It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. In the time since I last wrote a proper post, the fields have been scattered with seed, sprouted, matured, ripened and harvested. Wheat, maize, acres of tall yellow sprays of rapeseed. I have been on a bit of an inward journey…struggling with some obstacles that have surely been building for many years. The urge to write, and share with a wider world has been low. Rather I have been shrinking inward, shying away from being seen.
When times are a little rough I find great solace in walking in nature. At any time of day, a walk through field or forest uplifts me so much. My eyes feel as if they drink in the spectrum of earthy colour. Texture, sound, light – each a medicine in its own right.
The paths around my house are well trodden by me now. After almost three decades of living in this little green patch on the edge of London, I have walked nearly every footpath nearby there is. Some loop, some contain uphill stretches or collide with school runs or commuters depending on the time of day. I choose my route depending on the time and the weather, and how much time I have. I know them all like old friends. Sometimes though, I seek a new path – somewhere I’ve never been.
The other day I went into the field at ‘the golden hour’. In traditional Indian culture this is called ‘godhuli’ time – literally ‘cow dust’ – the time that the cows come home from the fields, filling the air with the dust kicked up by their hooves. I did find some cows, though they were peacefully grazing and paid no attention to me as I passed. I walked the well trodden course through the newly harvested field of wheat, and was just about to enter the forest, when I noticed that to my left a neat, straight channel had been cut through the razed crop by the machinery. Recently I have been feeling confused about my life direction, so this straight path seemed almost like a promise of something sure and true.
I left the footpath and began. I couldn’t see where the channel ended – the field stretched out before me for what looked like miles. I felt a thrill at walking somewhere ‘I wasn’t supposed to’. Maybe it’s an English thing. Breaking the rules a little bit, 1950s schoolgirl style. Flocks of white birds simmered over the field, eating up fallen grain. Two falcons soared and dove overhead. I felt pleased with myself – I congratulated myself for taking a path less travelled. Perhaps these were signs boding the end of a long period of indecision in my life.
Within a short time I realised the field wasn’t as long as it first seemed, and I had come back to the designated footpath. A large tractor trawled through the next field over, ploughing up the land and sending the birds shooting up into the sky. It roared closer, and I could see the young man in the driving seat. As he neared, he stopped the engine and opened the cab door—
“There’s no public footpath over there!”
“Where?” I asked, a little confused at his aggravated expression.
“Where you’ve just walked! You can’t just walk anywhere, just stay on the path!” He slammed the door shut and swung the tractor around.
For a moment I shrugged it off but then I realised that I felt a little chastened. Somehow his words provoked some deeper thought in me. Why did I need to take another path? Why did I need to walk off the beaten track? Was it just about being independent, or being too bored with the old routes?
It’s a natural human tendency to always seek something new and different – we always think it will bring fresh joy or pleasure. I realised that I tend to want my choices to reinforce my individuality, and unique character – be it my choice of phone cover, or the way I speak. It’s often unappealing to me to do the same things that everyone does, wear the same clothes, walk the same ways, think the same ideas. Sometimes I’m quite proud of that I think…but lately I’ve been realising more and more, the depth and power of sticking to the ways that have been mapped by great masters, and the ultimate irrelevance of having to assert one’s uniqueness and individuality all the time.
Tried and tested doesn’t mean tired and boring, but nevertheless it takes discernment to know which path to take – sometimes the way recommended by saints and seers of old, is not the one which the majority of people are walking on. It takes introspection to know whether we are taking ‘the road less travelled’ as an act of independence, or of surrender.
It reminded me of a famous poem by Robert Frost:
1. The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20