The path to peace begins with unrest. The path to wisdom begins with unknowing. The path to love begins with loneliness. The path to a new life begins with the old. If we want to get to where we are going, we must first compassionately accept where we are. Then take one brave step forward . . .

All paths of meaning begin with a single, courageous step.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a time he was visiting Seoul, Korea. He was to lead a walking meditation through the streets of that busy metropolis, but before he could even begin, he found himself surrounded by a throng of admirers, who ironically made it impossible for him to walk. He was so crowded in by people who wanted to follow him, there was no place to move.

So he did the only thing he could do. He took a single step. And when he made that simple gesture in the direction of freedom, the crowd immediately parted. A path opened. And so he began to walk. Peacefully. And the people who had once been the obstacle to his movement began to move themselves.

I think we are sometimes like that. Our lives feel so stuck, so crowded, so oppressively stagnant that we see no opening. No path forward. And so we stay just where we are. We lament our lack of opportunity. We think, “This is it. This is the way it will always be. Where I want to be is over there, but I see no path out. So there is no path out.”

But every worthy path must begin with a single step. A step in courage. A step in strength. A step in beauty and faith. This is ultimately the only way out: to go step by step. There is no leaping over it. There is no teleporting our of it. If there is to be a path, we must create it by moving on it. The path is defined by our steps on it.

We have to have faith (as Thich Nhat Hanh did) that in moving forward with compassion and courage —  a path will clear.

Consider these examples:

  • The path to a great book begins on a yawning, empty page.
  • The path to the phone call that will change your life begins with a dial tone.
  • The path to a decluttered home begins in a chaotic mess.
  • The path to a blooming garden begins with a dry patch of land.

We have a choice here:

  • We can stare disconsolately at the empty page and tell ourselves “this book will never get written.”
  • We can listen sadly to the dial tone and tell ourselves, “this sound is the sound of my empty life.”
  • We can stand amidst the chaos of our homes and say, “This mess is reflective of the state of my life.”
  • We can look at the arid land and say, “Nothing will ever, ever grow here.”

Or we can take that one brave, faithful step:

  • We can write that first word on that page.
  • We can dial that first number.
  • We can throw away that first piece of clutter.
  • We can plant that first seed.

Everything changes. Great books emerge from empty pages. Deep relationships emerge from lonely silence. Simplified, joyful homes begin in clutter. Beautiful gardens grow from weedy, arid land.

But we must first write that word, dial that number, say goodbye to the meaningless object, plant that seed. And that all begins with compassion and love for the empty page, the dial tone, the cluttered room, and the empty patch of land. 

And from that place of love and compassion we can take that first brave step, remembering that we can only begin from precisely where we are.

So if you are looking for your path in life — look no further. It is right under your feet!