The importance of getting lost

It’s so hard to get lost these days and to be in the midst of the unknown.

I remember the first time, years ago, I heard the song “You’re the storm” by the Cardigans. It captivated me but I didn’t catch its name and so it was lost to me and remained a mystery. The next time I heard it was on my first date with the person who is now my fiancé, it’s from one of his favourite albums and it startled me when he played it. In re-finding the song those two moments of beauty were connected. But now, upon hearing a song in a public space that speaks to my soul, rather than waiting in wonder in that moment of transient beauty for the unnamed music to fade away, gone forever or to be rediscovered in a new place, I point my phone to the sound, press a button and it delivers me the artist, the song, the album and the opportunity to purchase the piece.

In a new city the GPS on my phone will tell me in a moment where I am and how to get to where I want to be, no more wandering the streets and stumbling upon strange and wonderful little corners of the world. The ability to become lost, to be in the realms of mystery is fertile ground for creativity and magic.

Of course I could turn off my phone in a strange city and start to wander but it takes courage to relax the grip on something that brings definition and certainty, particularly when we feel vulnerable in a foreign place. I have found that recently with the way that I paint. Here is a piece I have been working on called “A little shrine for the sorrows of separation”:


I usually work from photographs that I take of the model. There are advantages and disadvantages of this approach. One of the significant problems is the tendency for me to be tied to the photograph as I work. Constantly referring back to check a particular line is in proportion or the shape of a shadow is correct. But in this context what does ‘correct’ mean? Every time I refer back to the photograph I reign in the free and lively expression of the paint. Rather than getting lost in the medium, allowing the swirls and smears of oily colour to develop a life of their own the photograph acts as a restraint to ensure that the image I’m creating doesn’t stray to far from reality. But with this image I am slowly, very slowly, beginning to release my grip and to genuinely get lost in the ebb and flow of colour and tone. The experience is both terrifying and liberating.

In the Christian tradition this is the season of Lent when we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. For Jesus, getting lost in the desert was a transformative experience. Devoid of the familiar signposts and certainties of life, the labels of identity that we wrap around ourselves so tightly that we confuse the wrappings for our core being, all of this begins to fall away.

Our frameworks of meaning, religion and ideology work to reign in the creative possibilities of encounter with God, with each other and with our self understanding. I wonder what we would discover about ourselves and the universe if we take the courage to leave go of the rules, doctrines and presuppositions that we cling to; to turn away from the guidebooks, to wander and wonder through the possibilities of what it means to be alive.