When was the last time you got lost?

When a friend asked me this question earlier this week, I really had to think about it. Because of my iPhone and constant access to GPS, I can’t actually recall being physically lost in years. Even far afield in places such as Iceland and Bangkok, we were able to navigate from point to point with comfortable levels of confidence that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

After thinking for a while, I asked my friend if it was possible that getting lost had become more of an abstract experience. In other words, for me, these days I get lost in confusing or highly emotional moments, in crises and when rushed or panicked.

The question she asked in response was fascinating. “Don’t you think getting actually lost used to train us to be more comfortable when we are lost like that?”

She has an excellent point.

Try to remember a few times when you were lost. Perhaps you were driving and made a wrong turn, which turned into a series of long turns. This happened to me once after I exited a highway. I found myself totally turned around on a series of country roads surrounded by endless corn fields. There wasn’t even a farmhouse in sight. Just row after row of corn.

I panicked. My breathing got shallow, my heart raced, my palms got sweaty and my stomach clenched. My thoughts started careening in ridiculous directions – what if I never got where I was going? What if I ran out of gas? What if it got dark?

Even then, pre-yoga, I remember thinking through my panic, “Pull over. You need to stop – actually stop – right now.” And that’s exactly what I did. I turned off the radio. I stopped the car. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I know it was long enough to settle down. It was long enough to remind myself that I’d only been off the highway for five or ten minutes, so I couldn’t be too far from someone I could ask for directions. In other words, it was long enough for me to get comfortable with the idea that while I was lost, all was not lost.

When I opened my eyes, I felt calm enough to really look around. First, I actually took a second to take in the beauty around me. It really was a beautiful spot, quite unlike any in my own part of the world. The corn stalks were brilliant green and the neat freak in me loved witnessing the farmers’ orderly rows. If I’d had an iPhone, I would have taken a picture. But, then again, if I’d had a iPhone, I never would have seen that vista as I would not have been lost in the first place.

Feeling calmed and re-centered, I put it car in drive again. Wouldn’t you know it? In just a few minutes I came to a little farm store and a shopkeeper who straightened me out.

In hindsight, that experience of getting lost was indeed good “training” for more abstract experiences of being lost. What did I learn?

  • I learned that, when feeling lost, physical reactions are to be expected. While these feelings will always be upsetting and distracting, knowing they are simply part of the experience makes them a bit easier to ignore. In other words, being lost is uncomfortable. And that’s OK.
  • I also learned that in chaos what I need is stillness and quiet. Just as muddy water will gradually clear if it is allowed to still, so my unclear, panicked thoughts will settle into clarity if I can take a moment to be still and reflect.
  • Finally, I learned that in this settled state of mind, being lost can yield experiences I might never otherwise have. In other words, there are gifts to getting lost.

While getting lost has always been one of the things that rattles me most (and is one of the reasons I love my iPhone more than I ever thought possible), it seems that it could serve a higher purpose. Perhaps having to feel my way through unfamiliar territory has helped make me more comfortable navigating the crazy twists and turns of life that could otherwise leave me spinning and clueless.

The next time you feel lost – when your child is acting in a way that worries you, or you can’t figure out how to meet the goals your boss just set for you, or your efforts to learn how to do something new feel fruitless – maybe it would help to pretend that you’re actually lost. Turn off “the radio” and “pull over.” Find a moment or two to be still and quiet. When you start to feel settled, look around. You might be surprised by an unexpectedly beautiful aspect of your situation.

PS. If you still can’t figure out what to do or where to go, you can always ask for help.