My path has never been very straight. I have never had a sense of knowing where I’m going, or even how I arrived once I did. This is why back trail is so important.

I was about 20 when I started spending time with someone who really enjoyed being in the forest. And I enjoyed being with him. I enjoy being in nature, but I’d never been particularly aligned with being a deep forest dweller. I never went camping as a kid, my tree fort was just a tree (the loveliest arbutus tree with tiers and good spots to tuck into). I was surrounded by nature at all times, but with the ever present hum of nearby well trafficked roads. So being away from where someone is within shouting distance if help is required was a fairly new thing for me. There were lots of things I picked up during that time, but the one that stands out was a constant reminder to check my back trail.

I was taught, while hiking in the woods, from time to time, turn around and look at where you’ve come from so that if you have to return that way, you won’t get lost. Metaphorically speaking, I’m not sure this happens all that often. How many times have I found myself in the same or similar situations and thought, how the fuck am I here again? How is it that I don’t seem to have progressed at all?

The reality is, I’ve probably progressed further than I think, but without examining my motivations for wanting/doing/engaging in various things/ways/relationships, the terrain tends to all look the same. I’ve been making strides lately, as I’m actively attempting to undo/unlearn decades of ingrained habits that I’m not totally sure where or how I acquired them. In some instances, I have memories of certain moments which might have been an initial catalyst and so then examining my back trail helps because I can trace the progression. But there are just as many which have a more ethereal beginning, a note too infinitesimal to pin down as the starting point of something which took years to calcify into a habit which might no longer serve who I’ve become.

As I matured and came up against these various impediments, as I deemed them, my default would be to find fault, with myself as someone who wasn’t able to overcome the challenges of her own psyche. But even that approach has become a habit without a tangible origin story so I’m finding less reason to subscribe to it. As I grow, I learn that stories are what make us who we are, but there are many instances where the narrative I’ve aligned myself with isn’t altogether true. I’ve often said, all stories are true if they’re told properly, and that’s a very quaint way of expressing a desire to encompass something which might appear grander than self. Sometimes the grandest part of a story is the humblest aspect of a character. So it is of benefit to me to acknowledge that there are some pretty fierce plot holes in the stories I tell myself about my self.

In many instances, the starting point doesn’t matter, nor the finish line. Where I am is what matters. If where I’m at doesn’t feel good, lamenting my choices and wishing I was elsewhere perhaps isn’t as helpful as considering what I can change about how I feel about where I’m at. There is a difference between a habit of berating the self for not making better choices (you’re so stupid) and showing compassion for the possibility that choices were made with all the information consciously or logistical possibilities available at the time. This doesn’t account at all for decisions made in survival mode or when there is a lack of choices, which affects many people.

When I think about a winding road, I think about a path which navigates the terrain it is surrounded by. A sort of going by feel narrative, and not putting too much pressure to recall exactly the twists and turns which came before, but to see them as preparation for the twists and turns to come. And that’s how we grow.\

Photo by Fred Heap on Unsplash