Where are You?

I remember it like it happened yesterday. I’m riding my friend’s pony, she is riding another pony ahead of me. We are probably seven or eight years old, at most. She is a good rider, she rides all the time. I’ve ridden a few times here and there but want nothing more than to be a good rider. We are at a full gallop, she rides effortlessly, so well balanced, I’m hanging on to any part of the saddle and the pony I can just to stay on. I remember her laughing, her loud, infectious and usually somewhat maniacal laugh. I’m sure I had my focused face, the face of sheer concentration, sheer will and sheer determination I wear a lot, even now. In my usual “I’m doing this” manner, I am staying on that galloping pony and I’m following my friend. She is winding through the trees and at times I can’t see her. I try not to panic, I have no idea where we are or how to get back to her house. She goes faster and laughs harder. I realize that she is actually trying to get me to fall off the pony by about the third time she grabs a branch from a tree she’s passing, hangs on to it for a moment, then lets go, perfectly timed, to smack me in the face and hopefully unseat me. She laughs, then does it again. I hang on, miraculously, and after the third branch sandwich, I figure out her modus operandi and I learn to duck, or to make my pony swerve, to avoid pain, danger, possible death, and, worst of all, an unscheduled dismount. I have no idea where we are going, and truthfully, other than steering to avoid the branches being snapped at me, I’m not steering, my pony is just following her pony. They’re herd animals. When my friend realizes she isn’t likely to unseat me by snapping branches at me, she spurs her pony on a bit faster and tries to lose me in the woods. I have to spur my pony on, faster, to keep her in sight. I really don’t want to be lost in the woods, so my only choice is to keep up. I keep up and I avoid those goddam branches.

Suddenly, my pony comes to a screeching halt and there is my friend, stopped, at the edge of the world. We are on a ledge with a steep drop off inches from where the ponies’ front hooves have become still. From this ledge, in the dimming afternoon light, off in the distance, are the lights of San Francisco beginning to twinkle. It is magical. “This is fairy’s ring”, my friend explains, a magical place with a magical view. Wherever this place was, however we’d find our way back, I was in awe and I was inspired. In being lost I actually found something; I found that I loved riding ponies and horses as much as I thought I would, and I especially loved riding on trails, in the hills, through the woods, with magical views, and this all became paramount in my life and in many of the life shaping, life altering decisions that were to be made over the next forty years.

Forty years later, in Colorado, with my same friend, we are horseback riding. A rare and memorable treat, like reliving our childhood for a brief afternoon. We are loping along a dirt road, there are cattle watching us speed by, momentarily disrupted from their grazing. My friend, with her same infectious, loud and somewhat maniacal laughter, suddenly leaves the trail, spurs her horse on into the woods and jumps her horse over a fallen tree. I pull my horse up to watch. She heckles me, “Come on! He’ll jump it!” I shake my head. I ride, but I don’t jump horses. I just ride. I’m not a bad rider, but I don’t jump horses, just not my discipline and not something I’ve done since we were kids, careless kids. I think she actually called me a sissy or a wimp or some slightly derogatory name. We are over forty years old, but it seems like we’re still in the second grade. My friend tells me that her mother, who is nearly seventy years old, jumps her horse over fallen trees, and I am riding her mother’s horse, so, apparently, he is capable. I had a conversation with my friend’s mom earlier that day and she told me, and I quote, “I’d rather die while out horseback riding than any other way I can imagine.” I mention this to my friend, who calls me a “big, fat chicken”. I jumped the damn horse over the damn log. I lived. And before long, we were loping in circles, following each other, jumping over the fallen tree and any other obstacles we can find, again and again and again. Laughing. Again, I am determined to keep up, not that I’d be lost if left behind, necessarily, I’d follow the dirt road until it ended up somewhere. And I know my friend would never, at least at our more mature age, leave me behind and lost. She may give me a ration of shit for not keeping up, but I won’t even allow that. And in that moment I found something that I had lost, a certain carefree joy, the thrill of taking a risk and casting caution to the wind for a memory that will last forever.

Old friends finding our lost youth and joy in life.
Old friends finding our lost youth and joy in life.

Back home, I’m riding my own horse, having just moved my horses to a friend’s ranch for boarding, I am riding, at a full gallop, up a steep, wooded hill, following my friend on his horse. I have no idea where we are headed, there is no trail. He knows the way through the dense maze of trees that populate neighboring properties, all private, some we have permission to ride on, others we don’t, and I’m not fond of the prospect of being left behind, being lost and finding my way onto an irate property owner’s land. I keep up, at all costs. I’m a pretty good rider for a middle-aged woman, not as well balanced as I once was, on a taller horse than I rode as a kid, and the ground being so much harder than I remember it being from childhood. I am reminded of the wild ride through the woods on ponies darned near forty years ago. I have the same focused face, again, sheer determination and my “I’m doing this” attitude. I do not like being lost, I do not like being left behind. I seem to have deviant friends. But, truth, I am enjoying the hell out of myself. I don’t have many friends that live like this, take chances like this, do fun, wild and amazing things. This is my life. By design. And, face it, life is going to kill all of us at some point or other, may as well make it good! I don’t want to die in a recliner gripping a TV remote. And, again, I have regained something, this day, that is lost on so many other days behind the responsibility of work, family and home. Fun. Thrills. Joy.

Finding excitement in not knowing the path.
Finding excitement in not knowing the path.

Being lost. There are different ways in which we can be lost. We can be lost in a specific manner, as in having lost our direction, by not knowing where we are or where we should head. We can be lost in a larger, more general sense, we don’t know what to do with our lives, our talents, our energies. We may be so lost we don’t even know we have talents, energies, passions or other components of what life is. We can also be lost from something we hold dear, as in we’ve misplaced or lost track of something we consider of value.

How do we become lost? We lose direction. We lose our bearing. We lose sight of a landmark or other navigational guide. We become disoriented, confused, distracted. Our course is altered unexpectedly. There are many ways to become lost, but, usually, we have gone in an unplanned or unintended direction and we aren’t sure how to right our course, or even whether we should right our course. Think about it.

Life is like water in a stream, when it meets a boulder it is diverted.

Jobs, people, hobbies, experiences can all alter the direction of our lives. It is not possible to live and to avoid this. If you remain perfectly motionless and resist any chance or change, possibly, your life can go with few alterations to course. A slow, steady, monotonous course to death. Step into the raft, trust your guide, and go for a thrilling ride down the rapids. That’s what life is meant to be. Sometimes, we have to become lost in order to be found. The diversion around the boulder that alters our path is certainly better than crashing directly into the rock. Think about it.

Do you have to know every twist and turn of the river in advance in order to navigate the rapids safely, successfully, skillfully? No. If you know enough about rivers in general, about eddies and back eddies, the nature of currents and obstacles, you can successfully and safely guide your raft down a river you’ve never navigated before. So, in life, we don’t have to know, for certain, our exact path, in fact, we will go much further towards our ultimate self if we don’t know every step we will ever take. There are many valuable lessons in self from those deviations from our intended course, again, better to divert our path around those obstacles, to change our course, than to run into and be stopped in our tracks by that obstacle. Think about it.

We don’t necessarily need to know precisely where we are going and exactly, step by step, how we are going to get there. True, we should have a destination in mind, but how we get there may differ from our original plan. There are a dozen ways to drive to any point in the city you live in, no one is more right than another. There may be many variables that cause you to choose one route over another, traffic or road construction as an example. The destination is the same, the course can vary. So, if our destination is our goal, how we accomplish that goal is our journey, our path, and the path we choose initially may not end up being the best route. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our goal, our destination, it just means we need to alter our path, our direction, our method for attaining our goal. Nor do we need to know exactly where we are at any point in time. We may have to lose our direction a time or two to actually, finally reach our goal. Think about it.

So, being lost is good. Losing our way is preferred. Am I talking crazy?

What is the definition of lost?


lôst, läst


1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

“Help! We’re lost!”

synonyms: off course, off track, disorientated, having lost one’s bearings, going around in circles, adrift, at sea, astray

If you are unable to find your way, if you do not know your whereabouts are you really lost? You are where you are. You know you’re there, you can feel yourself where you are, you can see your feet, your legs, your hands. You can see everything that surrounds you. You are right where you are. The only thing you may not know, temporarily, is where that point is related to the rest of the world. You, in fact, are not lost, you just haven’t decided which direction to head to change your location to one you’d prefer, perhaps one you recognize.

When I was working with Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, many, many years ago, I became aware of the “Hug a Tree” program which encouraged children who were “lost” to not wander. As soon as they came to the realization that they were alone, apart from their group, they were taught to go to the closest tree or similar landmark adjacent to the path and stay there, to hug the tree until someone came in search of them. In the wilderness, or even on city streets, if very young, or very old, and unable to navigate back to your group, to safety, this is extremely practical advice. For, if you are very young, or very old, someone is looking for you from the moment you escaped their view, undoubtedly. By remaining in one place you are far more likely to be found. Countless are the unfortunate stories of children, of elderly people, wandering aimlessly while their rescuers tried to follow their path, tried to find them, and, often, their paths crossed numerous times, but at inopportune times. By staying in one place, especially near a trail or path, the chance of being found increase exponentially. Unless alone in the wilderness, for the rest of us, those of us who move autonomously around the planet, independently, this may not actually be the best course of action. If I just froze and clung to a large, tall object the first time I became disoriented in my travels for work, I’d probably have missed a flight, missed a connection, missed a meeting, and, perhaps, lost my job.

As autonomous, independent adults, negotiating our way through the world, we have at our disposal numerous resources on which we can rely; navigational devices like apps on our phones or GPS units, we may have maps or an atlas handy or that can be easily obtained, and we always have the ability to ask for assistance. At the very minimum, we have our powers of observation, our ability to solve problems, and we usually find our way again in short order.

In the wilderness, of course, this may be a different story, especially if traveling through the wilderness is not something we do regularly. Hopefully, we have planned well enough in advance to have notified someone of where we are going and when we should be expected to return. Hopefully we have further prepared by packing contingency items for our adventure, however short; extra food, extra water or the means with which to purify water, matches, a knife, some nylon cord, some extra clothing. And with a certain amount of preparedness comes the calm assurance that survival is more likely, and with that calm assurance, usually comes the ability to think clearly enough to re-orient ourselves and find our way to the path back to civilization. Or to hug a tree.

Notice, in both cases, in town and in the wilderness, our safe arrival at our intended destination was reliant on the fact that we had a few tools, a few necessary items available to us. We had resources or were able to identify resources that would assist us in our return. Knowing how to equip ourselves in our journey, real or rhetorical, will be a determining factor in our ultimate success and in the efficiency of our route. The trick, then, is to know what we should equip ourselves with, and for each journey, it will differ. The resources I need for a backpacking trek will differ from the resources I need to obtain a certain career goal.

We’ve established, then, that becoming lost, in life, is good, that we gain experience and growth and overcome adversity and challenge by becoming lost, not losing sight of our ultimate goal, or destination, and finding another course, through diversion, to our reward, our goal. We have also established, that in reality, when we become lost, having certain resources, tools and skills available to us give us the confidence and clarity to find our way back. This is true in our journey in life, too. With the right preparation, resources, tools and skills, getting diverted from our original course towards our goals is not just a valuable lesson to be gained, but an opportunity to employ that preparation, those resources, tools and skills in establishing a new course towards our goal.

So, in life, when we are feeling lost, what should our approach be? How should we be prepared? What resources, tools and skills should we have at our disposal to establish a new and better path to our destination, our goal? How do we begin? How do we know?

I remember an acronym I learned in a wilderness first aid and survival class I once took. S.T.O.P., Stop and Sit, Think, Observe, Plan. By taking these steps you could usually figure out a way to survive until help arrived, of course, the more training you had and the better prepared you were, the better your chances of survival. This same acronym can be applied to any situation, real or rhetorical. That first moment when we determine we are lost, that our course has changed, been diverted, or we’ve just temporarily lost our way, whether on the streets of a strange city, in the wilderness, or on a path to our goals in life, if we take some time to stop and sit, to become quiet and calm, that is always the first, most important step. If we frantically try to scurry about and determine, in haste, which direction to head, we are likely to make an error, potentially a costly one. Stop. Become quiet. Listen. Be still. We may hear a street nearby, or voices, or just enough peace and quiet for a solid idea to form. Stop.

I was in downtown Chicago for a brief walking tour. I was pressed for time as I had a flight home and needed to drive through traffic to get to the airport in time. I’d parked my rental car in a parking garage, of which there are many. I’d taken pictures of the garage and made note of the address, but it had the same management company and signage as just about every other garage in the area. As I walked in the direction I remembered the garage being, running a few minutes behind schedule, putting me in a position where I could ill-afford a navigational error, I stopped for a moment to gather my bearings. In that moment, stopped and quiet, I heard a street musician, a saxophone player playing, terribly, I might add, the Hokie Pokie song. I knew, at that moment, that the entrance to the garage was just across the street. I’d noticed that musician, heard the same song, as I’d exited the garage. In my haste and concern over being late, had I not stopped, I likely would not have heard the musician and may have taken a less direct route back to the garage.

S.T.O.P. - calmly applying thought and observation to find my way back to the parking garage as quickly as possible.
S.T.O.P. – calmly applying thought and observation to find my way back to the parking garage as quickly as possible.

The T is for think. After we’ve stopped, we need to think. In stopping, hopefully, we have become quiet and have calmed down, our thought process is much more likely to be logical and productive. Depending on the situation, whether real or rhetorical, in taking the time to think of our options, this phase may take a few minutes, or a few months. If lost in trying to get back to the parking garage, I could probably have thought things through in a few moments and found my way back one way or another. My options may have included consulting a map on my phone, asking someone for directions, hailing a cab and giving the driver the address of the parking garage. Lots of options. In a more rhetorical situation, having lost our direction in pursuit of a goal, we may need to spend more than a few minutes to right our course or find a better route altogether. We may decide we need more education, or a different career path, or some other major course deviation, all of which may require a bit of time and effort to collect all the options necessary to consider. The point is, no matter the scenario, thought must be applied, logically, to get headed in the right direction, again.

O is for Observe. As I observed the saxophone player as I left the garage, it was the observation of that sound, again, on my return, that successfully guided me back. After stopping, and thinking through our options, we should observe our surroundings, the resources we have immediately at hand that may aid us in getting started on our path, again. Thinking and observation are not too unrelated. I consider observation just a more tactile form of thought. Thinking generates ideas from vapor, observation generates ideas from tangible items in our midst. In being physically lost, our powers of observation are usually key in reuniting us with our path to our destination; a tree, a rock formation, a building, a landmark, a sign. In our more rhetorical example, observation may not be quite as tangible. We may, instead, observe behaviors of those we consider mentors in our journey. We may observe activities that generate a desired outcome that will further our advancement towards our goal. We may observe resources that may assist us that we had not previously considered. In observation, we are really just opening our minds to other possibilities, we are becoming creative.

P is for Plan. And this, of course, is the most critical part, whether lost for real or in a rhetorical sense. The old adage goes, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”. In life, failure is not and should never be considered an end, it is often the means by which we learn what it is we need to know to eventually reach our goal. But, if certain failures can be avoided, like boulders in the stream, then, by all means, we should attempt to steer around them. A good plan will assist us in navigating around failures that may delay our success. If lost in the woods or in a city, a plan can be as simple as calling for assistance, heading in the direction, by compass, that we were originally headed, climbing to a higher point for a better vantage point.

In life, a plan is more ethereal, as in both ether and real. A plan, of course, is paramount, and it always begins with the goal itself. Then we can sketch out how we will achieve that goal. Our plan can be very specific or can be quite general. I think the more general the better for the long term, more ether like. But, each day, at waking, or better yet, before going to sleep the night before, a very specific plan should be made, with our overall goal in mind, so that some positive action and progress is made, steadily. A more real plan. Lest our goal be like the sun in the sky, always there and never closer, sometimes shrouded by clouds, or night, but always present, and never, ever closer.

And, as plans pertain to our goals in life, is it not the plan and the deviation from the plan that is the definition of “lost” to begin with? The goal hasn’t changed, but the path, the plan, does. With constant change and flux, it is then critical that we be as flexible as our plan. We may need to adapt the plan, and we may need to adapt to follow the plan. Making a plan, following a plan, and, necessarily, adapting the plan, all requires change. We must embrace change to have any hope of every achieving our goal.

Nothing ever gets better that stays the same. We must accept change, embrace change, court change, in order for any part of our life, our experience, ourselves to improve. Change is a deviation from the current course, is it not? Change is becoming lost, temporarily, with a change in direction. Think about it.

In being lost we are found. In being lost we learn. In being lost we grow. In being lost, we can reach our goal, our dream, our purpose and become richer for the journey, the deviation in the intended course. Do not fear becoming lost, it may be just the key you need to open all the doors you desire. Think about it.

Get lost.


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