THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED may sound more exotic or more romantically enticing to those among us who wish an escape from the busy beaten path and desirous of excitement and adventure, but the road long traveled is the one that results in wisdom.
Wisdom is what comes from the accumulation of insights into life based on personal experience. Yes, a single adventure can give us a mighty lesson, but the more we glean insight into the day to day world, into the so-called “grind”, into the kinds of events that most of us spend years experiencing, the more we come to understand what is truly important and valuable in this world.
A single adventure, in contrast, may be fantastically thrilling and fun, but it can only contribute in a minor way to one’s overall sense of fulfilment in life.
In fact, there are great lessons to be gleaned from living routine lives. For example, we discover that we virtually need to get along with others as we are all in the same proverbial boat and mostly up against the same challenging struggles: each of us needs to make a living, to stay healthy, to build significant relationships with others and to pursue a bit of pleasure for ourselves.
Feeling empathy for others, however, is what makes us feel best and rightfully so; if we empathize with others, they tend to empathize with us. This is both a scientific and a spiritual fact: positive and loving actions generate the release of “feel good” chemicals in the body that promote health, happiness and a sense of wellbeing.
Meanwhile, learning to go the distance teaches us to hone character traits such as resilience, reliability, integrity, honesty, charity and compassion, all of which illuminate and enrich us.
Greed and selfishness, on the other hand, ultimately become a detriment to people. They cause a person to feel constrictions in the body. Why do greed and selfishness constrict a person? Because enough is never enough for the greedy and because selfishness is all about ego. Others can plainly see that and it usually repels them. Unfortunately, at the end of the day the greedy generally stand alone, which leaves them feeling bitter about the fact that others see them in such a dark, unflattering light. This is why it is important to learn this lesson early in life and develop generosity of spirit.
As for those of us growing ever more mature in age, the road long traveled teaches us to appreciate how the events of our life have shaped us as we look back. It can show us that hindsight is the clearest of all perceptions, for in retrospect one can plainly see causes and their consequences with startling clarity. We, thereby, get to know ourselves better and can adapt our behavior accordingly as we make our way into the future.
Among the many truths to be discovered are that working long hours, fighting relentlessly for what we want, persisting through thick and thin for certain ends, forces us to grow as people.
Some repetitive events deplete us, of course, but most deepen us in some way: lessons are learned and insights are gained.
Few of us live entirely charmed lives, nor do most of us suffer for untold years. What generally happens is that we get a mix of good and bad in our lives. We get circumstances and events, some of which are exhilarating and some of which are dispiriting. We encounter people along the way who treat us with kindness and compassion, and those that disrespect us and abuse us either emotionally or physically.
When it comes to the road long traveled, we encounter almost every possible circumstance, which is why it is fortuitous to live a long and challenging life, and to pack in as much experience and as many epiphanies as we can.
Along the way, truth can set us free, but only if we understand that what we humans seek is already within us.
Nevertheless, life is meant to be journey outward that eventually brings us full circle, not back to where we started, but to a level that comes from traveling upon an upward spiral to a higher vantage point.
In brief, long years on the winding road of life is what expands us and ultimately fulfills us.
As Ursula K LeGuin once put it: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
The journey itself is the mythical gold of the gods. It is what truly enriches us. So relax and enjoy the ride. Arriving at some fantastic end point is not what life is all about. At any given moment, we are meant to be right where we are. All we have to do is appreciate that and make the most of it!
Indeed, simply appreciating the fact that we are alive on Planet Earth is already the beginning of wisdom.