NZ forest

In northeastern NZ, where I’m writing this, the flora is so lush and large, you expect a velocaraptor to run around the bend at any moment.

Luckily they don’t. But it got me thinking about what life would be like if humans suddenly disappeared.

Up here, I’m not sure you’d notice – at least you wouldn’t after a few years.

Nature grows quickly in this part of the world. So much so that it’s a top logging spot. In the right season, you have to continually cut back tracks or they’ll over grow within weeks. It’s a lot of work, but you’re aware of how life works here:

Things grow – and you either beat the same path over and over, or it disappears into the unkempt, virgin forest.

Hiking in the bush this week reminded me of the Buddhist concept of a beginner’s mind. Because, when we’re children, we approach life with curiosity. We don’t have clear paths cut through our wild minds yet. Yet, over time, we repeatedly tread the same way, establishing obvious networks and connections.

If we’re lucky, when we want to change a thought pattern, the old route will slowly grow over as we shift our focus to creating a new connection. But, sometimes, the path is so well-worn and the forest so tamed, that the scar of the old direction lingers long after it’s stopped being used.

If you’ve ever tried to change a habit – whether it’s quitting smoking or being kinder to the face in the mirror – you’ve experienced what I mean.

Changing is hard. Creating new patterns is hard. Forgetting old ones is even harder.

But we can learn something from the forest. It teaches us that the key to change is not just creating the new, but to give so little attention to the old route that the environment has no choice but to absorb it back into its wildness.

In real life this means stop beating the drum of what’s no longer needed. Stop talking about how you’re blocked and broke, or how you don’t trust yourself and can’t do it. You wouldn’t bushwhack a path you no longer used, so why repeat the beliefs you’d rather not have?

Instead, forge a new path.

Sure, the first few trips are going to be hard work as you clear the way. Absolutely you’ll have to consciously walk it over and over again until it the route starts to take shape. But someday the way will be well-worn and keeping it clear will only take minimal effort.

So take a leaf from nature’s book and let the raw wilderness of your mind reclaim who you no longer want to be. And if you find it challenging to venture off alone into the unknown of what might be instead, find courage in these words from Robert Frost (they’re famous for a reason):

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Be free. Be brave. Be YOU!