Wellness Pearls

10 June 2015

When Lost: Our First Teacher is Our Own Heart

At some point in an adult life, a sense of mission drift can take root. Somewhere the life and the work we love takes a wrong turn, and we end up in a bad neighborhood. This sense of feeling lost can present itself as a frenzied desire to escape, or a sense of dread in going to work or home.   When elder Native Americans give advice to youth on being lost in the forest, they tell them to “stand still”:

When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still.  

 Ponca Chief White Eagle (1800's to 1914)

Surely, this wilderness survival wisdom applies to life. The very first thing we do when lost while driving is turn off the radio, pay attention, slow down. Search and rescue crews tell us that when lost, fight the impulse to do more and more activity. They report that most people lost in the wilderness ignore the advice to stay stationary so they can be found. Reorienting and finding a different way forward requires this necessary first step of “standing still” to design a new horizon. Creating a great life, one that doesn’t need escaping from, requires skill, adaptability, resilience and resisting the urge to get too busy or mired in details. And if it feels too hard, remember Nietzsche’s wisdom, “He who has a great WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.

The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.

 David Wagoner, American poet, b. 1926


4 Responses

  1. bruce Grau

    Dr. Eileen, Once again you have delivered a timely message to me. I AM feeling lost. My job has been my anchor and now I can no longer perform it the way I am being asked to . I have been searching for a new position , interviewing from Virginia to Seattle, but haven’t “felt it”. In face when I go to one area, the previous area seems more appealing. I really feel I have lost my footing and I am now very anxious, almost defeated. Culd you share any more explanation about dealing with being lost? Thanks so much for sharing your insights. Bruce

    1. Eileen O'Grady
      Eileen O'Grady

      Hi There: This is a great question and it’s really a question of what’s next. Hugely important to recognize one is lost as a first step. Sometimes we are in need of a serious re-pot, that we are in a too small of a job that leaves us feeling confined and dead inside. This is not always the case, but many people find themselves in a too small job and need to have a wider impact or circle of influence. As we develop as adults, we find the approval of others less important than having autonomy and being more self-authored. You seem to be in search of meaning and purpose in your work. So some questions to ask yourself are:
      Why am I on the planet? What am I here to do? Who am I here to serve, what problem and I here to fix/work on? It often requires taking a huge step back or even some time away, outside of your life to get at that truth. When you get it you will know it because it will be no burden to you at all… you will feel energized and then the HOW to do it comes easily. When we pay attention to our energy levels that can be a great informer. What makes you feel fully alive and engaged? What deadens you? What are you afraid of? Here one can explore underlying assumptions, the fear question is often a great place of exploration.
      It’s really important to NOT make a decision in an anxious state or if feeling defeated. That’s where the “stand still” comes in as toe-curling and uncomfortable as that can be. So Bruce, perhaps you need to stop looking out and look in… tap into your intuition with these questions and see if you already know the answer. I have a feeling it is in there. Somewhere. Let me know… Thank you for your thoughtful question. Warmly, Eileen

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