On the Path and Off the Trail: Finding Ourselves

On the Path and Off the Trail: Finding Ourselves

Overnight, summer returned to the Monterey Peninsula, meaning that temperatures plummeted and the offshore “marine layer” rolled in, creating a foggy, cool world requiring me to don a jacket to keep warm.

In the quiet of the morning, I found myself feeling blue in spirit, partly from the return of grey weather when my chilled bones yearn only for sunshine and warmth, but also due to a confluence of other factors — like the ongoing rejections from literary agents not interested in a ‘gay’ narrative, wrestling with my own notions of success and failure, and the perpetual process of reeling back my expectations of how I think life ought to be at this stage of the journey as opposed to how it really is. Despite the perceived challenges facing me, I have been pleasantly free of my shadow and angst for a while, yet it caught me again in the coastal fog and gloom, trailing a cold finger down my spine. 

Foggy morning on the front deck

Feeling uninspired and wrapped in a cloak of soft blue, I stepped outdoors into the misty coastal air and spent half an hour barefoot on the earth, moving through my daily Qigong routine. It always helps to energize and uplift, and I did feel lightened and less dark afterwards, but still couldn’t quite shake my melancholy.

Maybe I’ll go walk in the valley and find some sun, I thought, knowing that the marine layer of clouds doesn’t penetrate far inland, and just a few miles away a bold, bright summer shines as it bakes the dry earth. 

Multiple times weekly, I’ve been hiking in nearby Garland Ranch regional park in Carmel Valley, escaping the coastal clouds. It is one of the places I go to “rewild” myself, and commune with the biosentient entity we call Earth. Roaming the dusty trails amid fragrant chaparral and gnarled oaks, and even back home at the cottage, lately I’ve found myself musing on what it means to walk a path, both literally and figuratively.

We often speak of the “path” or “trail” as a metaphor for our existence, vocabulary that still reflects the days when life entailed journeys by foot or on horseback, when a network of unpaved arteries connected human communities. Paths led everywhere — or nearly. Whether they were clearly traveled, well worn, and marked with signposts and mileage markers, or faint and overgrown, they were (are) something that can be followed. At least in a general sense they are linear, leading somewhere, even if they meander while following the graceful curves of topography, and they have direction.

This is opposed to being off the path, which is everything else… like wildness, foraging, and being lost. If you are a hunter or gatherer, or simply an explorer, being “off the path” is generally good and where you’ll likely find what you’re looking for. Paths carry us to a destination, but there’s often much less to be found along the way (the other passersby have already stripped it clean).

For most of us, the path is what we tend to look for and follow through life. Even when it leads uphill, it’s easier than scrambling over boulders and fallen trees, finding our way along the stream, moving through the forest, thickets, and mountains. A track also indicates that someone (perhaps many people) have passed this way before, and likely will do so again — which can be good news in terms of interaction, support, guidance, or even rescue. And at least in a vague manner, the trail tells us we’re not entirely lost, even if we’re unsure where we are headed or will end up.

I’ve been feeling lately that I am wandering alternately on and off the path (this is not necessarily a new phenomenon for me). In choosing to return to the work and identity of a healer  [read “A Return to Center: Welcoming the Healer“], and to focus those efforts on GBT men and the archetype of the Sacred Masculine for our greater, collective healing, I’m not exactly sure where I am headed. The e-course I am developing is entirely uncharted territory (at least in the sense of creating a new media structure for my material), and there is the strong sense that I must also embrace more of my shamanic practioner work, working more closely with plants and Nature.

I’m off the trail and any map, which feels both exhilarating and a bit daunting. Am I heading in the right direction? Will it pay my bills (not that writing does)? At the very least, will the course eventually cover its own costs for development? What is it like to simply hold the center space of not knowing and go forward regardless?

The lonely trail

Simultaneously, I am pressing on with the search for a literary agent and publisher for my newest book manuscript. It is a path I have walked before (ending up with a publisher but not an agent), an uphill climb well worn by others who have passed along the same way, each carrying their bundle of dreams. The long ascent is a tiring and discouraging one, at least until the golden moment that someone finally says ‘yes’ to the work, when it feels like you have finally reached the elusive shrine or temple high upon the mountain. Welcomed into the warmth of that candlelit sanctuary, food and drink and companionship awaiting, you feel, if only briefly, that the arduous trek was worth it after all. Maybe even that you would do it again.

Some days I am on the track, other times I’m off of it. Writing itself is a path of sorts. These days I see my work with words less as an identity (i.e. “writer”) and more as simply a trail to follow, for a path can also be a practice. I have often said this weekly journal is a soul practice: showing up at the page (the posts are all written longhand initially), and then offering those words forward as a gift (hopefully) of insight. Again and again. I’m unclear exactly of my destination, and it does seem that I wander quite a bit even within the parameters of this column — and it always seems to lead uphill — yet onward I go.

On the path and off the trail while feeling blue, inspiration as lacking as the blue sky outside, in the late afternoon I found myself putting out a new post for my SacredMasculinity blog, seeking to offer some healing words to others even when I felt less than inspired myself. Another offering to the Larger Story. By the time evening drew to its close, though the summer night seemed decidedly autumnal with fog drifting amid the trees and swirling around the dark eaves of houses, I felt better. Restored, somewhat. Back on the track, somehow, and climbing again. (It never ends, at least not in the foreseeable future.) As it so often does, writing helped set things right. 

Friend, whether you find yourself on a clear path that others have traveled but you’re looking for inspiration for the continued trek, or whether you’re off the trail — perhaps unexpectedly, as with unforeseen events and soul crisis —  may you find grace and beauty in the moment. The ray of sunshine that suddenly illuminates the trembling green leaf, as if it were lit from within by sacred fire, that stops you in your tracks. A gentle breeze upon your upturned face, hearing the birds twittering in the trees around you….  regardless of being in the metaphorical brambles, woods, or a sunny meadow.

On the trail or off the track, sure of your direction or utterly lost, it is only your heart that can guide you — even when it seems an unlikely way, or an entirely untraveled route. (Perhaps especially then.) As Soul Artists, we are trailblazers and hunters of paths, venturing ever deeper into our authenticity, searching for the gift that is ours to offer to the Larger Story.

Here’s hoping you will find the deep soul courage and conviction to keep climbing, appreciating whatever beauty you encounter, and feel strangely glad that you came this way after all.