Getting Lost


“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Getting lost is not a waste of time.

After a long week of busyness, yesterday I needed a breather.  I’ve been systematically bulldozing my way through a long ‘to do’ list, checking off each item as I take care of it.  I should have worked on some test questions I am responsible for revising (deadline looming) but instead I re-envisioned a prose piece I’ve had lolling about on my computer for a while now.  I dove through the page and spent time doing the backstroke through the inner recesses of my mind.  I completely lost track of time.  As I drank an iced coffee, I tweaked and rearranged and rewrote several passages.  I chose an image for the piece and set it up on the site where I submit work.  For a couple of hours I wandered aimlessly in the rooms inside my head.  The ‘should-a-could-a-would-a’ inside those rooms dimmed and got quiet.  I found stillness in the writing process, in that uneasy dance I do with myself, whenever I am fully engaged in the work.

When I emerged, I felt strangely alive and focused.  I realized that rather than stewing in my own resistance to getting started on what may prove to be a challenging project (revising test questions), I let myself play.  We are often too harsh and parental and whip cracking with ourselves.  Especially if we are creative or empathic or intuitive.  I find that I am not particularly receptive to having an ax in my back.  I need to go the forest of my imagination for renewal. I cannot shoehorn my spirit into submission. In fact, the more that I try to force myself, the less likely the outcome will be good. And that doesn’t mean that I can just screw around all the time. I have tremendous self-discipline. I always have. What I am saying is, that there are times when the best way to find your way back to yourself and your sense of purpose, is to get lost.

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.” ~ Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

I think the reason so many of our fairy tales have to do with journeying into the unknown, into darkness, into foreign lands, into unfamiliar territory, is because we need that wilderness.  We need to forage and search and ruminate. Spiritually, we are not supposed to be ‘on’ all the time.

One of my issues with the almost parental tether that most people feel for technology — particularly cell phones — is because their use implies that we should never unplug, never be alone with our thoughts, never get quiet.  If you want to understand why so many people in our society are numb, disconnected, and vacuous, look at the simple fact that we never walk out on our buzzing, bleeping and chirping gadgets.

“But, what if I miss a call?”  

You will get a voice mail.

The most unlikely scenario — that missing that call will be the end of the world — is highly improbable. If it wasn’t, then why was I able to survive my childhood without my parents being able to reach me at every juncture of every day?  Why was my father able to work for thirty years without access to a phone in the car? He didn’t miss appointments. He checked in as he got to each place he did repair work.

It really is OK not to discuss the detritus of your day – the banal vagaries that include who you saw and what you ate for lunch – on the way home from work. Why not allow yourself time to unwind? Why not walk away from the rat race?

Trust me, it will still be there when you get back.

I saw a little video this week that lampooned our love affair with the cell phone. In it, a young woman (sans cell phone) watches as others step outside the real moments of their lives (in bed, in a park, at lunch, at a birthday party, at the beach) in order to photograph them with their phones. They check their messages, scroll through apps, or talk to someone else while the person they are actually with, waits. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had friends sit and have long phone conversations with others, while their dinner gets cold and I wait for them to return to our conversation.

What are they talking about? Nothing that couldn’t wait until they got home. (In case you are wondering, I don’t have a cell phone. I have a land line. Yes. I do.)

Be here now.

So, don’t fear turning off the computer, the TV, the phone. Take a chair into the backyard after dark and stare up at the stars as they poke through the night sky.  Listen to the wind shifting. Hear the cacophony of birds settling in the trees.  Feel the air on your skin.  Drink in the movement of the darkness, the shadows, the sky. Watch the moon rise. Perhaps in the distance, a siren calls or a dog plaintively barks. Crickets may sing from under the eaves of the house.

Take a notebook out with you and record the random music that pours through your mind — the language of your day. Take notes, jot down ideas, remember the cornucopia and color of your dreams.  Listen to yourself.  Stop.  Just stop and hear the voice inside your head, even the wailing inner child, even the snark and the slave and nattering nabob of negativity.

Pay attention to those parts of yourself that need care. Listen to yourself like you would listen to a most cherished child.  Answer your own questions. Leave some open spaces there for mystery. Stop filling up every moment with noise and movement and activity.

For just a moment, enjoy the silence.  Enjoy your own company.

Get lost.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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