Does anybody like the feeling of being lost? That might be like asking if anybody enjoys pain. Lostness—whether literal, emotional, spiritual, or pertaining to a life situation—can be terrifying.
I didn’t know how fearful I was of feeling lost until I experienced moment after moment of that feeling on a rare travel adventure alone. Making my way through unknown-to-me towns, airports, and highways in a rental car while also hiking through the beauty of Arizona and Utah, I think I was a little high on panicky adrenaline.
One thing that strikes me as I look back on all those moments is that I was never actually lost. There’s a big difference between feeling lost and being lost. We can feel lost any time we’re not exactly sure how to get back to our starting point, to safety; any time we’re not exactly sure if a relationship should continue; any time we’re not exactly sure what we believe about ourselves, or others, or what we’re doing with our lives.
On that solo trip, fear set in when I was hiking a non-trail in the midday sun, with no phone reception, having told nobody where I was going that day. I only wandered about a mile or two from my car. But the landscape was unlike any I’d known, and the rocky hills made it hard to discern where I came from or where I was going. I felt lost.
In all reality, which I reminded myself often, there was no way I wouldn’t find my way back. Still, I couldn’t keep that physical-emotional response at bay … which ultimately led me to become fascinated with lostness and the power it holds.
With information at our fingertips much of the time, we don’t have much opportunity to really get lost anymore. Maybe that’s part of the problem … why many of us get so scared when we think we’re lost. In the Dutch culture, though, it’s common to provide children with this “opportunity.” A tradition called dropping involves leaving pre-teens in the woods at night to find their own way out.
Adults may be secretly monitoring, but they are to offer no help. The potential lesson I see most valuable in this is learning to cope with lostness emotionally—not how to actually use a compass or other outdoorsy survival skills. The skill is learning not to panic, but instead to trust that there is obviously a way, and that with calmness, we can find it.
Perspective and Awareness
Before my solo adventure, I had almost zero experience having to find my way out of feeling physically lost. When I hike with my husband, I pay little to no attention to our route or to landmarks because I know he’ll (usually) know the way back. When you’re alone, you have to pay attention. On my walk away from the marked trail, I took note of every detail. I was thinking of nothing else; I wasn’t daydreaming like I usually do on hikes with a partner. I was hyper-aware, taking in this foreign landscape to the point that when I returned one year later, I felt totally at home navigating the terrain.
“Getting lost is not just about losing your way,” writes travel blogger Phillip Dukatz. “It is about losing yourself … in new experiences, and about learning more about yourself. Travel presents us with a chance to break out of our familiar routine and challenges [us] in a way which would be impossible back home. It’s a source for growth and strength and we should happily welcome it.”
It’s no stretch to see how we might apply that increased awareness and detail-oriented perspective to times in our lives when we’re not sure what to do or where to go. Rather than seeking guidance from friends or books or gurus, what if we just home in on the current landscape of our life? It’s only just now striking me how apt that phrase—“home in”—is. When we focus our attention, we are more likely to find our way home. When we observe ourselves, knowing we’re really our own best resource, we can use the strength we find within to get us out of lostness.
It’s easy to be tricked into thinking there’s one right way to do life—jobs, relationships, parenting. Most of us also tend to appreciate the feeling of having control over our lives, making those right decisions that will lead us down the right path. This way of thinking doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity or intuition (arguably inextricably linked). When we find ourselves unsure of what we want in life—when we’re feeling lost—it might be because we’re grasping for that right way rather than connecting to the deepest part of ourselves and creatively imagining any number of paths or ways to dream and live and be.
The whole reason I felt lost on that short hike is because I chose to go off the path. There was no way. There was simply the point where I was, and the point I wanted to reach. As long as I let go of the need to take the fastest route back, and trusted that I could intuitively feel when I was headed in the direction from where I came, there was nothing to fear.
Curiosity and Surprise
If you’re lost, whether in a big city or the middle of a forest, you’re likely to get really curious, really fast. Curiosity is a more comfortable feeling than fear, so it’s a good idea to latch onto that instinct to stop, listen, look, and learn rather than panic. We begin to ask questions, either silently or of strangers, which fosters connection to place, to people, and to ourselves. And if you stray from the familiar, where you thought you were going or wanted to be, you’re bound to be met with surprises. Life should be a bit of an adventure, and every adventure includes surprise.
If you’re feeling lost in life, what about embracing that feeling with curiosity—as part of the adventure? Instead of getting scared or beating yourself up, consider that the feeling of lostness is your intuition telling you there’s something better for you out there, full of surprises. As long as you let go of the need to rush, you might be able to replace fear with hope as you ask questions, listen, look, and learn what that “better” might be.
Explore how to get on and off the path by crafting a small pilgrimage close to home.