When You Feel Hopelessly Lost, Return to Nature.
“Does everyone feel this clueless about where life is supposed to go?”
“Am I the only one that feels this anxious about the thought of living a purposeless life?”
“Is there anyone out there that feels more lost than I do?”
These questions constantly bombard us as we navigate the labyrinth of our existence. And the more we ask them, the more we obsess over finding the answers.
However, the answers to these questions do not come in the form of one-page summaries sent by the deity of your choice. They are much too complex to be answered in one sitting, so the questions end up becoming rhetorical.
Rhetorical questions are not inquiries. Inquiries, by definition, are designed to have answers. Instead, they become thoughts that roam around with no sense of closure. Think of them as baseballs with no glove to catch them, bouncing around aimlessly in the cavity of your mind.
And with each bounce off your cerebral wall, an echo resonates around that thought, making it even larger.
Unfortunately, many of the thoughts that rattle in our heads reside in an echo chamber of self-doubt. They latch on to an emotion that weighs heavily on us, and one easy target is the feeling of hopeless uncertainty.
Cyclical and deeply repetitive thoughts are generally negative in nature. They tend to repeat themselves because they morph into questions that no longer desire answers.
These types of thoughts also tend to grow faster the more we operate within a routine-driven life.
Undoubtedly, there are many routines that allow for richer experiences and more fulfilling lives (many of them are outlined here on Medium). However, many of us are embroiled in routines that can be numbing due to their sheer frequency or meaninglessness.
We work jobs that don’t challenge us. We eat the same lunch special everyday to sustain us. We drink every Saturday to stimulate us.
These routines and habits only strengthen the frequency of our cyclical thoughts and further our feelings of resignation.
Furthermore, most of our routines are also structured by man-made inventions. Human beings created corporate culture and the rules that govern it. Humans created the cars we drive in everyday to get from one place to another. We developed the cities and homes that we spend over 95% of our lives in.
It becomes easy to feel lost and purposeless when we are enveloped by the constant sounds of routine, man-made noise.
If our inner spirits are drowned out by manufactured doubts, we must look outward for an experience that reminds us of the beauty and peace that surrounds us.
Something devoid of human interference.
The one thing that existed long before we did. The very fabric of our entire planet.
The first half of 2016 was a rough period for me. I officially closed the books on three decades of existence and was navigating the world through the lens of a thirty-year-old body.
Although I was growing older, I felt like I wasn’t getting any wiser. In fact, numbness overtook my mind as the very things that once made me feel alive began withering away. I wasn’t making any progress toward a meaningful career, my creative muscle was rapidly atrophying, and depression began to rear its ugly head again.
As I surveyed my life, I quickly realized that I was woefully unable to live in the present moment.
I was trapped in the past as the thought of “what could have been” kept cycling through the mind. And when I was able to have a momentary break from that, I started worrying about a future that had not happened yet.
The past acts as a good teacher and the future aims to prepare you, but neither of them gives you true clarity and presence. The past has already happened and the future is just the present moment shifting along the continuum of time.
In the end, they are just cyclical thoughts bouncing around the walls of your mind.
The only thing that matters is the “now”.
I needed to bring myself back to it.
Early last year, my then-roommate told me about a trip she took to Montana with her boyfriend. They hiked and camped in Glacier National Park, a beautiful region on the U.S.-Canada border that was carved into its current mountainous terrain by glaciers of the last ice age.
She showed me a couple of pictures, and I was instantly hooked. The deep turquoise colors of the lakes, the magnificent coats of glacial ice, and the brilliant brushstrokes of green and brown flora were simply stunning.
So on July 29th, I left for Montana to embark on a week-long solo camping trip throughout Glacier National Park. My agenda was simple: hike and explore a different part of the park everyday. That was it.
(And showering was utterly optional — discouraged actually.)
I went on a total of six hikes throughout my stay. Every trek was stunningly beautiful, and ranged anywhere from 7 to 13 miles round-trip.
With each trek and inhalation of the crisp air around me, it became blatantly obvious that the effects of the park and its stunning beauty were cleansing for my soul. There were moments in which I didn’t know where the trails were leading me, but I felt comforted in that uncertainty. For the first time in a while, I felt grateful to be lost.
It allowed me to give up my desire for self-control. It swept away my sense of self.
And it is precisely this sense of self that resides at the epicenter of our negative and cyclical thoughts.
So it must be diminished.
Nature is a beautifully effective tamer of the ego.
So much of the turmoil that brews within us is a cesspool of mindless chatter. The louder this chatter is, the more we feed our ego and our sense of self-importance.
And an overdeveloped ego is what makes us feel hopelessly lost. When I mention the term “outsized ego,” most people will think of the quintessential douche character with triple popped collars and two tubs of wax in his/her hair.
No, that’s pop culture imagery. Let’s not mistake conceit with ego.
An overdeveloped ego is the result of cyclical thoughts that revolve around the singular idea of self-concern.
Self-consciousness is a form of ego inflation. When we become concerned with what everyone thinks of us, we place ourselves in the center of our own solar system.
Self-doubt is another form of it. When we refuse to accept our talents because we think we aren’t good enough, we prioritize our sense of self over the Universe’s desire to gift those abilities to us.
Well, here’s the good news.
Nature obliterates the ego. It rips it up into shreds using the claws of humility.
I came across this thought at the completion of one of my hikes, which ended at a large, beautiful, icy body of water aptly named Iceberg Lake. As I finished taking my obligatory pictures of it, a wonderfully crazy idea popped into my head.
Whoa. I gotta… swim around in it.
Now, it only takes one glance at this lake to know with absolute certainty that it is BLISTERINGLY cold. I mean, there are actual icebergs in the lake itself, acting as staunch reminders of their dominion over this realm.
But the cogs of that thought already shifted gears into physical movement.
I quickly removed my shirt and shorts and walked right in.
I regularly take cold showers, but this was a whole another level of cold. I managed to get my entire body in the lake, but the cold repeatedly knocked the wind out of my breath. I started making noises I’ve never uttered before, like one of those painful sounds that only have consonants (something like “Rrrrghhhhhdddff!!”).
I’m a seasoned swimmer, but I had to doggy paddle my way back to land because I lost all feeling in my limbs. Once I got back to shore, I laid out like a starfish, waiting for my body to finish scolding me for my sins. It took a few minutes, but feeling in my legs and arms gradually came back, collectively breathing a sigh of relief.
Then I thought to myself, Wow, what if we were suddenly flooded by water that cold? It doesn’t matter what precautions we may have. We would be wiped out in an instant.
And it’s that thought that reminded me of a very powerful reality:
We are governed by the rules of nature, not by the rules of humanity. We exist only because the earth has allowed us to be here.
We are so caught up in today’s cultural and societal norms that we often forget this fact. We forget that we are able to exist only because of the natural resources that were gifted to us. We think of how much we need to get paid, but lose sight of the precious origins of the resources we are actually paying for.
In the eyes of nature, we are just ants that are leasing its space.
I had this thought constantly throughout my time in the park. When I would reach a clearing that opened up into a beautiful valley of blue and green, I understood how small I truly was.
It just made me grateful to be a passenger on this moving spaceship we call Earth.
When the ego breaks, we allow gratitude to seep in through the cracks.
There is an immense gratitude you feel when you view a night sky littered with stars. It reinforces the fact that we are just one small story existing among a web of interconnected observations and tales. We are simply thankful to be another shining node in this endless network of past and present stories.
Although nature affirms the smallness of our existence, it also highlights the beauty of the relationships we have in our own lives. Out of the billions of people that are out there, only a tiny sliver of a fraction of these folks have been designated as our loved ones.
The people that we hold near and dear to us really are special. Even on a planet so vast, our personal world has been defined by these few connections.
For those that are in committed relationships, think about the power of that thought. Try going camping with your partner over a weekend and spend a night looking up at the stars. Think of each star as a story and person that may have crossed your individual paths.
Then realize that out of all those stars, you have chosen to be with one another. You have decided to craft a world that centers around the resiliency and strength of the relationship that bonds you together.
Even though our planet is governed by the laws of nature, we ultimately construct the world we immerse ourselves in.
When we feel hopelessly lost, gratitude has lost its way. We have forgotten the value of the earth that has been given, and the uniqueness of the relationships that we have chosen. The ego has pushed away this thought to the periphery of our minds.
Nature tames the sense of self and rebuilds our perspective through the lens of gratitude. Fortunately, we don’t have to travel all the way to Montana to be in it. No matter how densely populated our communities may be, there are always wonderful hiking trails and scenic landscapes that are quite accessible (in fact, I just did an extraordinary hike a few days ago here in Los Angeles).
Take a few moments out of your day to be mindful of the beauty that exists even on your street. Take a weekend to visit a campground that provides an unobstructed view of the stars. Take a full week to visit a beautiful national park and lose yourself in the wonderment of it.
We often forget that there is great beauty in the sensation of feeling lost.
Being lost feels hopeless only when we are desperately trying to control the direction of our lives. A return to nature tames this desire for self-control, breaks the shell of the ego, and allows gratitude to pour in.
It is only at that point where we can take comfort in our childlike exploration.
Ultimately, our greatest periods of uncertainty often give rise to the greatest opportunities of our lives.