Pathfinders and pathkeepers
This is what I was thinking about this morning on my rainy walk through the park: machetes.
A couple of weeks ago when I saw John Mackey speak at the Conscious Capitalism conference in San Francisco, he offered an analogy I can’t get out of my head. A question came from the audience that had to do with moments of doubt or discouragement on the path. A wry smile crossed John’s lips and then he said, “You know…sometimes I feel like I was whacking my way through the jungle with a machete for thirty years.”
I was delighted to hear the question posed because it had been on my mind, too. Every speaker who took the stage was more optimistic and enthusiastic than the next–which makes sense given the uplifting nature of such a movement and the fact that it is nascent and still trying to build converts. But, halfway through the conference I jotted this in my notebook: “What I am missing right now: messiness, mistakes, pain, the difficulties you are guaranteed to endure on the path to Truth.” And I was. I was missing the “dirt.” Ironically, this realization struck me as Eric Ryan bounded about the stage talking about Method: People Against Dirt.
The description John offered of his own journey struck me deeply because I can imagine how hard it would be to whack a path through the jungle for thirty years. In an instant I felt the intensity of his struggle and also a sense of gratitude that he’d kept at it. Plenty of men and women never take up the machete and plenty more put it down before the path is cut all the way through to the other side. I know both feelings–the conviction required to wield the tool and the exhaustion that makes one ache to put it down. Most of us do.
The thing I realized this morning as I was walking through the rainy woods was that I’d only really thought about the pathfinder. I was still contemplating John’s journey, the hero’s journey, my own struggles and those of friends and colleagues who are trying to change something ingrained, something with deep roots…a jungle, undergrowth, paradigms, habits, cultures.
I hadn’t considered all the people who can travel a path once it’s cut. The pathfinder isn’t just struggling for his own self-mastery or merely chopping down his own demons, he’s making the journey that much easier for all those who choose down the line to join him at the destination. The same act of destruction that uproots obstacles, is the act of creation that clears a path for those who need it next.
Today we’re living in times of extreme change, change so significant there are no maps to the future. We’re living and working in a world of our own making, and now we have to unmake it, we have to recalibrate and question everything we’ve known to be “true” up to now. We’re having to rethink not just the future, but the present and even our past. So many of the “truths” we became so fond of have now become unruly, weedy, impenetrable undergrowth. A lot of people are waking up right now to find the ideas that have kept us so comfortable (too comfortable…asleep!) are now constricting us, constraining us, and even strangling us. Look around you. People (maybe even you) are having a hard time catching a breath, seeing the big picture. We’re suffocating in this jungle of our own creation.
But, there is a way out. Two ways out really, depending on your temperament and constitution. One way is to pick up a machete and start hacking a path through the densest, gnarliest part of the jungle you see in front of you. You are a pathfinder. The other way is to feel around a little bit until you find an opening, a place where the brush has already been cleared, follow that path and do not let it fall back into ruin. You may not be the pathfinder, but you are its keeper. Because all of us, pathfinders and pathkeepers, need to consider not just our own task, but the needs of all those who come after us.