The Spiritual Practice of Getting Lost

(on purpose)

Last week I listened to a series of meditations by Barbara Brown Taylor. One of them was on the intentional practice of getting lost. What on earth would I want to get lost (on purpose) was my initial response. I have a very good sense of direction and when Tom and I travel together we rarely get lost. When he travels alone, however, he often gets lost – and experiences many unexpected adventures and encounters as a result. 

Surprisingly this topic kept revolving in my mind. Maybe it is because I was preparing for a trip to Australia to see my family for the first time in almost 4 years and I suspect that some of my familiar haunts will have changed considerably.  The possibility of getting lost in what was once a well known landscape is quite high. Why would I want to get lost on purpose though?  Rochelle Seltzer in her article Getting Lost on Purpose  explains:

Because when you let yourself wander without an agenda, without knowing what you will find, you are open to surprise. And open to delight. And open to unexpected wonder. Letting yourself be spontaneous and open to whatever you may discover, and delighting in the surprises (even if you come across something like a decaying old factory rather than a scenic babbling brook), fires up your brain. It inspires you and prompts you to think differently. It ignites creativity and opens you to new possibilities.

Wow. This getting lost on purpose is just the kind of activity I delight in and as I think about it, I realize it would make a wonderful practice for my upcoming trip. I love to wander and explore and the idea of wandering aimlessly through a landscape that I once knew well really does inspire me. Such a practice encourages me to walk slowly, to look with wide open eyes and avidly listening ears, to pay attention with all my senses. It is one way of saying – it is not the destination that matters but rather the journey. And as I wander I pay attention not just to the landscape around me but to the voice of God within me. New landscapes, new perspectives, new encounters are often the ways in which God speaks to us. So here is my proposed practice for the next few weeks. 

Interestingly when I first shared about getting lost on purpose several people told me about their own “getting lost” practices. One told me about a childhood car game where the kids would take turns telling the driver where to turn. As a result they often found unexpected parks, historic buildings and other beautiful sights. Another said that she used this as a contemplative exercise for her own life and also during workshops. She would send participants out to prayerfully wander the neighbourhood without knowing where they were going. They would stop, take photos and contemplate whatever caught their eyes as they walked. 

Their enthusiasm for this practice made me realize I should incorporate it into my visit to Australia. So I plan to set aside a couple of hours each week. My hope is to take the train, my favourite way to travel in Sydney, to a destination I was once familiar with but that has changed a lot since I last explored it. Then I intend to wander aimlessly through the area without a map or my phone GPS turned on and with no destination in mind. What landmarks still look familiar? What has changed beyond recognition? What unexpected sites caught your attention and gave me joy? I am excited about the possibility of discovering gardens I never saw before, or murals freshly painted on buildings. If I see a plaque on a building I will stop and read it and spend a few minutes imagining the person, the event or the place it commemorates.

Hopefully I will end up with a collection of spectacular photos from my walk.   I also hope to find a place to sit down and reflect on my experience and on the sense of God’s presence within my wandering.

I realize that there are lots of things that could derail this practice for me over the next few weeks, but if I don’t practice it in Australia, I look forward to doing so once I return home. Setting out aimlessly without a destination in mind gives me permission to explore and to listen in ways I don’t normally do. When Rochelle Seltzer suggested it to her clients, they report that the peace and pleasure of their short excursions have a big positive impact on the rest of their day, and opened up their thinking in surprising ways. I am looking forward to trying it. I hope you will too.

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