on risking misteps and ‘wrong’ paths

How is it that you can be going along, handling things reasonably well, having a pretty good bead on your own innards and plans—only to be startled awake by a strange, nearly feral twin inside your skin, and not a silent, observing twin, either: a curious, hungry being who’s been sidelined for so long it doesn’t even know its own name? This twin wakes the rest of you from your comforting slumber—never mind the ungodly hour or imposition—and the practiced ways in which you have been going about your life shatter like thousands of glass shards around your bare, tender feet. They are unaccustomed to glass. You’ve tended to keep them shod and out of harm’s way, after all.

But now life calls for a step onto the raw, bleeding edge, so you do it: you take the plunge, risk your pride, figure Oh what the hell?! And then you fall splat on your face, knowing unnerving things about yourself that you not only did not know—but never could have imagined—before. It’s an odd feeling, that kind of heady, rude awakening and pratfall on the floor of your being.

A spiritual teacher reminded me recently how important it is sometimes to risk everything and to break out of your own accepted givens, to seek a new path without compass, guide, or map, only questions and curiosities and a great undiminished passion for living fully while here. For being fully alive and not just halfway or, worse yet, asleep. Growth is painful, astonishingly so. Taking a huge step and coming down on shards, though, is one mighty fine way to wake the heck up. That path you espied may well be the bassackwards wrong one. You may well learn that in the first footfall. You may feel humiliated, and the cuts may bleed, but you also have the opportunity to make the second footfall count: to put it on an entirely unknown path, one never espied or imagined, only sought for in stride, headed for lord only knows what (and no lords are tellin’ yet!), just not in either of the sleepy or wide-awake places you thought you were in or aiming for seconds earlier.

There is a peculiar and wide grace in being a human open to All That Is. Nothing hurts any less, nothing comes any easier, nothing makes any more sense, no. But you get to appreciate the rude awakenings and even your blundering misunderstandings and the knuckleheaded missteps you took while deepening your walk with your own soul. Women in the early republic of these United States often kept journals, and some of them wrote about their “dark nights of the soul” in language that conveys the miseries, the anguishes to which such nights bear witness. Modern society has all sorts of gadgets and cheap entertainments to keep our minds in superficial shallows, to make both the dark nights and the soul of no import.

I distrust any path, any tendency that takes me aside from such troubles. I embrace these dark nights, these rude awakenings, and every single misstep I have taken or ever will take. I am a spirit fortunate enough to be having a human experience for these short years. I don’t want to get things right all the time or never screw up or never need to be awakened rudely to something I have forgotten about me. It is no mark against my soul that I try and fail, and take my second step bloody but unbowed and onto a wholly different path of which I know nought. It is only a signal that I am still breathing, with more to learn, more awakenings ahead, more questions with no answers, more pain with no succor, more joy with no limits. That is a remarkably loving thing to realize on this side of the grave. We humans all walk in the valley of the shadow of death every day whether we know it or not. Realizing that every jot of the walk is the whole journey? That’s grace, free and alighting upon our blundering heads, precisely as sunlight finds its way into dark rooms. I wish you an abundance of these graces.

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