It has been said that the path to spiritual enlightenment is like climbing a mountain. This mountain has been climbed before and those who have successfully reached the summit describe the views from the top with such awe and wonder that those who have not yet scaled its heights are inspired to begin (or continue on with) their own journeys.
In fact, this mountain has been climbed by so many people throughout the ages that there are well-worn paths imbedded in the mountain’s face; some are worn deeper than others, carving niches right through solid rock from the passing of so many feet; while others are mere footpaths that tend to disappear whenever a thicket or stony ridge intrudes.
While it would be nice to think that each of these paths leads directly to the top of the mountain, the truth is that not all do. Each promises to do so, but some meander in the backwoods or foothills forever or take you to false summits with views that are indeed lovely, but which are not quite what you were looking for. This is why using the well-worn path that has been used by others over the ages; a path that takes you right to the top is such a common choice.
You would think that these paths; these well-worn, tried and true paths would be the logical choice when attempting to reach the summit. After all, those who went before you succeeded by following this path. It makes a certain kind of sense to follow in their footsteps, unless of course your heart is telling you differently.
You see, following in the footsteps of others; following every dip and turn in the path that they took might not be for everyone. A particular path may wander through the foothills for a good while before tackling the mountain face itself. At the time that the path was created this may have been necessary. Perhaps the one striking out was not adept at mountain climbing and needed to acclimate themselves to the journey before undertaking a more strenuous segment of the trip.
Perhaps it takes certain twists and turns going around certain obstacles that have worn away over time, but those who are the keepers of the path insist that you not deviate from the path because even if the obstacle no longer exists because that is where the path leads. Sometimes the path itself does not make any sort of sense. Yes it gets you there eventually, but it backtracks and loops about unnecessarily.
What the people who follow these paths – and the keepers of these paths – tend to forget is that the path was once new. The people who created that path did the best they could with the information they had. They were plotting a course through uncharted territory because they saw something about the lay of the land; a river, a ridge, a chimney up the mountain face that promised a way to get to the summit faster, or more directly, or in a way no one had before. What they fail to realize is that the people who first trod this path were trailblazers themselves; trailblazers creating a personal path that just happened to gain a following. There are two young men whose stories tell us just how it happened.
There were once two young men who went looking for their own personal truths and inadvertently changed the world. Both were raised in rich and ancient spiritual traditions; traditions where everyone had their place and purpose; where everything that one did was because it is the way that things had always been done and was the way that tradition said it was supposed to be.
Both of these young men balked at accepting the path with which they were presented in spite of the fact that to break with the traditions meant being ostracized from the society in which they had been brought up. One became the man we know of as Buddha. The other the man we know of as Christ. Their discoveries and teachings would one day go on to touch the lives of millions.
Both of these young men’s deviation from their own traditions caused the creation of a new path; one that was right for them and which proved to be right for many others. Unfortunately, the more people who trod these (and other) paths, the more they couldn’t imagine ever wanting to tread another path or (heaven forbid) strike out on their own, forgetting that they have the audacity of these young men in doing just that to thank for the tradition that they now adhere to.
And for some people, following in the footsteps of tradition is exactly what they need and provides them with a means of achieving their goal, and that is all fine and good and is to be commended. But for others, the idea of following in a set path makes no sense when they can clearly see the summit ahead of them and are willing to do what it takes to make it their by their own means, especially if their heart is encouraging to do so.
Perhaps there is a reason that they feel the need to do this on their own. Perhaps there is something they are supposed to see, or do, that they could not see or do if they stayed on the path. Perhaps there is someone on another path that they are meant to interact with and will be guided to.
And maybe these trailblazers will start out on a well-worn path and then, when they come to a promising looking section, will take off on their own. Perhaps they will parallel one or more of the deeper worn paths for a time. Perhaps as they head off on their own they will encounter other paths which they will follow for a time (or for as long as they are headed in the direction they want to go).
No. This does not mean that they will necessarily reach the summit, though the possibility is there. Of course those who follow the well-worn traditions may not reach the summit either. They may fall by the wayside, encounter a village on the mountain where they choose to live indefinitely, or give up and go home in defeat.
What it does mean is that they have a goal; a purpose that others might not be able to comprehend. But don’t condemn them. They want to reach the top more than anything; as much as those who are using the tried and true methods. It’s just that in listening to their heart they know that a specific path is not necessarily the right one for them. They may not understand why, but that doesn’t make it wrong. And so it is that they strike out on their own and create their own personal path to enlightenment. Perhaps they will flounder along the way. Perhaps it will become only one of the many dim paths that crisscross the mountain’s face. Or perhaps, a thousand years from now, it too will be a well-worn path in the mountainside. But they were all new once upon a time, and someone had to be the first one to walk in a new way.
©Stephanie S. Henry 2012