Being Lost


                      Though your destination is not clear                                                                         You can trust the promise of this opening;                                                                 Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning                                                                         That is one with your life’s desire.         ~John O’Donoghue  


being lostFor the past week or so, I have been feeling very lost … and it feels wonderful.

It sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?  If you accept Webster’s dictionary definition—”unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts”—being lost should be an unpleasant experience.

But from another perspective, being lost is akin to stepping outside your comfort zone. It paves the way for looking at life through a different lens.

So says author and essayist Rebecca Solnit. To Solnit, “Lost [is] mostly a state of mind, and this applies as much to all the metaphysical and metaphorical states of being lost as to blundering around in the backcountry. The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live…”

In other words, to get lost is to begin to live.

In my mind’s eye, however, there is a significant difference between being lost and being outside my comfort zone.

When I am outside my comfort zone—something that has happened many times in my life— I am forced to find new ways of coping. But whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant, my inner compass generally tells me where I am and where I want to get to.

By contrast, being lost means that I don’t quite know where I am or where I want to get to, at least metaphorically. I’ve defined myself for the past eight years as a writer.  But can I be a “writer” if I don’t know what I want to write about. I have an idea about a new book, but I’m not committed to it. I have a long list of potential blog topics, many of them linked to themes of my novel, but they don’t inspire me as they did while A Fitting Place was a work-in-process. I’ve done quite a bit of freelancing, but I have little enthusiasm for seeking out new freelance assignments.

Perhaps it’s a simple case of writer’s block.  But it has occurred to me that, as woman on her eighth distinctly different career, I have a history of changing horses on a regular basis.  Has my career as a writer run its course?

Since my novel was released in May, I have filled much of my time with busy-ness: Facebook posts, tweets, Google +, checking stats on book sales, and reading an endless stream of blogs on writing, publishing, and marketing—anything to mask my sense that I had no idea what I wanted to do next.  But then, this past Sunday, as I read Solnit’s words on the link between getting lost and becoming alive, I realized in a burst of insight that not knowing what I want to do next is a gift.

I am healthy and have enough energy to swim a half mile every day.  I share a love with a thoughtful, caring and healthy man. Being lost frees me to travel,  to spend hours reading, to sit and watch the full moon rising over the skyline.

Why, a few months shy of age 70, do I have to have a purpose every day?  Why should I not take joy in the fact of being lost?

The world is, potentially, my oyster.

To be lost is to be fully present  ~Walter Benjamin


  1. Mary,
    None of us at any age, need “to have a purpose every day.” It is often easier said than done, but for me, my most favorite days are those when I have no idea of where I am or where I’m going. They are those days when spontanaity reigns and we can refill oourselves with living and joy.

  2. Mary, you have captured so much of what I am experiencing right now as I immerse myself in all the busy-ness of a book launch , a major website upgrade and ongoing marketing. It reminds me that I need to let go of all the distractions and frenzy–take a deep breath and be present in the moment. Thank you for this reminder that there is life beyond the book. Enjoy!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Kathy … I know exactly what you are going through … I sense that you are far more committed to marketing process that I have been … all the more reason to step back and take that deep breath. I do hope it’s all going well and you’re selling a lot of books.

  3. Mary Gottschalk says

    Joan … It is a lesson I have to keep learning over and over. I have never been more content than during the six months I spent on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Life was out of my control … there was no place I had to be … no one who expected anything of me. But on terra firma, it is too easy to get caught up in all of the “busy-ness” around us … and especially if you like to feel that your life makes a difference in some small way. I guess my sense of being lost is that I’m not convinced that marketing a book is the way to make a difference.

  4. Mary,
    Your posts all speak to me. Some have to activate my feminine dimensions to do so, but I like that too. This post, I can tell, will resonate for while. We’ve even explored this theme over a delicious meal and with good company. Thank you for the reminders. All the very best to you and that thoughtful, caring and healthy man. Paul

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Paul … how lovely to hear from you …. we think of you and Ann every time we cruise by your old digs on MLK. We’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

      And thanks for the very kind words about my blog!

  5. How fun to read your post on Wednesday, the same day mine on the same subject came out. This “lostness” this “emptiness” is indeed a gift. Thanks for the validation.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Janet … a coincidence indeed. But there is a larger coincidence, in that so many of the writers that have been in my network over the past 18 months have now published their books, and are “re-thinking” the next stage of their life. It reminds of postpartum blues and the let down after the opening night in the theatre.

      I will follow your thinking process with interest.

  6. When sailing around the world, even though we had specific chores, destinations and goals, our crews loved to have a “free day” once awhile. Now, as a landlubber, when I have a day with nothing on my calendar, I call it a “Free Day and just do what I want without a To Do list. It is very liberating.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Lois … On our cruise, we always had specific chores, and generally had destinations, if only because the route from Panama to Australia pretty much determined the route. But we seldom planned arrival dates ( enjoying our current spot too much to leave … contrary winds and currents) and generally didn’t start reading up on the place (except for marine pilots and charts) until we arrived. In a way, we wanted to make every day a “free day.” It’s much harder to do as a landlubber.

  7. Mary Van Heukelom says

    Mary, I am reminded of two literary works. I believe every day and all actions have purpose. We just don’t see, feel, smell, hear or taste it at times.

    The first is from William James..

    “I am done with great things and big plans and grand institutions, big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets or like capillary oozing in water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”

    And, from William Martin,

    Make the Ordinary Come Alive

    Do not ask your children
    to strive for extraordinary lives.
    Such striving may seem admirable,
    but it is a way of foolishness.
    Help them instead to find the wonder
    and the marvel of an ordinary life.
    Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes,
    apples and pears.
    Show them how to cry
    when pets and people die.
    Show them the infinite pleasure
    in the touch of a hand.
    And make the ordinary come alive for them.
    The extraordinary will take care of itself.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Mary … thanks for the wonderful addition to my thought. I love William James, and am glad to discover William Martin … and the concept of making the ordinary come alive. I may use that as the subject of another blog.

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