Walking a Path

In the span of three days, in three different books and websites, I read these three quotations.

The path is what happens--
it is not an end in itself.
In order to walk the path,
you have to become the path.

̶ Gary Snyder

When we are fully on one path, we are indirectly preparing another.

̶ Ryúnan Bustamante 

No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path.
Let me say that one more time:
No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path.

̶ Teddy Macker, excerpt from "A Poem for My Daughter"

I didn't go in search of statements about paths. You might say that without seeking the path, I found the path.

That's what happens, isn't it? You're proceeding along living your life. You turn around and consider what lies behind and there it is: the path you made. Short. Long. Direct. Circuitous. Branching. Rocky. Smooth. Monotonous. Scenic. 

Whatever it is, it's yours. Making the path that brought you to this point made you who you are. 

I imagine we all have pieces of ourselves we leave behind, and other pieces we wish we could leave behind. When I think about choices I wish I had made differently I have to remind myself that no matter how often I might think about something that happened or something I did, that doesn't change the past. It doesn't change the path I created. It brought me to who and where I am now. I have become the path.

If on the whole I like who I am now I have to recognize that I am this person because of everything on that path. Everything. 

If I am kind today it is not only because my mom emphasized kindness. It is also because at times I was unkind and I remember that and am ashamed. I don't spend time beating myself up for those moments. There is no point in being cruel to ourselves; the world does enough of that for us. I simply take the lesson learned: "Be kind. It is who you want to be and how you want to remember yourself when you look back at this moment from farther along your path."

More than one writer has said something along the lines of, "We find what we look for." That is, if I want to review the path behind through a framework in which I consider myself a person who makes mistakes, I'll definitely find mistakes to dwell on. If I want to review it through a framework in which I consider myself a kind person, or a caring person, or a person who likes to try new things, I'll find those moments as well. 

What's on the path that I enjoyed and that I want to experience again as I move forward? What are the qualities I have acquired coming to this point in my life that I want to reinforce, and which qualities do I want to consider setting down and leaving behind? What path am I preparing?

Related reading


  1. Found another quotation I had read a while back that also fits this theme--

    If we knew we were on the right road, having to leave it would mean endless despair. But we are on a road that only leads to a second one and then to a third one and so forth. And the real highway will not be sighted for a long time, perhaps never. So we drift in doubt. But also in an unbelievable beautiful diversity. Thus the accomplishment of hope remains an always unexpected miracle. But in compensation, the miracle remains forever possible.

    -- Franz Kafka, Diaries

  2. Another quotation on the theme--

    Life was never a matter of one decision alone. Life was just a bunch of tiny steps, one after another, each a conclusion that lead to a dozen questions more.

    -- Becky Chambers, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

  3. You speak the path on which you walk. Your words make the trail.

    - Diane Glancy, in All the Beauty Still Left: A Poet's Painted Book of Hours, selected and illustrated by Spencer Reece

  4. Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
    Into the throat with which you sing. Escalate your dreams.
    Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
    any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
    Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
    Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.

    - Aurora Levins Morales, from V'ahavta http://www.auroralevinsmorales.com/blog/vahavta

  5. Another poem on the path theme:

    Antonio Machado

    Walker, your footsteps
    are the road, and nothing more.

    Walker, there is no road,
    the road is made by walking.

    Walking you make the road,
    and turning to look behind
    you see the path you never
    again will step upon.

    Walker, there is no road,
    only foam trails on the sea.


  6. "The Path" by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

  7. Path poems keep coming across my...path.

    "Santiago" by David Whyte

  8. "How do you know which path to take?" the Rabbit said.
    "Maybe there is no path," the Boy replied. "Maybe the path is simply made by walking."
    -OxHerdBoy comic https://www.oxherdboy.org/post/056-traveller-there-is-no-path

  9. Another piece on the theme: https://www.themarginalian.org/2023/01/19/robert-macfarlane-paths/

  10. "Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again."

    — Katherine May

  11. "'If you are confronted by a path with a thousand branches, says (Shoma) Morita, 'You have no option but to try them one by one.' Standing at the crossroad imagining the possible end point of each path takes us nowhere beyond the crossroad. Choosing one of the paths, we walk along discovering its distant boundaries and terminations, choosing again and again among its branches. It is the action of walking that shows us where the path leads."
    -- David K. Reynolds, Constructive Living

  12. From "Santiago" by David Whyte

    The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
    hiding then revealing the way you should take,
    the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
    to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
    when you thought you would fall,
    and the way forward always in the end
    the way that you followed, the way that carried you
    into your future, that brought you to this place,
    no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
    no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
    the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
    out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
    for something that seemed to stand both inside you
    and far beyond you, that called you back
    to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

  13. "Not Taken" by David Whyte https://davidwhyte.substack.com/p/not-taken?publication_id=1377056&post_id=145306915&isFreemail=true&r=2t69m&triedRedirect=true

  14. "Call It Ours" by Rick Kempa

    All we want is a path
    just visible
    in the new growth
    of the forest floor.

    We do not require
    a thread of cairns
    to mark the route.


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