“The universe is wider than our views of it.”
– Henry David Thoreau
One day, during March of last year, I was visiting my brother and his girlfriend at their house.
The TV was turned on, and we were watching one of those reality shows on cable. The entire show revolved around a group of friends in New Jersey. It turns out this group of friends visited the same bar every weekend with the sole purpose of getting drunk and hooking up.
The bar was not that big and so most of the time, as you watched this show, you saw this group of friends walking around in circles, from clique to clique, getting into arguments, participating in fistfights, making out, breaking up, getting arrested, and, for the most part, acting like fools.
I was watching this show for the first time at my brother’s house, when my brother’s girlfriend, M, asked me a question.
“Hey, Ollin: remember that beautiful park you told us about?” M asked.
She was talking about the park I often visit–the one I described in great detail last week. This was the park I started visiting ever since I began writing my first novel three years ago.
I had recommend this park to my brother and his girlfriend a few weeks prior.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, we went to that park the other day,” M said. “But when we came to the end of the park, we decided to go further. We didn’t know if there was anything more to it, but we just decided that we’d try it and see.”
“At first it seemed like we just ended up walking through a neighborhood,” M continued. “But then we reached the part where the park’s path reappeared again. It was a dirt path and this path led is further down, and before we knew it, we were in this other section of the park, and the park kept going and going and going, and we literally walked for hours before we realized we had to return. The park just kept going–and it was beautiful Ollin. There were flowers, and trees, and it was very peaceful, and we couldn’t believe it. And you know that creek that runs straight to through the middle of the park? It just kept going and going and going, and we never saw the end of it!”
“Did you know that’s how far that path went?” M asked me.
I was dumbstruck. I turned to her, baffled.
“No,” I said. “I had no idea.”
Later That Evening
After I left my brother’s house that day, I kept thinking about what my brother’s girlfriend had said. I couldn’t believe that for the past three years I had been visiting this park and I had no idea that I was only visiting a fraction of it.
You have to understand: I was intimately acquainted with this park. I visited it often. I had become so familiar with the people who went there. I thought I had come to know every nook and cranny.
I had thought that the only path that existed there was the cement one that spun around the park in a circle; and now I realized that I was literally running around in circles this whole time, never knowing that there was a way further out. Just when I thought I had covered everything, here I was being a shown a path that was much greater than I thought was possible for me.
I decided that night that I had to visit the park again as soon as possible, and see what M was talking about.
The Next Morning
The next morning, I put on my old, dirty, worn-out tennis shoes and went straight to the park.
As soon as I arrived, I stretched briefly, then I started my run.
I began by following the circular cement pathway, as usual, but this time, instead of stopping at the end of the park (or what I had thus far perceived was the end of the park) I kept going, as if to tread a spiral path instead of a circular one.
For a moment, I was nervous. It appeared as if I had landed into a neighborhood, and as if there was no more to the park–but this was just an illusion–a brief interlude–for soon the path picked up again, and kept going.
The first hidden section of the park that I discovered was not very impressive. The trees were dry and nearly barren there, and there was no grass. There was just dirt everywhere. But I found the creek, flowing straight through the middle of it all, still flowing, still moving past every obstacle, and that was all the proof I needed that I was going the right way.
I kept going.
Soon, the path opened up into what appeared to be a private garden. It was marvelous. Green grass, tall trees, and flowers of all colors–blues, and whites, and yellows–appeared before me. Everything was sunny, and it was marvelous.
But when I reached the end of this beautiful section of the park, I arrived at a tunnel.
Yet this was another illusion. There appeared to be nothing at the other end of this tunnel at first glance: just an alleyway that the creek poured into. But I recalled what my brother’s girlfriend had told me, that the park went on for hours, and so I just kept going, trusting her words.
Once I was inside the tunnel, it was dark and cool, and because it was so bright that day, the inside of the tunnel appeared even that much darker by contrast. The journey through the tunnel was quiet and ominous, but it only lasted a little while.
Soon, I came out from behind this brief darkness, to the other side.
On the other side, even though I knew what to expect, I was still surprised: I found that the park continued still—along with the flowing creek!
The park was beautiful and sprawling. The grass was a bright green, and there were flowers and trees of all shapes and sizes. There were butterflies fluttering, squirrels squirming, and birds chirping with great exuberance.
It was really beautiful.
As I ran through all of this wonderful, almost heavenly scenery, I realized that the more the path revealed itself to me, the bigger and more marvelous it was–and before I knew it, I was smiling. My smile got bigger and bigger until I started to laugh like a madman. I nearly cried: I was so overwhelmed with joy.
My laughter subsided as I came upon another dark tunnel.
Again, there was a brief period of solemness and quiet tragedy; but then, again, that time passed, and on the other side, there was still MORE creek, and more park that was revealed!
The spiral path kept going until it finally led me to a local university.
But by this time I had seen enough.
I stopped and took a breather. I shook my head:
How silly had I been these past three years? I thought. Why had I assumed the limitations of this place? Why had I never questioned, or ever wondered, that there was still more to be known, still more to be seen, still more marvelous things to do? Still much more nooks and crannies left to explore? Still so much more story to finish?
As with everything, I took this experience as the perfect metaphor for what I was learning in my life:
I thought: if I had just focused on widening my view of what was possible for me these last three years, instead of focusing on what I perceived where limitations, I might have discovered a whole lot more sooner that I was underestimating what experiences life was capable of providing for me.
By the time I had reached the local university, I decided to stop my little adventure.
But before I turned to make my way back home, I noticed that there was runners coming from the opposite direction. These other runners were coming from places I had never been to, but they were headed in the direction I had just come from—a place that had become home to me.
It was then that I realized, with great irony, that these strangers who were running toward my home saw this home as a place to arrive, whereas I saw my home as a place to depart. It was then that I understood that although we were not headed in the same direction, we were still on the same path. The only difference was that they were headed to a place that was new to them, but old to me. Whereas I was headed to a place that was old to them, but new to me.
In this way, I realized, life becomes a journey of us traversing the familiar paths of others, until those familiar paths become our own “familiar paths.” At which point, when those new paths become too familiar, we get bored, and we push forward even more, until we inevitably find that there is still so much more to the story than what we saw on the first page.
However wide we think life is, it only gets wider.
As Thoreau says: the universe is wider than our views of it. This means that not one of us, alone, can ever see the entire picture, and that’s why its better to constantly widen our view of what is possible for us, rather than mull over our limitations.
We are always going to underestimate life, so that is why we must strive to overestimate life constantly. Only then will we gain a better idea of what is truly possible for us.
And even then, we will only have an inkling.
Today’s Courage Exercise
Widen your view of what is possible for you. As practice, visit a facet of your manuscript that you’ve become so familiar with you are certain there is nothing about it left to explore. Then challenge yourself: go a further out than you have ever gone before.
If you’re not a writer, visit a place that you have become so familiar with that you’re certain there is nothing about it left to explore. Then challenge yourself: go a further out than you have ever gone before.
Who knows? You may discover a universe that is so much wider than you think it is.
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