Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
October 2009 - Volume 09, No. 10
The Old Orchard Road
There were three of us, and none of us could find it. The other party left some time before, and we were to meet them at an old orchard, developed by inhabitants of this island early in the last century. I knew the island well to this point, about a mile from camp. Our instructions were then to find a road, through these woods, that then headed generally south, to that orchard. But as the three of us explored in ever wider circles, we could find nothing of such a road. Generally I’m pretty good at finding my way in places like this, but not this time.
So we headed back, having no other choice. However, soon we met the other party, who were themselves returning. I told them of our difficulties, and one fellow, a friend of many years, and definitely my superior in orienting through northern woodlands, told me how to find the road:
Look for what is new, and look for what has fallen. Then don’t see either of them, and you’ll see what you’re looking for.
They went on, but the three of us just had to go back and try out this new advice. And sure enough, we returned to the same general place and looked around through the woods. I looked for young new trees, and also looked for fallen trees - there were many of both. When I chose not to see them, behold, with a clarity that astounded and almost frightened me - there was the road!
That was last Summer - and the experience still sits there, fascinating me. There’s surely more I’m supposed to learn. Something resonated there deep within, and still does.
In my clinical work, I’ve long learned to never assume something is what it seems. It’s especially true working with couples - what I get from one party that seems to be a coherent account, can collapse completely when I speak to the other. My job is to look through all the clutter to find some connection to a desired common reality.
So what do I do with this lesson of the invisible orchard road? How do I learn to not see that which prevents me from seeing what I’m otherwise looking for?
On our website homepage, I’ve defined our therapy work as “(helping you to) accomplish that creative combination of (a) what your heart desires, and (b) what is right for you.” That combination can be like looking for the old orchard road.
What gets in the way so we can no longer see the road? Let’s use my island friend’s two-pronged advice.
1) Look for what has fallen. This can mean things that have died, or are dying, or have died to us - and never got cleared out of the way. Some dead trees never fall all the way, and for years can just lean against another until time or a purposeful path-clearing person comes along to finish the work. Some fallen trees do fall all the way, but then lay across the path or road, cluttering both our vision and our ability to pass through.
We’ll do this - hold onto something that’s already dead. Or, what in our lives can no longer stand on its own, but now leans on something or somebody in a way that clutters or blocks our ability to see and move forward? This doesn’t mean we necessarily have to get rid of it, but just stop seeing it so we can still see our larger (life) path.
2) Look for that which is new. This at first seems counter-intuitive. But in the woods, new growth will show up irrespective of what was previously there. It hasn’t yet been tested or ordered by the older established patterns of life. Roads that are commonly used are, of course, frequently cleared. But old roads, may become lost just by all the new growth that assumes itself anywhere and everywhere, and thus abandoned or disappears as a road.
We live in a time that celebrates (especially economically) anything that is new - new toys, new tools, new machines, new ideas, new ways of doing things, new people. And when an old way is of no further use or value, the forest simply overcomes it with new growth.
But when our search or journey involves the finding of something older, deeper, richer, we need to have eyes with the ability to not see (or see through) all that new stuff that seeks by its nature to take over the territory.
The road of the heart is often like that old orchard road. And it is the desire of the heart that keeps us searching, through both new and old, to find for ourselves that way that is right for us.
Long ago I was advised to consider that nothing is really as it seems. There is always something else hidden maybe just behind it. And in one’s journey of life, that’s one of the great secrets. We have to learn to see behind what is, in order to see what really is. My friend on the island taught me an important lesson about that. And I now pass it on to you. It’s a radical teaching, so
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