Everywhere I go in my travels, I find myself getting lost. Even when I am in familiar cities, I often like to stay in different places and try new excursions, so there are plenty of fresh opportunities for losing myself and losing my way. One of my strategies for continuous learning (and relieving jet lag) is to get outside on the first day in a new place and go exploring. And, apparently, to get lost. I don't really intend to get lost (I try and remember landmarks and make meaningful associations), but I inevitably do.
So what is emerging is a pattern of sorts: lose oneself and lose one's way, feel disoriented, a bit scared, and absolutely present. Slowly find one's way again, relieved and re-awakened. I see this is a pattern now and has been for a while; it happens almost everywhere I go. On the first or second day in a new place (and sometimes even in a city I have visited before), I find myself getting lost. But the slight anxiety and thrill of getting lost can be its own reward.
Traveling (and practicing yoga) in new places is often about having new and fresh experiences. It is about getting lost in unfamiliar, unknown and even uncertain territory. Fear might be present, but so is presence. Getting lost can happen when we are so totally absorbed that we lose ourselves, or the self we thought we were, somewhere along the way. This is a hidden blessing. Sometimes we are alone, and sometimes we are with other people. Most of my forays into getting lost have been when I am alone. I like to practice alone for this very reason. I also like to travel alone. Yet getting lost with another person can be especially intriguing. Who are we when we lose ourselves together?
I was fortunate to visit the island of Santorini recently, and on my first morning there I walked by myself to the black sand beach of Perissa from the house where I was staying with my husband. After running on the beach, and wandering for a bit, I decided to make my way back to our place. If you have ever been here, or seen pictures, you can see that it would be pretty hard to get lost. The landscape is stark, arid, and barren. You can see for miles. And I had some major landmarks to work off of like some mountains, the sea, and a little white church perched in a cave on the cliff above our house. However the dirt roads spike off in different directions (no grids in most cities in Europe and elsewhere) and are not connected to each other. And though I was close to our place, (I could see the church), I found myself wandering onto someone's farm. I was hot and confused, suddenly surrounded by noisy hogs and piglets, goats and a very angry looking bull. That bull looked like he wanted me out of his field. I was pretty sure that if I crossed this field, I would wind up closer to our place but the bull did not look as if he agreed with my assessment. As tired as I was, I knew that now was not the time for a shortcut—and so I backtracked, retracing my steps with my fatigued memory along the labyrinth of dirt roads, and finally arrived back at our house.
In Santorini, I was also reminded that when you are traveling or practicing with someone else something unexpected might also appear. We end up seeing one another from different angles. Who is this you might wonder, and why are we wandering in circles, hot, hungry, and lost together? Case in point: the very evening after I wandered onto the farm, my husband and I drove to the town of Fira, parked our little red rental car and ventured into yet another labyrinth. This was the stunning maze of white buildings connected by steep and narrow stairs that form the famous Greek town of Fira. At a distance these little villages in Greece look like snowcaps or glaciers on the volcanic rock mountains that are the Greek islands. Then you feel the radiating heat and remember where you are. This is the land of Homer, the arid islands of the Aegean, a landscape that is craggy and otherworldly, rocky and lunar looking against the watery deep blue of sea and sky.
After wandering around at sunset, in awe and feeling a bit giddy, we found ourselves getting lost. We thought we knew where we had parked our rental car. We were sure it was just off the busy main street, down a slightly curving road that led to a parking lot. That is how we remember it. We even made a point of remembering this. And yet—there was no lot; there was no car. We wandered back and forth, all along the street and down the various curvilinear roads that spiral off this busy main street of Fira, searching for the parking lot with our little red car and found nothing. As it became later and darker, we were getting hungry and tired. We still thought we knew where we were, and where the car should be. My husband remembered us passing the stuffed chimpanzee at the motorcycle rental place, and I remembered passing a vegetarian restaurant. We were so sure that it should be there, where we had remembered it.
And so we walked and walked, up and down the street where we thought the lot should be, traversing the same road over and over, searching as if we had dropped something there. As it got darker, the pastel colors of the buildings were less and less distinguishable. We were sweating with the heat and mild panicky feelings.
My husband's jet lag and hunger became overwhelming and he began gobbling down the gyro pizza he had picked up earlier and had intended to eat once we got home. I watched him from behind, my legs and feet aching from all the walking (and my earlier practice of backbends) and I started laughing. I also felt a little bit like crying, but really—there was nothing to cry about. We were lost in Greece! It could be worse. And it was so funny and endearing to see him gobble his food, primate like, as we continued to search for our car. From the shape of his head and back, I could see he was clearly enjoying the pizza, but I was also frustrated that we were not getting anywhere.
We were at the point of giving up, and looking for a cop to help us, when I saw a sign that said "Gentlemen's Club." This sign triggered the memory of a conversation that we had earlier that triggered a whole string of associations that meant we needed to go the opposite way entirely! We needed to walk up the curved street—not down as we had been doing. How had we (both) forgotten this?
As we searched for our car we talked about how people sometimes get lost in the forest and die when they are only minutes to a road or a town. And here we were in Santorini, having lost our way and our rental car, but were, of course, okay. But this is the funny thing about feeling lost, or the feeling that you have lost yourself in some way. It can be disorienting, and can be frustrating, and it can feel scary. It can also be awakening and exhilarating, especially when you find your way again. Things are rarely just as you remember them. And you appropriately begin to question your perceptions, and your memories, even your very sense of self.
As we approached the parking lot (packed with cars at this point) it was easy to find our car because yes, it was next to the Hotel Daedalus. We then remembered the conversation we had about Stephen Dedalus and the various James Joyce novels in which he was a character. All of this came flooding to the foreground as we found ourselves and our car in Fira. Why had we forgotten this conversation and its spacial associations and remembered something else? Had we reinforced certain memories and excluded others? Clearly we had. We all do. Getting lost can wake us up to this strange phenomenon. It was fun to wake up this, in this small way, together. This is something (I hope) we will remember.
I get lost almost everywhere I travel. And usually I am alone. I am beginning to wonder if getting lost is a deliberate act, as if I were to lose myself, and see what, or who gets found. And I think yoga practice is very much like traveling because it is an adventure. Ideally it is a solitary adventure, where we are best able to discover the deep and sometimes hidden relationships between things. And you might get lost in your practice. I hope that you do. Because you might find something unexpected and hitherto unknown to you.
And it is easy to lose ourselves in what and with whom, we love. Love, like yoga practice, is a mini adventure into the unknown that we take every day. It is like our own little odyssey. We go to both familiar and unfamiliar places, willing to lose ourselves, in love, again and again. And thankfully we lose things along the way. And we are lighter because of this.