Staying the Course

This morning on one of my favorite runs on the Santa Fe Rail Trail I came to a sudden halt when I realized that somehow I’d strayed from the trail onto an adjacent dirt path. The only reason I didn’t stray far was that I’d made the inadvertent detour at a railroad crossing, and found myself inexplicably crossing the tracks sans the usual bright-yellow metal plate below my feet. Luckily, I realized my mistake and reverted to the trail before continuing, else I might have ended up 100 yards further before I realized my error.

How had I veered off course? I was “in my head,” as we say, distracted, not paying attention to the present moment, the present reality. That’s one of the ways we get off our life paths, I think. We just aren’t paying attention and we end up in a bad relationship, a job we’re not suited to, a circle of “friends” who aren’t so friendly.

Now, I’m not one of those people who believe our life stories are already written, that God or the Universe or some Higher Power has already made the movie and we just haven’t seen it yet. I believe we have the power (and responsibility) to create our own life stories, and that most of us know where we’re going, or where we ought to be going, in an overarching, intuitive sort of way that involves a sense of purpose or intention. That’s what I mean by “life path.”

I believe we get distracted and leave our life paths when we fall into unconsciousness, in Jungian terms, and our lives are being directed beyond our conscious understanding by archetypal powers of which we’re not even aware. Haven’t you had the experience of “waking up” to find yourself in a situation you can’t believe you’ve tolerated, even embraced, for some time, feeling that some “other” you has been running the show?

I also think we sometimes allow ourselves to be distracted from our paths because we are being lured off-road by doubts, fear and anxiety. “If I take that job, I won’t have to worry about money,’’ you might tell yourself, even though you know it’s the wrong one. Or, “He’s so attractive, he has money, nice friends— I think I’ll go for him,’’ despite red flags waving all around, because you’re tired of being lonely and fearful you’ll never find a loving partner. Eventually, of course, we come to our senses, often sheepishly admitting to ourselves and our loved ones that we’ve been steering blind.

Staying on the path demands constant attention, rooting oneself in reality and examining decisions with clarity and awareness of previous detours. It means being willing to admit when we’ve strayed and making course corrections as necessary. It also requires faith, a belief that even when we can’t see around the next corner, the path is there, awaiting us.

Are you on track today, on your life path? If so, hallelujah and congratulations. Keep it up. If not, how might you pick it up again? Open your eyes and go.

A couple of interesting books related to this topic: Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, by Gregg Michael Levoy, and The Power of Intention, by Dr. Wayne Dyer.