by Joe Toole
As evening comes, two hikers sit on opposite sides of a hill, neither knowing the presence of the other. They are miles from the nearest road, nearest town or, to their knowledge, the nearest human being. One sits cold and shivering, wondering how he ever got so lost and how he will ever find his way home. He is scared and alone. The other hiker is watching the sunset, listening to the sounds of the evening rise along with the stars. He has never felt such solitude and peace. He feels a part of everything around him. He knows where he is…he is lost. And he smiles.
I have often wondered what it is in one situation that makes us feel such anxiety and fear…fear of being lost…yet in an almost identical situation, we feel such peace or even freedom. Usually, I associate the feeling of “being lost” with not knowing where you are. Whether it is being in a strange city and taking a turn you didn’t intend, being in a job where you don’t know what you are really supposed to be doing, or being in a relationship that seems to be going nowhere. In all of these cases, that feeling of “being lost” seems to have at its core not knowing where you are. Yet, at the same time, I can think of times I have been in strange cities where every turn seemed like an adventure. Where a new job was a fresh place to grow. Where a relationship was a mystery waiting to unfold.
So, it seems that “being lost” isn’t simply about not knowing where you are. It is probably fair to say, that if that was the case, we would all be in a constant state of being lost, wondering where we are in our lives. Instead, I think back to the two hikers on the hill. The real difference wasn’t about where they were, it was about where they wanted to be. The cold, fearful hiker wanted to be home, and his every thought was consumed with how to get there. He did not want to be in the woods. In his focus, he did not see that which was around him, except as something fearful. The other hiker was very touched by the beauty of where he was. His focus was on that precious moment, and not where he might have been.
Another difference. The hiker watching the sunset felt, and perhaps even knew, he was not “alone.” He felt a connection to the things around him, from the stars to the sounds. The other hiker felt it was only him. He did not see the rest of the world, except as a threat and a barrier to reach where he wanted to be. His sense of being “alone” came from his lack of connection to the world around him. In fact, he was alone with his own thoughts.
Recognizing the seeds of these mental formations growing in us can help us change our lives from one of “being lost” to one of adventure, awakening and celebration. By not focusing on where we want to be, but instead being in the moment, and knowing our interconnectedness with all around us, we can escape the anxiety and fear of “being lost.” To remind myself of the beauty of this transformation, I like to say “I know where I am…I am lost.”