Life at a Crossroads

Popular wisdom states: „There are no sign posts on the crossroads of life.“ That often comes to mind when I sit in my practice with people who are facing important decisions in their lives and just don’t know where to go. The same obviously applies when I face the same dilemma, myself. Sooner or later and more or less frequently all of us find ourselves on those life’s crossroads when we have to decide on an alternative and at the same time bid farewell to other opportunities. Changing the job or better not? Continuing a relationship or put an end to it? Emigrate or preferably stay in my native country? Having a child or not? The choice between professional education or an academic career. And . . . and . . . and.

Sometimes some of these decisions are more grave than others – for instance those dealing with for or against a child cannot be changed (at least from a certain point on). Naturally that is scary: What if we make the wrong decision? If we waste important opportunities and potentially regret it for the rest of our lives that we made that and not another choice? Or – when the head makes the case for one alternative and the heart objects? Sometimes the fear of the wrong decision is so great that it affects us like the serpent did the rabbit – we do nothing. In that case we sit petrified at our crossroads, unable to move forwards, backwards or sideways.
Of all scenarios that is absolutely the worst alternative. Sometimes I try to illustrate that to myself and my clients with my favorite fairy tale. It was written by Roland Kübler; in its entirety – in addition to many other beautiful tales - it can be found in the book “The Colors of Reality” published by the Lucy Körner publishing company (unfortunately only in German).

The following represents a somewhat (by me) abridged version:

“High in the mountains in the clear air and on the green meadows a child was growing into a young woman. One day the young woman packed a small bundle and told her mother and father that she was leaving in order to see the ocean. Throughout her entire youth she had yearned for nothing as much as for once in her life immersing her body in the ocean’s foaming water and feel the ocean’s salty fresh breath on her lips.

She walked the familiar path into the valley. Because she had a purpose she walked further than ever before. She was often invited to rest a little, sometimes she was discouraged to go on. She was told that the road to the ocean was much too far and difficult. But she would not be deterred and continued on the road she had chosen to take her to the ocean.

One day she reached a major crossroads. Reaching large mountains, the road diverged into four paths, two appeared to lead around the left and two around the right of the mountains. The young woman did not know how to go on and decided to rest and sit down in the middle of the crossroads. For a long time she sat there and was unable to decide on any of the four paths. Each one appeared to be doubtful.

Many other people kept passing her on the crossroads inviting her to join them. A group of travellers suggested that she accompany them into a large city only a few hours from the crossroads. However, the woman thanked them but declined. She did not want to end up in some city, she wanted to go to the ocean. For a long time a lonely wanderer kept her company at her crossroads, shared his bread and wine with her and told her about his life. Finally he also asked her to join him. He was on the way to a forest nearby where he intended to hunt. The woman thanked him for his offer telling him that her destination was the ocean and not some forest.

The weeks passed and with them the changing seasons. After the woman had already been sitting on the crossroads for a long time, her confidence began to wane a little and she began to feel lonely. She accepted the offer of passing farmers to accompany them to their little village and help them with the harvest. She liked it there and spent the entire winter. With the arrival of spring her longing for the ocean returned; she retrieved her bundle and returned to the crossroads. Again, she sat there for a long time until finally a passing woman asked her whether she would like to come with her to the next village and help to sell her goods and tailor shirts. For a while she really enjoyed that and spent a long time in the small village with the women. But finally the longing for the ocean again became overwhelming so she bade the woman farewell and returned to her crossroads. Again, she sat there for a very long time wondering which road would take her to the destination of her dreams. Sometimes during the still, sleepless, moonlit nights she imagined hearing quiet, faraway murmuring as if the ocean was calling her.
It was during one of those nights that she decided to just climb the mountain. The ascent was very laborious. The road wound ever higher across daunting rock formations, dense underbrush and across steep, plunging ridges. Her lonely journey took her higher and higher. At times she felt as if her strength was about to give out.

Then, the woman finally reached the summit. The view was awesome. Way down she could make out the now diminutive crossroads where she had spent so much time. She could see the four roads branching out down there. One of them lead to and past a large city. The other wound through a dense forest to a tiny hut but did not come to an end there, either. The third led through the valley all the way to the farmers whom she had helped bring in their harvest, climbed across a few hills and continued to a fertile plain. The fourth led to the small village where she had tailored the shirts and then continued from there.

The woman stood on the top of the mountain and trembled. She saw the four roads as they diverged upon reaching the mountains, encircling them, converging on a wide plain and continuing their journey to the ocean. The longer she gazed, the more clearly she believed to see the rolling waves. But in the meantime the woman had grown old, her hair thin and gray, her back bent. Her strength to return to that great crossroads where she had spent so much time back then in order to choose the path that would take her to the ocean, was spent. She had not chosen any of them, had not followed one of them to their final destination. It was not until now, way up there on the mountain top that she recognized that all of these roads would have taken her to the ocean. All of a sudden it became clear to her: In her life the vast ocean’s salty, fresh breath would never touch her lips; she would never in her life immerse herself in the ocean’s foaming waves.”

Perhaps this story will help you when you have reached one of your very personal crossroads and don’t know where to go. Have a little faith in life and in yourself – and in the fact that every road eventually will lead you to the ocean.