Reflections on The Road Not Taken – Part II

Frost-Book-Cover

I decided to take a slightly different approach on this post and write it as a story. This is a follow up to the post earlier this week on this poem. Above is a picture of the actual book that I am referring to in the post. I hope you enjoy.

A Love Affair is Born

Exuberance echoed through the sunny, spring afternoon as the newly released poured out into the parking lot like wrongly accused prisoners finally released after years of fighting their charges. It was the last day of high school and as I stood on the curb, I felt the past four years of distrust, mental and physical anguish, racism and classism that ruled the halls of the school wash away.

I was free and relieved knowing that I would never lurk the halls of the dilapidated and depressing building. Yet there was a gnawing feeling of missed opportunities and regrets that hung over my head as I looked back at the school.

The senior parking lot was bustling with excited graduates ready for the challenges of life beyond the confinement of this rite of passage referred to as the high school years.  Everyone was saying their goodbyes, exchanging phone numbers, and making plans for connecting over the summer. This was the age before cell phones, texting, Facebook, and other social media capabilities. Without someone’s phone number or physical address, there was a good chance that you might never see them again.

That fact became even more evident as one of my regrets and missed opportunities walked out of the school passing by the small groups that gathered along the sidewalk. She was someone that I had been infatuated with for the past four years, but never had the guts to approach in any more capacity than  a passing friendship.

Julie’s long, straight, blond hair swayed and glimmered in the sun as she sauntered with her surfer girl swagger. She epitomized the surfer girl persona that I had ogled over in the surfer magazines. According to my adolescent male mental matchmaker, she was the perfect girl for me. Only, I had never pursued her other than casual conversations in the few classes that we had together.

She paused a few yards away from me just in front of the first line of cars in order to talk to someone. I suddenly felt like the rest of my life would hinge on this moment as if this was my last opportunity to talk to her before she was engulfed by the humming rows of cars that were anticipating escape from this asphalt prison almost as much as the student pouring into them. I was correct that talking to her would affect the rest of my life, but not for the reason that I imagined.

I had no idea where she lived or how to reach her. If I didn’t act now, I would never know if anything would become of the potential beautiful relationship that I had built in my imagination.

This was it. This was my chance. But wait, she was talking with someone else. What if she spurned me or responded with disgust by the idea of giving me her phone number? I would be embarrassed. I would be humiliated and I am sure everyone would know it.

Too bad, I gathered up as much courage as I could muster and approached her.

“Hey Julie”, I said attempting to hide my nerves that I was sure would turn into visible shaking at any second.

“Oh, hey Sean”, she replied happily. That was a good start. She opened the door with her welcoming response.

The three of us proceeded to talk about plans for the summer and any other topic that I could think of to draw the conversation out while keeping her from the clutches of the waiting sea of cars just behind her. I was also hopeful that the other, unwelcome participant in our verbal triad would leave. I could then proceed with my quest with no witnesses to the potential repulsive response from Julie that my mind was drumming up as a worst case scenario.

Nothing doing, the guy wasn’t leaving and the conversation was about to reach its end of normalcy and stray into the strange world of uncomfortable forced conversation. I had to act.

“Hey Julie”, I was going for it; “I was wondering if you wanted to hang out sometime over the summer?”

“Sure that would be great”, she responded enthusiastically.

Wait, no disgusted look on her face. No telling me to get lost or only in my dreams or some other colorful denial of request attack.

“Really, ok cool”, I said attempting to hide the fireworks that were going off in my body.

Of course, I hadn’t thought of having a piece of paper or anything to write her number down.

Without me even having to ask she added, “Why don’t you get my number from Mark and give me a call”. Mark was a mutual friend that I hung out with sometimes and I did have his phone number.

“Great, I will do that. I’ll give you a call.”

“Sounds fun”, see said as we all said our goodbyes and she finally disappeared into the rows of cars and I stood their feeling elated, shocked and once again regretful. If it was that easy, why I waited so many years, I wondered.  Oh well, no matter, I did it.

It was about a week before I got her number and worked up the courage to call her. We did end up going out once and we talked on the phone numerous times. However, much to my disappointment, we were two different people on two different paths in life. After a short time, we stopped calling each other and I never saw her again.

Sounds like a sad ending, but this was actually just the beginning of something much more important than this short, passing relationship. Long since then, I have come to see people pass in and out of my life for different reasons. These reasons are often different than I expected and sometimes for reasons that I never fully understood.

It took me years to realize the reason that our paths had crossed the way that they did. The reason was a small but very significant exchange that we had while talking on the phone one night.

She was a bit of a poetry buff and one night she decided to share with me one of her favorite poems. She read the poem to me and I was instantly attracted to and emotionally moved by the message carried by its words. I immediately wrote down the name of the poem and the author and vowed to find a copy of it for myself.

The poem was “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. This poem conveyed a strong message that deeply influenced me. Up to that point in my life and for many more years to come, I struggled with my own identity and as a result suffered from depression and low self-esteem. This poem opened up the possibility to me that it was ok if I didn’t always fit in or follow that same tune as everyone else. What mattered was that I was following the path in life that was meaningful to me.

A Rekindled Romance

“Daddy, we are learning about poetry in class and I need to find a poem to read for homework”, my seven-year-old daughter said to me in a sweet yet confused voice after dinner.

“You don’t sound excited about that”, I responded

“I am, but I don’t know where to find any poetry”, she said desperately.

“Ah, I have some books that we can look at or we can look on the internet”, I said as she perked up and regained her composure.

“Ok, will you help me”, she asked now excited at the prospect.

“Of course I will.”

I contemplated the best place to look for poetry as we entered the study and approached the desk.

“I know one we can look at”, I exclaimed as I remembered my beloved Robert Frost poetry book on the shelves that lined the wall behind the desk.

I pulled out the familiar book and studied it for a second. It had been twenty-four years since that exchange with Julie when I first heard about this book. The memory of and desire for Julie has long faded, but my love affair with this book and one particular poem still burned bright. In fact, I would say that it has grown over the years.

The cover was well worn and ripped along the lower right corner. The pages had turned a dusty yellow as most old books do. It felt familiar in my hands. It was different than most of the other books that were on the shelf. It seemed to have more character. The pages were thick and ruff and the edges coarse. For the past few years, most of the books that I read were in electronic format and it felt nostalgic to hold this cherished book in my hands.

“This one has my favorite poem inside”, I told my daughter as her eyes lit up at the thought.

“Really, let’s read it.”

“Whatcha guys doing” asked my eleven-year-old son as has walked into the study.

“We are gonna read some poetry for homework. Wanna listen”, I asked. “This book has my favorite poem in it.”

“Cool, sure”, he said as he pulled up an extra chair.

I sat down in the desk chair and my daughter climbed up in my lap and leaned her head back against my shoulder waiting for me to find the poem. My son scooted his chair over next to mine and leaned in on my other shoulder. This was like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting and I loved it. How exciting it was to see my kids interested in hearing my beloved poem.

Several of the pages in the book were dog-eared, but my fingers seemed to remember the exact location of the poem. They opened the book and there it was. The words of this short poem along with a drawing of a sign post pointing two directions was a familiar and welcomed site.

Crossroads

“This is called The Road Not Taken”, I proclaimed.

“Let me read it”, my daughter jumped in.

“Sure thing, that would be great”, I replied. I was tickled by the prospect of hearing those sweet words recited from my daughter’s mouth.

“Two roads…”, she paused and stared at the next word and then looked up at me as if to say give me some help here.

“Diverged”, I added

She started again, “Two roads di…verged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both….”

As she read the rest of the poem, I couldn’t help but gloat at this fatherly moment. There are many moments in my time as a father that I am not proud of retelling. This, however, was one of those beloved moments when I felt that I was raising my own perception of my fathering abilities.

As she finished the poem both of my kids looked at me with a pleased yet perplexed look on their faces. I could tell that the poem needed an explanation.

“What the poem means to me is that everyone lives their life a certain way. Some people choose to follow others and do what everyone else is doing. Some decide to do what they believe is right for themselves even if it is something different than what everyone else is doing or telling them to do. Sometimes like in the poem, you have a choice to do what everyone else is doing or follow your heart and do what you feel is right for you. By doing what is right for you, you will live a much happier and satisfying life. “

“Cool, I like that poem”, chimed in my son.

“Yeah me too, I wanna read it again”, chirped my daughter excitedly. “And can I take this book to school tomorrow to share.”

“Sure, that’s a great idea”, I replied feeling accomplished in my fatherly duties of imparting some wisdom on my kids.

My daughter proceeded to read the poem three more times and then take the book to bed with her. I was happy that my kids connected with the poem and I felt reunited with an old friend. The poem was once again rattling around in my head and its meaning became even clearer to me than in the past.

Later that night, I walked into my daughter’s room to check on her before going to bed. There she lay sound asleep with innocence that sleeping children typically display. She was snuggled up in her blankets with stuffed animals neatly positioned around her like servants patiently awaiting their next command.

Tucked into one arm was her favorite stuffed cow and in the other hand lay something quite familiar. She held the poetry book tightly against her chest like a cherished friend.

As she quietly slept, I stood there observing her and thinking about how the message of the poem had influenced my life. Many decisions that I have made in my life and meaningful experiences that I have had I attribute to this lesson from this poem of taking paths less traveled.

Marrying my beautiful wife and spiritual partner and journeying into the wild and wooly world of parenthood, moving half way across the country on a whim and settling down in a new state, running a marathon, participating in triathlons, flying in a twin-engine plane over an active volcano, skydiving, surfing in a hurricane charged ocean, hiking to the tops of numerous Colorado 14ers, trying to start my own business, starting down a spiritual path, and starting this blog are all examples of where I have stepped off the safe and comfortable road and took a chance on something that was more meaningful to me.

Eventually, I will be fully committed to the path not traveled and let go of the well-traveled road that I have been resistant to let out of my sight…and that will make all the difference.

For the full poem, see the previous post.

Related Posts

  1. Jonathon Hilton on The Road Not Taken
Advertisements

46th Verse – Peace of Contentment

Source: imgfave.com via Mia on Pinterest

When the world has the Way,
running horses are retired to till the fields.
When the world lacks the Way,
warhorses are bred in the countryside.

There is no greater loss than losing the Tao,
no greater curse than covetousness,
no greater tragedy than discontentment;
the worst of faults is wanting more-always.

Contentment alone is enough.
Indeed, the bliss of eternity can be found in your contentment.

Contentment is the secret to happiness and peace. All that you need is to be content with what you have, who you are, what is occurring in the current moment and whom you have in your life. That is it. Nothing else is needed to be happy and to be at peace.

Discontentment is the cause of all suffering. Simply by wanting something or someone to be different or feeling that something is needed in order to feel happiness causes suffering. You suffer until that thing that you think you need is attained or that situation is changed. However, the desire that existed does not become satisfied. Instead, it turns to the next thing that is needed or something else that needs to change. It is never satisfied and suffering continues.

Discontentment is also the reason for mankind’s tendency towards acts of war. Without contentment, there is a constant need for more power. This leads to a desire to rule over others, to conquer and to obtain that which someone else has.

What Lao-Tzu is saying here is that when humankind is content and in tune with the Way, weapons are not needed and available resources (the example of horses is used in the verse) are turned towards the creation and support of life. When humankind is discontent and out of touch with the Way, those resources become used for the conquering and destruction of others.

Imagine a world where all of the resources, time and energy that are used in the preparation and execution of war where instead placed on the betterment and support of life. Imagine if the intelligence that was focused on more advanced and more destructive weapons was instead turned to the eradication of disease.

All that is needed for this to be a reality is contentment. That alone is enough.

44th Verse – Get off the Treadmill of Want

Source: fitsugar.com via Katie on Pinterest

Which means more to you, your name or your renown?
Which brings more to you, you or what you own?
I say what you gain is more trouble than what you lose.

Love is the fruit of sacrifice.
Wealth is the fruit of generosity.

A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop is preserved from peril,
only thus can you endure long.

What are you putting emphasis on in your life? On your true self or on the person that relies on the approval and acceptance of others? On the person that is connected to everything and has everything needed or on the person who needs more and more material things to feel complete?

If you are putting more emphasis on getting more acclaim from others and more things, then, according to this verse, you are only looking for more trouble. What does this mean? If you reliant on outside things and people for your happiness and satisfaction, then you are going to be constantly disappointed. In addition, once you get that approval you are seeking or that object that you think you need, that will soon not be enough and you will then need the next person’s approval or the next bigger thing.

By gaining these things, you are losing because you are allowing those things to define you.When things define you, they are never enough and when you lose them, which you will, you lose your definition.

Love and wealth come to those that give without the need for retribution. What is wealth in this context? Wealth is a well lived life full of love, happiness and contentment.

“A contented man is never disappointed” because his (or her) satisfaction is not tied to any particular outcome. He/she sees the beauty in whatever is offered. He/she is grateful for what already exists and understand that everything and everyone is already connected, so there is no need for want and nothing is really ever missing.

The last two lines refer to knowing when to “stop”. This means to know when to get off of the constant treadmill of want and lacking. The desire for more and feeling that something is missing is a never ending cycle. Under this mindset, once something is gained, more is wanted.

By knowing when to get off that treadmill, one removes suffering and unhappiness.

Don’t Look for it; It’s Already There

Shoshoni Yoga RetreatThis is a post that I started over the summer, but never finished. For some reason I felt compelled to complete it and post it today.

I am writing this post as I stare out my window at the snow covered trees and buildings that surround my one room cabin nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains. I have been spending two days at the Shoshoni Yoga Retreat. After a day of meditation, yoga and reflection in the peaceful, remote forest setting, I revisited some of the experiences from the day.

Earlier in the day, the yoga instructor opened the class with a statement about how the happiness that we seek is within us already. It is not somewhere outside that requires a certain set of circumstances in order to be realized. If we want to find it, we simply look within.

We tend to tie our happiness to extrinsic things, people or situations. We say that I will be happy if I get that new car or if my mate is in a good mood or if my boss doesn’t give me a hard time today.

In those scenarios, the happiness we feel is not from those things or those situations. It is drawn out from within us. We had it there all along. We just thought that we needed someone or something to help us pull it out.

If the happiness is already there, then we didn’t really need that external situation in order to feel the emotion. We could have just felt it on our own.

Try this simple exercise (This is something that I learned more recently at the 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course):

Close your eyes and take a few minutes to focus your attention on your breath. Feel the breath coming in and out of your nostrils. Let any thoughts that come to your mind come and go. Don’t fight them and don’t follow them. Just notice them and let them pass. Once you are ready, bring a situation from your past to your attention that made you very happy. Don’t just see it, but be in that situation again. Feel the sensations in your body, hear the sounds that were around you and smell the scents that were in the air. Really be in that situation. Feel the happiness rise in your body and focus on that sensation. Give the sensation all your attention and energy and allow that feeling to grow. If you put yourself wholly in that situation, you will be able to feel that happiness fill your entire body.

What does this exercise prove? It proves that the happiness you seek is just a thought away.

Practice this exercise on a regular basis and learn to flex your happiness muscle. As you get better at this, you will find that you can perform this same exercise at any time you need it and not just when you are meditating.

By the way, this same exercise can work for any emotion that you want to feel; peace, love, contentment, etc.

I use this at the end of my daily meditation practice. I spend a minute or two on three different emotions; peace, love and happiness. It ends my meditation on a beautiful note and puts me in a pleasant state of mind to face the day.

Don’t let the bird poop ruin your view

Source: wallcoo.com via Lynn on Pinterest

It was a beautiful day today. The sky was blue, the air was warm and the sun was bright. Driving home from after yet another crappy workday, I was stopped at a traffic light. As I waited for the light to change and was tired of watching all the cars rushing around in a hurried attempt to get somewhere they desperately needed to be, I glanced up at the bright blue sky through my sunroof. I starred at the fluffy and wispy white clouds that looked like cotton strung across a blue background.

Sitting at the intersection starring at the sky seemed like an eternity and I didn’t want it to end. It was inviting and comforting. It was like the beauty of the universe smiling at me.

Just before the light turned green and my moment of euphoria was about to end I tilted my head back even further and my gaze swept towards the sky further behind me. As I did I noticed something on the glass of the sunroof towards the back.

The building where I work sits in an area that is notorious for geese. For some strange reason they hang out there all year long. While most birds fly south for the winter, these geese lazily stay in the same place throughout the seasons. They make nests in the window wells and planters. They begrudgingly lay in the middle of the roads and sidewalks. They complain to passers by. And they sit on top of cars parked in the parking lot as if they were placed there like couches in ones living room.

Of course with geese comes geese poop. I was enjoying the beautiful view of nature’s glory and there in the way was a slathering of geese poop between me and my view of the sky.

The light changed and the tragic started to desperately move again and as I drove away from the intersection I had a thought. That bird poop daringly clinging to the slick glass of my sunroof was like the negative thoughts that tend to plague me and ruin the view of my life.

“Don’t let the bird poop ruin your view on things”, I thought. I decided that the negative, defeating, and draining thoughts that tend to come into my mind would from now on be referred to as bird poop.

The beauty of the sky hadn’t changed. The bird poop has just gotten in the way of me seeing it. The beauty of life never changes either. It’s just the bird poop on my brain that gets in the way of me seeing it.

So when the negativity hits, I know that it is just bird poop in the way and once I remove it, a beautiful world is waiting behind.

Change inside and the outside will follow.

Sunset

Every set back or dip in the road is merely an opportunity to learn; to stretch yourself a little bit further; to step closer to your true self. I have spent the last few weeks in one of those dips. Feeling trapped by the disappointments in life. Feeling forlorn and (as my wife calls it) throwing a pity party for myself.

As it typically happens, I am coming out of that better off than before. Ready to take that next step and be better from the journey. I learned an important lesson. One that I hope to carry forth into moments to come. The lesson is:

The changes that I want to make to myself must be made now in my current situation and settings. I mustn’t waste energy on trying to adapt the situations and settings to make my internal changes easier.

I feel stuck in job that I don’t like. When I look back I think I have felt that way for most of the past fifteen years that I have been in that career. I now know that the career is not what I am here to do. It is not my passion. That’s OK, it pays the bills and … well it is a job. Many people don’t have that problem. I can start to make changes towards something that is more in alignment with my passions in life. The important thing is to not feel despondent because I am stuck. I am not; it will just take time to make the changes.

I feel stuck in a house that I don’t like living in. Don’t get me wrong it is a beautiful home and a wonderful part of the world. However, my house has the unfortunate feature of being located between the homes of two of the biggest @$$holes I have had the pleasure to know. This has caused me a lot of grief. I want to live in a situation that brings peace and love, not animosity and constant negativity.

However, I have come to know that I am in this situation for a reason. Those neighbors are here to teach me that I need to learn to let go of my own anger. Instead of running from it and trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist. I need to look it square in the face, thank it for helping me to get where I am in my life, and then let it leave with its bags packed. Being in the situation that I am in allows me to confront that part of me.

So the important thing is that I don’t need to wait until the external situations are a certain way. I need to make the changes within me now in my current situation. The situations will handle themselves. I can’t control them. The only thing that I have control over is how I am in the situations that present themselves to me.

Am I living in peace…in love…in joy? That is really all that matters. The rest will catch up when the time is right.