Monday, June 4, 2012

Forging A Path

Two paths diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken is one of my favorite poems of all time, and it has graced this blog before. Ironically, as I have mentioned before, my life has always felt like a predetermined path. It always just felt as though the next step was laid out before me, and I followed it. The next thing I knew, I was a practicing lawyer doing work I find interesting and exhilarating, while learning to integrate all the yoga teachings I have learned over the years.

This week marks my first week away from work since January, when I went to a conference on child maltreatment. This week, I am attending my favorite conference of the year; the conference two years ago changed my life in innumerable ways. But before the conference, I am visiting a friend in Bloomington, Indiana. It has been a surprisingly lovely little town, full of good food, trees, and a great friend.

It is also home to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Their website says that on the first Sunday of every month, they have an Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism session. It sounded interesting, so we decided to head over there. When we arrived, however, no one had any clue what we were talking about. But the grounds were beautiful, and there is a wee walking path, so we decided to take a walk in the woods.

As much as I would like to discuss trees, this post is actually not about trees in any way. It is about paths.

Walking through the woods at the Cultural Center, I started to think about the fact that we were on a set path. It was well marked, with little yellow, plastic flags, and even some yellow spray paint on some trees. I started ruminating on what it means to be on a life path versus a path in the woods. I found it slightly ironic that I was on such a well-marked path at a Buddhist retreat center.

Although people talk about being on a Buddhist path or a meditation path or a yoga path, there are no little plastic flags along the way. There are teachers, and there are people who have traveled before, but each path is unique to the individual on it. No two paths will look the same, and there is no specific goal at the end.

Being a lawyer, or any professional, is much the same. It used to be true that you would get out of law school, start working in a law firm, and stay there the rest of your life. On a similar vein, when my step-dad quit working for General Motors in Flint, Michigan, people thought he was crazy; just a few years later, the plant closed, and everyone who thought they had a job for life was out of work. Today, the average lawyer changes jobs five times over the course of a career, and that means many are changing several more times. Being a lawyer is about building and learning along the way, about finding the best way to serve the most clients. Just like the Buddhist path, there are teachers and mentors to guide our decisions, but at the end of the day, the path is our own. It is unique to each and every one of us.

A lack of set path is exciting. It means we each can wander and branch out in our own individual ways and find the work that inspires us to be our best. It can also be terrifying. There are all sorts of "what if?" moments, and we never know for sure if we are going to enjoy the next stage. It can be just as scary as being lost in the woods. 

But "the one less traveled by” is not "the one no one can help you understand." It is not a path upon which you can ask for no guidance; it is simply the one unique to you. As I walked off the path at the Cultural Center, I noticed we ended up right back where we started. I sort of chuckled to myself, thinking, “We know exactly where we will end up on the predetermined path, and we will not get very far." This can be great for getting back to your car to go home. It may not work so well as a life path. On that one, I plan to forge the new road ahead. 

And that, my friends, is what this week’s conference is about. But more on that when it starts. What about you? Where do you diverge from the set path?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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