The Wilderness

At a certain point, you realize you’re leaving the path.

One time, I got lost in the woods. It was nighttime, and I won’t get into too many of the specifics, but I will say that it was terrifying. I looked around, and all I could see were blackened trees, shadows, and a sprawling darkness. I don’t remember if I could see the stars, but I’m not sure it would have mattered. Even if I could locate the North Star, I’m useless with compass directions.

In the distance, I could see a light, something shining, and so I tore through the woods in pursuit of that light, believing that it would get me out of there. Even if I ended up nowhere close to where I was supposed to be, anything was better than where I was. All that mattered in that moment was escaping. Maybe there was nothing in the woods worth worrying about, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

I ran as fast as the darkened woods would permit. I ran with everything I had, and then I was out. The feeling of relief was immense, and despite being in an unfamiliar place, I saw a familiar house. It was my friend’s house, and so I followed the street to the dirt path which led to the campsite. I sank almost immediately into a deep sleep, even though I wasn’t particularly comfortable. I could have slept anywhere that night.

I tell that story now and laugh about it, but in the moment, I was truly scared. When I got out of the woods, I was relieved to find something I recognized. I was relieved to be out of there, to feel like I was back in control of my life and my surroundings. I was happy to no longer be surrounded by the woods, by the wilderness.


So many years ago, about eight, I realized my path was going to be different than most. Life had been crazy, but there had been structure. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs just a little bit of structure. Too much can be suffocating, but a little bit eases my mind, and I can shift from one activity to the next with ease. I wish I had the kind of discipline where if left alone, I could get everything accomplished, but I get overwhelmed by all the potential choices, or I get frustrated with the time that’s ticking away, and I get a lot less done than I’ve meant to. I need to realize that it’s okay, that I’m human, that I am not a robot. Some days the message sticks, and some days it doesn’t.

When the chaos ended, the semblance of structure vanished along with it. I was not prepared for the change. I was emotionally drained, and it was time to move on with my life, but I didn’t know how to do that. There were choices to make, and I didn’t know where to start. Motivation was at an all-time low.

I began my walk into the unknown. I didn’t know what was next, or what I would find, but I knew I’d have to walk the path alone. I knew that friends and family would be there to offer support, but you can’t rely too heavily on any one person. They all have their own lives to worry about.

The life I’d led up until that point was no longer available, and it was up to me to keep moving, to leave the previous life behind. We like our lives to be predictable. Even if we don’t always enjoy those lives, at least we know how to navigate them. It was time for me to figure some things out, to embrace unpredictability. I’m not sure I would have chosen my path if given the choice.

Being lost in the woods was scary, but the episode ended quickly. Now, there was no light or direction that I was working towards. I didn’t know what was next, and so I wandered around for a while, in the dark, unsure of which way to move, and maybe that’s for the best. Maybe it’s best to stay in the wilderness for as long as is needed. Leaving prematurely would mean that I hadn’t learn all I need to. I didn’t realize how much there was I didn’t know.

We look at life as a terrifying unknown. New things will come our way, and they may not be what we want, or they may be everything that we want. Even so, things change, often without our consent. The way we used to operate may no longer be valid. We are forced to become different people. Change can be slow and incremental, or it can be quick and drastic. No matter the pace, things aren’t the way they used to be, and it’s up to us to adapt to these new conditions.

I wandered around for years, as lost as I’ve ever been. During that time, I had three of the worst years of my life right in a row. They broke me down, reduced me to almost nothing, and I didn’t know if I’d ever recover. I let myself wallow in self-pity. I let myself hurt, and I didn’t know what the rest of my life would look like, if I’d ever accomplish anything or be happy. I knew it would require work to heal, but suddenly that seemed appealing. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life this way, broken, in pain, unsure of how to get past everything that I’d been through. Maybe I didn’t have to, maybe all I had to do was to find the light, find the goal that I needed to work towards, and everything else would fall into place. Finding the goal is so much of the work.

For me, realizing that I wanted to engage with the world again was the first step out of the wilderness. I wanted to find my purpose, my reason for being here. I was too young to just stay secluded and isolated. I’m still working on finding my purpose, but after being in the wilderness for years on end, I’m out. I learned a lot about myself, including the fact that I’m much stronger than I thought I was, and I get the feeling that that’s true for all of us. We will have moments in our lives when we are tested. Believe that you will pass, that you will get through it. Find your motivation, your reason for continuing, and you will leave the wilderness one day. You’ll find that you’re a better person than when you entered it. Thanks for reading.


One thought on “The Wilderness

  1. A few belated thoughts:

    “I could see a light, something shining…” A poignant observation. I believe many of us are drawn to the comfort of light. And while I count myself among those ‘many’ I also acknowledge that I find comparable solace in the dark. In your context, I get the relief you felt in finding something you recognized. Comfort zones do that for us. 🙂

    “”I wish I had the kind of discipline where if left alone, I could get everything accomplished…” I hear you! Yet in the same breath I ask myself, what’s so important with getting everything accomplished? Rhetorical question, my friend.

    “I began my walk into the unknown.” Courageous of you, Adam. I know a lot of people who won’t even stick their toes in a pool of uncertainty… or lean into the unknown. It’s discomforting to say the least. But bold, too!

    “We look at life as a terrifying unknown.” To which I might ask: do we have to? Sure much of life can be about dealing with unknowns. What if we simply shifted our mind-set a bit and invited unknowing as an opportunity to explore and experience when our conditioning often causes us to be overly cautious or fearful? I posit this because I, too, used to live in the space you describe. It need not be terrifying. Shared unsolicited.

    “I let myself wallow in self-pity.” Been there; lived that, too. I frequently found it easy to cocoon myself in that space. And it’s true I still give myself permission to ‘go there.’ But, gratefully, I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t serve me all that well… kind of like a flip side to immediate gratification. Fleeting can be okay.

    “Find your motivation, your reason for continuing,…” Great counsel, good man. I believe we’re both fans of inspiring ourselves and others.

    Here’s to your some times considering embracing the wilderness. There *is* much to be discovered there.


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