by Diana Autumn
As I began to walk the Road, I soon realized how long, and at times lonely, it would be to walk alone. Then a friend sent me this insightful quote from the Sufi poet Rumi: “Whoever travels without a guide needs 200 years for a two-day journey.” I found this to be true as I continued to work on discovering peace within. Although I believe that this journey is much more than a “two-day journey,” I found, as I continued on the path of Cafh, what a blessing it was to have someone I trusted to share my journey of spiritual development with. This might seem like a strange attitude coming from an independent woman, but let me share my thinking about this with you.
My initial thought was that I could do it alone—just give me a map and I would follow it! But I found that this was difficult, because I couldn’t clearly see where the road was taking me. One of the greatest dangers, I discovered, was thinking I was sure of the path and where it led. I needed to realize that often it can be very illuminating to have someone who has walked the path ahead of me to point the way and give me the tools to figure out what next steps would be most helpful. These conversations, this guidance, was a way to shine the light on the fuller picture, and it gave me a sure footing as I faced the inevitable detours, roadblocks, and times of darkness on the Road and within myself.
During a backpacking trip in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, the absolute necessity of receiving this kind of guidance became abundantly clear. It was late spring, and despite the sunny days, some snow from the long winter still remained. My friends and I headed out anyway, as the snow at the outset was only in patches on the northern slopes. However, as the altitude increased, the snow also increased. As the sun rose higher in the sky, its heat softened the upper crust of the snow, and we started to break through with each step. This made the going slow and difficult. For some in our group, it seemed it wasn’t worth the effort to push on, and they thought it best to turn back. However, my sister and I wanted to continue. The sun shone brightly, the air was clear and invigorating, and the solitude of the wilderness called us. We divided the food and made plans to meet later, and Ann and I hefted our packs onto our backs and continued on.
At first the trail cut through wooded slopes where we could pick out our way by following the markings on the trees. When the vegetation gradually fell away and we entered an expansive snow field, we found our way by looking for cairns of piled rocks that marked the trail. But soon the going got even more difficult and we could no longer find the cairns. The trail seemed to have disappeared. We had to decipher where we were by comparing the elevations on the map with the rugged terrain all around us.
I am not sure we were walking in circles, but it did take us some time to admit that we did not really know where we were and so did not know where we should be going. I don’t recall being afraid; I just remember the expansive whiteness of the snow field and the peaks towering above us. We were reluctant to go in any direction for fear we would become even more lost.
Then we saw a figure coming down a steep slope, a lone young man appearing like a mirage out of the snow field. He was carrying a map. We greeted him and asked if he knew where the trail was. He showed us where we were and pointed the way we should go. Then it appeared obvious: the trail lay through the snow field. We parted and did not see him or anyone else again in that snowy wilderness. He had pointed the way and we continued across the expanse of snow.
I try not to think what would have happened if our path had not crossed his. How amazing it was to have found, by chance or divine gift, exactly the guide we needed, just as we became lost! Did this happen because I was open to the unknown, that something in me allowed a stranger to become my guide? In some ways it was a reminder of the gift of friendship and guidance, and the benefits of sharing a window on the process of spiritual unfolding with a dear, deeply trusted spiritual companion. This has become a precious support in the most unexpected ways.
And so I continued within Cafh to seek guidance in an ongoing way. As I continue on my journey toward inner peace, again and again I am helped to see the way more clearly. I find it is quite easy to get lost when I am working to expand my consciousness, especially when it comes to relationships. We don’t expand our consciousness and walk the road to the divine in a vacuum, but in relationships with other human beings and our surroundings. I have found that in my relationships with others I need guidance, because it is easy for me to get caught in traps of my own making. Let me explain to you what I mean.
When seeking guidance, I have learned that my guide is not going to tell me how the other person should change. If I want a relationship to improve, it is up to me to do it. I only have the power to change myself. I cannot make someone else change the way I want, to make it easier for me. In the end I have to be responsible and do the work. But sharing the dilemmas I face and looking at them through the vision of my long-term goal of spiritual unfolding makes each step easier and more inviting.
Realizing that it is up to me to improve the relationship, before asking for spiritual counsel, I examine my complaints, justifications and tendency to blame the other person for the problems we are having. It is easier to blame someone else, for in that way I avoid responsibility. It is always someone else’s fault. Justifying myself is like being on the snow field without even realizing I am lost. I just keep trudging along.
When I am ready to take responsibility, then I am ready to receive the counsel that will help me discover what I can do to improve the relationship. Many times it has been painful to get to this point. It is painful when I realize how hurtful my anger is to someone I care about. It is also painful to feel that I am a victim in an oppressive relationship. Pain has helped me to want to change in order to improve the situation and to take the time and make the effort necessary to do it. Pain helps me to recognize that there is something that I am not seeing, that perhaps I am in a vicious circle that I created long ago and continue in, stuck in the same rut. I need a new point of view, a different approach.
My spiritual guide helps me to do this. She helps me to see the rut that I am in. She seldom gives advice, because she has found that it is much more helpful for me to discover from within my own self what I need to do. She can point the way, but I am the one who is going to walk. Therefore, she listens, she validates, and she rephrases what she hears. Oftentimes knowing that I am truly listened to helps me to discover what I can do.
Then there are the times when I go to her thinking I already know the answer. This makes her work harder, for she needs to remind me again of what I have decided to do with my life: to unfold spiritually. When working on my relationships, I have found it is not necessarily a victory to be right; it is not always a success to get what I want. It is helpful to learn; many times in order to do this, it is important to admit that I have made a mistake. I can even get to the point of seeing what mistakes I have made and asking for ways that I might work to find a better approach.
The most important thing I have learned, after all these years, is that when I receive spiritual guidance, the outcome is my responsibility. Did I objectively try what together we had discerned as a skillful approach? Did I fail and give up, or did I try again, and with each attempt get stronger? There is no easy answer, but when there is someone who has already walked the path and is familiar with the terrain of spiritual unfolding, a two-day journey is not lengthened into 200 years.
Other articles in the series “The Peace of a Meaningful Life” by Diana Autumn are My Wake-Up Call, Finding the Way, Step by Step with Silence