“Not All Who Wander Are Lost”

Did you know that this oft quoted phrase is a line from a poem by JRR Tolkien? It appears in chapter ten of his book, The Fellowship of the Ring. If you don’t know the story, the poem refers to Aragorn, who is heir to the throne of Gondor but who cannot claim his throne until the evil Forces of Sauron are defeated. When we meet Aragorn in the story he lives as a Ranger wandering the realms of Middle Earth, gathering news of the enemy’s movements as well as protecting inhabitants from dangers unbeknownst to them. He is viewed with suspicion because he reveals little of himself, always traveling incognito and flying under the radar. By all outward appearance he is nothing more than a vagabond, but  in reality he is traveling a path toward his destiny.

green wooded path“Not all who wander are lost”- I have always loved the idea behind these words and the image they evoke. How utterly cool and confident is a person who wanders with intention. To not know your exact destiny but to know that you are consciously choosing the path you want to travel. Not aimlessly roaming because you are clueless and lost, but going forward with a sense of confidence and expectancy.

One day in a store I saw a greeting card depicting a lone dog IMGP1828-2trotting down a meandering path. The sparse photo had this caption: “Not all who wander are lost.” The card immediately caught my eye and I bought it. But as I continued to ponder the sentiment, it began to haunt me. I realized that if, “not all who wander are lost,” then the implication is that some who wander most certainly are lost. What do you do if you are one of the lost and you have no clue about where you are going? I had to admit that this was true of me. For most of my adult life I had been utterly lost.

man on pathI was raised by very religious parents in the Plymouth Brethren Church. My parents sincerely believed that all of the direction and guidance I would need in life could be found in the Bible or in church. As a consequence, I was not taught or encouraged to make independent choices. My pedagogical indoctrination was so thorough and complete that when I was told, as an impressionable young teen, that God had a very personal “blueprint” for my life, I believed it wholeheartedly. I prayed earnestly for its revelation. I read Christian books on the subject and made myself as receptive as possible for the spirit to “guide my path,” as they say in God-speak. But Guess what? No divine guidance ever came.lighted wooded path

At first I assumed that there was some error on my part, so I hoped and prayed, and waited some more. Still nothing was revealed or made clear. Meanwhile, my life was continuing with or without direction. Time was passing. Clueless as to how to define my talents, much less how to harness and capitalize on them, I fell into a pattern of wandering through my life, often choosing by default.

That is not to say that I never made any good choices, I did. And I accomplished things of value and had enriching life experiences. I do not presume that everyone raised in a similar religious environment had my same experience. But for me, the effects were to cripple and delay my understanding of what it means to live a life with intention. To think about what I really wanted from life and to make conscious choices accordingly.

Of course I eventually came to the realization that I had been mislead-no matter how well-intentioned. There never was a dawn breaking pathblueprint. Life is a mixture of what you make of it and things beyond your control. So you need to make the most of the part you can control. I remember one day stumbling upon the saying “Life isn’t about finding yourself, Life is about creating yourself.” As a person who was programmed to believe just the opposite, you can not imagine how novel the concept of self-determination was to me.

Fortunately I have always been a contemplative, analytical person with a passion for continuous growth and self-awareness. Over the years by observation and analysis as well as by falling into and climbing out of a lot of potholes in the road of life, I have come to grasp the meaning of living with intention. Now my life is about “creating myself,” and choosing what path I want to wander down without anyone’s permission or approval. I may not know my final destination but I am no longer lost.

Dear Reader, do you remember a time in your life when you felt totally lost?

Next time: How a Roman Emperor helped me discover how to live with intention.

The Potholes of Your Mind

While on vacation in New York City last fall I learned how to tie my shoe. No, really. My friend Joy and I were tromping around the city and after my shoe came untied for the tenth time Joy suggested that I tie the loops together “Romper Room style” making a very secure knot. Much to my amazement it worked great and I felt a gap in my education closing.IMG_2557

My remedial instruction in shoe tying got me thinking about all the other gaps lurking in my education. In the category of formal learning, they are extensive. There are all those facts learned and forgotten as well as those never taught me. You know the ones; the 10 major U.S. wars and their dates, all the wives of Henry VIII, Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, and how the electoral college works, etc.

Cognizant of my deficiencies, I bought a most informative and entertaining book a few years ago, An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson. More fun than any text book I ever had in school, the authors wittily fill in a student’s “serious educational gaps” in scholastic learning. From World Religions to Economics to Art Appreciation they cover what you should have learned in school but didn’t. Because knowledge is enriching, and because, as the authors say, “ bumping along over the potholes of your mind day after day can’t be doing much for your self-esteem.”chalk board

But what about the more critical gaps in our emotional and relational education? What about those potholes that we bump along over in life? Like learning to tie our shoes and learning to read and write, we have to learn how to become mature healthy adults. How to respect others who are different from ourselves, how to effectively handle confrontation, how to listen and compromise, all these must be taught. Likewise, we must learn to love and respect ourselves. To become our true selves, to speak our mind, and to be committed and resilient. We are not born knowing how to do these things.

I daresay most of us have learned how to be an adult the hard way. If you are like me, you have fallen into many potholes along the road of life and have learned by climbing back out of them. Some potholes I have failed to steer clear of repeatedly and I have had to learn the same lesson multiple times. I have annoyingly tied and retied the same shoe before learning how to make a secure knot.IMG_2548

Even if you were one of the lucky ones who had parents who served as healthy role models, you still have probably done most of your learning by the trial and error method. And while there are self-help books aplenty, on everything from confrontation to mindfulness, they seem to help best after we’ve already gotten a few battle scars on us.

As a student of life, and becoming my most authentic self, I am a life-long learner. That is a class that never lets out. I have witnessed that the surest sign of old age is the inability to change your mind and so to become rigid and inflexible. In future posts I will talk about how I learned some of my hardest lessons and how I came back out on the other side.

Dear Reader, what are some of the potholes you have navigated in and out of in your life?


Loving Vincent

If you love the work of Vincent Van Gogh as I do then you’ll want to know about a film in the works called “Loving Vincent.” When completed it will be the world’s first feature- length fully painted film. Every frame of the movie is an oil painting on canvas, that’s 12 paintings per second! Over 100 artists are contributing their talents to the project which is being produced by Breakthru Films and Trademark Films.

The film will tell Van Gogh’s life story through his paintings, his letters, and by the characters in his paintings who come to life on canvas. The two trailers below will give you a sense of the film’s beauty and creative genius. To learn more about the immensity of this undertaking you can visit their website http://www.lovingvincent.com












Jury On Trial

I had jury duty yesterday- no wait, I mean jury “service,” as the nice woman in the instructional video corrected me and 75 other potential jurors in an attempt to make us feel better about why we were there. Of course she did have a point. The word “duty” has a somewhat negative connotation in that it implies obligation and obedience. “Service,” on the other hand, sounds more sacrificial, more generous, more noble.High Court

While I wholeheartedly concur on an intellectual level that participating in the legal process as a juror is a right and a privilege of living in a democratic society, I confess to feelings of irritation and anxiety about finding myself literally in the process. With rare exception, everyone I know, (and everyone I spoke to yesterday who was waiting with me in the jury room), dreads the jury summons in their mailbox. Why don’t we feel privileged and empowered by the opportunity to serve? Why does everyone reach for any life circumstance to use as an excuse from service?

On the surface, the explanation seems simple enough.We are all busy people leading complex 21st century lives and jury service is an inconvenience. It disrupts our entire routine and prearranged plans of work, school, and appointments. We are forced to re-schedule and re-arrange, find child care and pet care. But there is another source of our resistance I think.

Serving on a jury, or even spending a day in the jury pool, forces us to move out of the comfort zone of our known world and into the messy and unpleasant story of someone else’s world. It may introduce us to a world that we did not know existed and would prefer not to know anything about. It may involve criminals and the police. The story is no longer just something abstract that we see or hear in the news but one that we actually become a part of for a short while as a juror. Even so, I believe that our reluctance stems from something even deeper as I was soon to discover.

When we were finally ushered into the courtroom, the jury pool had shrunk to fifty people. The judge explained that they were selecting a jury for a criminal trial. Twelve names were called to fill the twelve chairs. I felt a huge sense of relief at not hearing my name called but I knew I was not out of the woods yet.  Once the prosecutor and the defense attorney got through with their questioning, some jurors would be dismissed and I was still in the pool.file000704919536

Initially the attorneys asked routine questions about job and family. They then moved on to questions aimed at revealing any inability on the part of any juror to be impartial in this particular case. Those of us not in the jury box had been instructed by the judge to pay attention to the questions as we might have to answer the same in due course. The attorneys asked jurors of any personal experiences involving robbery and assault. Little by little stories emerged from half of the jurors in the affirmative. Over the course of two more hours another twelve people cycled through the jury box in an attempt to seat an impartial jury to the satisfaction of both sides.

My luck held as the final group was chosen. I would be going home soon, my “tour of duty” completed. But as I waited and listened to the responses of my fellow jurors in that courtroom I realized what may be at the very heart of our aversion to jury service, at least I think it is for me. In a sense, we, the jury, in those moments of reflection, face our own trial. In the quiet solemnity of the courtroom we are forced to examine our hearts and be honest about our own biases and prejudice.Reflection man and mountains

Each juror who had been a victim of robbery or assault was questioned at great length by the prosecutor and then cross-examined by the defense attorney, not in an attempt to pry or be cruel or to embarrass but to get at the truth. Would that juror’s personal experience  prohibit them from judging the facts of the case fairly? I thought it brave and admirable of those who when put on the spot struggled openly to answer that question. Meanwhile I, and I’m sure others in the jury pool, struggled with it privately.

Without exception, they all responded that they wanted to believe that they could be fair and impartial. We all want to believe that. The truth is, we are all composites of our life experiences and we don’t check them at the door of the courthouse or anywhere else we go. And as both attorneys pointed out, that admission is not right or wrong and nothing to be ashamed of. It might mean however, that you are not the right juror for a particular trial.

That day I had to acknowledge that my own bias and prejudice would have prohibited me from being selected for that jury. Had my name been called I know how I would have responded, I would have answered truthfully. This “trial of the jury” as I call it is simply the precursor to the trial itself. They share the same goal, to seek the truth in fairness.