It’s very easy to find yourself on a loop. It may be a nice loop, but it’s a closed circuit nonetheless and the opportunities for growth and change will be inherently limited. In order to grow we have to be prepared to step off the loop, to embrace the unfamiliar, the road less travelled.
For the last 7 years my wife and I have lived in the outer hills of Melbourne and for much of this time we’ve stuck to a handful of walking routes. There are lovely back streets full of lovely trees and rough walking paths. Most of the houses have no fences or walls to speak of. Some days we see the imprints of horses hooves or hear the calling of a pet peacock or the deep rhythmic calls of a Tawny Frogmouth. We have a shorter and a longer version of the walks, including one that takes us past a big old paddock used to agist several horses – well it did until a few weeks ago. Sadly the block has been sold to developers who will no doubt build either luxurious ‘McMansions’ or some cooky cutter townhouses.
Well a couple of weeks ago, I had the urge to explore some other options. I wondered, what lay down the other streets that we normally just walk past or ignore altogether? First we walked down a couple of streets very close to us and found a little park and a street that looked directly across to the far off hills. Then we started exploring streets in the other directions.
The effect was really interesting. It felt like we were rediscovering our area. We were literally getting a whole new perspective on things. The area is full of gardens, many of them quite lovely and reflecting an array of personal styles. Much more than simply walking, we were discovering the opportunities that had always surrounded us which until this time our loop had kept us from.
There was even more to this though. As I’ve written about earlier, we’ve been undergoing massive internal changes before and since the birth of our boy nearly 3 months ago. Well, the old loops that we’ve walked so often in the past, while still useful and lovely, have felt different since Will’s birth, like something from our old life, something that was relevant to a past version of ourselves, but not as relevant to our new reality. Stepping onto these new paths felt like we were matching this change in our lives with our environment. I have been struggling to put my finger on it, but it feels good. I should add, this was in part motivated by the need to find more routes that could accommodate walking with a pram!
On one of our recent night walks, when we stopped to look across to the nearby hills, I remembered Robert Frost’s lovely poem, Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening (1922).
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I don’t want to say anything much about this, it’s just a chance to share part of the poem. More appropriate to this subject is his earlier poem, The Road Not Taken from 1915.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
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,
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.
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 travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
These poems have stuck with me since we read them in High School. I enjoyed them then, and their gentle musing on the choices we make in life has stayed with me ever since. I don’t want to even attempt to break them down, but The Road not Taken feels even more pertinent than ever these days. Stepping into a new phase of life demands that we embrace different paths. Indeed I think it’s fair to say that both the map and the compass have changed completely.
Refusal to step off the old loop, refusal to acknowledge that a new map is in play and that there is a new True North is almost certain to lead to stagnation and decline.
Stepping off the old loops is essential for growth and learning and I believe this is true in every part of life. In order to really grow we have to be willing to explore and to be guided by our curiosity, even when this is sparked by necessity, like the need to find more pram-friendly walking paths. This doesn’t mean that we have to abandon the old ways completely. Rather, I find that my appreciation for them is increased. Indeed, if either of us wants to go on a solo walk we still take the more rugged back roads.
So when you step out tomorrow, I invite you to try something new, just for the sake of it. Like it or not, you’ll learn and grow just from the experience. Then, if you like, share your experience below.