A Field Guide to Getting Lost Book Notes

A Field Guide to Getting Lost [public library], by Rebecca Solnit, is a series of essays exploring what it means to get lost, the benefits thereof, its role in personal transformation, and a retelling of stories about her past and her life.  Some of this is like therapy for herself, coming to terms with family/friend issues.  Other essays deal with pieces of history, cultural differences, art history, movie/former writing, nature, etc.

The language is a bit annoying (she is too wordy).  People who like obscure literary/art references, flowery language, and artsy (what I associate with high brow New Yorker hoity toityness) would like this book.  I can understand why Brain Pickings LOVED this book (it’s very geared for that kind of audience).  It feels fluffy even though it addresses some deep topics (e.g. abandonment, child abuse, suicide).  Unfortunately the fluffiness doesn’t allow for a full exploration of that depth, although the book is not completely shallow.  Perhaps it’s that she sneaks up on touchy/deep subjects, sidles alongside, pokes it a few times, and then is away before you even really realized anything happened.  The obliqueness is annoying though, at least for me.  And perhaps this entire book was better for the writer (as therapy) than for the reader (who is just confused).


“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark.  That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”


Meno: “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally known to you?”

“The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation.  Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration–how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”


On literal getting lost:

It usually happens b/c ppl are (1) not paying attn, (2) don’t know how to get back, or (3) don’t admit they don’t know

“Children…are good at getting lost, because ‘the key in survival is knowing you’re lost’: they don’t stray far, they curl up in some sheltered place at night, they know they need help.”


There’s one art to reading the landscape of things and knowing your way around (domain knowledge), but another art to remain calm in the face of the unknown (which is a general skill that one can develop and then apply across multiple domains)–if you remain calm in the face of the unknown and know how to get yourself unlost, you’re never truly lost per se, just not fully aware of specifically where you are at a particular point in time

“‘I never was lost in the woods in my whole life, said Daniel Boone, ‘though once I was confused for three days.’”


Historian Aaron Sachs: “[Explorers] were always lost, because they’d never been to these places before.  They never expected to know exactly where they were.  Yet at the same time, many of them knew their instruments pretty well and understood their trajectories within a reasonable degree of accuracy.  In my opinion, their most important skill was simply a sense of optimism about surviving and finding their way.”


Cultures who value wandering:

  • Crisis happens in your life, perhaps some kind of unbearable loss or shaking of the foundations of your identity/narrative
  • You must lose yourself and divorce yourself from all the normal triggers of your life that bring about uncomfortable reminders
  • You go wandering into the wild places, alone, or with little company, to outposts and small villages, places where you can lose yourself
  • Rinse and repeat until you die, or until you find some measure of wisdom/acceptance on this journey and then return as a shaman/wisewoman/man

Some people need to destroy their old identities and find new ones.  Or life deals them some radical shift such that by the time they acclimate to their new situation they find that they’ve changed themselves to a person who would no longer be comfortable in their old life (even if they originally wanted to return to the old life).


Interesting tidbit about tarot card for Justice:

“Justice, a book on classical lore asserted, stood at the gates of Hades deciding who would go in, and to go in was to be chosen for refinement through suffering, adventure, transformation, a punishing route to the reward that is the transformed self.”


Regarding desire: instead of always focusing on how to get what you desire, maybe you should change your perspective and just enjoy the sensation of desiring something.  To “look across the distance without wanting to close it up”.


“Beauty is often spoken of as though it only stirs lust or admiration, but the most beautiful people are so in a way that makes them look like destiny or fate or meaning, the heroes of a remarkable story.  Desire for them is in part a desire for a noble destiny, and beauty can seem like a door to meaning as well as to pleasure.”


Interesting take on Persephone myth:

“Maybe Persephone was glad to run off with the king of death to his underground realm, maybe it was the only way she could break away from her mother, maybe Demeter was a bad parent the way that Lear was a bad parent, denying nature, including the nature of children to leave their parents.  Maybe Persephone thought Hades was the infinitely cool older man who held the knowledge she sought, maybe she loved the darkness, the six months of winter, the sharp taste of pomegranates, the freedom from her mother, maybe she knew that to be truly alive death must be part of the picture just as winter must.  It was as the queen of hell that she became an adult and came into power.”


On people who do reckless things:

“I wonder now about Marine’s abandon.  In a way it seems brave to me, this charging into adventure without fear of consequences.  Or was it a desperation in which there were more terrible things than death, a desire so urgent for the anesthesia, distraction, and sense of destiny drugs seem to offer, even a desire for death?  Was I cowardly not to want to explore the farther reaches of consciousness, afraid of getting lost, of being unable to return?”


“Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that make you navigate more slowly and steadily.  But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss.”


Awareness per a Zen teacher:

Seeing how you balance between fear and complacency when approaching a new situation

“…human beings have asked themselves, Hmmm, how do I engage this process in a way that I don’t become too frightened by what it might unfold or too complacent by avoiding it?  This is the delicate work of awareness.”

“We see someone and make up a story about who they are, and sometimes we get ourselves into a lot of trouble with the stories we make up as we weave our world.  And the practice of awareness doesn’t say don’t weave your world.  That’s what we’re hardwired to do…The practice of awareness says don’t grasp it too tightly, don’t be too convinced.  And in that simpler way of being…it’s okay to sometimes experience not knowing what to do next, to run into a barrier.  It’s okay to realize that life has a mysterious quality to it, it has an element of uncertainty, it’s okay to realize that we do need help, that calling out for help is a very generous act because it allows others to help us and it allows us to be helped.”

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