Detour or Shortcut?

A few days ago I hiked with a friend in a wooded area, with snow covering the trail. On the way back, we suddenly realized that we were not on the trail anymore and couldn’t see where the trail was. Our tracks from a couple of hours ago were nowhere in sight. The fact we got temporally “lost” didn’t surprise either one of us, since we both like to talk and get distracted easily, especially when we’re together. We started heading in the direction we thought we should go and followed the faint sound of the creek in the distance, knowing that we’d eventually find the trail, which runs along the creek. And we did find the trail again, and by the time we got back on it, we realized we just took a huge shortcut. Which was perfect because we both were starving and were talking about what we would eat when we got home (which is probably why we got distracted and lost the trail). It turned out that our little detour ended up being a shortcut to home (and food).

The life lesson was just too obvious. Our built-in reaction to any sudden change of direction in our life is resistance. We think we know exactly what we need, and somehow expect life to always comply with that fixed itinerary. I know from my own experience so far that life has always brought me what I needed. It was not necessarily what I wanted or thought I needed, but it really was what I needed. How do I know it was what I needed? Because it was what I got.

And that’s exactly my point. We never get what we don’t need, whether it’s a simple detour on the road we take to get home from work or an unexpected, or even shocking and devastating, shift of our life’s course. The question is not what we get in life, but whether we get bitter or better as a result of what unexpectedly happened in our life. When we view everything as an opportunity to grow, there are no pointless or even unwanted episodes as long as we keep our hearts and minds open to growth. Unless I think I’m done evolving (and I know life would smack me the moment I adopted such an arrogantly blind attitude), how can I ever reject any experience? If I still have room to grow, and I do, then it’s clear that whatever happens in my life is here to guide me to grow. Ultimately, that’s why we’re all here, having this human experience: collecting experiences for the sake of our own unfolding, which is just a remembrance of and a return to what we already are.

Spirit, which is what you are, doesn’t care whether the experience is “good” or “bad.” Those are human concepts. As long as we’re guided by spirit, which is our true self or our right mind, all experiences are here to help our evolution. As spirit, we also know that there is no such thing as a detour, at least not in the sense the human usually understands what a detour is: an obstacle, a useless waste of time and possibly even some sort of revenge exacted on us by a vindictive higher power. As soon as we start broadening our perspective, we see that no experience is ever pointless. We can insist that it’s pointless, but that doesn’t prove it is — it only proves our stubbornness and resistance to a shifted mindset.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient and timelessly relevant yogic text:

“On this path no effort is wasted
No gain is ever reversed
Even a little of this practice
Will shelter you from great sorrow.”

“This practice” refers to yoga. Not as in the trendy, shallow and diluted interpretation of yoga being exercise for people who can afford it. Yoga is the practice of unifying (the word yoga means union) what you perceive as yourself with all that is. The practice reminds us that we are not separate from life, and that life doesn’t happen to us but for us and by us. In other words, the steering wheel gets put into our hands, not so that we can control life’s events (because we can’t and don’t need to) but so that we can make conscious choices as those events unfold, and that’s true power.

I invite you to look back at your life and see whether what you perceived to be detours at the time turned out to be great lessons, maybe even shortcuts, in self love and compassion, which is what growth is. And I invite us all to keep our hearts and minds open in the face of the next itinerary deviation and welcome it, or at least not reject it, because we know it’s just a needed growth spurt.

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