We all have times of not-knowing, times when stillness can become paralysis, and movement can become frenetic drivenness. Finding our way in those times, in what Dante called the “dark woods,” has something to do with faith. Recently, I received a story about living through and moving in times of darkness and confusion. I share it here with the permission of the woman- I'll call her Lucinda- who told it to me.
Lucinda lived in a small house at the end of a dark, quiet street. One moonless night she got up to use the bathroom. Now Lucinda generally has a good sense of direction, so she doesn’t turn the lights on for these short nocturnal journeys. But on this night, as she came out of the bathroom and reached out to touch the wall, she found it wasn’t where she thought it would be. Somehow she’d gotten turned around, lost in the darkness. Despite the fact that she knew she was safe in her home, she felt a sense of rising panic and confusion. The harder she tried to find the wall, the more fearful she became.
So, in Lucinda’s words, she did the only thing she could do- she sat down. She considered just staying put until dawn, but after she calmed down, she decided to move. She crawled on her hands and knees, knowing that if she picked a direction, stayed with it, and moved slowly she would eventually bump into something that would help her regain her sense of direction without mishap. And that’s what happened. As she put it, bumping into a familiar wall put “everything in perspective.”
I told this story a week ago at a Unitarian church service. In the car on the way home afterwards, my husband Jeff said to me, “So that’s your advice to people who are feeling lost? Get on your hands and knees, pick a direction and move slowly until you find something that helps you reorient yourself?”
"Works for me," I replied.
Of course, first you have to sit down and wait for the panic to subside. This can take awhile but racing around fearfully in the dark can lead to injury. Then, when the time is right and fear is no longer driving you, you have to pick a direction and move slowly. Lucinda knew she was basically held in the safety of her home. That’s the first part of faith- knowing that although we may be disoriented, frightened or lost we are held in what amounts to a larger “home”- inner and outer- where nothing can harm our essential being. Knowing this, we can act on the second part of faith- the knowledge that if we stay close to the ground (aware of the earth, our bodies and a larger ground of being,) pick a direction and stick with it (to avoid going in circles and until we receive information that would prompt us to change direction) and move slowly (so we can be mindful and not do ourselves or others damage) we will eventually find something that allows us to regain our sense of direction.
I can’t help but think that these simple clear guidelines, based on my own experience (see last week's post) and Lucinda's story, might be useful when we are individually or collectively confused or frightened:
Pick a direction and stay with it.
Stay close to the ground.
Move slowly and mindfully.
Eventually you will touch something that lets you know where you are
and what you need to do next.