In response to a post on a LinkedIn group for storytelling organizations, I retrieved this story I had written about getting lost on my first day as a PhD student, as I was on my way to my first class in Performative Inquiry.  I have juxtaposed images from the last academic conference I attended in Prince Edward Island, on Poetic Inquiry.

(I had the pleasure and joy of focusing on arts-based inquiry in my doctoral studies, a burgeoning field of education and research with lots of inspiring professors and colleagues who are willing to play with how they teach and learn and live. I am grateful to each of them for being my creative mentors.)

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I had taken the early morning ferry from Salt Spring Island to Vancouver, drove the highway into the city and landed about 8:30 am on campus at UBC, ready and excited to begin. Then I couldn’t find the right building. I looked for the Dorothy Somerset Theatre, as that was where the class was taking place according to the online course description. But I  couldn’t find it. I walked to the Frederic Wood Theatre, thinking that it might be nearby, and that’s all there was, no other smaller theatre in the back. I walked into the theatre department building just south of there, called out into the empty space, looked around for signs. (a sign). Nothing.

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Feeling anxious, I started to walk back toward the Scarfe building. I began to panic. It was raining. It was 9:20am and class was supposed to have started at 9am. I was already 20 minutes late. I’d been walking around for over 50 minutes, trying to locate this mysterious space where the class was supposed to be. The rain started coming down harder and staining my new orange leather handbag which I had just bought the week before on Salt Spring. I had never worn it in the rain.  I brought it with me to Vancouver that day because it was new, like the process I was about to embark on as a doctoral student. I began to worry that the rain would ruin the bag!

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As I walked south along West Mall, I became acutely aware of how anxious I was feeling—a sense of dread about being late, and lost. I felt uncomfortable, my heart beating fast, my mind buzzing with reasons and repercussions: Maybe this wasn’t the right thing for me. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do the PhD after all. Was this a sign that I should just return to Salt Spring, let go of the impulse to go to school, to further explore my experience as an educator and a writer?

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Suddenly I stopped walking. I felt my feet on the sidewalk, the rain falling on my head wetting my jean jacket, and my new bag. I breathed in and out. Then I realized I had a choice! I could continue to panic, to worry and feel anxious and concerned, to make up stories about what it meant, or I could accept that I was lost and then be fully present with where I was. I breathed in and out a few more times, entertaining the idea of being lost as an invitation, an adventure to be excited over. I even allowed myself to consider that I might not find the class at all, that I might just stay lost, which felt sad, and unacceptable and yet it was a possibility.

I started to walk again as if what I was meant to do was to simply be here—to smell the rain in the air and watch the smoke rise from the chimney of the three story glass building I was passing on my left. I noticed the trees around me, felt their presence ground me.

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I decided I would try one more time to locate the space. I went to the Scarfe building and found a sign (yes a sign) that said the class was in Hut-18, across the road. I knew that space, had taken a theatre class there a few years before, in the fall of 1998, while I was still living in Vancouver, the only other class I had ever taken at UBC. I walked over and found the class. By that time it was 9:35am and I was 35 minutes late. The group was playing a game of introduction and I joined right in. After, they welcomed me into the circle.

I was no longer lost. I told them what had happened to me on the way to class, how I had gotten lost and how I had chosen to embrace being lost and how being present to the experience helped me to fully show up in the moment on the sidewalk and in my body, and enabled me to finally find my way to class.

 

How do you react when you find yourself lost? What helps to bring you back to presence?