The lost art of finding our way

In summer months, one of my favourite things to do is get lost in the ravines. I do it deliberately, finding some trail I haven't taken before just to see where it brings me. "Lost" is a loose term nowaways, of course. Although my phone's maps don't cover the ravine trails, I can easily orient myself based on my Google map marker, and where north is. I resist using these tools only because there's a peculiar satisfaction in finding oneself when you've become lost.

We used to go on Sunday drives growing up. Sunday, I assume, because mass was attended in the morning and with shops closed, there was time to get lost. We would set out in some direction and make our way down country roads, sometimes stopping to explore a grand house or other landmark. Maybe my parents had discussed where they were setting out to, but I carry the sense that they hadn't. They seemed willing to let the roads unfurl in front of them and to bicker and backtrack when they led us astray.


The skills to find our way are in our pockets these days but that only makes navigation more removed, less instinctive. We set out brimming with the easy confidence of fingertip answers, not needing to build mindmaps of where we're going or how we're going to get there. We're content to let that information stay housed within the device we carry instead of built-up inside us as an animal instinct. Right now, I'm reading The Lost Art of Finding Our Way, which argues for developing intuitive navigational skills and for connecting with surroundings in ways that allow you to read subtleties that you might find your way by.

And I've been thinking about this both literally and figuratively. How unused to being lost we've become. How ill-equipped we've become to feeling lost. And how, because we don't let ourselves get lost, we've become unpracticed at finding our way.

I had a professor who would grow bemused listening to a friend of mine work his way through a philosophical argument. He would guffaw, all indulgent bombast, that my friend argued east and south and west and then finally (finally!) found his True North. Not just north. True North! And I've been thinking about that too - how the philosophical journey was what was important, not just the destination. Where my classmate ended up was "true" precisely because he had explored, investigated and ruled out the other directions.

There's a patience and kindness to this way of seeing argument and decision-making and roundabout answers that we seldom see today. We want confidence to be manifest from the get-go. Back-tracking or reconsidering a direction is seen as a sign of insecurity or indecisiveness and is often taken to undermine rather than bolster a conclusion. We talk a lot about "fail fast" but we grow impatient even with the fast failures.

I can't help but wonder if our impatience with being lost (figuratively-speaking) has to do with the fact we've become unpracticed at letting ourselves get lost literally. And that our disdain for those who are lost has to do with how easy navigation has become in a smartphone / Google earth world. That thought, that "lostness" has become insufferable because technology has made us numb and impatient to a beautiful process, saddens me.

Because it's a magical and affirming feeling, when you find yourself or your way again.
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