We spoke in an earlier post about “reference points” and their centrality to the experience of a Wilderness Passage.
A period “in the wilderness”… is by definition a passage without reference points.
Do you remember the 2002 Matt Damon movie, The Bourne Identity? It’s an amnesia story. The film starts with Damon, as Jason Bourne, being rescued from the sea (where he is floating unconscious in some kind of bulletproof Kevlar wetsuit) by the crew of a fishing boat. The kindly seamen revive Matt. “Who are you?” they ask.
He answers, “I don’t know.”
Amnesia stories are Wilderness Passages par excellence. Why? Because the man or woman with no memory has lost all reference points.
For Matt at this point in the movie, life has been pared down to one question: “Who am I?” And its secondary queries—“How did I get here? Who tried to kill me? What the hell do I do now?”
A case could be made (and I would definitely not go against it) that life as we live it is an Amnesia Story. In other words, a passage through the wilderness.
We all surface into this world asking the same question Matt asks: “Who am I?”
We know we’re someone. We just don’t know who. Like Matt, we begin seeking reference points.
In one early scene in The Bourne Identity, Matt lies down to rest on a park bench. Two police officers roust him and begin to rough him up. Suddenly Matt’s fists and elbows erupt into violent action. In five seconds, he kayoes both cops. The scene ends with Matt staring at his hands in bewildered astonishment. “Who am I? How do I know how to do this?”
A reference point.
Matt next tracks down a safe deposit box in his name. When he opens it, he finds stacks of cash in half a dozen currencies, a sheaf of passports with his photo but all under different names … he finds a gun and ammo. “Who am I? How do I come to have all this stuff?”
Another reference point.
When you and I find ourselves in a Wilderness Passage, we instinctively seek reference points. But there are none. Or if they exist, they’ve lost their meaning for us. They may even mock us, not alone for their absence of meaning but by producing the opposite effect from what we had hoped—disorientation instead of orientation, deception instead of certainty.
What is happening to us on a Wilderness Passage, whether we realize it or not, is we have come unmoored from the constellation of reference points we had relied on to tell us who we are. We have come unmoored for a reason, again whether we realize it or not, whether we believe it or not. And that reason is that our old identity has not only lost its meaning for us but has become an active antagonist.
An antagonist to what? To the new, real person we are seeking to become—again, whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not.
Like Matt/Jason in The Bourne Identity, we are on a life-and-death quest to find that New Self that was our Real Self all along but we either didn’t know it or were afraid to acknowledge and become it.
What reference points have meaning for us now? Those are the clues that Matt and Jason (and you and I) have no choice but to follow.