The most common metaphor for Life is that it is in some form a Journey, and in that regard, we are all travelers. We think of ourselves as having originated at birth and as having an exit, at death, with a “long and winding Road” from start to finish. J.R.R. Tolkien expressed this metaphor beautifully in a song from The Fellowship of the Ring:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the Door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger Way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?
I cannot say.
Now then, where have you come from? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? Tolkien’s song reminds us that a life traveler, like you or me, is on a Quest to achieve unique potentials.
Of course, not everyone is in a set of conditions that appears to allow them to “Follow their Bliss,” as Joseph Campbell exhorted. A student recently reminded me of this fact after watching Campbell and Moyers’ dialogue in volume 1 of The Power of Myth series, The Hero’s Adventure. Life certainly can appear as a deep, dark pit rather than as a happily winding road to those caught up in apparently immovable or intractable conditions. Can someone beset with a genetic illness or chronic mental disorder, or can someone suffering in poverty anywhere in the world, benefit from the lofty thought that “Life is a Winding Road” leading to a positive destination? Or is that a merely privileged, Polyannish fantasy?
I’ve been pondering this question since my student raised such a sobering perspective. I must for myself yet answer, Yes! I do believe that ANYONE, even in the most critical and painful of circumstances, not only can benefit from imaging Life as a Winding Road leading toward an ultimately positive destination, but that in fact they are likely to do so.
Why? Because I believe it is a human imperative, part of our basic survival instinct no doubt, to strive to transcend negative circumstances so as to—in some fashion, either for ourselves or those we love—prevail. At very least, in the worst of times we at least usually aim to survive; albeit survival might come in various forms, including spiritual survival.
I don’t mean to make little of human suffering and pain by any means; certainly it is a fundamental and crucial aspect of the human condition. It is just what it is. But it seems also very human to aim to transcend suffering in any possible way or to any possible degree. I guess since I do see Life as a long and winding pathway, in fact through potentially MANY lifetimes and states of consciousness, there seems to be a plus factor, all in all.
It feels anyway to me as if we are all of us tending toward Home in the most ultimate sense, no matter how long it may take for any of us to get Here.
So this month I invite you to contemplate Life as a Winding Road. I welcome your insights, stories, or any artistic representations.