Getting Lost Enough to Find Yourself

By Dr Angel Adams

Midway this way of life we’re bound upon
I woke up to find myself in a dark wood.
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone

-Dante Alighieri-

A field

Most of us at one time or another in our lives have been lost. I don’t mean lost in a city with a map in the daylight. I mean lost in the mountains, the forest, the desert, or an unfamiliar city at night! Or perhaps as a child, when walking in a crowd, you let go of your mother’s hand and found yourself being swept away in a sea of strange people. Last month I was hiking in the mountains for many hours. Suddenly the bliss I was experiencing turned into panic and confusion when I discovered I was truly lost. There was no longer a friendly communion with nature. Instead the environment became austere and hostile. I also felt a deep sense of guilt as the beautiful Brittany Spaniel that accompanied me was also dehydrated and losing its stamina.

I took the wrong path when coming back down the mountain and ended up at a dead end at the bottom of the waterfall’s gushing stream. Frantically running up the long path again, I was propelled by fear of the dark night advancing and no reception on my mobile. The disorientation created an eerie sense that all the paths seemed to look alike. I was confronted with the pain of stinging nettles, blisters on my feet, and a few scratches and cuts from sliding on rock debris.

A tree

Coincidentally, I had just read David Wagoner’s poem inspired by the Northwest Native American Tradition, called Lost. The elders were known to teach their youth about how to be resilient and pay attention if lost:

Stand still. 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, saying Here.
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. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

At the time of my plight, this poem came to mind. I couldn’t remember all the lines of this poem, except for the words stand still; you are in a place called Here”. Eventually I just stopped, sat down and rested. This allowed my frantic thoughts to dissolve into the place called here. It was an amazing recognition that when I calmed down and allowed myself to be “lost” in this present moment, none of my emotions or thoughts or the forest seemed to frighten me any more. It was comforting to rest in this new awareness, in this sacred place.

Being lost is such a great metaphor for what can happen in our lives when we experience profound changes. There is a sense that you can no longer count on things you had been able to rely on the past or look forward to in the future. What I discovered was that when I was willing to be lost, my perception broadened, and my senses were sharpened. The poet, David Whyte says, “The ability to be lost is striking. It makes you attentive.”

Are you willing to be lost to find yourself? Can you stop running in circles doing all those things that you thought might get you something or somewhere? Can you lovingly acknowledge whatever your feelings are in the present moment: anger, grief, uncertainty, loneliness without judgement? Thich Nhat Hahn encourages us to hold whatever feelings we have of pain or suffering with tenderness and awareness, as a mother holds her infant.

Getting lost in the forest could be a symbol of that time in our life when we are transformed, and when profound change can occur. It is definitely a surrendering process. Just being open to what ever is there. Sometimes it takes getting lost to open our eyes, to get our attention, to discover how precious life is and how deeply we can love.

And the ending to my story? The forest found me. With clearer vision I began to recognise landmarks and obviously found the right path to take us back home. My beloved companion and I were happy to be back on familiar ground as we refreshed ourselves by drinking from the pure spring water at Labastide Esparbairenque. Then with weary legs but light hearts we made our way up the final road to the La Muse Inn.

“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable
experience to be lost in the woods.
Not till we are lost,
not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,
and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Henry David Thoreau

A dog in a forestPhotos by Angel Adams

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