By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
I have never minded getting lost.
When I was a Boy Scout in Europe I got lost in both Munich and Vienna. I was hiking alone in the Bavarian Alps one time, went off the trail to take a pee, and when I returned to the trail, I forgot what direction I’d come from.
Every freaking time I visit Lexington, Kentucky, I get lost.
Once, returning from a popular local apple orchard, I got lost in the dirt section roads of southern Indiana. A Mercedes followed me for awhile, hoping I knew the way back to the main road. He gave up after about a half an hour.
The last time I visited my daughter’s cabin in the Appalachians I got lost, and all I had to do was basically go downhill. I was a serious wilderness trekker for years, and lost my way in the wilderness many times. Once, I got lost canoeing and went over a dam.
Yesterday I got lost when I accidentally exited I-65 and ended up in downtown Indianapolis. It took me a half an hour to find the interstate again.
Last Christmas my wife got me a Garmin GPS thing.
I lost it.
I don’t mind getting lost because I enjoy the challenge of keeping my cool while solving unanticipated problems. I have skills. I keep at least a dozen maps and atlases in my car and Mapquest is on my task bar. I don’t go anywhere without a compass (though now I use a compass app on my cell phone) and I can reckon by the sun because I’ve had to, many times.
Often my dad told me to get my head out of my ass, and I heard it at least once a week when I was in the Marines. It was hard to get lost in the Marines, because there were always other guys around, most of them far more competent than me.
I have always been bad at what we called “situational awareness.” Once I nearly stepped on an enormous rattlesnake because I was distracted by the rainwater dripping off the bill of my ball cap.
And though I spent a summer once on the Appalachian Trail, even I couldn’t get lost there. So for me it’s always been a choice between frustration and enjoying a new experience.
I choose the latter.
When I was in Sri Lanka I tried to get lost in the jungle, but couldn’t. Deep in the forest I knew there were always eyes on me. Word spread fast about the American Who Walks With His Head Up His Ass, so the people there just watched over me. More likely they appeared out of “nowhere,” because it was hard to see their homes for the foliage, and they would ask me to come to their homes for tea. If you turned them down, they looked disappointed, so I always had the tea. It took 20 minutes and provided the householder with the opportunity to practice his English with a real English speaker. I gently corrected the mistakes they made and they appreciated that.
Soon I earned a nickname in the village—“Lakoya,” which in Sinhalese means “elder brother.”
For me getting lost is not just a geographical thing. I’m working on a new book, and sometimes I have to stop and scroll up to the title of a chapter I’m working on to remember what the hell I was writing about in the first place. Then it’s cut and paste time, because my wanderings frequently pertain to chapters I haven’t written yet. I never throw anything away, except for that awful novel I wrote back in the early 80s.
In terms of my psychological and behavioral road map, the Buddha’s Eightfold Path serves me well. Whenever I have to make a decision or face a challenge, I ask myself: What would a Buddhist do? Decision making based on Buddhist doctrine has cost me a few jobs, but they were righteous firings and I am proud of them.
Notice, I didn’t say that I had a spiritual road map. I’m not very spiritual. In fact, I’m not spiritual at all.
The Buddha says that there is a path to happiness. I am saddened and dismayed at all the unhappiness I see and hear around me, especially my unhappy Buddhist friends, who know the path is there, and they walk that path, yet still unhappy.
I think I know why. They don’t stop and think. Whether they’ve had good days or shitty days, people don’t stop to remind themselves of the good they do in the world, and I don’t care who you are, you did good today.
Pause a moment, as Buddhists are advised to do. What was good about your day? No one’s life is so sucky that they can’t think of something.
And if you can’t think of anything, go make your bed, or clean a toilet. Call someone you know who you will enjoy talking to you. Turn off the TV and meditate for a few minutes. Go rake some leaves, or eradicate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa (actually, Bill and Melinda Gates already have dibs on that one).
Buddhist doctrine is not hard to understand (read my book), so choosing happiness in your life is achievable, but it takes patience and effort. You will not gain your full measure of happiness unless you meditate, and what better thing to meditate on than the good you’ve done.
Five minutes. Five bloody minutes. You can do it while you’re pooping, if nothing else.
Getting lost happens, but the path will always be there when you circle back.
Editor: Dana Gornall