Paul R. Suszko
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
These simple lines were written by the early 20th century Spanish poet Antonio Machado. They can be translated along with the associated verse as follows:
Traveler, your footsteps
are the road and nothing more;
traveler, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking the road is made
and when we turn to look back
we see the path that
will never be traveled again.
Traveler, there is no road,
only tracks of foam on the sea. (Translation by Armand F. Baker)
Many have read these lines before, and many have pondered their meaning. They were brought to my attention indirectly, when I heard a fragment quoted in Spanish by a character in Cormac McCarthy's screenplay and movie, "The Counselor." Ironically, in the movie the lines are spoken by the head of a drug cartel who is offering no solace to the protagonist - a man who must accept the unfortunate reality of his situation. Thus, I came to a well-known piece of writing obliquely, from an unexpected angle. But often it is advisable to approach reality from the side in order to achieve a complete appreciation of its exquisite complexity. Then we might joyously read between the lines. We should not expect to arrive at the truth by assaulting it head on: Reality is more subtle.
Contained within this verse are the essential beliefs of the poet. As with most good poetry, when approaching Machado, we are faced with a tangle of ideas and suggestions. Some are vague, and others can be felt immediately as we glance upon them. There are hints of something fundamental, a consciousness that is present just beyond our grasp. We try to unpack the hidden meaning by carefully considering every word. We peel apart the layers slowly. We must be patient, because reality does not present itself to the hasty. By mindfully casting the bright light of a naked bulb on our subject, we may know its contents. We must be receptive to the invitation, however. So I say, let your feet dance upon Luna, or upon the stars if you wish.
The first line of the poem tells us there is no prescribed path to the Promised Land. We come to understand that we create the road by choosing our steps. We cannot know exactly where this road will lead, because it does not exist except for the next step. If we turn to look back, we notice that the path we've traced is at once unique and universal. It is a slippery path, because tracks of foam on the sea are ephemeral. We must savor each moment, because no moment can be completely retained. But it is equally true that no moment is ever completely lost. When we touch something, we leave our mark on it. It may seem that others have traveled this way before, but no one treads with precisely the same footsteps.
The more we probe the words, the more they become full with meaning. Coincidentally, we begin to experience a connection to the divine spirit that runs through all things. The invisible heart that throbs at the core of reality slowly emerges. We come to understand that it is not a singular source, but that it is complex and interconnected. The whole feels the effects of stimulus of any small part. The sea that Machado speaks of is understood to represent the vast, limitless pool of consciousness from which all sensation and experience are derived. We are excited by the endless possibilities this offers, and maybe even a bit frightened by the sheer magnitude of it. Nevertheless, we seek to experience it.
Through deep and repetitive meditation, done in the manner of those ancient Ukrainian rosary-bead chanters, we may circle around the truth and merge with it. When we do gain a glimpse, it is a shuddering experience that socks us. We are momentarily immersed in the sea of ethereal love that we all yearn to return to, time and time again. We may allow the waves to carry us, to wash over us. It is nourishing to shed our individuality and commune with the vital energy that gave birth to all of us. It is an abundant spring of renewal that we may bathe in, if we so choose.
In another of his poems, Machado wrote:
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt - marvelous error! - that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures. (Version by Robert Bly)
Here we have the sense of the sweet pot of honey at the center of enlightenment. Yum! Delicious! It's there for all who wish to tap into it. And of course the image of bees humming around a beehive - it speaks of liveliness and fruitful activity. A beautiful buzzing it is!
When we taste reality in its unfiltered, natural state, then we know why we strive our whole lives to find that elemental medium. The urge is to hold it, to possess it, but it cannot be held, it cannot be possessed. Yet, once we learn to access the source, we may return to its fountain many times. Each time will be different. And each time will be satisfying, in its own way.
Machado's words sometimes feel slightly melancholy, because we all tend to want to capture a glorious moment, and hold it. We would love to be certain about the road ahead, and know that it will lead to a particular place. But at some level we know that the infinite unfurling is endlessly varied and unscripted. It is like a multicolored field of flowers in perpetual bloom. So the advice Machado gives us is to plunge into this sea, make some waves, leave a wake, and keep swimming. Sometimes we might take refuge in a lifeboat, but we always return to the sea. Sometimes we may even take a magic carpet ride, and then we return to the sea.
Machado also wrote these lines:
I never looked for glory nor to leave in others the memory of my song; I love worlds that are subtle, weightless and delicate, like soap bubbles. I like to see them painted red with sunlight, float under the blue sky, tremble and suddenly burst. (Translation by Armand F. Baker)
We all have the capacity to revel in the immediacy and energy of the sacred spring, while knowing the transient nature of experience. The road we travel is a journal of each individual life. It is a story with no end in sight. While we may occasionally glance in the rearview mirror to see where we've been, we keep making new entries in our personal diaries every moment. When we peruse these entries, we see ourselves revealed for who we are. And we come to know that the times of our lives are very much like Machado's soap bubbles. *