The path up is the path down. The way forward is the way back. The universe inside is outside but the universe outside is inside. Robert Anton Wilson.

I have just returned from holidays in Guangxi, in the southern part of China.  We did not stick to the main tourist destinations for a couple of reasons. Firstly, during these “Golden Week” celebrations, popular places are overwhelmed with people.  Queueing for more than an hour to get into a park, and then walking in a pushing, jostling crocodile of people is not my idea of enjoyment.

Secondly, a holiday, for me, needs to regenerate my soul, and I need beauty and space.  The place we chose – a tiny village, north-west of Nanning – had a few day trippers, but no other ‘stayers’.  We lived in a village house, with a farmer and his family.  With only one restaurant in the village, it was more fun to take over the little lean-to kitchen and use the open fire to cook our own meals.

The village is surrounded by karst mountains, freshened by a pure mountain stream and made mysterious by a group of caves.  We hiked and swam, worked in the fields with the farmers, climbed steep, rocky mountains to an even smaller village.

The mountains and fields had paths winding through them, disappearing into the unknown and I was struck, looking at these paths, steps worn into the rocks by generations of villagers, by how they were the paths of connection, the paths of the future, and the paths of the past.

The paths of possibility are open in our lives.  We cannot see the destinations they take us, but they will take us somewhere.  Sometimes they lead to a track, then a gravel road and on to a single lane highway and finally to the superhighway.  Other times they lead us deeper into the mountains, deeper into solitude and reflection.  They become less easy to follow, fewer people have walked these paths, and we ourselves rarely venture along them.

The beauty of the remote paths of possibility is that they take us away from the busy world, the tourists, the humdrum.  They can take us to destinations few have been.  The more remote and less worn these paths, the more they challenge us. Steep, rocky, difficult, dangerous even.

But climbing them brings the most beautiful vistas, introduces us to people we would never otherwise encounter and the satisfaction in reaching that destination is deep.

For many, the ‘paths of possibility’ are an escape, a way to a new life.  They can leave the hard life of a peasant far behind to work in a city or attend university.  For me, they take me away from that same hustle and create a world of peace and beauty; a journey of reflection, extension and challenge.

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