Purposefully Lost

I try to make a habit of getting lost whenever I’ve got some free time. Years ago, I’d drive around the back roads and farmlands of California, turning whichever way the wind took me, and enjoying the scenery before making an effort to find my way back. Now, I spend time walking my dog along different paths as often as time will allow. The best part about being lost comes when you allow yourself a bit of presence.

There you are, not entirely sure where, subject to a completely new environment filled with sounds and sights and smells that in all likelihood, are familiar to you, but with a subtle tinge of newness.

Just the other day I stopped at a house that I was captivated by. I had never seen that color of door, that type of wreath, that arrangement of stones, those hearts painted on its staircase, and that sign telling me that they were glad they were my neighbor (not in the photo, sorry). It was striking, and had I not had my head on a swivel, I would’ve missed it completely.

On a similar route recently, a middle-aged woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair and high-end winter gear nodded at me with a smile as my dog barked frantically at three dogs in a window above us. I took precautions and went around her, but something in her eyes told me she had something to say, so I pulled out my headphones, too.

As it happens, she also had a rescue dog that was quite reactive and around one year old when she got him. He’s a bully breed, so she was able to sympathize with the kinds of looks I get when my dog gets loud. She also saw past that, and remarked about the “special connection” he and I clearly shared. She also complimented him on his vigilance. We talked dog books for a few minutes, then she thanked me for stopping and we said goodbye.

The wondrous thing about being lost is that it affords you so many opportunities for discovery. It allows you the chance to dwell on how beautiful or interesting something is just for the sake of doing it.

Many of you are aware that I’ve felt lost lately. I’d go so far as to say it’s concerned you. Given the discomfort most people feel when they’re lost, that’s a pretty fair emotional conclusion. But this is me we’re talking about, and I thrive when I feel lost.

I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with my sense of wonder and mysticism. I’ve had the chance to solemnly reflect on my immediate surroundings, and take in the positive parts of them, and glean information from them that I wouldn’t have if I had been ceaselessly moving forward, head down, headphones blaring.

I am a passionate person. I am, therefore, passionate about a lot of shit. So, instead of fighting that, I intend on using it to propel me forward. I intend on taking all of the parts of my past that inform the person I’ve become, and turning it into a whole that I’m excited to tell you about. Comedy is a part of it. Design is a part of it. Writing is a part of it. Psychology is a part of it. Sales, politics, service… You get the idea. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve found myself, more that I’m learning to appreciate being lost with a purpose.

I’m an advocate for consciously losing yourself. Take turns you don’t normally take. Have a heart to heart with a total stranger. Take a deep breath and enjoy the vibrancy of the world around you by staring at a door instead of your cell phone. You might find some peace in the minutia, like I did.

Dammit! I forgot to be funny again.

Merry Whatever!

I’m cuter now.

Once upon a time, I was a religious dude. I was baptized Lutheran, and I spent many a Sunday morning in either Lutheran (with my mother and her family) or Catholic (with my father and his family) services. When it was happening, my favorite part was easily the donuts at the end, but looking back, there were a lot of parts to my church experiences that were formative.

My dad and I would read each of the passages for the day before the service got started. Then we’d talk briefly about what they meant and how they related to the topic and to our lives. He was a volunteer lector, so during the services he got up and read the passages aloud to the congregation. I remember him practicing each reading beforehand – a habit that I eventually picked up, as well.

In high school, I really went all out with the religion thing. I started by volunteering as a Sunday School teacher. It involved some reading and discussion of the topics, but mainly I was in charge of answering little questions they had about what the youth pastor said, and monitoring them while they did themed arts-and-crafts.

Then I, too, became a volunteer lector. It’s safe to say I was the youngest volunteer lector by about a decade (if not two). I had my father’s example, though, so I was pretty decent at it. At least that’s what all the old church regulars told me after each service.

I also spent a lot of time at youth group events with my friends from ROTC. It was neither Catholic nor Lutheran, but my friends were there, and so long as you don’t get caught up on the details, Jesus said pretty much the same stuff across the different denominations (minus maybe Mormonism). That was pretty chill – song singing, game playing, rapping about our Lord and Savior (sometimes literally). 

Around that time I started to pay more attention to that science stuff. I was largely able to reconcile the scientific and religious beliefs I held up to that point. The “days” of an eternal being (like God) are probably not the same as our days, so making the world in “seven days” seemed pretty reasonable. Like any good Christian, I ignored a lot of the parts of the bible that didn’t ring true for me (like the hair regulations or the pro-flogging stance it takes pretty frequently), and focused on the stuff that suited me.

Then I went to college and got a secular hippie girlfriend. I took classes like the Philosophy of Religion and the Psychology of Religion that really broke down why we believe what we do, and reconciliation became more and more challenging. I had many long, heated shouting matches with my girlfriend about the existence of God and creative design. Ultimately she won, but not without many tears shed.

Now, I consistently say that I’m an atheist, but I’m pretty open to being wrong about that. There just isn’t any empirical evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that God doesn’t exist, so I think it’s still possible. I think it’s also possible that all of the gods and goddesses that anyone has ever thought up are equally as likely to exist. Why not? If you believe in those entities and they make you happy and a better person, then go ahead and continue with what you’re doing. 

Similarly, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing. In all likelihood, I’ll go to more church services and mosques and temples and other places of worship because I enjoy the process of gathering in large groups and discussing ethereal things. Community can be powerful even if you’re not wholly on board with whatever they’re saying. Plus where else do you get to go sing in a big group? The choices are limited, and I really like Christmas carols, so whatevs on the belief stuff. 

My spiritual journey is not over. I don’t think it will ever be over. Given my openness to being wrong, there’s a lot of room for discussion, and I look forward to having many more of those conversations throughout my remaining years. 

Anyway, Merry Christmas, or whatever.