Friday, August 29, 2014

Perfecting the Art of Being Lost

The second ever post I made on this blog was about being lost. Now it is time to write another one, and in fact this may become the theme of more of my writing, because for a while now it has been a theme in my life.

I don't like the word 'lost' per se. Someone described me with the word random in June, and that captures something poignant. I have inherited this quality from my dad (who is essentially a stranger to me). For the short time I was forced to be in his life, I saw him go through numerous hobbies: golfing, fishing, sailboating, gardening, building a boat...and drop projects before he finished them, or quit exploring a skill long before he mastered it. This quality always annoyed me, in part because I want to trust that when someone says they are going to do something, they will. I like consistency.

This is all the more reason that I annoy myself for my own lack of follow through. When I did Girl Scouts for a few years, they had a book of badges. At the beginning of each category was a badge called a Dabbler. This was a way to gently explore the subject matter, and then later badges would go more in depth with subcategories. So there would be a nature dabbler, an art dabbler, etc. These interested me more than anything else in the whole book. I wanted to explore everything, to be the master of all subjects. I still do.

This translates into all aspects of my life. What ends up happening is I skim the surface of everything, and wind up with all this information from a variety of disciplines, academic and spiritual and...whatever else you can think of. I'm not an expert at any one field, but I see the connections in the world. In college, I studied religions, psychology, sustainability, and art. In my spiritual explorations, I've played with most of the well-known Eastern philosophies, New Age beliefs, and am mostly settled in a Reclaiming-style Paganism with a side of Quakerism. This all after leaving the more mainstream Christianity I was born into.

Sometimes I have encountered judgements, from within and without, that I am undisciplined, weak-willed, never getting good at anything, unable to commit. I've never stayed with a spiritual practice such as meditation, yoga, art therapy, or nature connections for more than a few consecutive months. I change. I lose interest and focus in the material. It stops being meaningful to me. Which makes absolute, total sense, because life is always changing and is an ever-unfolding process. But when I was dating a committed Buddhist meditator, I heard his voice echoing the thousands of books and articles I'd read, telling me I would never reach enlightenment this way. I'm ruled by my wild senses, unable to control them--the Hindu form of sin.

And rebelling against that line of thinking with Pagan justifications of being a free animal in harmony with Earth isn't totally satisfying either. There is something about being human that can be seriously enhanced by cultivated presence. Ultimately this presence is handy in life's daily activities, as Thich Nhat Hahn writes about. It is easier to practice, like all things, in a contained environment.

On the other hand, when it comes to transcending duality and being one with the cosmos, Bill Plotkin says in one of my all-time favorite books (Nature and the Human Soul) that those are naturally emerging qualities gained in elderhood, after living a full life of going through all the stages of being a maturing human. Most of those stages involve participation with life, rather than renunciation. The one other stage that comes closest to this, because it is a time of turning inward, is known as the Cocoon.

The characteristics of the Cocoon describe my life starting in my mid-teens, and increasing as time went on. Because those characteristics have been a part of my life for so long, I am impatent to move on with life. The way Plotkin writes, he makes it sound like the survival of Earth is dependent on humans progressing through the stages of development, instead of stalling out at adolescence, as most of Western culture has done. The difference between the Cocoon and the next stage, the Wellspring, is that the first is about focusing on yourself and you own psychic depths, whlie the Wellspring is about giving your gifts to your community.

I thought I had progressed to the Wellspring as of a year ago. I thought I knew what I wanted to do to serve my community and make the most of this life. I had a vision, and I made some efforts to follow through with it. But that vision has since petered out, and at this moment, I again feel directionless.

So I ask myself, Do I need to turn inward again? Is it possible that I am more of a be-er than a do-er, that my purpose is filled by my existence, without taking on grandose projects? Is it OK to have moments of feeling unmotivated, even if they last days, and that doesn't mean I'm completely off-track? Does my random-ness have a pattern I cannot see for being so close to it? Does yours, other lost souls?

Over the summer, a friend was telling me about how she doesn't know which of her visions to follow--becoming a traveling artist, have a professional studio, start some sort of center or non-profit--and I passionately told her that although those are all beautiful ideas and I'm sure they would be great additions to the world, that her value as a person is not defined by what she produces. That is the big fat lie capitalism has told us. Our value is defined by who we are. This advice is much harder to believe for myself than it was when telling it to someone else.

It is such a blessing to have the spaciousness to contemplate these big life questions. I am incredibly privileged to live in a place where there is so much abundance that I can live simply off the excess and mostly not worry about basic survival. These circumstances are what allow me to be so tormented, and yet so blessed.


  1. Thank you for this article! I, too, struggle with focus and presence. My visionary side paints beautiful pictures of what I want, but this image fades and turns into something different before I can make steps to accomplishing it. I catch myself fantasizing about my 30's and 40's; imagining that I will be together enough by that time to contribute to my community as fully as I wish to. It's a relief to be informed of the various stages of development; reminding me to be patient with where I'm at. I've been searching more for questions then answers lately since I realize I've only been on this planet a short time and need to gather so much more information before making any conclusions. This article has inspired me to ask myself: how can I participate with life while exploring the depths of my psyche?

  2. Yes, learning about these stages of development was a big relief for me. It gave me permission to not be and do everything all at once, knowing there is a time for all things. It was a lot easier to keep track of that while I was reading the book and in a course about it, though, regularly discussing with fellow students. I like your question; participation has been a big theme for me. I used to use the word 'meaning' until I recently reallized that what gives me meaning is participation (in something meaningful). What could we participate in together that would be meaningful?