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Burning the Map

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Expectation is premeditated disappointment.
--Sogyal Rinpoche

Everyone's life journey eventually arrives at a precipice or fork in the road. At some point we will come to the end of a path and no longer know our way. Hard as this is, this is where the inner journey begins, when all we've carried has served its purpose and now we must burn our expectations to light our way. This is when we assume our full stature in order to see what's ahead. This is when the soul shows itself, if we listen.

My group and I were discussing this when I asked them to describe a time when their hard work led to an unexpected outcome and what that experience taught them. Mark told us that, from an early age, he had an uncanny ability to hit the center of a target with a gun. His father was an avid hunter and competitive marksman. Delighted to discover his son's gift of accuracy, he steered him and trained him to excel at target shooting. Mark was a prodigy. His young life revolved around marksman competitions and the lift of his father's approval. For more than ten years, Mark set records in competitions. His father was pleased and had him train harder. Mark was even invited to join the Olympic team.

When twenty-eight, Mark was at a competition, waiting his turn. He was videotaping the others, when a missed shot ricocheted into his right wrist, his trigger hand. As Mark was telling this, he began to well up. I was surprised by what he shared next.

Mark said that the injury prevented him from competing anymore. And while his father was devastated and everyone felt the whole thing a tragedy, he secretly felt relieved to be free of his father's dream. He felt liberated to have an unknown path freshly before him, and grateful that he could walk away from his life of shooting without having to disappoint his father. Quite unexpectedly, beyond all his years of work to find the center of the target, it was an errant shot that let him fly like a tiny bird through the hole in the target into the rest of his life.

Effort itself is a blessing, but when effort races ahead of our love for what we're doing it becomes destructive. Each of us is called by others to work our way to the center of the target. Each of us is challenged by circumstance to break the next board. But sometimes it's the gift of limitations that returns us to the pace of what we love. It's the gift of limitations that frees us to find our own dream. It's the pain of the final board that breaks the trance of protecting ourselves from life with the armor of accomplishment.

There's nothing wrong with mastering any skill or accomplishing any task, as long as that mastery or accomplishment is born of our love, as long as we can remember it is we who are being created and shaped by our immense effort. What we often perceive as failure is an unexpected opening in our lives. Nothing is wasted. Sometimes the map we work so hard to chart and follow needs to be burned in order for us to live our own life.

A Question to Walk With: Describe an inheritance of values or goals that no longer works for you. Describe your history with this inheritance: how it came to you, how it worked for you, and when it stopped being relevant.

Recently, Sounds True published a major collection of my poetry, The Way Under the Way, which contains three separate books of poetry, gathering 217 poems retrieved and shaped over the past twenty years. These poems span my life's journey and they center on the place of true meeting that is always near, where we chance to discover our shared humanity and common thread of Spirit. The above poem is from the book.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.