Saturday, September 30, 2006

Go Where There Is No Path


"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.



5 comments:

Don Iannone said...

Emerson is a longtime favorite of mine. Hope you are well Mike.

Angela-Eloise said...

A beautiful post, Mike! You remind me how much I love Emerson. Something to add to the book list.

It's interesting how your post rings so true for me, with my Pagan perspective. Wicca specifically has no dogma and so we have no choice but to think for ourselves as we follow our spiritual path. Some may criticize it as "making it up as you go along" but Wicca isn't also known as "the craft of the wise" for nothing! ;)

I particularly liked this phrase of yours: "Observe your life in mindfulness and see what presents itself." It will make a good affirmation.

Scheherazade said...

Thank you for reminding me of this...of Emerson.

And that is why the "transcendentalists" are so aptly named, eh.

Josh said...

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...

I agree with this statement, but people don't think critically when there's no benefit in it for them. Many people simply follow what they're told because all of the thinking has alredy been done for them. They just want to believe and reap the benefits of their beliefs. Thinking critically, for some people, is a burden and has no value.

The problem is that trailblazing is like going out on a limb. No trailblazer enjoys the safety and security of those who follow a beaten path. Most people opt for the beaten path precisely for this reason.

Mike said...

Thanks all for the comments.

Don: I'm doing great. Busy with the Ph.D studies having started, but otherwise good.

Angela-Eloise: I actually thought of you while I was posting this, recalling your posts on Sojourner's site! Glad to hear it does ring true. Emerson is amazing, isn't he?

Y: Good call re: "transcendentalists"! It's good to "see" you again - it's bee awhile!

Josh: You're right on the mark. Thinking critically is hard work. I think today's short-attention-span lifestyle has spawned exactly what you've observed. Heck, I know *I* have to work toward slowing myself down, overcoming where society leads us, and I'm very conscious of the whole thing. For the people who aren't, it must be brutal. As you said, they opt for the beaten path because it's easy.