You can’t get there from here.

Physical metaphors are powerful because they help us build a bridge from the tangible or “real” to the spiritual or intuitive. Sometimes I’ll be going about the daily tasks of life and have an epiphany right then and there…like I did driving around in Portland recently.

Portland is a sweet little city and it’s pretty easy to navigate once you learn the layout (quadrants!) and the major crossroads. I, however, have never been one to take the main throughways, because they feel slower to me since there is usually quite a bit more traffic than on the back roads. I like the movement and sense of freedom (read: no cars in front of me) taking the back roads allows even if the cost is going slower. (Are you already starting to see this as a metaphor for life?) So I keep trying new routes driving the city and because of Portland’s wonky layout, I inevitably end up at a dead end. In fact, I usually make many unexpected detours before reaching my final destination.

At first I was getting really frustrated about this—apologies to my sis who witnessed these freak outs a number of times. Then, the epiphany: You just can’t get there from here. It’s nothing to fret over, it’s just a fact. You can’t drive through the house at the end of the street, so you’d better turn and keep on moving.

This is life, too. If you want to meander, learn your own way, discover and explore instead of taking the known and fast route to “arrive” you’ll be making a lot of unexpected turns, romping around on new territory, and at times taking longer than your compadres on the highway.

You’ll also be learning more, seeing more and enjoying more beautiful scenery since you’re going slower. In either case you’ll likely experience frustration—on the main thoroughfare because of traffic and lack of expediency and on the back roads because you’ll be lost a lot. My frustration started to calm when I realized that obstacles are often just guidance to a new route. And this, for me, is one of the key differences between trying out an unknown route and sitting in traffic or whizzing by on the super highway, you’re always moving and usually at just the right pace to make choiceful decisions about where you’ll go next.

Making friends with Unknown

Unknown and I have been friends for a while.

She was always hanging around like a kid sister, wanting attention. But she was pretty quiet about it and I didn’t really take notice of her until about five years ago.

She’s a loyal friend to me, but, to be totally honest, I’m a fair-weather friend to her.

Sometimes she’s exciting to be around. Then I’m totally on her side. She’s my bestie and together we blaze new trails up mountains and skip hand in hand down colorful neighborhoods in unexplored cities.

Sometimes, though, she’s downright scary to be around, I know it’s not her fault, but I blame her. Sometimes I lash out and cry and throw a fit. Sometimes I recoil and try to ignore her.

She just sticks around with a wise smile and waits for me to get it together.

My favorite thing about her are the surprises. Man she’s come up with some amazing surprises! I’ve been blindsided with bliss at some of the things she’s arranged for me.

One time she led me to a farm in the desert! We ate lots of chard and beets and carrots and hiked around on slickrock. There were a bunch of kindhearted people that became new friends there, too.

Another time she took me to Idaho. She pulls this kind of thing a lot.

“Idaho?!” I asked with a cocked brow. “Seriously?” I was really skeptical about this journey.

“Trust me.” She said, sweet but firm. (How does she never get irritated with me?)

So I did.

Of course more magic awaited that I never could have anticipated. (Have you been to Idaho?) She guided me to the most serene place I’ve been. It started from the outside; sitting watching those majestic Sawtooth Mountains brought me instant peace. Eventually the feeling seeped in through my pores, entered with each inhalation, and stayed with me internally.

The thing is that she’s always doing stuff like this. She loves it. It feels like a gift to me, but the truth is that it’s just how she is. She’ll do it for you, too. That’s just her thing.

Knowing her tremendous capacity to give, I’m not sure why I keep resisting her. She does get a kick out of that cocked eyebrow and all my skepticism and hesitancy. But, like all good friends, she sees the best in me.

She beckons my boldness. Whether I like it or not, she challenges me. I know she’d never lead me into something I can’t handle (even though at the time I can’t always see how). In that way she sorta knows me better than I know myself.

I learn a lot from her, too.

I admire her sense of adventure and play. She’s the kind of gal who walks smilingly through the rain and opens any unlocked door (they’re always unlocked!).

“What’s in here? What’s over here?” she asks constantly. She always wants to talk to strangers—“Just friends you haven’t met yet” she says—and try new things.

Comfortable is uncomfortable to her. When the days start looking too similar, she suggests we go on an adventure or call someone we haven’t talked to in a while.

“I know!” she’ll exclaim, “Let’s go to the library and pick a book at random to read. Maybe we’ll get to learn about covered wagons or Jewish history or bird calls!”

Again, my skeptical raised eyebrow appears. But with her by my side, I know I’ll learn something relevant—bird calls and all are just metaphors for life. She’s always pointing that kind of stuff out.

Her wonder and wisdom astound me. That’s why despite the rough patches, I think Unknown and I will be friends for life.

Tell me about it.

The things most worth talking about often tend to be the most difficult to explain. Perhaps “difficult” isn’t the best word. You see, for life’s most profound experiences, words just fail me. The very thing that makes these experiences so compelling is that unexplainable quality. Their ineffability.

But they are also the experiences we most desperately seek explanation for and desire to understand before committing to doing them. They are risky or scary or otherwise cause us to pause.

I’ve done this to others and had it done unto me…
Seriously though, tell me all about it….And then what? And what about this? And that?

I think this comes (at least in the West) from our education and faith in critical thinking. A presumption that we can know; we can figure it out. Though critical thinking certainly has its place, it can also lead us down a path of contraction, shutting down possibilities before we’ve even had a chance to imagine, much less experience, them. Bringing critical thinking and only critical thinking to our decision-making process (about which experiences we do and don’t want to have) keeps the focus on flaws, which can easily turn into excuses not to do something.

The problem with the knowing-before-doing model is that we can never know everything. One key missing component, for example, is knowing how we will experience the thing in question. (Whereas the person we’re questioning only knows how they experienced it.) What will we make of it?

We all bring different things to our experiences and thus get different things out of them. And since, as Danielle LaPorte says, “You are the expert on you,” no one can ever tell you how something will be for you. They can only tell you how it was for them. And, of course, you’ll never know how it will be for you until you’ve done it.

Chances are if you’re interested enough to have generated multiple questions, it’s a sign you should go do the dang thing. Attempting to understand every aspect before you jump into the experience may well leave you wandering in your field of wondering. Just go for it.