Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Finding Our Way

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:

Be with stillness until you are calm.
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.


  1. Oriah,

    Do you think "acedia" has any relationship with "purpose"? Because when I find myself in these states of being(confused, fearful, disoriented), it's usually because I am wondering what the point is. Why am I here? What do I have to offer? Is it enough? There are no grandiose expectations, and it may simply be the evolving of my authentic self. But it seems to be the theme when I find myself hugging the earth, wondering how to move.

    And thank you for explaining "faith" in a way that allows us to find our way within, not by having to give ourselves over to a higher power for rescue. I do believe in that Presence or Power but sometimes I think it's an easy way to avoid digging deeper.

    Loving the Blog :-)

  2. Well, I think depression can come when we lose our sense of why we are here and I certainly think that could open the door to acedia. More particularly, sometimes even when we keep our overall sense of purpose (and I didn't really lose that during the sabbatical) we can find that the way we have been living that purpose no longer fits who we have become. In that inbetween time, before we know how to proceed) we can be very vulnerable to acedia, to the feeling of "what's the point?" Guidance from those who have been there themselves at those times becomes particularly necessary and helpful.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thank you Oriah for sharing this story & wisdoms. In fact for the past month I believe I have repeatedly been through these guidelines (medical tests happening)- and when I sit with the stillness, the calm comes in many forms - visions, waking dreams, guidance from my Higher Self . . . I have never been alone through all this confusion - earthly angels/friends & loved ones plus my guides are right there with me. Bbut it gets a little tiring being like Alice down the Rabbit Hole - who are all htese people who declare/appoint themselves my guides? I now am choosing my guides - do they resonate with the highest good for all/me? Peace & Love to all - Sheela S.

  4. Thank you Sheela- I send prayers for healing and wholeness, however that looks in your life and body.

  5. Oh boy... "when...movement can become frenetic drivenness", I find it particularly and necessarily useful to carve out those niches of calm, those oases of solitude. I've been in ongoing situations where profound fatigue was my constant companion, and I wondered if I would ever again experience joy in my life. What I discovered was that when I made my quiet time -- however brief -- a priority, the Joy would wink at me from behind the harshness and sneak back into my awareness. It can be done... like I told my Mom this morning, one must keep their mind open to the possibilities.


  6. As I was meditating for some reason thoughts of you came into my mind. I read both the Invitation and the Dance several years ago. So I googled you and found your site and your blog. First let me thank you for your writing I have gained valuable insights from your work. I would like to ask you about any refection you may have about what I was with in my stillness when I thought of you. I hope perhaps this will give you material for a blog that may also help others.

    I love my 3 sons who are now all in their 20s very deeply. However, I am carrying a heavy painful guilt and regret that I was not a better mother for them. I went through a divorce and many difficult years personally, we moved frequently during their high school years and I was not present for them as I struggled with my own issues. I don't think I made decisions that were best for them, when I divorced their father and moved them around because of my difficulties. I see now how much this hurt them as they struggle with addictions and bad relationships in their adult lives. As I went through several years of personal struggles they have been damaged. I am deeply sorrowful and work with it by trying not to let the past continue to live through me and to be present for them now with unconditional love and acceptance. Every day when I wake up the first thought I have is how sorry I am and I wish I could do it over and do better for them. I can accept and surrender to what is in my life, even thought it has been difficult, but it is very painful for me to accept what I have done to their lives and see how I have hurt the ones I care about the most. The influence as a mother on the lives of our children to shape the entire future of their lives and who they are is so powerful, and I feel I did not understand this power and was not aware of how much they were being hurt. To me, this is the single most important and significant thing I will do with my life to bring three sons into the world and raise them with love, and if I have failed at this I can find no meaning or aliveness in my life.

    Thanks for your inspiration,


  7. Oh Catherine- this is so hard- because we love our children our humanness, with all of its frailities and mistakes, can be hard to accept. No where else do my mistakes matter more to me, than in the places I wish I had made better choices that effected my children. But we cannot be more conscious than we are- and as we gain (hopefully) self-awareness we must bring compassion to ourselves- to the suffering we might have caused when we did not have the same level of self-awareness.So what to do? Well, one of the things I know is that acknowledging our mistakes (without a lot of breast beating) often helps us and those we may have hurt. And, one of the surprises I have discovered is that when I tell someone I am sorry I did something that I can now see was not good for them- they often look at me surprised and sometimes barely remember the incident. What I am trying to say is we need to be careful in our assumptions about how our actions impact others. In your message I hear a part of you that is beating you up over and over- to what purpose? One of the psychological concepts I have found very helpful is the idea of good-enough mothering. Mothers are very important- but they are never perfect. And even if there were times when we failed to be a good-enough mother, perhaps we can be that now- albeit in a way that is appropriate for the current age of our sons and daughter.

    Hope this helps- may you find some compassion for who you were and who you are. Oriah

  8. thanks for creating this blog, that's all i have to offer for now. thank you, thank you, thank you.

  9. Over this past summer, I've had troubles with my computer... long story short, I eventually replaced it. During my years in caregiving, my attention to backup -- although unintentional -- was non-existent. Fortunately, just prior to system failure and beginning care of my parents, something told me I needed to get this done, and I promptly purchased an external drive from Office Max and got this done.

    It has taken me some time to reintegrate the pieces/files of my real life and my cyber life. But it's like you said... one has to slow down or stop, and relax.

    I've also rediscovered some items I'd totally forgotten about. It's like finding old friends and re-establishing the bond. There are three activities I flourish in... cooking, crafting, and writing. What I found was a flashdrive that I used, in addition to the external drive, to back up computer files... only the flashdrive in particular contained my recipes, craft patterns, and original essays and poems.

    The tears are coming... and I am gratified.


  10. Thank you, Oriah. I knew your blog would speak to my heart again this week. I find myself doing exactly what you describe: sitting on the floor waiting for the last symptoms of panic to pass.
    Everything is different from down here close to the earth. My faith is stronger than ever, my mind is open to all possibilities and I am in no rush - ready to feel my way slowly and carefully and meet whatever emerges from the darkness. Blessings.

  11. thank you for this post, oriah. it is deeply meaningful to me at this very moment, and my gratitude to you and for it is immense.

  12. I know that I come to you many years after this post, but I followed a link from Facebook to Oriah Mountain Dreamer, which led me to the blog and to this post.

    It was my intent to share my gratitude for 'The Invitation', posted on the website and now I find myself sharing my gratitude for the words in this post.

    I lost my other half a few days ago and feel as though I am stumbling, lost, in the dark. Thank you for sitting me down.

  13. Good blog you have got here.. It's difficult to find good
    quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you!
    Take care!!

    my blog: skinny chinos