The paradox of a path is that we are on a path whether we choose to be or not. Perhaps we come to a fork representative of a choice of two or more separate paths. The path becomes more conscious to us in moments of crisis or decision or disillusionment. The path is best disclosed to us in silence and solitude.
The paradox is that we give the path a name as if it were our path. We cannot insist on this name, for by naming it we may create a new, different, even unexpected path diverting away from the one we chose. Or, perhaps, finding ourselves on a path we thought familiar and comfortable, the path changes, it grows dark and full of thickets and bogs. We cannot look back and see the fork nor hope for another change to take us on a different path. Change can represent a change of path or a change in perspective. The same path can be seen differently, or a different path can end up being the same because of our lack of conscious change. In any case, we must remember that we are always on a path.
How, then, do we deal with this paradoxical image or metaphor, which seems to create more problems than it solves?
The image of a path or way is such a universal metaphor that it is difficult to not build a sense of momentum or progress into the image. That is, we see the stars follow a path, we see animals following a path, we marvel at how birds can migrate across entire continents with minimal consciousness of a path. But when we scrutinize these linear paths of nature, we discover that however great in time and space, these paths double over themselves many times. Paths of nature are more like circles than lines, more circumscribed than progressive. We lose the image of clarity and purpose when we give up the image of a path as a more-or-less straight line.
The unfolding of the universe and of all living beings is neither linear nor circular but like an outward spiral, building on a foundation but progressing outwardly. (Hence the attraction of the labyrinth.) The universe expands but is directional. The rings of the tree are circular, but the tree grows outward and directionally. Such is the pattern of seed into flower, of cocoon into butterfly, of egg into animal and human being. So, too, our life’s path is neither a straight line full of progress and demarcations nor is it a concentric circle of fruitless experiences or inversions. (Although the latter is common when we look at individual lives.) Our life’s path must be a spiral, revisiting each stage, taking something vital each time, leaving something behind, but slowly and cumulatively ascending a path.