If you are lost in the backcountry and unable to locate your exact bearings, you can use a technique called triangulation to find your way again. Triangulation involves a map, a compass, and an identifiable feature— a point of reference that you can see in order to determine your position. To figure out where exactly it is you are, and how to get back to where you need to be. Tall mountains, visible above the fog, or inclement weather that is preventing you from identifying your whereabouts, are a good place to start.
This happens—we round a corner and find ourselves somewhere we never thought we’d be, somewhere we didn’t think we were. We realize we have strayed the course. And to find our way back to where we need to be, to where we thought we were headed, we need some kind of point of reference, some sort of guide. Something to stand tall and strong and visible against the fog that led us wayward in the first place.
One warm spring night a few months ago, the person I loved walked into my house with an unfamiliar look on his face, and a few hours later walked out of my life forever. In the moments after he left, I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was. It was a dizzying place in which so many of us have found ourselves: without the person we thought would stay.
How had I gotten here? How had I gotten so off course? How had I ignored all of the signs that I was making a wrong turn leading up to this? In a desperate desire to follow this person, I had lost sight of the path. I had lost my bearings.
I didn’t know how I’d gotten here, and yet here I was. And from here, I had to begin. From here, I had to walk myself back to my own personal path of righteousness. The path of my best life. I would have to use reliable points of reference—things I knew to be true and real—to be able to point my feet in the right direction.
* * *
Four years before, I woke up in the middle of the night in the New Zealand. I was sleeping outside, and had been awoken by the cold air on my nose, or perhaps the Universe. I had spent the previous few days in a panic about where my life was going after I left the wilderness. About where I would be and who I would be with and what I would do. My life was in a state of transition and I was terrified.
But when I awoke that night, the stillness of the vast landscape around me seemed to quiet the whirring panic in my brain. I didn’t know, necessarily, where I would go, or whom I would be with, or what I would do. But I knew in that moment how I would feel. Or how I would need to feel, to be true to the truest part of myself. I would need to constantly present myself with challenges to grow and evolve. I would need to surround myself with people who brought out and celebrated all the intricacies of my heart and mind and soul. I would need to be in places that made me cry out at the beauty of the earth and allowed me to explore it. I would need to live in a big, sprawling, limitless way. Learning and giving and reaching and dancing.
I knew the path would not be flat. I knew it would not always be well marked. I knew that there would likely be bushwacking involved. But I knew it would lead to the clearest alpine lakes, the brightest wildflowers, the craggiest peaks, and the most golden sunrises and sunsets. It would lead to the purest feeling of joy in my soul, when I was viscerally aware of and wildly grateful for my presence as a human on this planet. I looked up at the black silhouettes of the peaks around me, the southern hemisphere constellations gleaming brilliantly above my head, and I knew I must live my life boldly chasing this feeling, or I would never be truly happy.
We have no way of knowing what our lives will bring us, what events will transpire or people we will bump into, where we will go or what choices we will make. But we can identify that satisfying, soul-level click that occurs when everything is just right, when we are where we are supposed to be at the moment we are supposed to be there. When the environment is just right for us to be our best selves, and when the people we are with reflect that best self back to us. We can identify that feeling as the true reason we are here and do whatever it takes to set our lives on that course.
I have always imagined a future version of myself out up ahead, turning back and looking over her shoulder at me, holding out her hand to beckon me forward. We’re just up here, just a little farther now, and it’s glorious. I envision the future version of myself that has transcended a difficult moment, that has figured out a tricky situation, that has the answer to a burning question of mine. I imagine her out there, waiting for me, and it is a sort of comfort. Future me has gotten through this. Future me is winking and twirling and laughing in slow motion and holding out her hand and whispering just you wait.
* * *
I was not completely lost, merely sidetracked. Merely in a situation that required a little triangulation. I had found myself alone and responsible for navigating myself through the fog. And so I reached down into the depths, and I conjured up that night in the New Zealand backcountry, trying to locate those black silhouetted peaks and southern hemisphere constellations. With them as guides, I could plot my location on a map, and I could determine the course I would be required to take to return to the path of my best life. I would have to walk myself back through any number of obstacles, but I could get there from here.
You need to maintain that faith, that even when putting one foot in front of another seems like the most taxing exercise imaginable, that you must do it, and you will. That even taking tiny, slow steps out of the woods will get you back to the path. That your best life is out there for you. Eventually, you will be where you need to be. You’re already on your way there.
Sometimes I would get there, to that place up in the distance and I would actually realize that I was the future me I had been looking at. That I was the one winking and twirling and imagining myself six months before thinking if you only knew. I would realize I had made it and I would smile and wrinkle my nose and laugh in that way you do when life is strange and wonderful and unbelievable all at once.
From here, from this journey out of the woods and back onto the path of my best life, I look up ahead through the fog and I see the twinkly-eyed girl that looks like me, only calmer and wiser. She turns back towards me as always, reaching out her hand. On her right shoulder are the black silhouettes of peaks and a southern hemisphere constellation, my points of reference through the fog, calling me forward onto the path and into the light.