We had very loose plans for this trip. Read this to be we had flights and accommodation booked. Other that that, we were freewheeling. We’ve come to love trips like this; no schedules, no pressure, no deadlines.
We’d read and heard about possible places to visit but we had no firm plans. I knew I’d love a visit to the famous Butchart Gardens. We’d last been there about thirty years ago, when we spent the better part of a summer camping on Vancouver Island with our then small children. I had some vague memories of it but was curious to see the gardens again. They did not disappoint.
As we entered the grounds and began to get our bearings I saw a little path off to our left. It was not special in any way, and no sign marked it’s destination. It was much narrower than the wide paved path, that travels through the upper gardens. Why not, we thought, never having a clue about what magic was awaiting us as we made our sharp turn to the left.
As soon as we made the turn and took a few steps, we found ourselves in a tunnel of beauty. Majestic cedar trees dwarfed us on both sides, providing us a grand archway of muted light as we walked along the small path through the woodland. We could clearly see an opening ahead, and we made our way toward it. The vista awaiting our arrival was breathtaking. We had stumbled upon the Sunken Garden. The Sunken Garden, like the rest of Butchart Gardens, was built upon an old quarry.
In the centre of the Garden rose a limestone mound, offering a lookout point. From there we could marvel at the winding paths traveling past the flower beds, the Ross Fountain at the end of it, and the green cloaked walls of the original quarry. I was captivated. While we wound our way through the Sunken Gardens, not only once, but again at the end of our day, I couldn’t help but think about our little decision to take that left hand turn onto an unexceptional path early in the day.
Of course we would have eventually found the Sunken Garden, after all, we did have a map of the Gardens to follow. And clearly, the Sunken Garden is not a secret garden. It is one of the highlights of this National Historic Site. Yet at the moment when the little path opened up to it, and for days later, I couldn’t help but think about the possibilities that await us in the least expected places.
I’m a girl who, for most of her life, has loved predictability. I might go so far to say I have thrived on it. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge risk taker, and yet others, hearing about some of the things I do, consider me to be quite adventuresome, even brave. What they likely don’t know, is that in all my adventures, I have a careful plan. I don’t think of marathoning as brave for instance. After all, I know the distance, I know the date of the race, and I know how to put together a training plan that will give me the highest chance of success. It’s the same with bike races, the same with workshops, the same with helping organizations with strategic planning, the same with entertaining. For the vast majority of things I do in life, I’m a risk minimizer, not really a risk-taker at all.
A decent psychologist, or even just a thinking person, wouldn’t take very long to sort out the why of this. When you lose a parent at an early age, figuring out a way to maintain safety, to gain some control, is paramount. Without realizing, or planning, it becomes a way of being. Being in control feels good. The tricky part is this, we are never in control of life. We can only be in control over our response to it.
In the last couple of decades, I’ve finally figured out that I can trust myself to handle the unexpected. That taking unmarked paths, paths without clear signage or detailed instructions, can provide some of the most beautiful moments in life. Sometimes when we let ourselves take a chance, try something new, go a different way, open ourselves to new thoughts, learn a new skill, or take a carefully unplanned vacation, the results are far, far more incredible than anything we could have scripted for ourselves.
When I look back on some of the chances I’ve taken, I know this to be true. Jim and I moving to Alberta to take new teaching jobs was one of these. With only a second-hand car, an unseen one room apartment over a meat market, and a job at a school I had never seen with a principal and staff I’d not met, we took a chance. It turned out to be one of the absolute best decisions of my life.
When we embarked upon our project in Africa, I had absolutely no idea, not one, of how to raise funds, how to safely transfer funds, how to make connections, or how to build a school. And yet, there was this little unmarked path inviting me to walk along it, and to invite others to join me. As Life is wont to do, she provided exactly the right people at just the right time to make this one of the most satisfying ventures I have ever committed to. I had no way of mapping out a plan, and even if I had, I could never have planned this as well as it turned out.
My experience with dance has been the same. I found this little dance group on line. No experience needed, said the website. I did not know one person in this group, and I definitely had no experience. My heart pounded as I drove to the venue on the first evening. I got lost on the way and wanted to turn back. A little voice whispered, ‘Keep going. Take a chance.’ That little path to dance led me to incredible friendships, to a new confidence, to unbelievable opportunities, and has made my world infinitely rich.
Life is filled with unexpected little paths, little invitations, even whispers, calling to us. ‘Give it a try’ it might quietly nudge. Sometimes the paths I choose begin with a bit of uncertainty inside of me. But I know I’m on the right path when I feel my heart filling and a gentleness settling in my soul.
I wish for you the discovery of beautiful, unexpected paths.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What path is awaiting me?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups and has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to explore unremarkable paths.