"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was a brilliant man and a wonderful naturalist. His essays display a calm insight that is as penetrating as the Midsummer sun. Very few people would argue that blazing one's own trail, as Emerson exhorts above, is excellent advice. But I want to examine it from another angle--can this be applied to spirituality? Are our traditional religions the only beneficial spiritualities? Or can we maximize our relationship to the world, the three great kingdoms (Plant, Animal, Mineral), and our spirit through a path of our own making?
Following a traditional religion has many advantages, the primary one being that they are philosophically sound, having evolved through cultural immersion over thousands of years. They have a certain consistency by which contradictions are rare. That, to me, is quite interesting because we have a number of traditional religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and others, and while they are built upon greatly different underlying philosophies, each is internally consistent and logical. Sometimes they're based on a slightly different system of logic than Western Aristotelian logic, but regardless, they have a logical congruity. An additional benefit of a traditional religion is its track record. These systems of belief have repeatedly proven effective for many of their followers, giving meaning to their lives and a guide by which to live.
But all is not perfect in our land of traditional religion. The primary problem of religions today is dogma. Our traditional religions provide a great backdrop for life. But all too often, followers don't expend the energy to think critically about life and the meaning given to it by their religion. Rather, they fall back on the word of their chosen religious authority figure and close their minds to real wisdom--learning to see for themselves the truth of their religion.
Emerson's quote comments wisely upon our spiritual lives. If you create your spirituality out of your experiences and the meaning YOU see in life, then you will likely have to deal with philosophical inconsistencies. But is that really a problem? I don't think so. We can never know everything from our tiny place on this tiny planet orbiting our tiny sun in one tiny arm of the spiral of our tiny galaxy. We have to learn to accept paradox. And even if you end up in a traditional religion after making your own trail, you will have discovered the truth of your religion yourself, by creating your beliefs through your life rather than accepting them as hand-me-downs from our ancient past. So I argue that Emerson's way is the only way to true spirituality, regardless of where you end up.
The people who come to religion from the outside, who choose a religion and then adopt its beliefs, are in real danger of losing the greatest thing we have on this planet--our capacity for wisdom. Blaze your own trail. Observe your life in mindfulness and see what presents itself. If nature calls to you as divine, sacred, then treat it as such. If God reaches down to you from the heavens and makes contact with your heart, grab hold of his hand and don't let go. If the wonderfully interdependent nature of all things becomes apparent to you, penetrate with unwavering insight their original nature. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.