We all feel lost sometimes, but in the midst of the pain and discomfort, we can find presence.
At 200 Baker Street in London stands a three-story Victorian building. In January, its proprietors announced that a record 300,000 items entered its doors last year—all of them lost items, left by commuters on the city’s buses, trains, and subways.
Among the many curios that have been tagged and stuffed into floor-to-ceiling shelves that span corridors upon corridors at 200 Baker Street are cellphones, laptops, umbrellas, musical instruments, books, bags, dresses, shoes, $25,000 in an envelope, soft toys, an urn complete with ashes, a life-size Spider-Man doll, and an odd prosthetic limb…
I am fascinated by the hallways of 200 Baker Street. How did so many items get so lost? Who didn’t care for them enough? Where do they really belong? Will they be retrieved at some point?
Will they ever find a purpose again?
There is something very poignant about these things that were left behind. There is a sadness that resonates with me deeply—because I know what it is to feel lost. We all do. And it’s not pleasant.
At first we may not even know it. We think we are headed in the direction of the career or relationship of our dreams… But then we start receiving signals that the path we are on may not be the one we had planned:
- We feel anxious, ungrounded. Unable to relax, but unable to focus either.
- Our thoughts become erratic. We want to be alone, only… We want to be with the company, too.
- Once easy tasks now feel weighty and unassailable. We feel overwhelmed.
- We seek distractions. Anything—just to capture our attention for one moment.
- It seems impossible to recall the last time we felt carefree and joyful.
- A general feeling of fogginess and confusion seems to reign over us. We get headaches.
- Decision-making becomes a mammoth task. We have no idea what direction to take.
And all of a sudden we realize we must have missed the whole part where the kindly bus driver picked us up, placed us on a shelf in a dusty corridor, and declared us “lost.”
It’s a dark place. But it doesn’t have to be. There is a way to see our “lost-ness” as a place of opportunity. As a spiritual teacher, Teal Swan says: “You cannot ever hope to find yourself and understand yourself until you have first become lost and misunderstood yourself.” Nothing has gone wrong, she points out. Rather, everything has gone right.
German psychiatrist Fritz Perls and his wife Laura attempted to unravel this feeling of being lost in the 1900s. Their “gestalt” theory is that our lives tend to have, at nearly every moment, a focus and a background. The two coexist. But there are times, when our lives are about to shift, where this focus and background disappear entirely. We thought we had it all mapped out—the job, the relationship, the purpose… And then we wake up in a dark room with no idea where we are or where we are going. It is an “in-between” state where we find ourselves in a place of suspension—and that place, according to Gestalt psychology, is a place of creativity. It’s where our next adventure is being born.
The trouble is, we have come to look upon this point of shifting in our lives—this in-between state, the zero point of creation—with great anxiety. In his book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Gregg Levoy makes the case that our Western culture has confused mystery with “something to be solved,” rather than something “to be serenaded.” Our minds have become highly tuned to make meaning, to have goals, and to keep us safe. The unknown is regarded as a threat, rather than a wonder.
“To be lost is to be present” – Rebecca Solnit
But, “to be lost is to be present,” says Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Our minds have no future place to jump to, nothing to latch on to, and so we have to sit with what is. The panic we feel is only brought about because we are unfamiliar with being in the now.
In the London Transport lost property office, at 200 Baker Street, the lost items have to sit there for three months. Then they are moved on to thrift stores and nonprofits that can make use of them—where they can be repurposed.
For us, however, this time spent before being “repurposed” is indeterminate. In some cases, we can feel lost for many months, and at other times a new focus and path can emerge in just days. But it will emerge, and in the interim, we can learn to love the unknown and to see ourselves—not as lost—but merely as in-between.
How to Make It Through the In-Between
It’s OK to feel lost. It’s OK to not feel OK. But remember: You are most definitely not alone. So relax and breathe. You will find your way. And notice that between the inhale and exhale there is a point of suspension—a gap. Even the breath gets lost.
Stop the Distractions
Be honest about all the ways you’re distracting yourself and quit them. Instead, try to embrace the opportunity to sit in presence. It can feel painful to be with uncertainty, but it is also a place of infinite possibility and creation. Embrace it.
When we’re lost it can feel like we are flailing in the water, waiting for a big boat to come and get us. We often hope the heavens will open and a booming voice will tell us what to do and where to go. But more often than not our callings come to us as small offerings from the universe. When we’re busy waiting for the boat we miss the twigs that float past that could’ve formed our raft. So notice the signs. If you feel you should take drumming classes, take them—it doesn’t mean your calling is to be a famous drummer—but it could be pointing you in your new direction.
The feeling of being lost, or having no focus “can be like looking through a kaleidoscope,” says New York clinical psychologist Mary Cox. Sometimes the kaleidoscope turns slowly, and at other times “you begin to turn the end and then, wow, a whole new experience begins that you never could have imagined,” says Mary. But whatever happens, have faith, because you will not stay on the lost property shelf forever.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality and Wisdom channels on wanderlust.com. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister-in-training, and full-time dog walker of Millie.