The Many Ways of Being Lost and Found (pt. 1)
Updated: Jun 27
Ever felt lost before? It can be a challenging, scary or despairing feeling. It brings up a child’s panic separated from mom in a department store. (And yes, that happened to me.)
We can feel lost on so many levels: emotionally, spiritually, organizationally, tactically, strategically, and of course physically or geographically. It’s difficult to know where or how to begin, how to calm down, what to do next.
For all the kinds of lost there are, it turns out there are just three ways of being lost. (Four, if you don’t understand this article, but let’s stay focused on the first three.)
The First: You don’t know where you are.
The Second: You don’t know where you are going.
The Third: You don’t know how to get there.
In this and my next two newsletters I’m going to look at each of these ways of being lost, and what being found might mean and how to get there.
First: You don’t know where you are.
Now I’m going to tell you a little too much about me.
On the eve of the New Year heading into the 21st century (that’s a long time ago for those of you too young to know about math) a friend and I decided to greet the new millennium with a medicine journey, starting in a beautiful meadow deep in a redwood forest. What I mean by ‘medicine journey’ is that we were determined to accept and interpret everything that we encountered as ‘medicine.’ We were going to imbue meaning and import into all that we encountered and let the universe speak to us and guide us in whatever language it chose.
...that and we were going to be on drugs. We were going to do this on powerful hallucinogens. Please keep that in mind.
We got to the meadow by hiking through some brush a ways off the main trail. It was serene and we had an extraordinary time there. In the forest wall of waving green we met deep ancestral wounds, gifts and wisdom - all that stuff. When the sun set our plan was to hike down to the coast and do the next stage of the night on the clifftops over the star-capped waves of the pacific.
So the sun set and the stars came out and we packed up and headed back through the brush and into the woods towards the trail. But we had forgotten one thing. We had forgotten the importance of light.
The second we got into the woods we were surrounded instantly and totally by an inky black darkness. Panicky hands invisibly waving at nose length. Just totally lightless.
As you might imagine, our anxiety began to soar. We both pretty much immediately realized we had no way at all to navigate and very little ordinary intelligence left to spare, and our fear began to peak.
But we were on a medicine journey, and this too must be medicine. So we stopped, and asked what the message of the moment was. It came almost instantly. “When you are lost is the time to appreciate where you are.”
I had walked in those woods for years. Nothing had changed but the absence of light. There had not been some monstrous transformation to some Brothers Grimm nightmare tale. None of the trees had moved. It was just a forest.
We didn’t really have any place to be. So we stopped needing to be somewhere else and started to notice what was around us - what we would miss with sight. The aliveness of the air and its scents, the small insect sounds of evening, the soft crunch of pine needles underfoot, and we began to see the beauty of the slowly emerging forms around us and the shapes and perspectives daylight would deny.
And in the few moments we spent appreciating the smells and textures and sounds of that spot, our eyes adjusted to the dark and we could clearly see the way out just off to the right. We were lost about 22 feet from where we wanted to be.
The first way of being lost is to not know where you are. Where you are, is here. Always. To not know where ‘here’ is, is to not know, and not accept, the story of this place - “this is the wrong place, I am not supposed to be here. My story is supposed to take place somewhere else. I should be THERE.”
The story is always taking place ‘here’ When you don’t know where you are, that’s the time to appreciate, to pay attention to and understand, the world immediately around you. Where is here? What are its features? Why is it that this is where you are - what ground did you traverse to show up here? Your story IS taking place here. THIS is where the next chapter starts. To understand the story you are in, you need to fully understand this place where you are standing.
If this is the kind of lost you are, you can relax - in fact that’s the only thing you can do. The information you need is all around you. You need only release the idea that this should be some other place, or some other story. I’m not saying that’s easy. I’m just saying it’s the only way to begin. That anything else, that everything else, will only make matters worse.
What do you know about where you are? What else do you know about it? What can you see, looking at it with fresh, unexpecting eyes? What would an alien say of your situation if they were suddenly plopped into your body? Write it down. Learn the story of this place.
To do this truly, you must be utterly without judgment. Any judgment you have will be from some other story you are supposed to be in. From some other assumption, some other fiction. That’s not where you are - so you shouldn’t be there. You are here. Get really clear on where here is.
If where you want to get to eventually is some other place, you’ve got to know where you’re starting from first. Otherwise you’ll have no idea of what your next step is.
Oddly when we’re lost this way we often feel like we know precisely where we are and that’s what is so upsetting. It feels like we know this place because of how wrong it is, and we can list endlessly all the ways that it’s wrong. We think we know this place because we know what it is not.
But usually we’re just in the dark woods, trying to move before our eyes have adjusted. It all looks spooky and wrong and ominous. It is the bad forest in the fairy tale - to be run from, fled from. And it’s when they flee, when they panic, that all those poor children end up in a cooking pot, isn’t it? That’s because anxiety and worry are worse hallucinogens than psilocybin and produce far worse visions.
If you were to stop and notice, there are probably some really amazing things in the trees close by that you are not seeing or appreciating. Maybe you’re safe or fed or housed or loved or healthy or employed... Maybe you are intelligent, have skills, friends, sources of joy, maybe you love life a little bit. Maybe let your eyes adjust and appreciate where you are.
There is a magic to this procedure. To stop resisting, let go of judgment, get curious, write it down... Before too long the first steps will become obvious. Even if that first step is “Maybe I should ask someone where I am.”
'Here' may not be where you want to be. There may be things to face in these woods when you want to be home in bed. There may be a long hard hike ahead before you get to sit by the fire. But you are resilient. The thousands of your ancestors that came before you paid for your genes and your abilities with blood. You are the honed and extraordinary evolutionary product that survived that endless crucible.
You have warriors and champions within you. True none of them had to deal with the wifi not working or email overwhelm. None of them had to prove to a robot... that they were not a robot. (Still can’t get my head around this one). But consider for a moment, that you and I have no idea what real challenges we are capable of facing, and let us thank every spirit in every atom of the universe that most of us will never know.
It may seem terribly important that you are not in the story you are supposed to be in. But is it, really? How important could it be? Who do you want to take that up with? Is there some kind of clerk somewhere where one can file a complaint about that? Of what possible use is it to assert that the world should accord with your story about it?
It takes a certain something to look reality in the face and tell it, it should be otherwise. Reality always wins that fight.
Here is not so bad. Here is the place where you can do something, the place where you can understand something, the place where you can be creative, the place where you have power. It is, in fact, the only place you have any power. Letting go of there may be humbling. But it can be done. It must be done. It is the only path back to joy.
After we emerged from the deep night of the redwoods, we did find our way down to the cliffs above the pacific. On a whim we spent a couple hours there naming and acknowledging every person in our lives that we could remember. It was an amazing journey into each of our pasts and quite an astounding way to get to know ‘here.’
That's one way of being found - to take the time to acknowledge and have gratitude for every person in your life who has been part of your becoming thus far.
Then we realized that we were really freaking cold and found our way home to that fire.
Next time, we’ll look at the second way of being lost: not knowing where you are going.
Until then, take care and if this is really getting stuff moving for you and you’d like a partner to help you sort out where you are, let me know. I can help.