Thursday, November 22, 2007

Path Choice 101

Despite all my best efforts I had somehow taken a wrong turn. That’s usually how it happens. How many of us deliberately try to make mistakes? We usually choose a direction or course of action because it looks or feels right. We think we are doing what is best. Sometimes, however, the path we choose turns into a perilous and painful journey. Yet… even in wrong choices… there are always lessons!

A few years ago, I was hiking into the volcanic crater of Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui. As I was hiking down 1600 feet into the crater I was virtually intoxicated by the spiritual energy I felt flowing through me. It is an amazing and magical place.

My goal was to reach the rim of a crimson colored cinder cone. I wanted to walk the path around the rim of the cone, gaze into its center and make an offering to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano Godess of fire. She is described in ancient Hawaiian chants as “She who shapes the sacred land.”

The trail I was on came to choice point. The sign showed the general direction I was to follow for the last half mile to reach the cinder cone. I quickly followed the boot prints in the cinder path, without really studying the options before me. Other people had gone this way. This must be right.

About 5 minutes later it was becoming obvious I was no longer on a deliberate hiking trail. I was descending almost straight down the side of a steep hill. The path was made of nothing but cinders, about the consistency of course sand. Each step I took ended up being a 2 – 4 foot slide straight down. Hmmm… I was on the slippery slope. It wasn’t taking too much effort in the moment. I was making fast progress towards the cone, moving downward quickly. I could, however, feel muscles working that usually don’t work hard on a daily basis and I knew that a few days hence I was going to be in pain! Injury was also a distinct possibility, since I was pretty much out of control on each of these “slide-steps.” I had to be as careful as I possible could to avoid twisting a knee or ankle or tumbling down the hillside altogether.

Suddenly I could see the ‘right’ path clearly. It was far off to my left, emerging from behind a hill that had blocked it from my view. A gentle descending path – much easier walking than this downhill course I was involved in. How did this happen? I realized that I missed an opportunity to make a better choice. I had been in a bit of a hurry when I barreled down the hillside. I hadn’t studied the path before me. I simply went where I saw others had gone. Not really the best way to choose one’s life course! My path was shorter and faster than ‘the true path’ but it had been a bit dangerous, difficult and destructive. Short cuts don’t generally work. There is a price to pay for cutting corners.

Correcting my error at that point was not an option. I had to continue the difficult path until it intersected with the ‘right’ path. I had to move through my mistake. I couldn’t undo it. I felt twinges of sadness with each step I took. Hikers are always supposed to stay on the trail so as not to destroy fragile ecosystems. I’m ultra conscientious about this rule. I would never deliberately break it. Yet, here I was off the trail and I knew that I was being destructive with each step I took. Wrong choices often cause pain and destruction to ourselves and to those around us.

Sometimes you can turn around and reverse the error. Other times you must press on through the course until you can get yourself back on track. As I realized I was going to be spared the near impossible task of climbing back up the loose and shifting hillside, I saw once again that as we learn our lessons Spirit is merciful and will show us a better option. It’s all about awareness, being able to forgive oneself for our mistakes, and knowing that our times of being off track are opportunities for learning and growth. When we come from that place Spirit can move in us and show us the way.

I made my pilgrimage around the edge of the cinder cone and made my offering of gratitude to Pele. I asked that she grant all beings the ability to withstand and thrive through the times of fire and purification that come to each of us in our lives and to us collectively on the planet.

Then, I ascended out of the crater… just a bit wiser than I had been before. That’s what it’s all about. Happy trails!


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