Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Canyon_PanoI’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. I’ve been Las Vegas and Tucson close, but have never quite made it to the Canyon. Many of you can probably vouch for its beauty and awe, and perhaps upon seeing it, your view of life and the world shifted a little bit. Well, recently, my life shifted a little bit simply from hearing about it and seeing this photo.

My friend in the photo, Nabil, told me about when he first saw the Canyon. He was up in a helicopter flying overhead. The flight started by first going over the plateau that led to the Canyon. At that point, he couldn’t yet see the Canyon and all of its vastness. All that lay before him was miles of flat dry land.

And then, as if God himself swallowed some of the earth, the plateau disappeared. The earth fell, and the miles and miles of canyon laid out before him. Nabil stared out his window awestruck. He could form no words. He could barely even breathe at the site.

Later they landed and he stepped foot on the same earth he had just flown over. He started walking on the plateau and moved closer to the canyon to get a better look. Nabil found a stretch of land that jutted into the canyon, but narrowed as he ventured closer. The wind was strong, but so was his desire to see more and get a glimpse of this great depth. Nabil told me, as he walked that narrow trek, he wasn’t sure he could keep his balance, not only because of the gusts of wind, but also because the way was so thin and the drop so dramatic that he sensed the cliffs on either side almost pull his body toward their edges like a magnet. Not trusting his footing, he literally got down on all fours to steady himself and make it to the tip to see over. He wanted a glimpse of the base of this incredible wonder of the world.

Once he got there, he looked over and again, his breath left him. Never before had he seen a depth so profound. He was drawn to it and couldn’t wait to enter it and look up from below at the place he was now crouching.

Nabil looked around and couldn’t see a path anywhere. All he could see were rocks and cliffs.

It is at this stage in my life where I find myself: on the edge of a precipice, able to see my destination before me, yet not seeing the path. Part of me feels drawn to just fuck it, and jump. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker and drawn to adventure…and I’ve never been very patient. I want so badly to just get to where I’m going and it seems to me that jumping would be the fastest way to get there. Wouldn’t it? Except for the sure death part. Jumping would be stupid and life threatening. Sigh.

Grand Canyon

photos courtesy of Nabil Doss – friend and inspiration

Nabil was of course shown the path down into the canyon. He took his time to navigate past rocks and obstacles along the way, but as he walked, he witnessed phenomenal views at each step. Views impossible to express in words, until he was walking on the very spot he had stared at from way above.

Nabil reminded me, the path to my life destination is also just a few feet away, maybe I just need help–or patience–to see it. And yes, I will need to walk slowly and steadily as I go, but there will be many stunning sights along the way: winding trails, gorgeous rock faces, winding riverbeds and surprise water falls. Oh, and I might trip over a root every once in a while, but most of the time I’ll be able to skip, and jump, and even run.

And in the end, life’s about the journey and the surprise beauty each step brings us.  Like the weekend I recently had and blogged about. A few months ago, it wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t even know Enette (who led the weekend) existed. But one step forward in my life led me to her and led me to meet many others who have now had a profound impact on my life.

So, I’m pressing forward step by step because now I think about what I would have missed – and left behind – if I had jumped.

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Being in love with not knowing

I read an article the other day in the Writer’s Chronicle magazine. It was an interview with American poet Camille Dungy. I have to admit, before reading the article, I had never heard of Camille. Now, I’m seeking out her work. And as I read her interview, I felt compelled to pull out my pen and underline some of her insights. They resonated with me in my reflections of my simple desires. Here’s is one in particular that stood out:

“Look, life is one long terror from the birth canal to the hospice house. In between there are a few moments where you think you know what you’re doing and you can rest. But, of course, you don’t and you can’t. I have chosen not to be afraid of writing into that terror.”

Okay, perhaps to look at life as one long terror might come across as frightening and depressing, but there is truth here. None of us really know where we’re heading. We’re all just doing our best, and at times the road can be pretty scary.

fork in the road

Embrace the possibility of not knowing which way to go next.

Of course there are times when we feel we have some clarity, and we get excited and start running down the path like excited little children, leaping and skipping freely along the way. Until suddenly we don’t anymore, and the path splits into five possible directions, and terror rears its ugly head again because the choices are overwhelming and we can’t see what lurks around the corner. Sometimes the path is dark and menacing, or foggy and murky. But that’s what life is. That’s the journey and it’s up to us to decide how we’ll walk our path – in terror of the unknowing allowing it to paralyze us to stay in one spot, or to become in love with it and embrace the unknowing for all of its possibility.

Recently, as you can tell from my last blog post, I’ve been choosing the former. I’ve been frozen on the path, having no idea which way to go next. But, after writing that post, I finally invited Ariadne back into the ring with me, and together we’ve pulled some good punches on Anders. He’s not looking so buff anymore 🙂

I have finally realized that having no idea which way to go next is actually a very beautiful and empowering thing. The beauty of reaching “no idea” – absolutely having no idea – means you are now open to any idea, and you therefore have to live in faith because there is no other choice. Faith is free. It frees us to be more than we thought possible and releases us from a need to know.

When I let Ariadne back in and embraced my not knowing, my world instantly opened up and we finally brought Anders to his knees. But man, did I resist it and I allowed myself to wallow in my terror of not knowing, begging for answers, frantically seeking for anyone/anything to show me a clear direction to take. But my path – everyone’s path – is ever evolving and sometimes you need to go through the “I have no idea” stage because the answer cannot yet be given. You have to just take one more step and then another one, letting go and trusting that that path will become clear again. All you have to do is keep moving forward.

So, my new simple desire is to have absolutely no idea, but to be committed to taking one more step, and with that, I can once again be free and open to new possibility and light.