“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. “J.R.R. Tolkien
I have always been a lover of the concept of “journey”. Endless seeking of some great truth, working hard to climb a mountaintop for some gold or treasure. Facing dragons, and ice storms and goblins along the way. Conquering fear, becoming this fearless leader all with some tangible reward and a life full of rest at the end of it all. I believed this to be greatest truth of life. If you were willing to work hard enough, you’d end your days in some lovely place reveling in the memories and the riches of your labor, having grapes fed to you while you lounge around in some marble building facing a sunset. In some ways, I feel this is still my expectation. But I’ve been noticing shifts that make me question what I want my marble building to look like, and what kinds of grapes I’d like.
I have always considered myself an explorer. Someone who would constantly be searching and for some reason, the idea of finding that marble building has always seemed slightly impossible for me. Along the way, the idea of searching for anything tangible has become far less appealing as searching for concepts and my own personal understandings.
When I reflect on when this started to take shape for me a memory comes up: I was in elementary school, and a teacher had asked us to write a paragraph or two about what we “wanted to be when we grew up”. Common responses included things like veterinarians, firefighters, nurses, astronauts. I quickly found I had misinterpreted what she meant. My response was simply “Happy”. I think at this moment, I had started to see my life as something that would be full. But not always of joy and experiences, but of heartache and pain as well. There would be a constant striving for balance and I was totally unaware of how balance and happiness are related.
I fell in love with the concept of journey and “finding home” at a young age. I still don’t even know if I understand what these things mean or meant to me. But I do know that my heart races at the thought. But what is different now, is that I think I have come to realize that one doesn’t always have to be moving in order to be on a journey. It is possible that home is the vessel assigned to us as flesh and bones, and that the journey is learning to love, and adapt, and maintain, and work through. Sometimes this concept feels like enough. Other days, it feels like a crock of shit. Both are acceptable. It is possible to feel both satisfied and disappointed all at once. It is possible to be both comfortable and uncomfortable.
I was having a conversation recently with a loved one, regarding the finality of the way society views success and how I feel this is changing. I remember my entering in the professional world and adapting to the mundane every day and thinking “this cannot be all there is”.
Maybe you will chuckle with the thought of this, and sit back in your chair to admire how naive this sounds. Maybe you agree. Maybe my issue here is greed. Maybe I expect too much out of my experiences, or maybe I have such high hopes that everything can be solved with routine and consistency. But lately I have found myself wandering. I’ve found myself referring some of the writings from my favorite novelists, and poets. I have found myself developing new five year plans, and taking courses and trying to figure out what is next. To be frank, I have found myself wishing my way out of routine to return to this idea of searching again.
When I was in undergrad I was speaking with my professor, and I told him that I want to be a professional in at least five different vocational fields. I wanted to be a forest ranger, a fitness instructor, an artist, a chef, a busness owner, yoga instructor, etc. You name it. He is the first and only person who has ever said “Why can’t you do it all?”. And he is right. I believe it is possible. And I think that is also why I am wandering right now. Exploring every option, trying all of them on and seeing what fits the right way. Reflecting back on this memory, I realize now, that not once did I refer back to my essay answer: “happy”. If you’d asked me right in that moment about what that even meant, I don’t think I could have given you an answer. Knowing what I know now though, I might suggest that had I chosen any one of those paths, happiness would still only lie in whatever I chose to see it in. I would be wandering forever if it meant happiness were a tangible, cookie cutter thing.
People don’t like waiting for what they want. They like instant gratification. I want answers, and direction and I want it all right this instant. I have zero patience. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is an understatement. But I think it is impossible to find any answers without wandering. I also think the wandering teaches patience, and presence. So when it comes to wandering, perhaps the right answer is not to wait. Get up, and start searching right now. Because doing nothing when trying to make decisions and accepting everything exactly as it is (if you are unhappy with wherever you are right now) is still a decision.
I don’t have any answers. I certainly haven’t found any of my great truths yet, and I absolutely do not know what it is like to have balance. But so far I have picked up some knowledge: In order to be able to wander, you have to be able to focus on one thing and multiple things all at once. I’m not talking multitasking. I’m talking openness and focus. I’m talking setting out on one mission while remaining open to the roads that become available to you along the way. There is not right or wrong answer. There is only your answer.
This does not mean that it is okay to lose your ability to stay right here, right now. We learn what we want and do not want from what is happening right now. Answers are actually instantly gratified in smaller ways in the day to day if you are present enough to look. Being too present, and too accepting can allow you to grow roots where you don’t want them planted. So being able to propel yourself once in a while with the notion of seeking and searching for the best fit is an important tool to have.
I think it all just means that humans are seeking true, spiritual, personal, and uninterrupted balance. Balance is what allows us to have patience enough to keep going, and stay present enough to enjoy our journey. And sometimes what we achieve by the end of it, is not as special as we thought it would be. It’s not enough. In fact, maybe the journey was far more exciting.
There have been endless times where I thought my journey was all kinds of messed up. Where I thought my road map was wrong, or that maybe I needed a new one altogether. There were times where I wanted to fling myself off the mountain top and just give up. But whenever I have gotten to this point I give myself permission to pause and take in the view from where I stand. I try to meet myself with where I am at. Sometimes it has been gorgeous and other times it was grotesque. Whenever it was gorgeous it gave me strength to stay where I was and take it in. Whenever it was grotesque I was usually too scared to stay put and it was a reminder to keep moving. The point here is that every journey has gorgeous views, and really rotten ones too. These are the things you will remember when you reach your marble buildings. Take the time to really remember them.
“Not all who wander are lost.” One of Tolkien’s most famous quotes. He’s right. Not everyone who is wandering is lost. In fact, maybe the real puzzler here is figuring out what it means to even be wandering. Sometimes we are just figuring it out. On occasion, not everything about the gold at the end is what it was cracked up to be. Sometimes it is better. Sometimes the gold was just misleading rocks. Other times, perhaps we had gold in our pockets the whole time but because we were seeking the bigger pile we forgot about what we had already brought with us.
The only thing I really know for sure, is that sometimes we have to find our own sunsets, build our own marble places, and grow our own grapes. Even these are subject to change once we have them.
There is a very real possibility that most people will always be wandering, and wondering and being impatient about what is next for themselves. It’s natural. But if we don’t take a minute to consider what our gold really is, then we may never know when we actually have it. I would encourage you to define it for yourself. Perhaps it is balance. Perhaps it is feeling content. Perhaps there is only balance and being content with little sprinklings of joy here and there. Perhaps there is only imbalance and feel discontent with little sprinklings of clarity along the way. This clarity is what will pull you next. This what the wandering is. What is pulling you toward your own personal balance? Where do you find that you feel safe enough to enjoy the sprinklings of joy? What do you want your marble buildings, and sunsets to consist of? How can you access them more frequently? Why can’t you do it all? What types of grapes grow on your vines?
I would encourage you to learn to stay present enough to learn patience while you wander. I know it is difficult to feel like we are constantly racing time so we can have as much time in our marble buildings as possible. But it is possible to access multiple marble buildings and to witness so many sunsets. Do not wait on wandering. You’re not just going to stumble into it. You have to answer your own questions and find your own answers. Wandering does not mean you are lost. Wandering means you are figuring it out. Wandering means it is okay to stop and check your pockets for gold. Wandering means you have time.
What are you currently seeking? Is it clarity, and balance? What are these to you? Do you have a specific map? What are the chances that everything on the map is still accurate? How can you make changes along the way? Are you checking your pockets? Are you allowing yourself to stay present enough to learn patience? Is what you are doing right now allowing you to choose to be happy? Please by all means, wander. Explore. Seek. But don’t forget to take in the views either way.