Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I have a tragic sense of direction. If for instance, you put me in a car, pointed in an unfamiliar direction from a completely familiar location, such as last night when I was leaving Greenlake, a park I frequent at least weekly for the past fourteen years, I would and did circle around and drive in the wrong direction before asking my GPS for help.
I am on my third GPS, and they have radically transformed my life. No longer do I get lost the first five times I go somewhere! No longer do I drive slowly while squinting back and forth between street signs and printed MapQuest directions.
But alas! The GPS is only effective while I’m in the car.
Last week I attended a fabulous retreat along the Hood Canal. The first evening had some free time. I set off for a walk on a hiking loop with (I had been told) clearly labeled signage. Hiking pole in hand I anticipated a pleasant wander in the company of nature and my thoughts.
It took me a good while to realize that I was going in circles in a completely abandoned area. I tried back-tracking unsuccessfully. I ran first on one direction, then in another. I yelled. I started putting rocks on top of the “trail” signs, to track that yes indeed, I was going in circles. There were many, many long and deserted paths that led away from the large circle but none of them were led back to the retreat center. It was getting dark. The rain drizzled, stopped, and drizzled again. I was getting wet and sweating with worry.
The walk which started in happy anticipation became a source of panic. How long would it take for someone to come looking for me? What should I do?
Eventually I walked off the trail, found a no trespassing sign, trespassed, knocked on the door of a house and begged a ride back from a kind man. It all worked out, but as I reflect upon the situation I’m struck by how my own initial responses to the situation made everything worse.
This reminds me of a formula: E+R=O
Which means: Event + (my own) Response = Outcome.
The event was getting lost in the mountains. My response was to panic and run. The outcome of panicking and running was to get more lost. The realization that I was more lost made me panic even more. All this combined with my natural lack of orientation delayed my discovery that the trail led in a closed circle rather than a loop.
Had I been thinking clearly I would not have gone walking alone in the first place. Problems are most effectively and efficiently solved at the prevention level, but we often fail to even acknowledge a problem until it has us by the throat.
For myself, I’ve decided that whenever I am in a new place I will either walk with a friend or just take in the view from the porch.