When I was a little girl, I loved to play in the woods behind my house. Actually, it was just a small patch of trees that separated one neighborhood from another, a short cut for some, but to me it was a place of adventure and exploration.
As I walked under the shade of the trees, I would stay in anticipation of a new discovery, looking for something I’d never seen before, the uncovering of some sort of mystery, whether it was a bug or a mushroom or a trickle of water.
At times I would intentionally walk in new directions trying to get lost. It never happened of course. The area was too small, but I would hope to get lost in the woods. My adult brain, the brain that cannot stand being without clear direction, has often wondered what it was in my little girl self that wanted to be lost.
Much of my adult life the thought of being lost has frustrated me, astounded me, caused me to feel unsafe, held me back from adventure. Why would I want to do it on purpose? I wonder if there was some inner wisdom in my 10-year old self that wanted to experience my own resiliency, to encounter my own ability to get back on track, to feel empowered even in the midst of the unknown, to prepare for a life where I would sometimes feel lost.
Many years ago I wrote a song called “The Wrong Road”. The lyrics questioned, “Have you ever been on the wrong road but kept driving it? Have you ever taken a wrong turn but decided that you could not turn around?” It was a time in my life when I felt lost. I had made some poor decisions, and I had no idea how to get myself turned back around in the right direction. Maybe you can relate.
I felt lost and scared and paralyzed to move forward. I could have used some of my little girl energy to believe in my ability to get back on track. Eventually, I turned around in the right direction, but I questioned myself. I questioned the amount of time I felt I had wasted.
When I first began attending retreats at Hope Springs Institute, another participant pointed me in the direction of a path in the woods close by. “It’s clearly marked,” she told me, “You can’t miss it.”
I did miss it. For 15 minutes I missed it again and again as I traipsed through the meadow trying to find the trailhead. I did not feel like the confident little girl who enjoyed being lost. When I finally found the trailhead, I discovered the path was marked by a raggedy piece of wood hammered into the ground and another one nailed across it. There were no words or directions of any kind.
I felt kind of lost. I hoped I had finally found the right path but wasn’t sure. I wanted better directions. I wished for a sign that stated, “This is the trailhead. This trail is exactly one mile long. There will be a blue diamond painted on every third tree to assure you that you are on the right path.”
I laughed at myself for wanting such clarity. As I put one foot in front of the other, I heard my inner Divine voice speaking, “Sometimes all you will know in life is the very next step and the very next step and the very next step. And that doesn’t mean you’re lost. It means that’s all you need to know right now. Trust in the unfolding.”
Since that time I have learned to live into the mystery of my life. I have learned to take just the next step and then the next one. Sometimes I still wish for more clarity, but I remember that path in the woods and I realize that I know exactly what I need to know right now.
Maybe we are never really lost. Maybe even the wrong turns are part of what we are meant to experience in our journey. Maybe there is much for us to learn from these turns. Maybe nothing in life is ever really wasted.
Now, whenever I am feeling confused or unclear about the direction I need to turn, I can call out to my 10-year old self. I can feel myself grounded in her empowerment, in her belief in her own resiliency, in her ability to find her way one step at a time. I can trust her. I can trust myself. Even in the mystery, I am never really lost.