“We’re not lost. We’re locationally challenged.” — John Milo Ford, American science fiction and fantasy writer
The night was dark — oppressive. Snowflakes swirled around me obscuring my view. The headlights on my sled did little to illuminate my whereabouts. Sled tracks ran off in every direction. I couldn’t see the other sleds — no headlights, no taillights — nothing at all.
When I was a teenager, my family owned three sleds (snowmobiles) and we rode them relentlessly every winter.
On this particular evening, I had joined a couple friends for an evening ride. We thundered along country roads and rocketed across open fields. When we arrived in a field of high, rolling hills, we did what “invincible” young men often do: threw caution to the wind and left good judgment and common sense behind in a shower of snow.
We crisscrossed the field at high speeds as though we were playing some gigantic game of X’s and O’s. It wasn’t until I crested the biggest hill that I realized I couldn’t see the other sledders.
The storm had worsened and now, even with high beams on, I couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of me. After touring the field a couple more time, following track-trails that led nowhere, I stopped the sled. My frantic racing about had left me completely disoriented.
I switched the engine off in hopes to hear the other sledders and the light went out as well. I was immediately blanketed by darkness. The only sound was my own strident breathing inside the helmet.
The night was smothering. I wondered if this was how it felt to be buried alive. I pulled the cord and the engine returned to life. The lights winked on and the taillight glowed red in the snow behind me.
That same feeling of being disoriented and lost is something we often feel about our personal identity. In life, we can spend so much time racing about, chasing the taillights of others that we lose our way — mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
Tracks lead here, there, everywhere, and it is only when we cease our relentless striving that we realize how lost we have become.
In self-esteem terms, one of the most transformative things we can do is find our way back to “self.” By that, I don’t mean the self that is defined by the roles we play, the work we perform or the masks we wear. Not the self that is driven by fear, inadequacy and need. I speak of the authentic self — precious, whole and genuine.
How did we lose ourselves in the first place? We lose ourselves by living. Everyone gets lost occasionally. We become invested in early programming and societal conditioning — images and ideas of what is right, appropriate and reasonable.
We develop false identities so that we can survive in the world. We learn to seek approval from others or create masks that we show to the world. We strive for money, power, control or love — all the things society tells us we need.
Early in life, we accept the notion that who we truly are is unacceptable. We shouldn’t feel the way we feel, think what we think — we should behave and act in ways that will please those around us.
We must maintain the status quo and suppress ourselves so we can feel safe, loved and acceptable.
And what is the result? Confusion, depression and disorientation.
That night, so many years ago, the only way I could think to re-orientate myself was to hold the handle bars straight and drive slowly forward. I hoped I would ultimately find a fence line, and I did. Once I found something familiar, I simply followed it. I eventually arrived back at the main road and before long was safely home with my friends enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.
The tracks back to self are always available to us; we just need to recognize them.
Moments of joy and contentment, flashes of creativity and intuitive nudges tell us the tracks we are following will eventually lead us home. These tracks require us to be honest, self-aware and willing to investigate our life.
When we step back and consciously examine our life, we become aware of patterns of behaviour: a whirlwind of habits, our tendency to avoid and criticize, judgmental words and attitudes that no longer serve us and lead only to unhappiness.
Finding our way home is really about opening our eyes and seeing clearly, perhaps for the first time in years. It’s a willingness to let go and to change. It’s about embracing who we really are at our deepest level — not who we think we should be or need to be in the eyes of others. No more stories, no more attachments, masks or false beliefs – just you.
Do you have the courage to find your way back to self? You will know when you’ve found yourself — you’ll know it in an instant because you suddenly feel on purpose.
You will start to feel free from fear, conflict and confusion. The activities you perform will take on new meaning — you will be more in the moment – more creative and self-aware.
“Love says ‘I am everything,’” writes Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher. “Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.”
We all become lost and disorientated occasionally and sometimes fear prompts us to believe we will never find the way back to our authentic self. Desire to return is always the first key. Perseverance is certainly the second.
Stop racing about, look and listen intently for the familiar sights and sounds of self and then travel slowly in the direction of home.
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.