where I stand

According to a popular Chinese quotation :

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I do not speak Chinese and so cannot go back to the source text. However, whilst researching the origins of this proverb, I discovered that a more accurate translation of the original translation may be “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet”. Rather than emphasizing the importance of the first step, it would appear that the author of this quotation, Lau Tzu, regarded action as being something that naturally arises from stillness.

When preparing for a walk in the mountains, it is normal and often helpful for me to spend time practically and mentally preparing myself for the journey ahead. We try to anticipate any potential difficulties or dangers by checking the weather and looking at the map and guidebooks in detail. We try to pack our bags carefully, attempting to achieve the often difficult equilibrium between carrying only the bare minimum but also having everything for all eventualities (enough food and water, clothes for cold weather/rain/heat, compass, map, first-aid kit…). Despite all this preparation, once out on the hill, I can get easily overwhelmed by the journey ahead. The path can appear steeper than I expected, the distance to cover much longer, the terrain much harder.

Before setting off, instead of being overwhelmed by the distance or worrying about the action of taking that first step, it could perhaps be more useful to try to find that stillness described by Lau Tzu.

As I write these words today, I have been in psychiatric hospital for two months. I found out yesterday in two weeks, all being well, I’ll be able to go home. I’m feeling in equal parts happy and terrified. As I prepare myself ahead of my return, there are a number of questions I shall ask myself over the coming weeks:

What strengths and qualities do I already posses that will help me complete this journey? What characteristics can I work on and improve to also help me get to the summit? Who do I have around me to share this journey with? How have I coped with similar challenges in the past? 

According to Michael Moncur, another potential phrasing of Lau Tzu’s wise words could be: “Even the longest journey must begin where you stand.”
As I share these words this morning, there is now less than a fortnight before I leave hospital. From then, until now, as I am preparing myself and packing my belongings back into my suitcase ready to return, I shall also try to find the stillness, the strength, the energy, in the place where I stand right now, ready to begin my continued journey of convalescence from many years of poor mental health.

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