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  • Jason McCarty

Get Lost | finding yourself through the twists and turns of uncertainty

When I was younger, attending university, I used to take drives through the back roads of central Pennsylvania as a way to be by myself.  I enjoyed these drives thoroughly and they became a large part of my existence.  It was a time for me to think, enjoy driving, and experience the landscape.

On quite a few occasions I would get lost on purpose.  I would take a turn I had not taken previously.  I would go further than I had before.  My goal? To get lost.  I would continue to take turns and roads that I had never seen before.  I wanted to get lost so that I could experience something new and have a problem to solve later on.  For a while though, I did not care that I was lost.  This allowed me to be fully present with what I was doing.  Everything was fresh and exciting – well, as exciting as car drives go.  But it felt freeing. Eventually, I would end up somewhere I recognized, no matter how hard I tried to get lost.

In the past year or so I have taken several turns that have gotten me lost. The stakes are quite a bit higher than a wrong turn on a back road, but the experience is similar.  If I can learn to trust that I will eventually find my way as I did during my drives, I will learn something important from the experience and scenery of being lost.

I think we all need to get lost more often.  Knowing our way and being certain about outcomes leaves life boring and predictable.  Yes, sometimes getting lost can be seen as stupid –  but that’s if you care about looking stupid or not.  In modern civilization, life becomes a monotonous routine.  No longer do we need to move like nomads, or go on hunting trips, or necessary adventures.

There’s another, and more important, reason to get lost: it can often be the only way to find your way.  When we have taken paths based on a false sense of self, constructed by us, our families, our cultures, or our societies, it can be extremely hard to get away from them, shed them, or even notice them.  But when we get lost, we are facing life in its most real sense and the experience of profound uncertainty and piercing fear begins to pull out who you really are.  When you are lost and unsure, you are unable to pull on much of your previous knowledge. You might even begin to question your previous knowledge in ways that are scary and yet exhilirating.  You must rely on your instincts, your gut, your faith. Being lost brings you face to face with reality as it is, not as you hope it to be.  You might still have hope in finding your way, but while you are lost, you must focus on each next step.

While you are lost, you must focus on each next step.  This fresh, here and now experiencing produces creativity, resolve, and a newfound sense of confidence.  Being lost forces you to accept the present and the future; feelings that arise; fears that come true; failures that might happen; failures that do happen; and all the new experiences you have.  When we let go of what we thought our lives were supposed to be, we become our potential.  When we get lost we find humility, faith, and love.  When we get lost we obtain a newfound appreciation for life.  We start to actually “see” what is in front of us.

It’s not all exciting and great.  A lot of the time it is scary and maddening and teeth grinding.  In the past year I have had many feelings that have taken me for many rides.  I do not usually feel as positive as this essay sounds.  I can be grumpy and angry and frustrated and childish.  But I am finding that this process is changing me in a way that is bringing me closer to myself and to life as it is.

There is something to be said for stability and security but sometimes, just sometimes, we should listen to a famous American author when he says:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
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