Who hasn’t made big mistakes? Going down the wrong road. Choosing the wrong study course. Taking up with the wrong business partner. Moving in with, or marrying the wrong person. If your way of life is on the wrong track you may be in a bad way.
Looking back on that bad choice can feel that at the time you had been misled by someone you mistakenly relied on.
But perhaps it was only later that you realised that half the problem with your way of life was that you also misled yourself. How easy it can be to take the easiest way. You kidded yourself you were doing something for the right reason when all along it was for a misleading idea.
For example the mistaken notion that one should follow one’s intuitions (without pausing to gain relevant information). Or the dangerous idea one should act spontaneously in line with one’s impulses (without considering the consequences). Or the erroneous belief it is important to fit in with others expectations (without thinking about what is right for you).
“A well-beaten path does not always make the right road” (old proverb).
Following the right way of life at the crossroad
The trouble is some decisions are difficult to reverse. It can be expensive to leave a business partnership or seek retraining and a new job because you are in the wrong occupation. It can cause heart-ache to seek a separation or divorce especially if children are involved.
So it helps to recognise life’s crossroads when you come to them rather than mindlessly drifting by. It’s all about finding the right way of life by choosing to go in the best direction. Not surprisingly then, writers often refer to one’s spiritual journey in terms of the direction one is travelling. What road one is going down.
Your inner journey and way of life
You have an outward journey that others can see you taking. They see your outward way of life from what has been your vocational training, means of livelihood, clubs belonged to, home location, family situation, etc.
But in addition you will have an inner journey through life. This might be thought of in terms of reaching different states of mind such as those of confidence, fulfillment, and commitment. Alternatively the inner journey might be seen in terms of arriving at different cognitive states of knowledge, understanding, illumination.
Religious people might experience their inner journey in terms of passing through different states of doubt, belief and conviction. Mystics in terms of attaining different states of vision, wonder and enlightenment.
In whatever manner the journey is understood, your way of life will consist of different inner states of mind.
Way of life and higher principles
If your inner path in life does not feel like progress, then you might want to reconsider what actual ways you are following.
I would suggest this means being more mindful of the crossroads and making better choices. A crossroad might be when you experience an inner conflict – between for example on the one hand acting in line with family expectations and on the other hand exploring your own potential. It could be between keeping someone at an emotional distance or making a deeper commitment to the relationship.
From a spiritual angle making personal choices can involve taking into account your higher principles – ensuring what you choose is in line with the ethical, moral or spiritual considerations that you understand to be good and true.
Going your own way
Spiritual writers say that taking the wrong path often stems from short-sightedly following thoughts that fit in with having one’s own way and other self-centred desires and worldly aspirations. I happen to believe that trying to get what you want for yourself, without regard for others, will adversely affect your inner state of life.
“Our sense of self misleads us into putting our needs before others, thinking we are right or of more worth than others….Are we being led by unhelpful and misleading ideas which have us going around in circles, trapped in the world of superficial talk, weary roles and pointlessness.?” (Helen Newton and Becky Jarratt, Soul Symbols)
From a religious angle the alternative to going one’s own way, is to follow God’s way. Or if you are not religious, to pursue the path of your Higher Self. Both of these involve reflecting on higher ideas about what is deeply good for the sake of moderation and self-restraint, of the needs of other people you come across, and of the needs of the community.
Your way of life and what is shown in sacred writing
You may well feel you have come a long way already and have little need for any changed thinking regarding your current way of life. But whatever much personal improvement you have made, does this way of thinking suggest a hint of complacency? Isn’t there always room to mend one’s ways?
Actually, the decision points occur every day. Spiritually speaking, you encounter crossroads all the time. It’s just that you don’t always recognise them.
Speaking for myself, instead of taking the easy way out sometimes my personal choices need to be taken that involve more self-control, more spirit of generosity, more forgiving of others, more doing the right thing, and more honesty.
You may not know which way to turn but sacred writing offers this verse:
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah, Old Testament prophet)
That’s the thing about a cross-road. You can’t take more than one route. You can’t have it both ways.
In other words, the way of life God in the Bible talks about, will come to those who search for good ways to follow. In the time of Moses, the people called the ‘children of Israel’ were told what was said to be the truth concerning this good way.
Their getting lost in the wilderness can be seen as a symbol of their inner wanderings. We all probably tend to take ‘umbridge’ if told what to do. So the idea of God’s commands – inscribed on two flat stones and known as the ten commandments – seems old hat.
Yet you might want to think of his should’s and should-not’s as useful guidance for you to seriously consider. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not lie. etc. The journey to the promised land of those following Moses is one of only slow progress over a period of forty years. Wasn’t the reason said to be because the people failed to follow divine guidelines? They took to worshipping idols. They had to learn what was good for them the hard way.
Religious teachers say following a way of life in line with ethical guidelines is the true way to find a lasting form of happiness. By starting to do this, there’s always a chance to claw your way back from a bad situation and find a better way of life. If the God religious people worship really is a God of love, then I would suggest love will find a way of getting you there – to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands