"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
Our personal paths take us each forward on the journey of life… Along the way there are steppingstones, potholes, sunny meadows, gurgling steams, bridges and yes, paths that meander though dark forests.
I like to think that I am on a path that will teach me, help me grow and live my life fully. Those dark places that we must travel through can be daunting at times, but we can and must push through. We will undoubtedly find ourselves straying from our path for any number of reasons. Sometimes out of pure distraction and sometimes out of the life’s unseen circumstances. In order to get to where we want to be going, we really do need to make a map and to occasionally check our compass to be sure that we are on course.
My path this summer has had a couple of bumps and potholes that I have had to endure. Continuing the metaphor, I think I am guilty of running too fast. In the last two months I have injured myself twice in ways that have prevented me from doing the practice that makes me most happy. Fishing.
At the end of June, I sliced my thumb wide open taking the lid off a cracked jar. The jar imploded and I nicked a tendon in the process. This required a surgery and put me out of function for work and of course fishing too for several weeks. I was devastated by the injury and angry that I had made such a silly mistake of not paying attention to what I was doing. The physics of the situation were right there in front of me and I ignored it. The injury cost me more than a little income to say the least and put me in a pretty foul mood for weeks on end. To a bittersweet salvation, my wife pulled me up into the quiet of the mountains where I could console myself that the rivers were all mostly blown out anyhow. I eventually settled into the situation and was able to spend some quality time with my wife and son.
"It is what we do after we fall that counts."
I used the down time to do a little journal writing and, in what seems like a short time now, healed up fast through the month of July. Soon I was back on the water in enough time to catch the post run-off season. I explored some new areas and visited some old holes that welcomed me back with great fish and great moments. I also had a great time at the Tenkara Summit in Boulder. Spent time with community and friends. It was nice. My thumb still hurts a tiny bit to the touch and I am working on physical therapy exercises. I might have lost only a minor amount of flexibility in that thumb joint. I was feeling pretty good about being back in the swing of things again.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago…
Well, I hit another physical setback. It is difficult to explain what happened so I will just say it as simply as possible. I stood up too quickly, got a head rush and my legs buckled out from under me. I fell hard in a twisted ankle sort of way and slapped my left foot onto the hardwood floor of my office. The force was enough to give me a bad ankle sprain but worse, a broken left foot. I now am in a “boot” and needing to be very careful with the injury.
Yes, this is depressing. Today though I had a little moment of clarity as I sat drinking a cup of coffee on the back-porch sky chair. I looked out and saw a sunflower and found the quiet cool morning to be soothing. I caught myself slowing down and just being in the moment. I also saw recognized that I was running down the path too fast again and as a result was tripping and falling.
We can become distracted in our lives by the supposedly “important stuff” that seems to pile itself upon us. If you run with too much stuff, you will in time take a spill. What is important is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and think a bit about the path again, decide what we are doing and where we want to be going. I am hoping that I don’t have to do injuries in threes this summer and that I will be back to fishing before the prime fall season is over.
Standing outside of our issues is sometimes the best way to get direction. We can also learn by looking at others on their respective paths. People close to us sometimes find themselves walking that dark forest corridor. We know that sometimes they must go this path alone so that they can come out on the other side. What I think is important is that we should shed light for them and give them tools when we can so they can also make it though those times of darkness.
For each of us it is important to have our feet planted firmly on our path. It can be laid out much like a map. This can be figurative or as a tangible written plan. Writing your life plan and perspective is a good way to understand not just where you or where you want to be but may also show you the best route to get there. Using the practice of following a compass and checking in on ourselves will keep you heading in the right direction and may help you from straying from the path. My final bit of advice that I have learned is that it is important not to run or go too fast. Often we will fall and sometimes we will run right off the path altogether. Getting up and getting back on the path takes time, effort and makes us lose even more time that we thought we were saving by trying to rush.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart older dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.