Turning Off The Path

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Who am I? I see that question circling around as we get into the details of designing a website, crafting a logo, or building a brochure. What starts off as a fun projectquickly becomes a very serious process.

As the days pass, this simple act of creating a marketing piece takes on a life of its own. I’ve seen it take hold of people time and time again. It’s exciting and important to each person I meet, however, it is not without its challenges. As people start to reflect on their message the process asks them to dig deeper. They may begin to feel frustrated and anxious as their project comes to symbolize much more than its initial intended purpose. And there, right there in that moment we look into our lives as we look into water. We kneel, as if by the side of a pool, seeing in one moment not only the fleeting and gossamer reflection of our own face, clouded and disturbed by every passing breath and the lives of all the innumerable creatures that live in its waters, but the hidden depths below, beyond our sight, sustaining and holding everything we comprehend. (1)

Below is a poem I sometimes share with clients when they’re in the middle of a project that has potential to change their world and open up new possibilities. I do this to remind them that the work they are about to begin, like it or not, will be a journey of self-discovery.

Stand still
The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost
Wherever you are is called here
and you must treat it as a powerful stranger
must ask permission to know it and be known
the forest breathes
listen, it answers I have made this place around you
if you leave it, you may come back again
saying here
no two trees are the same to raven
no two branches are the same to wren
if what a tree or a bush does, is lost on you
you are surely lost
stand still
the forest knows where you are
you must let it find you.

– Native American Elder Poem as translated by David Wagoner

This ancient poem is one an Elder would share with a young girl or boy who is asking, What do I do when I’m lost in the forest?

The poem reminds me of the importance of self-awareness. We cannot go through the motions and expect to produce positive change in our lives. The work requires our attention. We must first stand still and avoid the temptation to take sudden action or to turn away at the first sign of trouble.

The poem also reveals to us that we are not the one to know where our place lies or what action we should take. We have to put down the burden of our perceived self-image, which can close us off and prevent us from seeing. We experience clarity and a greater sense of knowing only when we meet the world on its own terms and allow it to find us. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.

How do you know if you’re on the right path when, all of a sudden, your small marketing project takes on a whole new meaning? You know because the path disappears.

How do you know when you’re doing something that’s important to you? You know because you can no longer see the path.

In those moments you step forward – you make the path by walking. You leave your world behind, even for a fleeting moment. You take the Hero’s Journey, and you change the world by meeting it.


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(1) The Heart Aroused, David Whyte, Currency Doubleday, 1996



  1. Susan  February 28, 2012

    I love the imagery of the path disappearing and leaving space for you to create your own. It never ceases to amaze me that I think my project will turn out one way (my way) and then viola! there it is…the that thing that was waiting inside of me all along. Have you read the book “Paths Are Made By Walking” by Therese Jacobs-Stewart? Thanks for the motivation!

  2. David  February 29, 2012

    I have not read that book Susan. But thanks for the tip. I’m going to check it out now. All the best!

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