Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Clearing the Trail

On a trip to Sedona Arizona a few years ago, I had an experience that showed me the difference a few days can make. I arrived in Sedona in the midst of a storm. It took a few days to pass completely.

Most guests at the resort I was staying in were a bit disgruntled by the cold temperatures and constant rain. I thought it was awesome! It’s not something you get to see every day in Sedona. The creek that runs through Boynton Canyon is almost always dry. During the storm, it was a thundering river.

Waterfalls, which usually don’t exist, cascaded over the limestone and red rock cliffs in a stunning show. I felt honored to witness the beauty of this rare event. Hiking the five miles from the resort to the end of the box canyon and back is always a treat for me. But on this particular trip, my daily hike took on new and special meaning.

The first clear day after the storm I hiked the canyon trail. It became obvious that I was the first person to hike the trail since the storm had moved through. There was a lot of debris on the trail.

Hiking etiquette dictates that you kick away stones and pieces of wood that have fallen onto the trail. It’s a courteous way to try and keep people from inadvertently twisting an ankle by stepping on something unexpected. I could see that if I were going to take that responsibility seriously, I might be hiking the trail for a long time that day.

There were limbs down everywhere. The storm had brought wind, rain and freezing temperatures which had coated many trees with ice. This had caused the breakage of many limbs. Some of the pieces on the trail were so big I could barely move them.

In a few places large sections of shrubs had broken off and rendered the trail impassible. As I worked diligently to clear each obstacle and potential hiking hazard, I felt a sense of satisfaction: I was doing something that would be of service to all the hikers that would follow me up the trail that day and for some time to come.

The best thing was that no one would ever know I had been the one to clear the path. It felt like the purest kind of service. Service performed with love… and simple enjoyment of the effort… with no thought of recognition and reward.

The entire hike, as I walked and worked to clear the path, I thought about my motivations for helping others and how often this level of ‘purity of intent’ was really present in my efforts.

It was a deep and wonderful reflection. One of my favorite quotes, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to mind: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I realized that some hikers might not have been willing or able to do the clearing work that I did that day. They might have turned back and missed the marvelous experience of reaching the top of the box canyon trail – which is quite spectacular. I felt a deep sense of accomplishment that I had made the way clear for others to enjoy this sacred experience. No hike has ever been more satisfying!

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