Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 131 - Embracing The Unknown

Today I spent a lot of time thinking about life.

Specifically how to live it. Or more like trying to explain why I do what I do. Mostly to myself.

I was thinking of the other day when after a wonderfully dangerous romp on a new trail I emerged unscathed, only to bruise my foot on a rock in the middle of a sidewalk.

The trail is unpredictable, non-uniform, challenging, an unknown. Yet despite all of that, while I was on the trail, I was not only unhurt, but exhilarated, and alive, and aware of every molecule of my surroundings.

The road and sidewalks are uniform and predictable and safe. And they put us to sleep. Our instincts go numb. So numb, for example, that we might not see the only rock in 400 yards, alone, in the middle of the sidewalk.

I am at home on the unpredictable, challenging trails of life, with the unknown as my companion.

Who knows what is around the next bend? Only one way to find out.

I don't know if I can do this? Only one way to find out.

(I smell a big ol' metaphor coming on...)

Facing challenges and the unknown is how we find ourselves. We need to test our limits to understand what we are capable of.

The footing isn't always sure...

Sometimes you'll slip and slide and even fall down.

You'll face obstacles, but that's half the fun.

The question is what do you do when they present themselves? Do turn around, retreating back to what you know?

Or do you press forward until you find a way around?

Someone or something will always try to block your path. Do you give in?

Or do you find another way, a less traveled (and in this case considerably more prickly) path, just to see what opportunities it presents?

Perhaps another way forward.

A much more interesting way forward.

A much more challenging, and exciting, and thrilling way forward.

(And maybe a chance for a dorky self-portrait 8 feet above the creek.)

If you take the unpredictable path, it's going to get a lot messier than the uniform, safe path.

Yes, those streaks are from my fingers clawing for grip.

(Pardon the french that I am about to abbreviate...) So the F what? Figuratively speaking here... If you're not getting dirty, if you're not skinning a knee, if you're not bruised, then you are living your life in a coma.

Image this as any other obstacle in your life...

You need to get to the other side, safely. What do you do? What path do you take? Go ahead, trace the path with your finger?

Did you make it across? I did too.

In my case, I ignored the stones; too easy to turn an ankle. I ran right through the water on the left. I didn't care if my feet got wet. The object was to get across safely. That was the safe route, the route that gave me the best chance to continue on this most excellent run.

If you chose the stones, ask yourself why? Why did dry mean safe?

What if you're on this unpredictable journey, and you suddenly come upon the uniform, everyday world (in this metaphor represented by the wide, manicured, main path back to civilization)?

There it is. Do you feel relieved? Do you rush to it, back to the safe, back to the known and predictable?

Or do you turn around and go back into the woods?

If you went back into the woods, you got this...

Newly fallen trees blocking the path. Or what I like to call an opportunity to see what I'm made of.

This is not sidewalks and cross walks and lights telling you when to cross. This is not a flat, uniform, stripe down the middle of an asphalt path along what used to be a railroad. This is a thin strip of dirt worn by animals through the random nature that we spend so much money and energy and time insulating ourselves from.

What else do you insulate yourself from? New neighbors? That restaurant with the funny name? Do you stick with the safe job, safe friends, safe neighborhood?

Does the unknown intimidate you, or excite you? When you're faced with an experience that you aren't sure of, or a relationship that challenges you, or a job that extends you, do you jump at it, or away from it?

We are a domesticated breed. To find our true nature, we need to be challenged. We need obstacles to get around. We need challenges to overcome. We need to step out of the comfortable.

But, eventually, unless you're an off-the-grid back-to-nature hippy, you need to return to the predictable world. That's where the money is. And the schools.

If you're lucky, at the margin, you have a view like this...

And if you're really lucky, you have a cool (piddly-) run-off to clean the mud off of your shoes.

Take the time, make the opportunity to step out of the comfort of your daily life. It doesn't have to be a trail, just somewhere that isn't predictable. Somewhere that you aren't comfortable. Somewhere that has your senses peaked and your awareness spiked and has you wondering every second what will happen next.

Test your limits. See what you can do when you're at those limits. Find out what you're made of.

Good running,

Numbers: 2.7 miles of muddy trails and about 20 feet of fallen log.