As I mentioned in my most recent blog post, some people describe life as a journey. If that is true then it may be worthwhile to think about what your journey typically looks like.
(For this week's post, I used Microsoft Bing's Image Creator function to generate all of the images in this article. Here is a helpful post on how to use this functionality yourself.)
Does your journey feel joyful and idealistic like the image below?
This sunny environment lends itself to hope and enjoyment. In such a setting it would be easy to feel optimistic.
That's quaint, but you may find that your life is much more challenging right now. Instead of the romantic scene above, you may be experiencing a journey much more like the image below:
This doesn't look very comforting does it? It's worth noting that in this scene the traveler is all alone. To create this "life journey" metaphor, I asked the Bing AI to create an image for me using the following parameters:
"A solitary hiker is on a journey along a narrow path. There is a dark forest nearby. The journey looks difficult and there is a feeling of impending danger. It is raining and there is lightning in the distance."
The AI provided me with four images and this one caught my attention.
But what's especially fascinating is that I wondered what would happen if I changed the instructions by making one small, but significant adjustment to the wording. I decided to see what would happen if I gave this hiker some traveling companions. Here are the instructions reworded with my changes noted in bold typeface:
"A group of hikers is on a journey along a narrow path. There is a dark forest nearby. The journey looks difficult and there is a feeling of impending danger. It is raining and there is lightning in the distance."
And here's an image that the Bing AI provided me:
This is still a difficult journey. And the future may still be worrisome. But the huge difference here is that the traveler is no longer alone. Social connection and community support is now available, and that's not an insignificant change.
And what if I added one more additional element? What if I told the Bing AI that our journeyers have hope? Here are the new instructions I provided it; the only changes are, once again, set out in bold typeface:
"A group of hikers is on a journey along a narrow path. They have hope. There is a dark forest nearby. The journey looks difficult and there is a feeling of impending danger. It is raining and there is lightning in the distance."
Below is a resulting image that the Bing AI created for me.
This image is still not as charming or as inviting as scene one, the flowery representation that appears at the top of this webpage. But this image of hope breaking through the lightning and the rain is markedly better than scene two, where our traveler is all alone and indecisive.
And what of scene one? Is that flowery depiction a realistic representation of the human journey?
I would argue that it is not. Indeed, I would suggest that many Americans are more likely to see themselves in the second scene, the one where the traveler is alone in the rain rather than in the first scene where the sun is shining down on the plethora of perennials. (Now I must admit that it's highly likely that my work as a hospital chaplain and crisis counselor taint my perspective on this. But my opinion really doesn't matter anyway.) Ask yourself, is your life journey more like scene one or more like scene two?
If you see yourself in the second scene, please know that you can't get off that dark path by yourself. To escape the second scene, you have to make some adjustments to your own life instructions. First, you need to join with other travelers navigating a similar journey. Second, you need to cultivate hope together. (In a future article, I will provide my thoughts on how people can cultivate hope. It's one of the most important activities a person can undertake.)
(Credits: All images taken from Microsoft Bing Image Creator. The banner image map was created by using the prompt: "A mysterious map showing various types of terrain such as forests, meadows, mountains, rivers. ruins, towns, and bridges. fantasy theme." Scene One image was created with the instructions: "People walking joyfully along a broad path. The scene is sunny with a beautiful meadow and a peaceful stream with stone bridge nearby. There are fruit trees and colorful flowers. There is an inviting cafe with outdoor seating and delicious food nearby.")