A lot of people talk about living in the now. I much prefer the concept of following the path.
This concept comes from Taoism, where Tao means path or route. You may find it in other Asian religions and philosophies, such as Chinese Buddhism which is usually called Zen, but even in works such as "Hagakure", the Book of Samurai".
The concept of a path is fairly simple. Imagine that you are travelling somewhere, you get on the path and just follow it. Maybe the path will go left or right, maybe it will even back track, but generally you will trust the path to take to your destination. There are a number of concepts that come from following a path.
A path is not the shortest route
Goal orientated thinking means that we will often try and take the direct route. However that might take us over the edge of cliffs and to the banks of deep rivers.
The path is long and winding, but the direct route is clearly impossible
When we follow the path we are essentially trusting it to take us to the destination in the easiest way possible. It may go around a mountain or lead us to a bridge.
You have to find your path
Finding the path is the key critical thing. When we set a goal and create a step plan we are trying to achieve something.
When we find a path we might have the same goal but instead of having a step-by-step plan, we simply trust the path to take us there. The trick is to find the start of the path or you will remain lost.
To travel the path we have to put in effort
While it would be nice if we followed the travelator to our destination, the reality is that we have to put effort in. Some paths I have hiked involved lots of effort, including climbing bluffs, wading through streams and skirting dangerous cliffs.
Life is like that. We need to put effort in to move forward. We simply have to trust that if we are on the path, it will be easiest or best of all choices. Such as that steep bluff we are scrambling up is still better than the sheer cliffs on both sides.
The path isn't always easy and nice
It would be nice if life was always easy and good. I have noticed that some people when you are walking with them, walk slower and slower when the journey is boring or difficult. I believe it is during these times that we need to put in the most effort to arrive at the nice places on the path or even our destination.
Even when there are obstacles on the path it is still the easiest route
Life is similar. Often we have boring parts to our life. Maybe it is going to work or studying to better our career. Perhaps it is spending time with your loved one's annoying family or listening to your friends' problems. Whatever the problem or hassle it is just a challenge on the path of our life.
Your focus is on following the path not the destination
This is where it is important to live in the now. When you walk on a path you stop thinking about your destination and focus more on where you place your feet.
In life, instead of thinking about our eventual goal all the time, we have to focus on what we are doing now and do it whole heatedly. But we need to make sure we are on the path when we put effort in. Just like straying off a physical path means the effort can make us more lost, so too can putting effort into the wrong things in life.
Yes, you can set long-term goals
One of the problems with the current trend for "living in the now" is that it ignores the problem that there may be more than one path. Anyone who has followed a physical path or road realises that there are often choices and these choices are based on our long-term goals. Living in the now is different from following a path.
I have been bushwalking with a number of groups where people just keep walking down a path without regard to intersections that they need to take. In hiking it can not only mean you are lost but has caused people to die, and life is like that as well.
We can just follow a path to where it leads us
Have you ever found a path and just walked along it. I know I have on many occasions and in different countries. Often I have found the most amazing destinations and seen very interesting things.
I took this picture after walking randomly in the mountains when I worked in a small village in Northern China
This applies to the path of my life. Sometimes I just go with it and see where it takes me. The picture included here was taken by a combination of taking a random short-term contract to teach in a small village in Northern China and stepping onto a random path and walking.
Don't live in the now, walk on the path
Living in the now is a great idea, but it is only part of it. To be part of something bigger, to reach a destination and to even achieve your goals, we should try to follow a path.
Following the path is about moving forward, but letting yourself trust the path so that you are able to enjoy what is around you.