Getting Off the Main Road

By Julie Elliot –

I was a bit nervous to go off the main road. Was it private property? Would I get into trouble for trespassing? At the same time, I felt compelled to follow this mysterious trail that had appeared out of nowhere.


I’ve had a reoccurring dream for as long as I can remember. I’m at home and everything is familiar. Suddenly there’s a door I’ve never seen before. I open it and am surprised to discover a whole new room. The feeling in the dream is that the room has always been there. It’s spectacularly beautiful with tall windows overlooking ravines and a polished wood floor that’s spacious and bare. I’m astonished that it’s been “mine” all along but I didn’t know it was part of my home.

This spring, while on silent retreat on Bowen Island, I lived out a version of this dream. I was walking in the rain, following one of the main roads that I’ve walked many times before. I glanced over and was stopped in my tracks. There was a faintly outlined trail leading into the rain forest. Was it the light that morning? I don’t know, but I had never seen this trail before. It was like the door in my dream. I couldn’t see where the trail went, just that it disappeared into a canopy of trees, mosses and ferns. I was a bit nervous to go off the main road. Was it private property? Would I get into trouble for trespassing? At the same time, I felt compelled to follow this mysterious trail that had appeared out of nowhere. I took the plunge.

IMG_0690Very soon, my nervousness was replaced by delight when I came upon a finely built wooden bridge that crossed a little stream. You know the sound. … the music of water flowing over mossy rocks. I listened and looked, alone in the cavernous silence of the forest. Wendell Berry’s poem “The Real Work” came to mind as I stood there, mesmerized by the scene in front of me.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

The singing stream accompanied me until I came to the unmistakable thunder of falling water. A waterfall?! It was the feeling of my dream again. The waterfall was so high I couldn’t see the top of it through the rocks and trees. Under my feet, I smelled skunk cabbages that were unfurling like prehistoric plant forms. The contrast of grey lichen growing on the rotting, red bark of a fallen tree was stunning. Truly, this place was magical. Then I saw a sign that welcomed me to the Singing Woods Nature Reserve. So, this beautiful area had been here all along and I didn’t know it was part of my walk.

Speaking later with my spiritual director, we explored why this discovery felt so significant. What would I take from this experience? After some reflection, I realized that part of me yearns to get off the main road and take more risks. Who knows what new possibilities might arise if I take the plunge? It seems to be a matter of seeing the familiar in a new way – being open to what’s underneath the surface of life – and watching for the faint outline of what wants to happen next. It’s about new possibilities in my outer world and also about following the faint trail of new possibilities within myself.

I’m not sure if this story is about the wonder of being on silent retreat, the fruitfulness of spiritual direction, or the significance of dreams … maybe it’s about the confluence of all these spiritual practices. Maybe it’s a story about being a contemplative in the world. A story of Presence. What I know for sure is that when I returned with a friend the next day, we could not find the opening to the trail. We walked back and forth on the road, looking intently, but the trail had disappeared. So, it’s a story about Mystery too.


Julie - croppedJulie Elliot is a spiritual director, trained in the Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding program ~ a two year practical learning program in spiritual growth, soul development and the art of spiritual direction. Julie’s also responsible for communications for Pacific Jubilee. If you have questions or comments about this blog, please be in touch at julie@pacificjubilee.ca

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