“Something good is a frontier; something better is also a frontier and something excellent is just another frontier! You can always go beyond these frontiers! And so what is excellent? Just a frontier!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan, playwright
A “Little Life on the Prairie”
As a girl my all-time favorite books were the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. The TV show and its stars, Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon only made me fall more in love with the story of a family making their home on the frontier of our country. I was obsessed. My friends and I played “Little House on the Prairie” at recess every single day of third and fourth grades. My straight brown hair and freckles made me a shoo in to be Laura, a huge thrill.
Probably because of these fond childhood memories, when I hear the word frontier, I immediately think of pioneers, Conestoga wagons, gingham aprons, and a healthy amount of dust. But the truth is that, at every moment of our lives, we humans live at a frontier between what is known and what is not known. I suspect it is this existential frontier, in part, that made the geographic frontier so alluring to the American pioneers.
The present moment is the frontier of life
David Whyte writes in his essay on Self-Knowledge in his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:
Human beings are always, and always will be, a frontier between what is known and what is not known. The act of turning any part of the unknown into the known is simply an invitation for an equal measure of the unknown to flow in and re-establish that frontier: to reassert the far inward, as yet unknown horizon of an individual life; to make us what we are – that is, a moving edge between what we know about ourselves and what we are about to become.
A frontier is defined as the outer limits or far reaches of territory (geographic or intellectual) beyond which lies wilderness. For our purposes, let’s define “wilderness” as uncultivated, untended, unknown. When we apply these terms to our lives, the territory is the past, the wilderness is the future, and the frontier is the present moment. Whyte goes on to say that the most powerful self-knowledge of all is understanding the way we occupy this frontier.
Lessons in how to live life from the Ingalls
It turns out that Ma, Pa, Mary, and Laura, have an awful lot to teach us existential pioneers about living on the frontier. As they gracefully and lovingly made their homestead at the edge of the safe, expected, known world, so we too can aspire to meet the unknowns of each new day with grace and love. We can be inspired by their steady courage as they faced challenges like “The Long Winter” (my lord that was a long book for a little girl to read), locusts, and devastating illness as we face the mountains and molehills of our own lives. We can emulate them in the way they celebrated each wonderful, small moment of life – each hand-made gift, new friend, or beautiful view.
Like pioneers, most of us have a pretty good idea of where we come from, but if we’re really, really honest, none of us have any idea where we are going – where life is taking us. Though we all have hopes, dreams, and goals, this journey does not come with an itinerary. In my mind, this was the exciting lure that drew the Ingalls to the frontier. We, like they, are pioneers living at the frontiers of the known and unknown of our own lives.
The most exciting frontier is who we’re becoming
An even more alluring frontier than where we are going in life is who we are becoming. We are each bright beings of potential. My studies of yoga philosophy and spirituality convince me that the only limits to our possibilities are – consciously or unconsciously – self-created. Some of the tightest ties that bind us are certainty, distraction, and clinging.
How do we slip these limiting bounds to continue to grow toward our potential? We choose – again and again, day by day, moment by moment – to not know, to wonder, to question, to be curious. We choose to pay extreme attention – to ourselves, our habits, patterns, fears, desires, and to others. We choose to let go. We choose to open our hands, minds, and hearts to the only certainty there is – that we cannot receive what is or what will be so long as we are mightily gripping what was.
You don’t need a map, you only need courage
As the Ingalls taught us, to live with such freedom requires steady courage. How do we get to be so brave? We trust the journey. We trust that even our missteps will lead us where we’re going. Like the pioneers that we are, we trust that the fruit of life is in the travels rather the getting there.
“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.” – “From a Window Seat” by Dawes
Staying open to the moment – the frontier of life – is not easy to do! Developing a meditation or contemplative prayer practice helps. Whether you’re more comfortable with yoga wisdom or a purely spiritual approach, reach out for personalized guidance.