How Many Roads…?

Last night Nancy and I watched an old recording of the Peter, Paul, and Mary Holiday Special. It was recorded back in 1988, and listening to it was an intensely emotional experience for me. The songs stirred feelings and images that were formed in me during the 60’s and 70’s, a time when the intensity of my hope for a new world was strongest. I played banjo and sang with a folk group during those years and our dreams were fueled by these familiar songs. They became expressions of our inner landscape.

As Peter, Paul, and Mary sang, “Don’t Let the Light Go Out,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and many others, tears came to my eyes. As I look at these emotions from this morning’s perspective, I feel a wistfulness in my soul. The reality is that hatred and bigotry – the weapons of unbridled capitalism and corporate power – have triumphed. A wedge has been driven in the population of the United States, fragmenting us into irreconcilable shards. I see no possibility of unity and peace based on the current paradigm. The light has indeed gone out. This land does not belong to you and me. We did not overcome. There are many seas yet for the white dove to sail before she can sleep in the sand, and many more ears to listen before we can hear people cry.

But I hasten to add that I do not despair at this state of affairs. It is the inevitable result of the incredible leverage that economic power brings to those who seek it. Public opinion, for a sizable portion of the population, can be purchased, manipulated and controlled through fear and falsehoods masquerading as fact and truth. Yet the light that seems to have been extinguished in the torch we once carried can be rekindled by the fire that still burns in the souls of a dispersed people.

Hope and light have gone underground for the time being. The power of authentic spirit and true human kindness remains and flourishes in the tendrils that unite hundreds of millions of people from around the world, unbeknownst to them. It has thousands of expressions through various spiritualities, practices, and communities that seem diverse but in reality are part of a new Organism that will, like mycelia, grow underground until the world is ready for Something New to emerge. Kindness still flourishes at small firesides around the world. Compassion breaks out in unexpected places in countless ways because of this inner fire.

Take hope in this. You and I are part of this interconnected Life that, for the moment, seems conquered and dispersed, but is simply within a Yin cycle of history. Compassion, joy, and freedom actually grow stronger in the hidden places. They gain spiritual strength when they are undisturbed by futile power struggles over toys and trinkets.

This is my new song of hope. We will go to the quiet places where the earth, sky, wind, and water remain to tell us of the truly important things in life. We will hear the whispers that the chaos seeks to silence, but cannot. We will experience the authentic simple joys and delights of taste, texture, aroma, sound, and sight that commerce would seek to displace, but cannot. Our strength will grow in unseen worlds rather than be dissipated in frenetic fuss and fury. We will not despair.

When Dylan asks, “How many roads?” we will reply, “A few more yet, Bob, but someday … someday.”

Author: William Martin

Taoist teacher and consultant

12 thoughts on “How Many Roads…?”

  1. Bill. What a glorious and heart-felt meditation of hope at a time where we need it. I’m in the same generation as you are, and I sang those songs with great gusto and hope in the 60’s. I, too, can quickly pull back the feelings I had at that time of my life. Thank you for reminding those of us who still hunger for those dreams to be realized that our longings have moved underground but will emerge gradually and then gloriously. We are still tending those fires. Blessings to you and Nancy.


  2. Bill,
    What a lovely message of hope. I have often thought about replying to your messages but until now have not. This was such a powerful message that went deep into my heart and I knew I had to reply and let you know how much hope it gives me. Instead of going into despair, I can rest deep within my soul and know that there is healing coming to our world and it’s humanity. What a peaceful and sweet meditation . Thank you and many blessings to you .


  3. beautifully said (and possibly sung – if you still have that banjo ) isn’t it curious that one of popular songs of the era you describe was written by burt bachrach, flew under the ‘folk music’ radar and yet suggests a name for that unifying spirit we seek…i gave a go at bringing it all together here:


  4. Thanks for this. Your term “yin cycle of history” resonates with me. My Qigong teacher recently sent an email talking about the winter solstice being the most yin time of year.


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