Looking for Subtle Milestones

by | Sep 11, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

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Exploring New Places

drawing of a person hiking through lava beds looking for trail markersI once got lost in lava beds in western New Mexico. I had just moved to Albuquerque, NM, and as part of exploring the area, purchased a book on hiking trails. Heading out to the western part of the state, near Grants, NM, is El Malpais (Spanish for badlands) conservation area. Hiking on lava beds seemed like a great idea in the middle of July in New Mexico (it’s a dry heat, right?).

We decided to do part of the Zuni-Acoma trail, a 7.5 mile (in one direction) trail. The landscape is like nothing I had ever encountered before. The stark harshness was also beautiful in so many ways. The lava beds had shrubs growing up in the cracks. It was like life itself taking hold any way that it could, clinging to the long-cooled lava. There were lava tubes, giant tunnels in the earth that had been created by lava when the volcanoes were active. How different things were then.

And there I was, an East Coast transplant traversing a landscape that was as foreign to me as Mars. I was used to the barren earth showing the way hundreds of others had traveled before me, making the trail obvious. No, in this situation, I was looking for rock cairns to mark the right way. Those rock cairns are built from lava rocks.

Missing the Signs

They blended in amazingly well with the rest of the scenery. Go figure, right? The idea behind the placement of rock cairns is that they need to be visible from one another or placed in such a way that you knew you were on the right path until you reached the next pile of strategically placed rocks. They are easy to miss, especially when you aren’t used to using them. 

Needless to say, we got lost. Once we realized that we didn’t know where we were, there was that moment of panic. That was a time before cell phones (yes, there was a time, shudder to recall those dark ages). Even if we had cell phones, I don’t think they would have worked out there. We were out in the middle of nowhere. The maps in my book were of no help. The landscape looked similar in all directions.

We were out there for what felt like hours under the hot summer New Mexico sun—going different directions, trying to find something that would tell us which way to go. When we found one rock cairn and then another, we knew where we were and where we needed to go.

Finding Your Way

I feel like finding our way in this world is a lot like being lost in those lava beds. The signs that show us the way are too often so subtle that we walk right past them. And so we walk and walk in any direction that seems it will provide us what we are looking for.

How is it that those subtle signs are so often missed and too easy to miss because they are not a giant glaring Las Vegas neon sign? No one looks for those subtle signs. We are not taught to be on the lookout for the smaller markers of progress.

Not to mention that those giant signs don’t typically show up in our lives. It is the subtle ones that tell us that truth. My therapist said when we open ourselves to the universe, the universe talks back, confirming that we are on the right path.

When you only see the significant achievement referred to as an “overnight success,” you assume that it really did happen overnight. It didn’t.

Gloss Over the Pain

We don’t celebrate the daily achievements that at first appear small but day after day of seemingly small (dare I write, simple) accomplishments compile to become that one outstanding achievement. But without doing those seemingly small tasks, you wouldn’t have a great accomplishment.

We are always in such a hurry to get here, go there, buy a bigger house, make more money because we have been taught that those things mean we are successful. But really, what we all need to do is slow down and enjoy the journey. But no, we are in too much of a hurry to get to the big reveal. I learned that lesson that hard way when I had an almost breakdown in December 2018. Not only was I not being true to myself. I was trying to accomplish some great things without even knowing what that was.

Brené Brown writes about this in Rising Strong. She refers to it as “gold-plating grit.” As Brown writes, “We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending.” (315) An example of this is an author will dedicate twenty chapters of a book to their success and only cover the hardship in the first chapter. It is this idea that started me on my blogging journey. I am taking you with me on my messy journey. You are welcome.

Purpose is Peaceful

My journey started when I was swimming upstream against what I should have been doing—that fight of pushing and cajoling to convince myself that I was on the right path. I had missed so many of the subtle signs along the way. And sometimes, I willfully ignored those signs that I needed to be doing something different.

Although I look at all of the things that I have done and I don’t regret any of them, they are a part of my life, and those experiences have led me to be where I am today, doing what I am doing right now. Without going down those paths and exploring, I wouldn’t have been in a position to be oh so ready to see those subtle signs to find my true path and purpose.

It isn’t easy to write about being abused as a child. It requires me to go into a place within myself that I have not looked at in a very long time. But I genuinely believe that this is what I should be doing. I don’t really know why, yet, but I know I will. Someday. Like those rock cairns in the lava beds, I am a bit lost now, with a general idea of where I am going, but the end result, I can’t see that yet, what direction this will take me, I have no idea, but it will take me someplace, that I know. I am on the lookout for the next marker, no matter how subtle.

Sources Cited

Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. New York, NY, 2015.

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