Every once in a while I find myself hiking the Dish, a nearly-four-mile loop in the Stanford Hills, where seemingly all of Palo Alto and the neighboring communities come for a taste of nature and some daily exercise. An eclectic crowd: healthful Stanford students, mothers pushing strollers, athletic women in sports bras, shirtless sweating men, joggers, hikers, people of all sizes and shapes, even irritable-looking children. Like a London height-of-the-season promenade, the Dish is the place to people-watch and be seen, and it is all too easy to fall into comparing myself — my pace, my level of fitness — with those of the other hikers and joggers there.
Sadly, the comparison nearly always falls short. I would like to sing songs of my glory, but I am a slow hiker, and my fate at the Dish is to be passed by. Worse, I often see the same joggers or hikers twice. I am not just passed, but lapped! Lapped by younger, sexier, fitter looking individuals! And it doesn’t help to remind myself that I’ve climbed mountains, or excuse myself by saying that my legs are short, or to imagine that my perseverance is great even if my speed is nil. I am getting lapped, and in the moment of seeing one hiker or jogger after another zoom past, it seems to me as though I am barely moving, or even standing flat.
The impression of standing still while getting lapped often plagues me in my writing and my spiritual work. I struggle with feeling left behind, with stuck-ness. Just like when lapped at the Dish, in the dust of other people’s seemingly speedier achievement of dreams, I imagine that I am standing motionless. Comparing myself to others (always a dangerous pastime) and the feeling of lack of forward motion is dispiriting. At the Dish, signs on the trail, trees or other features give me a sense of movement even when lapped, no matter how slow I walk. But in the path to spiritual enlightenment or to publishing a book, I am left not only with the question “Am I there yet?” but also with, “Am I anywhere nearby or even on the right road?”
Writing these words, I am reminded of Abraham’s metaphor of the river. Everything we want, Abraham promises, is down the river. All we need is to let go and allow the river to carry us there. The struggle of how far along I’ve come is really a desperate swim against the current, an attempt to see progress back where I came from. But there is no going back to the past, no retracing my steps. Words cannot be unwritten and steps climbed on the spiritual path cannot be undone. And yet, to surrender to the river can be as scary as struggling against it — depending on my perspective, going with the flow can also give the illusion of lack of motion, or, perhaps worse, it can give the impression of too much speed. And how would I be able to snatch at anything I want if I am hurtling uncontrollably along?
Just as in everything, it is up to me to track forward progress, to notice changes, to appreciate my own work. Only I can remind myself of the twenty thousand something words in my new book, give credit to myself for the ideas I wrote in my head during a morning hike, or appreciate that this blog has now been alive for more than 28 months. Only I can really remember where I was emotionally eight years ago and notice where I am today. Am I there yet? No, probably not. But am I on the right road? I believe I am.
I guess all that is left is to surrender to the flow of the river, to believe there is meaning in where I’ve been so far and in all I’ve done, and to trust that the river knows best — that I had manifested well what is to come. And perhaps some folks who are good at the letting go will pass me by, cruising on tubes, or on a gondola or two, looking enlightened and well-to-do. I will wish them happiness and joy on their journey and let go of comparing our relative speed. Whether I am ineptly flailing around in the water, floating on my back, or carried downriver by twin silvery dolphins, I have chosen my path. The path is enlightenment, alignment, joy, grace. All I wish for now is the confidence to follow it through all of its different twists, waterfalls, and turns.