Martha Burgess Novak

The Path to the River

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One day — and a beautiful day it is — you are walking down a road. You come upon a person you trust standing at the edge of the road and at the edge of a path that leads off the road down a hill and through the forest. This person speaks to you and says, “There is the most exquisite river down this path. Follow me and you’ll see something absolutely wonderful that is so beautiful, so perfect, and so magical that it will change your life. It is quite real and if you choose to follow me, you’ll have to watch the ground because there are roots and stones that you’re going to have to negotiate over and around. The path is a bit challenging. Oh, but you’ll be so rewarded by the view when you get to the river that your life will never be the same!”

Would you go down that path with this trusted individual?

This is a good image for the spiritual journey. You’re going to have some roots and stones to negotiate. You’re going to have to step over them and stretch to go past them. But you’ll do it.

Many people have gone down this path before you. They have seen the river. If you don’t go, you’ll miss something but you know that already. Regret has plagued you in the past.

The river is the river of your potential, a great expanse of the unknown — and you have avoided this path before. Who you really are has suffered from your avoidance and peace, joy, creativity, harmony, and deeper love has alluded you. Everything you say you want.

So you’ve been aware that there’s a path. That’s the first step: to be aware that there is access to what you want. This time, you decide to go. You start down the hill and through the woods. You have to be aware of all the things from the past that are distortions of the truth — like what a struggle it seems, like how you are too weak to make the trip, like how you may be wrong for taking this path, like you may have trusted the wrong person to point the way. You have to drop all the fantasies about flying to the river and how easy and beautiful your journey will be. You’re human and you have to walk the path, take step by step, like everybody else has done. At first you resent the journey. Then you resent that you left the road. Then you resent that this path to the river is real, not fantasy at all, and it requires observation, patience, persistence, faith, determination,and intention. And it takes a lot of energy! At first you think, “What a burden!” And then somewhere along the way when enough light has shafted through the dense, overhanging trees and your legs are stronger from the journey, you realize that your burden is lighter and lighter until it has become a privilege.

Then you realize this walk has not been about seeing the river at all, but instead about the privilege of walking to the river and what you discover along the way. Sometimes you think you will see the river as promised and sometimes it occurs to you that you may never see the river and you go back and forth between these two feelings until you discover it doesn’t matter anymore. You are happy.

And then, there in front of you is the river.

It is indeed as beautiful as you have been told. You cannot describe it but you are grateful for it with every fiber of your being. And you hope — and even pray — that one day, someone will follow you to the river and you can share how magnificent and life-changing it is because you took the first step.

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