Hacking through the bush

Imagine this thing called life as a great jungle we have to navigate. Now imagine there are only three means through which we can move amongst it:

  1. We can cut our way through the dense jungle.
  2. We can walk along poorly defined dirt paths.
  3. We can careen down smooth, straight roads.

The three are different in a variety of ways. The first is what you can see in front of you.

Dense jungle limits your vision to only that which is in front of you. You can see nothing except the next few branches and bunches of foliage you have to slash your way through. Dirt paths allow you to glimpse a little further. To where the next bend in the meandering path comes and no further. A smooth, straight road allows you to see, almost uninterrupted, to the horizon. 

The three routes also differ in what you can see behind. As you cut your way through the jungle, you craft a passageway out of the very material of its makeup. Like the dirt path, looking back along towards where you’ve come from, you can see the most recent part of your journey, but not much more. On a smooth, straight road you can see as far behind you as you can in front.

They also differ in their oppressiveness. Above and to the side of a smooth, straight road there is open space. You can see the sky. Your space is not impeded by anything. On a dirt path, you can see the jungle’s canopy, but the trees that surround you are always reaching over your head, as if they’re preparing to envelop and make you a permanent part of the wilderness. Cutting through is most oppressive. All around you is the jungle. You cannot see around or above, and the wild is constantly touching you, pushing back.

The final way they differ is in their connection to others. A smooth, straight road indicates a route that many have travelled. A route so popular and so frequently used that a collective decision was made to make it permanent and clear and easy to travel down. A dirt path indicates a history of minor use. It shows that a small group of people, or one person on a very regular basis, use the path. Their frequent use of the route has made a transient mark in the wild. Cutting through the jungle indicates that no one has gone this way before. That where you’re going, or at least, the route you’re taking to get there, has not yet been taken.

What you’re supposed to do with this model of a great jungle and the options for traversing it, I don’t know. But there’s one thing that’s worth keeping in mind. From what I’ve seen and learnt so far, the most interesting lives—not the happiest, or the most meaningful, or the most devoid of suffering—are the lives of those who didn’t take the road or the dirt path. Or if they did, they eventually wandered off of them. No, the most interesting lives are those of the people who spent their time in the wilderness—their life—hacking through the bush.