1. Don’t panic. You have a deep inner wisdom which already knows how to get out of the woods. Which can never be lost. (On the other hand, sometimes panic can give us some energy to reach that inner knowing. So go ahead–panic! Listen to yourself chant mantras like, “I’m lost, I’m gonna die, I’ll never find my way out!” Give yourself five minutes, max. When you feel your heart racing and brow sweating and palpitations rocking your petrified body, command your mind to go silent. Don’t let the nonsense-mind direct you. It is always lost anyway. Use the energy to propel you into center. Now we’re ready to find due north.)
2. The sun will always guide you. Locate the sun. See it up there, shining through the tree tops? If the tree tops are too thick, locate the shine. Keep the shine aligned with your right shoulder. Or your left shoulder. Walk in alignment with the sun. You will soon find your way.
3. On cloudy or dark days, it may appear a little more troublesome. (These are the days when panic may threaten to throw you on the forest floor, sobbing.) Never you fear! The earth offers some tricks to keep the mind occupied while the feet find their way effortlessly out of the forest. Come into full presence. Use your senses. Listen. Do you hear the roar of a vehicle in the distance? Gauge the location of a possible road. Keep listening. Look at the lay of the land. Ravines flow downhill toward water. Moss does survive best on the north side of trees, although (sigh) it sometimes grows all around the base of the tree as well. Remember everything you know about the land you’re traipsing.
4. Be willing to accept help. This may sound mystic or oo-la-la to the uninitiated, but here’s a suggestion. Ask for help. Then look for signs. A bird may come to guide you. It may suggest “This way! This way!” with its very chirping over there in that tree. A shiny patch of sunlight may suggest the way home. Even a lost Coke bottle may point the direction of your desire. Do not judge which form help may take.
5. Do not head deep into the thickets without looking to see if a path exists around the tangle. On the other hand, sometimes we need to walk through the thickets–it is the Only Way. If you must walk through the thickets, walk slowly. Walk with the most presence possible. Keep your attention focused on the body. Watch for a rhythm of allowing, moving, allowing, moving. If you don’t…you shall emerge scratched, sweating and terribly upset. If you discover the Inner Rhythm of the Thickets, you may even delight in its bramble. (Well, delight may be too strong of word. But you may even–almost–enjoy it.)
6. Do not panic the wood creatures. Do not panic the wood ticks, the mosquitoes, the deer and the black bear. Walk steadfastly, slowly, purposefully. Do not run. You may brush away gently or veer off temporarily in a different direction, but do not fuss. (OK, allow yourself five minutes of fussing. Or quick walking in another direction If You Must. But then return to Equanimity. Equanimity leads us out of the forest without a compass. Trust me on this one.)
7. If you must spend the night in the forest, cover yourself with lots and lots of dried leaves and sticks. This is called a debris hut. These are the sheets and blankets of the forest. If you can find shelter beneath some logs or in a crevice, all the better. Let the night noises sing you to sleep. For heaven sakes…don’t panic! That hoot owl isn’t gonna hurt you! Those crackling footsteps will not eat you for a midnight snack! People have slept out in the forest since the beginning of time. Think of your distant ancestors. Breathe into your heart. It will be all right.
8) Be aware, aware, aware. It all comes back to awareness, doesn’t it? Put your foot down carefully and lift it up carefully. You don’t want to twist your ankle. Know that your senses are tools which can be utilized–but they are only tools. It is awareness that Knows. It is awareness that Knows where home is. Awareness guides. Surrender to it.
9) When you arrive back at home, don’t make a fuss. Don’t let your mind tell everyone who will listen about how you were lost in the woods and how you thought you were gonna die and how you were almost eaten by raccoons and bears and other innocent creatures just mindin’ their own business. (OK, make a fuss, if you must. For a while. But only for a little while. Then reflect on what it means to be lost and ask yourself, “Was I really lost? Is it possible to ever be lost?” Let your mind think about that for as long as it takes.)
10. Psssttt….did any of you catch it? Sure, it’s wise to bring a compass until we fully realize it (I carry a compass almost every time!). A compass can be whatever helps us feel safe, feel found, feel in control, feel home. But eventually we realize we carry the compass within us. It already points to True North. We just need to stand very very still and wait until it quits jiggling. Then we realize we’re always at home. We can never be lost.