Jun 03

Getting Lost And Found



I like to get lost.  For many this would be anathema.  For me it is an invitation for adventure. Travel brings this to the forefront. Getting lost is a process.  It follows an arc that often starts with a sort of panic.  In this uncertainty my senses are heightened and I become hyper alert.  If I can catch myself in this uncommon state I can put the “brakes” on my initial impulse to run away and seek safety and comfort.  In this stopping, holding my reactivity in check, I allow for another possibility.  What usually occurs is a sort of amusement.  Something in me gets tickled and I become interested in what is happening around me.  And as I settle into observing I get comfortable and actually feel at home in the place I find myself in.  In a very real sense I am now found.


I recall my first visit to Nepal in 1980.  I arrived late in the day and the sun was already setting.  I didn’t have plans as to where I would stay.  Before I had a chance to think this through a man approached me and insisted that he take me to his hotel.  Without getting into details of the negotiation I agreed.  After quickly settling into my room I went for a stroll around the neighborhood.  I had been traveling for days, initiating my journey from NYC where I lived before arriving in Kathmandu. 


Coming from NYC I felt I was pretty street savvy and had developed an acute attunement to my surroundings when walking the city.  The demeanor of such meanderings are never entirely relaxed since I felt I needed to retain a heighten vigilance to what goes on around me, particularly in regards to people.  Having lived my entire life in NYC this stance had served me well.


As I walked the streets of Kathmandu, (it was actually on the outskirts of the city), it became dark.  I decided to return to my hotel and realized I was totally lost.  There I was standing in the middle of small courtyard or square with it’s surrounding shops mostly boarded up for the night and hardly anybody out and about.  The place felt deserted.  And this was no ordinary city that I was use to being in.  No pavement, just dirt for the streets.  Running sewage water in open channels only covered by perforated blocks of cement along the edges of the street. 


The environment I was in felt impoverished, alien, and ominous to me. I heard the murmurings of people talking from different places in muffled whispers in a language I could not understand.  There was no electricity and light was provided by kerosene lamps. I felt my hair on the back of my neck standing up and as I continued to walk there was the familiar rush of anxiousness when walking down a dark alley in NYC.  My danger antenna was way up and I was searching the shadows for potential muggers.  The tension was becoming unbearable.  And then I stopped!


I slowed my pace and began to notice my surroundings and to feel into the atmosphere.  And it hit me!  There was no threat.  All around me were wood slat shops that opened out on to the streets. Inside were storekeepers and friends relaxing over chai and gently conversing in the glow of these lamps.  As I let go of my ‘city smarts’ orientation and just settled into the present moment I began to relax.  It felt comfortable to be in the midst of this humanity and sharing in the peacefulness of people enjoying each other’s company without threat of danger.  I began to feel delighted and marveled at the contrast between the streets of NYC and this neighborhood in Kathmandu. And in this letting go of my default way of coping I felt I was at home.  I could simply Be.  And that was how I was Found.


In so many ways the act of travel opens us up to a magical world and to new possibilities in how we can experience ourselves.  I believe for this to occur there has to be a willingness to be lost.  To experience an initial uncertainty allows for an increased sensitivity to places that can awaken in us.  By managing the elevated sense of anxiousness that may ensue we develop a “mental muscle” that helps us to not only cope but to revel in the unknown.  We become empowered to negotiate the world with greater confidence.


Since that night in Kathmandu this insight has been revisited over and over in my travels.  I consider it foundational to any successful travel experience.  Entering into uncertainty while restraining our conditioned reactions to imagined threat is like walking across a threshold into a magical realm.  And remembering this idea easily translates into managing how I can navigate life in general. 


What I intend to offer in these blog posts are ways to explore the inner and outer places we visit.  I have long been fascinated with how inner and outer worlds mirror each other and, furthermore, interact to reveal the directions of our life path.  This interest has led me to develop the approach I call GlobalWalkabouts.  I figured that I am not alone in this inquiry about how places relate to our own development.  I wanted to create a format that allow others to entertain and deepen their own unfolding around what travel can provide.


It is my sincerest hope that you and many others will join me in this journey of GlobalWalkabouts and be assisted in growing deeply and broadly by them as well as inspired to become advocates for the care of all the wonderful places that exist on, in and around our Mother Earth.


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  1. Henree Weiner

    I like this article — very inviting, and sincere.

  2. Jack


    Very much enjoyed this post. My wife and I also love getting lost, (locally or overseas) as it on those occasions where we have always disccovered the most magical and fortuitous gems of exploration, which we then inevitably hold near and dear to our hearts going forward. Fear of getting lost or alternatively, a lack of faith in one’s own innate creative survival skills, often keeps the modern explorer bottled-up in her hostel, pension or hotel room while the most important opportunities for discovery of self and place “pass her by”. I believe this latter is a path to be avoided at all costs; indeed there is little difference between staying at, say, your Borneo hotel room or pool the whole day and just staying home! I have always thought this to be one of the lessons from the Baby-Boomer-Beloved 1959-’64 TV show “The Twilight Zone” which each week provided us with unforgetable cautionary tales about the supreme value of taking the road less travelled, the path without trail markers, of voluntarily entering a place that “… lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” By the way, you forgot the “P.S.” to your Kathmandu story: How did you ultimately figure your way “home” to your hotel?

    1. jeffkelton

      It is my sincerest wish that more people experience the kind of insight you and your wife have had about traveling. You do bring up a point about how many people have fears to venture outside the “tourist bubble”. In most parts of the world this fear is unwarranted especially if you have done your homework about a culture you are visiting. However, not everybody has the same level of tolerance for what may be ambiguous or uncertain. Still, it is an instructive and, more often than not, an enlightening experience when you choose to take the “risk” to venture out beyond your hotel.

  3. Iris Stanfield

    I thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets of Kathmandu with you as darkness fell. It was a bit scary.

    I knew you were great with a camera, but I never realized you had a talent for writing as well. I remember hearing of a place called Kathmandu as a child, but I never knew how it was spelled, nor exactly where it was. It just sounded exotic and interesting. Now, I have a bit of the flavor of it. Would love more pictures, and when you can a bit of a map would be nice for those of us walking with you.

    Keep up this great work of sharing your many travel experiences!
    Your friend,

    1. jeffkelton

      Thanks Iris for your support and interest. I also appreciate your suggestions and like your idea of maps.

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