I had just posted my own blog on the importance of disruption and inflection in life and the two ideas seemed to come together in a synergetic way. The 'how will you go about finding that thing, the nature of which is totally unknown to you' question, is at least partly answered by both the choices we make that take us on a trajectory into the unknown, or the circumstances that force us on to a trajectory into the unknown that we then have to deal with. In other words the disruptions and inflections in our life make a significant contribution to answering this fundamental life question.
Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin, who considered the difference between not finding your way and losing yourself — something he called “the art of straying.” Solnit writes: 'To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. Maria elaborates,' to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography. That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.
Solnit examines the duality of our relationship to the concept of lost. 'Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.'
This beautifully expressed way of seeing the process of embarking on a new trajectory through life, particularly if we have voluntarily chosen and engineered it as we create or go along with opportunity for a new inflection point in our life, seems to offer a deeper insight into not only the psychological and practical process of life inflections and self-disruptions, but also the reason why we are oriented towards doing it. By changing the direction of our life. By voluntarily putting ourselves into new situations that will take us on a different path through the landscape that we inhabit - we are creating opportunity to lose something of our selves (the life we used to lead and the person we used to be) while at the same time creating the potential to discover, 'that thing, the nature of which is totally unknown'. Losing ourselves is the way we challenge ourselves to live a life in which we can discover for ourselves its very meaning. Perhaps we all need to learn the wisdom offered by Maria Popova 'Never to get lost is not to live'.
Maria Popova (2014) A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Rebecca Solnit on How We Find Ourselves
Rebecca Solnit (2006) A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Rebecca Solnit on How We Find Ourselves
Walter Benjamin (2009) “A Berlin Chronicle,” found in One-Way Street and Other Writings
Illustration by Sarah Maycock