The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other...
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
by Robert Frost
We are driven to be ourselves and this is the creative human task. To that end, we mold the raw substance of our life to create an identity so that we can be at home in the world and comfortable in our own skin. We establish livelihood, raise children and assume responsibility for a family, nourish our intimate relationships, and cultivate a sense of community with like- minded friends. However, the very things that provide us with this sense of home, also make a claim upon us. They reinforce our idea of ourselves and exert a palpable expectation that we don’t stray too far from how they see us.
Creating a sense of “home” is necessary, but our life is immeasurably deepened to the extent that we are willing to explore what lies beyond it. The problem is that once having established this sense of home, we’re not so eager to step beyond its boundaries when it challenges our familiar idea of ourselves.
Yet, our dreams and fantasies betray us. The “roads not taken” speak to our unrealized dreams and desires that still live in the subterranean basement or our mind and heart. The stories or movies that deeply touch us and provoke an unexpected rush of feelings, reveal aspects of ourselves that whisper, “This could be exciting to explore.” These roads expose our unclaimed desires that have gone underground, but which are psychologically active in our imagination. What are your deepest wishes right now? What truly calls you at this time in your life? Does such a question get your heart to beat a little faster, creating a mixture excitement and apprehension? Or do you dismiss these images or visions as just fantasy and as unrealistic, or do they linger in your interior where they still pulse with life and press for satisfaction?
Given the multiple environmental, political and social catastrophes that we’re besieged by, our life could feel tentative and somewhat incoherent, as though we're just hanging on, waiting impatiently for some semblance of normality to return. At a time when the survival of both ourselves and our loved ones is foremost in our minds, dreams and fantasies could feel indulgent or escapist. When we’re in crisis, we tend to give priority to concerns about safety and security and the need for order and control.
Yet, we may be at a crossroads. We could be inhibiting ourselves by being overly reasonable, anxiously safeguarding what we already have. Even now, at this time of Covid, we could shine a light into the unexplored areas of our life by daring to imagine what’s possible. The problem is that we may not know how to use our imagination in order to animate the forces and energies within our psyche to seduce them to speak to us.
The human heart has a logic of its own which is often at variance with what is practical or profitable. The spiritual path challenges us to drop into our depths, regardless of our external circumstances, and to live imaginatively. But this does not suggest simply manipulating our imagination to gratify the more surface wishes of happiness and success. Imagination inspires us to live close to the heart, where we might explore the visionary dimensions of ourselves and the world. It’s as if you dropped down into the deepest place within yourself, and regarded your life situation from there. You allow images, intuitions, and gut feelings take shape as if they had complete legitimacy. With fresh eyes, you might suddenly “see” that you do have the time and energy to take online dance lessons or tai chi, start painting, learn a foreign language, begin writing that novel, drive to a nearby state park to walk a trail with a friend, or even go back to school.
You might take a risk and sell your current business or perhaps start a new one, or begin preparing for a long awaited trip to Italy or Spain, when travel restrictions are lifted. Perhaps you commit yourself to a therapeutic process to genuinely work through an issue that has dogged you for a lifetime, or begin exploring a spiritual path that speaks to you. By daring to take roads less traveled, we cross the rigid boundaries that have kept us in check for decades. These might be the roads that we've postponed taking, having told ourselves that we will return to them when everything returns to normal. But the world, as we once knew it, might not return to our idea of normal.
At the same time, not every road should be taken, especially if it will bring harm or unnecessary complication to ourselves and others. The roads not yet traveled should not always be taken literally. Often they are metaphoric, suggesting unfulfilled needs and wishes that appear to us in forms that might camouflage their real meaning. But if we keep company with them, they can drop us down to our roots where they reveal what's been left out, excluded from our busy lives—the very qualities we need to reclaim in order to experience a greater sense of wholeness.
The roads not taken have the power to animate the dormant side of ourselves that may hold a key to our larger identity. To open to these dimensions puts us face to face with the unfamiliar side of ourselves—to those experiences that are not always rational or reasonable, or that can be neatly categorized or explained away. They can suggest emotional terrain we've been reluctant to traverse because of our need for control and order, especially when so much of the world feels out of control and chaotic.
For instance, if we gave a voice to the heaviness we feel weighing down on our chest, it might reveal our need to give in to sadness and grief, recognizing that such feelings are really about how much we care for the people in our life, and our wish to share the best of ourselves with them. Our grief could be about the ongoing threat to our creaturely need for safety, security, and normalcy— that we now realize can be abruptly taken away.
The roads not taken may invite us into one of our relationships that needs a deeper, more nuanced conversation. The tightness in our belly might speak to a stuck place that's keeping us and a good friend at a distance from each other. In spite of our silent grudge, we dare to forgive our friend for his unintended failure to mirror us, to see us as we'd like to be seen. The road not taken could be when we muster the courage to drop our defensive armor and share our vulnerability with an adult daughter, or when we dissolve our negative judgments of our partner when her shadow side is exposed, revealing dark qualities that threaten us. Although it goes against the grain, instead of withdrawing our love and our presence, we remain steady, and reaffirm our commitment to the relationship.
The road not taken could be our willingness to let it “fall apart," to allow ourselves to feel just how exhausted we are of struggling to hold it all together during these difficult times. We simply stop what we're doing, right now, and allow ourselves to weep, as we stretch out into a thoughtless space of inertia, for as long as we need to restore ourselves. This does not mean that we have given up on life, but rather that we permit our weakness, weariness, and vulnerability to have their voice.
By asking ourselves, “What calls me now, or what does my soul want me to experience now, at this very moment?”—we drop our attention to our core. It is from this place of deep feeling that we can bring what has been excluded or ignored onto our spiritual path, and reignite the fire in our belly. When we dare to walk the roads not taken, they open us to experiences, not for the sake of overcoming life's struggles, but to know ourselves fully. And this is what makes all the difference.