In the past few weeks I have been on several trails where the sign with the overview map indicates "you are here" with an arrow or big, red lettering. On all of the signs the "you are here" was clearly rubbed, two of them being touched so much that it was impossible to discern where it was we were, precisely. As my hiking friend put her finger on our location on yet another trail sign, I wondered at the need to actually touch the sign. Simply pointing at the location doesn't seem to cut it, one needs to ground oneself by making contact with the map, somehow physically connecting with where one is standing. It's intriguing.
The need to know where one is seems to be human nature. The plight of being lost is generally to be avoided at all costs. Moments where I've gotten turned around in the wilderness and I'm not sure where I am or how I got there are some of my scariest experiences in the outdoors. I'm a mapper, a planner, and a GPS user - I like to know where I am. I have friends who like to take new routes to see new things, but few do this in any way that can "really" get them lost.
Also last week I read Barbara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith." One chapter is titled, "The Practice of Getting Lost: WIlderness." Practice. The practice of getting lost. She advocates getting lost on purpose. Nutty.
Taylor encourages readers to practice getting lost (yes, really trying to get lost physically) because it can help us when we find ourselves hopelessly lost, in a situation that is not our choosing.
All I can do is pay attention to what happens when I am lost in the wilderness, with no ability to help myself...The practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. You lose your job. Your lover leaves. The baby dies. At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. the consenting itself becomes your choice, as you explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
The rock-bottom trust seems to come naturally to some people, while it takes disciplined practice for others. I am one of the latter...To that end, I keep my eyes open for opportunities to get slightly lost, so that I can gradually build the muscles necessary for radical trust.
...However you choose to do it, the practice of getting lost is both valuable and undervalued, at least by the North American culture most of us know best. In this culture, the point is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, even if that means you miss most of the territory, including the packed dirt under your feet. Sometimes this is because you are doing at least five other things while you are in transit, including talking on the phone, listening to the radio, drinking a mocha latte, checking your text messages, telling your dog to get in the backseat, and checking out how good you look in your sunglasses by admiring yourself in the rearview mirror.
Once you become lost, everything by the dog and the telephone will become suddenly unimportant--the telephone because it may allow you call someone who loves you enough to come find you, and the dog to keep you company while you wait. If you are not able to set priorities any other way, then getting lost may be the kick in the pants you have been waiting for. (pg. 80 & 85)
So, according to Taylor, getting lost builds trust, and it helps determine priorities. It's certainly nice to reflect upon these things when I can place a finger on a sign to determine exactly where I am right now, because that won't always be the case. And it can help me gain some perspective on all those times when I have been lost and adrift. How does being lost help you?