We don’t normally think of getting lost as a gift. But it is one of the most important gifts we can receive.
Last summer I traveled from my home in Omaha, Nebraska, to Bandon, Oregon, to work on a new book at a secluded lakeside cabin near the ocean. My flight took me from Omaha to Phoenix, Arizona, then from Phoenix to San Jose, California. In San Jose, I changed planes and flew to Portland, Oregon. Once I Portland, I rented a car and drove to Bandon. While I can’t say that I much enjoyed the long day of travel, my circuitous route did not trigger panic attacks. I was perfectly calm about it because I knew there was no direct flight from Omaha to Bandon and because the flights were all clearly printed on my itinerary. Once I arrived in Portland, I knew perfectly well that I’d have to switch modes of transportation to reach Bandon.
As with traveling from Omaha to Bandon, our journey through life is never a clear, straight one, even if we are following our sweet spot. It zigzags. Sometimes the path heads in the exact opposite direction we think it should be going (like flying south toward Phoenix when you know Bandon lies to the northwest). Sometimes you have to “change planes” to get where you need to go (as I needed to do in San Jose). Other times you need to stay on the same “plane” and trust that it will move you in a new direction (as when I stayed aboard the plane to Phoenix, whose next stop was San Jose). Sometimes we need to get off the plane entirely and change modes of transportation.
We would be fine with all this, more or less, if someone issued us a printed itinerary for our journey. But Life seems to have forgotten about that. Instead, each point where we need to either “change planes,” or trust that the “plane” itself will make the change, or change mode of transportation entirely, we start to feel lost. This feeling of being lost prompts us to pay more careful attention to the signals that Life is giving us. We pray or meditate longer and with greater attention. We pay more attention to our gut intuitions and bodily responses. We apply the gifts of reason and logic more carefully, even while trusting that sometimes a direction is indicated that defies reason and logic. We seek the council of friends and mentors. At some point, the “lightning flashes” to reveal the direction of our best next step, and the thunder reverberates, confirming that we can trust that direction. (For more on “thunder and lightning” see my last post.)
We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we have to reassess or backtrack and do the whole process over again until we make the right step. But the point is, even though we get it wrong sometimes, we would be completely off course in the zigzag path of life if we didn’t experience regular periods of feeling lost, which alert us to pay attention.
In his poem “Lost,” David Wagoner eloquently describes what to do when you find yourself lost:
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again,
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost.
The forest knows
Where you are.
You must let it find you.