Recently, I have been binge watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. While watching an episode in the sixth season, the Klingon character Worf, was struggling with his faith and whether or not there really is a Sto-vo-kor or heaven.
All organized religions on Earth seem to have some sort of afterlife woven into their tenet. Some have only a paradise that awaits; while others teach of a reward – heaven, and a punishment – hell. Certain religions believe that when you die, you return in another form, still others do not believe in any kind of afterlife; when you die, you are dead and nothing else.
Whether you believe in Heaven, Nirvana, Zion, Elysium, Valhalla, Sto-vo-kor, or some other form of afterlife is not the focus of this post.
I have been giving much thought to this of late. Some would say it is due to my current passage though my own middle ages. There are those who would argue I am confused, lost or simply have no faith. While the reward, for whichever belief you have, is your goal, I believe the true richness is the journey we each walk.
Regardless of how we are raised and what we believe, the journey is still ours alone. We take that first step and then put one foot in front of the other until our journey’s end. Depending on your religious beliefs, you may claim that you never walk alone. Perhaps your messiah or god walks with you. For some it is an angel or even ancestors. Your companions on your journey are your choice.
Let’s take this journey.
Over the years, I have indulged in various studies and attended services in different religious settings. None of these things provided me with true happiness and deep inner peace. The irony is that it took my having a debilitating chronic illness to genuinely see the path I was on. I have ceased focusing on the end goal and focus instead on where I am walking.
Having been a hiker prior to the onset of this illness, I can still see some of my favorite paths which I walked with care. A number of years ago, I wrote a short story for a competition about exile. I wrote of the exile I felt thrust into by the illness which invaded my body late 2004. As I wrote this story I called Prelude To Tomorrow, I envisioned the last time I hiked my favorite path in Frozen Head State Park. Every step I took returned to me, I was transported there in my mind. I could see every tree, rock, twig and leaf. I could feel the wind on my face and the rocks and tree roots under my boots. I could smell the crisp autumn air. I was there, I was reliving that last trek in the mountains.
Prior to setting out on this hike, I had a goal in mind. I had been recently diagnosed and needed to go to my favorite spot to think, to write, to come to terms. My goal never happened. I arrived at the big rock in the middle of the creek and sat down. I removed my backpack and set it next to me as if to remove my writing supplies. The backpack was never opened. I sat. I listened. I felt. I breathed in all that I knew would be gone from all but my memories. After what seemed to be a lifetime and yet mere seconds, but was, in reality approximately 45 minutes, I stood up and taking my backpack, I went forward on the trail until I arrived back to where my car was parked. The journey was what my body, mind and soul needed, not the intended goal.
December 2016, I had just finished reading the book a friend had written called Following the Ancient Path: Body/Soul/Spirit Transformation On The Camino de Santiago. She has taken and led this journey many times over the years. Physically, I am unable to travel to Spain and take this kind of a journey. However, I found a local church with an outdoor labyrinth and asked my friend to take me there. On what was probably the coldest day that winter, we went for me to take MY camino.
Using my rollator walker, I left my friend at the beginning of the path telling her this was something I needed to do alone. She would have gladly and caringly walked with me every fumbling step I took, but she understood this was my journey and I knew she would be there when I emerged. I found confirmation that morning. I knew I was was on the path I was always supposed to be on. It just took me many years to find my footing.
Focusing on the steps taken, the breaths as they enter and exit the body, the scenery along the way is where we learn and grow. Over the years many have claimed authorship of the quote, “life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, however, the originator is unimportant, the message is what is needed.
Regardless of the destination you seek at the end of life, focus on the path. Be sure you are on the path you are meant to be on not the one your family, religion or someone else tells you you should be on. Keep the pace you set for yourself. Life is not a race. Rest when you need to. Grow, learn and just be.