Dante famously begins his Commedia with these lines:
In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in the dark wood
Where the true way was wholly lost….
These words provide a strikingly accurate description of my life over the past few years. I recently wrote in some detail about the experience of getting lost in life, and now I find myself reflecting on what has happened since I awoke in that dark wood and engaged in the process of finding my true way…of becoming found.
There’s something comforting about having a clearly defined life story with beginning, middle, and end. Life doesn’t really come to me like that, however. Instead, I find that I’m always in the middle of things, in medias res as literary theorists would put it. I think the stories we tell about our lives should reflect this important aspect of being unfinished, perhaps most especially stories of getting lost and becoming found. As existentialist philosophers are quick to point out, we first find ourselves existing in the world and only later define or understand ourselves. My story is not complete or resolved, but here is a brief account of my current journey in the middle of things.
“True love will find you in the end,” sang the late Daniel Johnston, “don’t be sad I know you will…don’t give up until true love finds you in the end.” Having spent a good amount of time getting lost, I have a great deal of interest in the promise of being found by so many different aspects of life: love, work, purpose, etc. I’ve learned the hard way (as if there is any other way) that becoming found is not quite as straightforward as I had originally hoped.
Depending on the circumstances, more often than not rescue experts suggest that when you are lost in the woods you should not attempt to move at all, but rather stay put and make yourself visible for those who are looking for you. This strategy, of course, assumes that someone is coming for you. I had hoped that my own becoming found would happen along those lines. I had wished that I could just sit very still and my life purpose would come find me, followed by true love, and financial abundance. It seems to me now that this is an important characteristic of being lost—the absolute immobility that comes from being completely disorientated. That immobility is, of course, completely understandable although it took me a while to give myself the space to just be unmovable. A significant shift happened when I could finally relax into the disorientation, as being disorientated provides a fresh perspective on the world where everything is new, even if a little blurry.
“This is a promise with a catch,” the song continues, “only if you’re looking will it find you. ‘Cause true love is searching too. But how can it recognize you unless you step out into the light”? This last line has been on my mind for several years without ever really noticing the profound insight. It was only in the process of getting lost that it dawned on me that central to my becoming found is the continual intention to step out into the light—to be seen. It’s not merely a hunkering down and self-protecting, although there is that too. Rather, becoming found is mainly a paying attention to how I show up in the world with and for others, and showing up is an exercise in becoming visible in more authentic (and frightening) ways.
There is a strange tension in the process of becoming found. It involves holding the realization that no one is coming to find me in the way I had hoped, along with the understanding that everyone is searching for me in a very different way. As the poet David Whyte puts it, “creation is waiting breathlessly for each of us to take our place…to begin the one journey only you can take…to occupy that one complexion of creation that no other element in creation can occupy.” Becoming found, then, is the ultimate opportunity to be seen in my most authentic place; in the most vulnerable way…as if my life depended on it because of course MY life does depend on it. Interestingly, we function as search and rescue teams for one another. We are on the lookout for the true selves of everyone we meet—constantly hoping to greet the lost ones, the hidden ones, and the marginalized selves as they step into the light.
There’s a sense in which getting lost and becoming found are the very same stance in the world. For me both began as experiments in being seen, even if some of those experiments happen to be visible only to myself at the moment. Finding my true way is a kind of evidencing, manifesting, and illuminating even when I find myself in the middle of the dark wood. Being lost had exposed the ways in which important aspects of myself had been covered over and kept in darkness. In a surprising way I had to be found by myself before being found by others. As the song indicates, there’s a kind of faith involved in this process, a belief however small that what I am seeking is seeking me. A belief that as I step into the light I will become found because I will at last be recognized for who I am…and true love, work, purpose, and who knows what else will find me in the end.