I noticed a straight and narrow path through the woods one morning on my walk, and I was amazed at the distance it covered and how firmly trampled down it had been. Clearly, many animals, most-likely deer, had repeatedly traveled it over the seasons.
As I walked, I thought about the expression, “stay on the straight and narrow”, which usually is a way of encouraging someone to maintain an honorable and upright way of living. It means to live with integrity.
A few days later, I showed the path to my husband, Jerry, as we took an evening walk together. We decided that it probably led to a good drinking spot by the lake shore for the animals who followed it.
I commented that it seemed odd that the deer walked that same path over-and-over again, as evident by the worn path.
“It makes sense,” said Jerry. “They probably take the same path to stay safe.”
Well, that didn’t make sense to me at all.
Even if that course was safe from predators and hazards like shoreline erosion, those factors can clearly change at any given moment.
But I thought it was interesting how the deer must instinctively go back to their familiar path, evidently zillions of times, for no reason that made sense to me.
I also thought it was interesting that Jerry’s first thought about it was that going back to the same path must be the safest option for the deer.
This is the kind of thought that is reinforced for most of us since early childhood, and what our primal brains direct us to do – go back to what we’ve done in the past, even when it no longer serves us.
So why am I bringing up this riveting story?
Well, because it made me think about how we have all been required to make drastic changes in almost every area of our lives due to the pandemic. And if you’re feeling a little freaked out about this, it’s absolutely understandable.
Our brains are hard wired to go back to the familiar for comfort, and this is especially true when we are stressed. Most of us have had to alter our work, home, social and recreational routines and practices, and so this may feel troubling, even if it intellectually makes sense.
It can be like a tug-of-war in your mind, cognitively you understand why certain new behaviors will keep you safe, but your brain keeps telling you to go back to the familiar, comfortable path.
For most of your life, things like going to work in a populated office, visiting an elderly relative, and supporting small businesses by eating in local restaurants (and shopping in hometown stores) were all noble behaviors to take. But now, living with integrity means doing quite the opposite.
If this feels unsettling, please be gentle with yourself and give grace to others.
This is a temporary state of being.
It will pass.
Hang in there, my friend!