Published in  
November 6, 2015

Getting Lost

After my talk on reconfiguring assumptions about agency and activism yesterday, the host made room for a Q/A session – which I hijacked by asking the first question: “So, what’s confusing for you – and it doesn’t even have to be related to my speech?”

A beautiful conversation followed about alternative frames of power, about decolonizing ourselves, and getting lost. “How do I get lost?”, someone asked, after I had said ‘to find our way, we must get lost’. I was stumped. I managed a response, but I didn’t feel what I said spoke to the heart of what I felt. The question came up again during an interview with a filmmaker. “How do we lose our way?”

Today, I struggled with the issue: what is losing our way about? Is there a hint of an elitist, ‘white’, individual, lazy liberalism to the idea of losing one’s way that becomes an inadequate response to the structural injustices of our days? In a culture with rigid coordinates, with flat landscapes, breathing can feel like a chore. ‘We’ have reduced the magic and irreverent transience of the world into a series of propositions about what it means to be alive, what life is about, who has power and who doesn’t, and what is worth seeking.

As such, we are thoroughly ‘found’; the incredible specificity of language evoked by our modern neurosis with the exteriorized ‘other’ and the reified ‘self’ serves as many signposts, excluding us from our alterities. Little wonder, many of us subconsciously seek ‘outlets’ – whether via drinking, exploring psychedelics, rebelling against authority figures, or even committing intensely to a ‘noble’ cause. Losing our way holds the terrifying promise of expanding our lives – helping us breathe fresh air.

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But is that all to the invitation to get lost? I think not. In many ways, ‘how do I get lost?’ is the wrong question, because getting lost is not about you. Noticing this can make all the difference. Yes, the thrill (or danger) in getting lost can feel very ‘personal’ and self-indulgent. However, I suspect that the invitation is a deep indigenous thesis on the mutuality between ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘part’ and ‘whole’, ‘here’ and ‘there’. Subjects who were a part of Rick Strassman‘s experiments with DMT reported experiencing a disintegration of self, and felt an ecstatic affinity with an orgasmic cosmos. Time became an unnecessary tool for those who were ‘under’. In the words of Wendell Berry, they experienced the ‘peace of wild things’ – a madness that cannot be spoken of, an coming down to the festive materiality and vibrancy and irony of things. I think that in getting lost, in slowing down, the whole glimpses itself. Touches itself.

Getting lost – in the various ways (and with the various technologies) we do, whether by travelling, going on a vision quest, quitting a job and trusting that you will be taken care of, or sabotaging one’s own rise/celebrity within exploitative systems – may not give new directions. But it changes the discourse so completely that directions become secondary in some way. It alters the equation so disruptively that it becomes possible to say that ‘if it is urgent, it is not important’ (as someone wrote in response to my speech post). Straying is the madness that modernity’s techno-rationalism cannot compute; it is revolutionary. It is not simply a movement from here to there, it is the constitution of ‘here’ and ‘there’ by moving.

In a sense, ‘western’ culture is yearning for its own lostness – and there is a collective driving process that is slowly initiating everyone to the surprising edges of lostness. As language empties itself, exhausted by the frantic quest for categorization, modern culture is reaching the ‘tip of the tongue’…the shocking places of the unsayable. The ‘new’ story will not be a brilliant arrangement of words; it will be a gasp.