So there you are, moving along just fine.
Maybe you’re hiking in nature or strolling in the city. It could involve a long process or a fleeting awareness. Perhaps it’s about your career trajectory or your retirement plans. You know where you are, what you are doing, what is helping you get to where you are going, and so forth.
And then it happens, or you discover it has happened. You are lost or disoriented; wandering in a strange, bewildering setting. You don’t know where you are, what you are doing, or how to get to your intended destination.
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In such moments, you may realize you are in a wilderness time and or place, echoing some version of Dorothy’s exclamation in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!
In the wilderness, nothing is familiar. There are no recognizable signs or landmarks. Perspective is distorted or significantly dimmed. Progress fades or ceases. Productivity seems nonexistent.
Wilderness can be anywhere: forest, desert, personal circumstance, or time of life. Wilderness times or places can occur between old situations and new, or between times of loss and of gain; they are often places of darkness and loneliness.
Rarely does one venture into a wilderness on purpose. If one does, it likely is for a larger goal or intention of self-discovery or self-fulfillment: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or walking El Camino de Santiago, taking a sabbatical or extended leave of absence.
No, usually we are thrust or shoved into the wilderness, not of our own will or doing. This forced alteration in reality or routine is a common media theme, including books like “The Swiss Family Robinson” or “Gulliver’s Travels,” or movies such as “Castaway.” The Bible has numerous epic stories of wilderness, including the Exodus and Exile in the Old Testament, and Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, among others.
Such a time or place may be as frustrating or discouraging as it is different from usual customs and expectations. Seldom does time in the wild feel fun, friendly or fortuitous.
You may seek to minimize the wilderness or avoid it altogether, but here’s the thing: A darkened, lonely wilderness is a unique gift of an unplanned opportunity for learning about yourself and your life. In the poem “Sweet Darkness,” David Whyte observes there is a “time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own … . The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.”
Flee not the wilderness!
As an act of faith, enter the deep forest or lonely desert; embrace the bewildering time in between past and future. Allow the not-knowing to breathe new life into our mind, heart and soul. Allow the break in pace to re-create your plans and broaden your perspectives.
When pushed into darkness and wildness, when forced into solitude and silence, consider that this may be a time for reflection, renewal and refocusing for the next phase of your time on earth.