The Road Not Taken

While out shopping this summer in Idaho USA I found myself leafing through a rack of posters and saw Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’. Later I got on-line and Googled ‘Robert Frost’ and came up with some interesting results. One link sent me to a transcript of a sermon by a Unitarian Minister in New Hampshire where Robert Frost lived. He pointed out that Far from being a hymn to rugged individualism, this poem is a gentle satire on indecisiveness, the distortion of retrospection, and the seduction of self-justification. That’s why the poem is titled not ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ but ‘The Road Not Taken’–for there will always be a road not taken, and we will never know where, for worse or for better, it might have led. Here is the sermon should you want to read more. Thanks to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive for saving the sermon.

According to the minister, in 1953 Robert Frost was reflecting upon “The Road Not Taken,” and said, I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Then took the other as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

When I found the poem I was thinking of a friend who was, at that time, hovering uncomfortably at a crossroad in her life. Now she has made her decision and, like Robert Frost’s friend, I hope she will not be too hard on herself with regards to the path she has chosen.

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The Entrenching Tool

Idaho, summer 2003.

I used an ex US Army entrenching tool this morning. It was good to do some physical work for a change since I, of necessity, spend a large part of my day using a computer. The task at hand was to break up and clear away a ridge of gravel and earth on the side of the road created by a snowplough in the spring. The ridge was in the way of getting a good wide swing around into the drive, so I ‘had at it’ with the entrenching tool. The ridge was baked solid by the Idaho summer heat. The sharp end worked well to
The Entrenching Toolbreak up the concrete-like obstacle. The spade was good for breaking down the remaining lumps and moving the dirt to make a smooth surface to drive over. Half an hour later and the obstacle on the road had been dealt with. An obstacle, a simple tool, applied effort, obstacle smoothed out, road cleared.

I’ve been pondering the first entry for this web site. In fact I have been pondering the whole question of persevering with a web site. It has, at times, seemed a daunting project especially for one with no previous experience in this field. This morning, while I was breathing in dust on the side of the road, one potential purposes for the site came to me. It was to do with roads and obstacles and ‘taking the next step’. The other part was ‘insights’, those thoughts that pop into consciousness to inspire, teach and encourage. They come, are learned from and then forgotten, however some times they are worth repeating.

Some years ago my mother asked me to choose some books from the mobile library since she and my father would be away shopping when the van turned up at the gate (this is a system in rural England where the library comes to you). “What kind of books do you like” I asked her. Stories about people overcoming great difficulties – biographies, she replied. I related this book choice to a fellow monk who, it would appear, knew my mother better than I did. She likes them because she has to overcome great difficulties herself! In my eyes she had been a tower of strength through out her life. It hadn’t consciously occurred to me she had grown strong through working hard and enduring tough life circumstances. My mother was an avid reader; she read for personal inspiration and did so to a ripe old age.

So, these pages are here, hopefully, for spiritual inspiration; inspiration to keep traveling the road and overcome difficulties. They also provide information and insights; information about the practice of the Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition (Soto Zen) and insights into how that practice unfolds in daily life.

May the spiritual merit accrued creating and writing for this site be offered in eternal gratitude to my parents, Dorothy and Tony White, and to all beings.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives