change, we can tell stories about now which illustrate the present quality that we want to move away from. The more fully we can name, describe and flesh out where we are now: the current state of our lives – the more we will hear ourselves begin to speak of the state we wish to bring about… the place we want to go to, the new quality and purpose we want to bring forth in our lives.
As we go through life, people are a big part of the terrain. That is a glad thing when they help us along, but some people seem only to get in our way. And oh how we wish they would simply go away, or change. One thing I’m trying to learn is that I cannot change other people, despite how much I want to, or how hard I try. The serenity prayer helps me with this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
If people would only communicate better, be more predictable, be more responsible, always do what they said they would do, be nicer … I could go on… But consider what we might learn, and where we might go on the journey when we accept that we can’t change others.
These hard interpersonal journeys have a lot to teach and to give. Think of classic myths, wherein the fearsome dragon conceals the treasure. Or the fairy tales where the heroine’s kiss of the slimy frog reveals her prince. The thing that we are desperate to avoid is precisely what we must engage directly, for it conceals the next threshold of growth.
So what about your journeys, your dreams, your visions? What form of becoming awaits you?
Our lives are full of things to do. Most of the time, what we need to do are things that other people need us to do now, or at least soon. It’s true, isn’t it? So I invite you to imagine a different To Do list than that one. What would you write on a list with the heading: “Things I need for myself eventually”? Think for a moment about what you would put on this list. What do you eventually need for yourself?
Imagine building that new list and visiting it regularly. Because the other one – the list of things everyone else needs from us now, is not the place where the journeys we need are born.
Give your dreams some time and attention. Play there, imagine there… and tell others about it. Reach out a hand for help if you need to. The beginnings will come from without and from within. All we need is readiness and vision. May it be so.
[i] P. 14 John O’Donahue, Bless the Space Between Us
[ii] p. 24 Jared Gagne Hiker’s Guide to the Mountains of Vermont
A complete Society Calendar can be found in the members' section of the website.
|4:30||Animal Ministry Meeting|
|7:00||Membership Committee Meeting|
|8:00||Marathon Sunday Jr. Youth Group Fundraiser!|
|10:00||Womens Spirituality Group|
|6:00||Yuuth Group Evening Meeting|
|9:00||Office Closed - Memorial Day Holiday|
|2:00||Abby Hale Memorial Service|