Saturday, October 20, 2012

Contentment: "The Road... enlightenment isn't paved."

My friend photographer Paul Brown of Seattle saw this quote printed on a poster aboard a British Columbia Ferry he was riding last year and posted an image of it on Facebook.

To this I commented, "None of the worthwhile roads are paved."

I've been feeling restless lately, and this phrase keeps coming to mind.

I think that is because of my life experience. In the past, when I have exited the easy and expected way, and turned onto rougher, rockier and sometimes harder tracks, the growth and success I achieve has been unexpectedly satisfying. The rewards of risk-taking can be much greater than those realized by staying on the more-traveled route.

As a teen for the first time I read Thoreau's Walden. It made an unmistakable impression on me and over the years I recalled this particular quote, which pretty much sums up the whole book:

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

This statement made sense to me when I first read and pondered it as a high school English assignment, but has gained real meaning as practical advice over the intervening years.

My first acquaintance with the less-traveled road was when as a youth I spent a couple of summers volunteering in Colombia and Nicaragua. When the opportunity first presented itself I wasn't too sure I wanted to go, but my parents pushed me a bit, and I have been grateful ever since that they did. Leaving my comfort zone was a life-changing experience that set the stage for many things I did later.

Three times over my career I quit good jobs without new employment in sight. In each instance I knew it was time to make a change, but wasn't sure what to do next. Rather than stay on when my heart was no longer in the work, at these transitions I took off to volunteer, travel and think. Each time, taking the plunge and following my interests led me to new, more fulfilling experiences. I look back at those times as some of the most fruitful of my life.

I've taken many other less dramatic turns off the easy road. A few of those were not completely successful on the surface, but were valuable because of what I learned from them. By and large, each time I have steered off the main trail and onto interesting side roads of life I have been very happy that I did so. I may not have become enlightened, as the saying says, but at least I have grown, succeeded and enjoyed in unanticipated ways.

The last time I took a big turn off the paved highway was when I moved to Mexico. I left the best job and best boss I'd ever had, sold almost everything I owned, and moved into a decrepit old house I'd bought in Mérida. And although I miss my deep roots in Alaska (and visit often), I've barely looked back.

That's because the life I have here now is something I starting imagining during that first eye-opening trip to Colombia thirty-nine years ago. Although I did it unconsciously for quite awhile and was sidetracked often, I've moved fairly consistently in the direction of that one dream all this time. Stepping off the paved roads made it possible.

Photo by Paul Brown

Photo at top: A country road in Yucatán


  1. When my friends up north asked why I moved to Mexico, I responded: "When I get up each morning, I want to have not idea how I am going to get through the day. I am too comfortable in Salem." Your post has me wondering if I am now sinking back into comfort. Maybe I need a new adventure.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I hinted in the post that I am restless. I have become pretty comfortable here, and I think things will be changing. It may be time to steer onto a rustic byway. Grist for future posts, no doubt.

  2. How ironic that you write this today. I too have been feeling restless. Have been contemplating a BIG change. The comfortableness keeps pulling me back - it's safe - but it IS time to move on........

    When I sold my business, my house and 99% of my possessions and left for Mexico, most people thought I would return. Well, its been 11 years - it was great to get out of that comfort zone and move on.

    See you on down the unpaved road! Literally.........

    1. Babs, I think we always know when it's time. Many folks are afraid to heed the voice inside that insists on it. Then after awhile they accommodate, and the voice recedes. The important thing I learned was to listen to the voice, and do something about it. I think you know that, too.

    2. Well said, Marco, as usual. Taking the time to think and ponder is always the best place to start. You have been on a path with heart and consciousness ever since I first met you, on another ferry, all those years ago. The path continues.

    3. Yes, Paul, when we met I was in the middle of one of those transitions. And actually some of the talks we had during the couple of years after we met helped to inspire further changes down the road. It's interesting how it all works out.

    4. But, Marc, there are so many ways to take a different road! I don't believe one must physically move to another place to do it, for learning and adventure exist in so many places we call our homes.

      Forgive me if I'm repeating a prior link in this regard: I thought of this song in this regard:

      We're all different in terms of stimulation. Presently, the thing which makes me most want to change is too much NOISE. Fortunately, my neighborhood is a quiet one. The other day, I left a meeting which became too noisy for me--voices bouncing against concrete walls, everyone interrupting and such. When I got home, I just whispered, "Peace and Quiet!"


    5. Of course, Alinde, there are as many ways to take the unpaved road as there are people.

      I didn't always physically move when I took risks; I just gave a few examples that involved moving.

  3. Marc,

    That unpaved road leads to the same destination as any avenida or calle in Merida. ¶ Before enlightenment: chop wood; carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood; carry water.

    Gotcha last. ~eric.

  4. I can understand that feeling of restlessness. All my life I have never made "traditional" choices when it came to jobs, travelling and living in general. If I could be said to have had any particular career it is only because I had a tendency to return to a particular industry between gallavanting from possibility to possibility.

    After building a house and nesting for almost 6 years in Patzcuaro, we sold the house and moved ( about a year ago ) to San Miguel de Allende. We are currently renting because you just never know....


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