Every day of our life, we all have choices to make, some big, some small, some life-changing, others fairly insignificant. Some will make our life easier, some harder, and many of our choices will not only affect ourselves but others too. Whatever choices we make will impact our lives – and the lives of those around us - in some way. One of my all-time favourite poems is The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost (1874-1963), in which the poet struggles to choose between two paths, knowing that he will never return to the same point in his life again, so whichever path he chooses will define his future. It evokes a sense of regret that accompanies all the paths in life that we cannot take, but also a sense of making conscious choices about our lives. 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, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. 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.
I’ve often wondered how things might have turned out if I’d made different decisions, taken the other path, and whether there are different versions of me, in parallel worlds, living very different lives of what might have been. Chaos theory tells us that it only takes minute variations in a situation all branching out exponentially to create a multitude of possibilities. Who is to say that each decision doesn’t create a new universe in a different dimension, as if we were in our own version of Sliding Doors?
And I wonder if we ever get glimpses of those alternative lives in those liminal moments between sleep and waking, or in our dreams or meditative states when our brain state is altered and our consciousness expanded, or when we experience deja vu?
As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The limitations of human knowledge don’t mean that it isn’t possible….just that we haven’t figured it out yet.
As I look back at the paths I’ve taken throughout my life and reflect on where they have led me, it occurs to me that – for the most part – I have chosen to take the ones that were grassy and wanted wear, preferring to beat my own path rather than follow where others have gone before. This has meant that at times my life has not been easy: I have had to find my own way, learn my own lessons and make my own mistakes; sometimes people have been confused or offended that I have not followed in their footsteps. But I have always strived to do the right thing, not the easy thing. And often, that means stepping away from the majority and discovering our own place in the world – becoming who we are destined to be, not who the world expects us to be. As Frost’s poem reminds us, life is all about the choices we make and the person we become as a result of them.
Today, it seems as if the world is in chaos. Much of what we see, hear and read does not seem to make sense. Our powers of discernment have never been more important. We must all make our choices about who we wish to be and which paths we wish to take. Do we look to the crowd for answers and follow the well-trodden path, or do we look at the alternatives and take the other, just as fair?
Whatever we decide, there is no coming back to this point in time. We are defined – and judged – by the paths we choose. So, I offer this – make conscious choices as every decision and path will shape your future. Use discernment so you can evaluate the different paths you might take; consider where they might lead before committing to one or the other. Don’t regret the path not taken and be true to yourself, we only get to take one path through life, and this should be ours and ours alone. Because, as Frost reminds us, we will never be able to go back and take the other path. Well, not in this life, at least.
Joss Anderson is an ICF-accredited coach, Reiki practitioner, shamanic practitioner and the founder of The Wild Edges