We’re all on some sort of journey, aren’t we? Check back here
periodically to find out more about G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s journeys
through the literary world and through life.
It’s September, that time of year when schoolchildren are writing about what they did for their summer vacations. One of my highlights was visiting Mt. Rainier last month. I’d been there before but never cease to be amazed by the wildflowers and the beauty of the mountain.
I also never cease to be amazed at how hopelessly challenged I am when it comes to direction. We had just arrived at Paradise Inn, and the parking lots appeared full. I proceeded to follow signs that pointed to additional parking—signs which also pointed me to a one-way road that seemed to go on forever, with no exit or place to turn off. This wasn’t like one of those roads that encircle many airports—roads that will quickly allow you to return to terminal. This one went on forever, leading us farther and farther away from the Inn and any sort of conveniently located parking spot. When the road finally ended at a T-intersection, one of my passengers and I thought we should turn left to return to the Inn. The other two passengers thought we should turn right. The right-turners were correct, and I (the driver) had to endure their hearty guffaws.
This much is true: I easily become turned around. I have been known to get lost trying to find my way out of parking lots. I do not know which way is north or south without a sunset or ocean nearby, so please don’t tell me to meet you at the north end of anywhere. I will not go hiking by myself, even if I have a map, compass, GPS device, homing pigeon, and a backpack full of survival gear with me, for fear of becoming permanently disoriented. I also won’t play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.
I know I’m not alone with this affliction; I took great comfort when realizing that one of my Mt. Rainier passengers had also become confused on where we were. I’m also pretty sure one’s ability to naturally know one’s direction isn’t necessarily related to intelligence. Yes, it’s been pointed out to me that even a stupid old salmon can find its way home after being gone for thirty years. But I know a lot of very smart people who get lost now and then, and I’m pretty sure they would score higher on IQ or SAT exams than your average fish.
And there’s one other thing I know about being directionally challenged. It’s not a laughing matter. It’s embarrassing. It causes anxiety. Nobody chooses to be this way.
What about being directionally challenged in life?
The same can be said for those who feel a little lost in life.
For most of us in the free world, we have a multitude of choices and opportunities. So many paths we can follow, but also so many expectations hanging over us along the way. Remember Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh the Places You’ll Go? It starts out full of enthusiastic promise for the reader.
But Dr. Seuss acknowledged that obstacles can get in our way. He called them Bang-ups and Hang-ups. Sometimes, he said, you can wind up in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
When you know someone who’s feeling lost
One of the best ways for someone to become un-lost is to find a trusted guide. This guide doesn’t need to be a certified Sherpa; each and every one of us can help another human being find his or her way. If you do want to help…
Remember, it’s not a joke. It’s also not a sign of laziness. Very few people intentionally get themselves lost, whether in a parking lot or along life’s journey. And very few people enjoy being perpetually stuck. So, please, hold off on the wise-cracks and critical remarks.
Don’t try to figure out why. There are a number of theories why some people are directionally challenged. There are also a number of theories why some have more trouble than others figuring out what they want to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter why. It is what it is. (Why? is the most overused question in the English language.)
Offer compassion and, maybe, a hand. Feeling lost can be frightening, and fear is one of the most powerfully stifling emotions we experience. When I’m afraid to cross a narrow bridge because I’m afraid of edges and heights, I don’t want you to laugh at me. I don’t want you to tell me to just get over my phobia, either. What will help most is for you to be by my side, letting me know you will remain patient with me and make sure I don’t get hurt.
When you’re the one in a Slump
It’s not easy to become un-lost when you’re out in the woods, but it can be done. Likewise, you can un-slump yourself in life, if you have the right tools, survival gear, and a healthy dose of patience.
Here are six things you can do to take care of yourself while you’re trying to navigate along life’s journey.
Take care of yourself. Remember the lyrics from the Jimmy Buffet song, Fruitcakes?
“I treat my body like a temple
You treat yours like a tent.”
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always treat my body like a temple, but I also know that, when I take care of myself, obstacles seem a little easier to overcome. You and I both know the drill; let’s make a pact to do better.
Surround yourself with nature. You’ve probably heard this over and over—from me and from others, too. But it’s absolutely true: nature is the ultimate survival tool. It might sound counterintuitive, given that Mother Nature throws all sorts of natural challenges our way. But when she’s being kind, she can, and does, nurture us. Studies confirm lower incidences of all kinds of diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—for people who live near, or spend time in, the outdoors.
Pay attention. Just as a hiker needs to keep track of what she passes to help her find her way on the return trip, we all need to keep our eyes open and our ears alert. By this, however, I mean going beyond what we read on Facebook or Huff Post. I mean taking our attention to a deeper level. Poet Mary Oliver called this deeper level an empathy with the world .
Give. When you’re lost, it’s hard to imagine how giving to others can help you find your way. But generosity is grounding. I have experienced this time and again as I’ve wrestled with my own life direction: the act of giving—whether to a parent, spouse, or child, or to other members of the community—provides purpose and stability, and it allows me to see the world, and my place in it, a little bit differently. Meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg said, “Generosity is the bread and butter of feeling connected in our lives—to ourselves, to others, and to life itself.”
Forgive yourself. This is the hardest thing of all when you’re lost—especially when the world laughs or otherwise fails to understand why you are where you are. When our judgmental society convinces us we’re flawed (more than others), we experience one of the most destructive emotions in our repertoire: shame. The only way to dig out and find a new path is to counteract that shame with self-forgiveness . As researcher Brené Brown says, we need to tell ourselves, “Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now.”
Stand still. What? I know, this also sounds counterintuitive, but it’s exactly what many children are encouraged to do if they become separated from their parents or caregivers. The fabulous writer Parker J. Palmer found this worked for him when he became lost in New Mexico and let the landscape tell him where to go.
* * *
Whether you’re the one who’s lost or you know someone who is, the other thing to do is to look in the mirror and question the validity of your perspective. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”