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.
Thank you, Steve. There is a lot of truth in what we wrote.
Learning to stop and be still is absolutely necessary before we can listen and respond fully and gratefully to Life—moment by moment. – Brother David Steindl-Rast
Yeah I think that’s what I was saying below.
If I have time, I usually check out the work of others here. So glad I did. The interview with Jenny Jackson had me in tears. (The piece was thoughly beautiful.) Though different circumstances, I found that her words held many truths.
We are so stretched as women, human beings.
We question why what happens, happens.
Discussions open doors to potential growth. Letting go of pain.
Open discussion is a cleansing.
Things don’t get smaller without talking, the opposite usually happens.
There is pain and sadness, but discussion is where the love can come in.
Love is all.
Today, the wilderness became a little less wild. Thanks, Steve for the post and to Bruce for the interview with Jenny.( Recommend taking a look at this interview. You won’t be sorry. Her words fit with today’s post.)
Patience between the reference points is so difficult for me. I’m going through a complete reorganization of self, so your post really hits home. I’ve left the higher ed teaching career that has defined me for 18 years, the home of 12 years, that felt like my turtle shell, and the town that I knew my whole life. I don’t even enjoy the creative work that I used to do. It takes an unbelievable amount of faith and patience to believe I’ll get to a clearing in this wilderness.
Where and in what do you find your faith? I tried so hard to follow the calling but maybe what I thought was calling me was . . . not. Or maybe I was too hard-headed to hear the true message. I feel lost, blocked. I hope there will be a clearing sometime, but what will it reveal? I don’t know what to hope for.
That’s so true. I went through something very similar to what’s happening to you and accepting a “new you” that you don’t know is hard. Things look so different. I’m quite creative in other areas and when I went to work in those, even that which I’d loved for years, became meaningless or not meaningful in the same way. Unsettling it is.
The artwork is beautiful, Athesia. Hope you’ll find the desire to get back to it. Since I’ve been in my wilderness, I’ve been struggling to enjoy what I used to enjoy too. Sometimes I just do it with the hope the fire returns. (Good to see another Pressfield follower from Rochester!)
We all are in this Athesia. There are the answers to all you must do out there, you will find them. I’d share with you a thought, “in order to do something, you must first be the appropriate someone”. That’s why your every moment of trying is so crucial. Lead it well and then let the new You be that someone else that you seek.
This hit home. Just keep following the flicker of light and you will find your way.
Steve, I have indeed come to understand my own journey, like those of many other men, as an amnesia story. When we look at our lives with the curiosity, hard won self-compassion and understanding that only shows up in the rear view mirror, we come to realize that we are all on some kind of chosen or unchosen “hero’s” path. What is especially compelling and energizing about this journey, and what makes the story worth telling, is precisely what doesn’t make sense, what, like the identity of Jason Bourne, doesn’t compute. The irony here, as you point out, is that the “holes,” “misdirections” and “detours,” in life are, ironically, the very elements that bring us closer to understanding who we truly are, why we are here and what makes us tick.
I have come to appreciate Tiresias’s insight that “the treasure you seek is not the treasure you shall find.” For me, these reckonings have not come when my life has been moving forward steadily, but only when my train has derailed and “jumped the tracks.” It was in those moments, when my comfortable, and respectable, yet ultimately fictitious life, fell away. At that moment, I was finally able to see behind the veil I had so carefully woven over many years. It was there that I finally got a glimpse who I was at my core and my true life purpose.
For the majority of my adult life, I was comfortably numbed and nestled in the life of a college professor, seeing reality through a lens that kept me distant and disconnected from the mean streets of the world and the distasteful truths at the center of my own life. Ironically, it was only when I found the courage to climb down from the ivory tower life I had so diligently ascended and create a nonprofit based on emotional literacy groups in prisons that I finally began to touch my own emotional core. It was in these groups, located in some of the darkest and intentionally forsaken places that our society has invented to contain and exile its “evil ones,” that I have finally been able to peel away my own masks. The ultraviolet light of the heart, like the ultraviolet light that the prison shines on our stamped hands when we leave for the night, reveals so much more than so-called “daylight” of the everyday world. The epiphany for me was that the struggles of incarcerated men seeking wholeness in prisons and desperately wanting to repair the “cracks” and restore the missing pieces in their lives mirrored, clarified and focused my own search for myself. So it is indeed true that the unflinching search for our own identity and essence is at the heart of curing the amnesia that leads us astray and to forget who we truly are.
Chief Inspiration Officer
Jericho Circle, Inc.
Good thoughts, Steve. And I appreciate the work you’re doing with incarcerated individuals. I recall a book I read in the mid-80s: We’re All Doing Time: A Guide to Getting Free, by Bo Lozoff. I think connected to the “Prison Ashram Project,” the potential is to view a time of incarceration as a monastic experience.
I found a copy online (https://archive.org/details/werealldoingtime00lozo/mode/2up?view=theater) and found this in the Intro:
“The original idea behind this book was to help prisoners, but really, prison is completely beside the point. It’s just an excuse to have brought us together again along the Sacred Way. Whoever and wherever we are, in or out of prison — we’re all doing hard time until we find freedom inside ourselves.”
Gut punch, but willing to seek out the truth. Thanks, Steve.
To thine own self be true, Socrates said. And yet, with all that human wisdom, ancient Greek society still collapsed. The new, more diversely assembled human genome can answer questions we didn’t even know could be asked. And the sun turns out to be green once you escape Earth’s atmosphere. “And yet it moves” is as true about the earth in relation to the sun as is the very notion of who humans actually are.
We lose the thread of our smaller story so we can learn to participate gently and gratefully in the much larger one we inhabit. And see them as only we can. Evolution is happening all around us, in us, and we are agents of change. Change is safe because change, in this universe, is the most fundamental force of life. The world is full of people changing and seeking community, the great human evolutionary advantage that wiped out the stronger Neanderthals. And as many from Joseph Campbell to Jeff Bozos (!) have observed, change brings you back to the eternal truths that don’t change, that we couldn’t see, and that we can build on.
Anyway, these are the spectacles I’ve been wearing lately after my literal bout with amnesia. They fit well.
This has to be one of my favorite posts now. But I’d like to add that there are always reference points, but a lot of times we don’t recognize them in the moment. It’s only in hindsight that we see them. Or, if we allow our awareness to penetrate our consciousness in those unrecognized moments then we’ll get it. They might not he as privital as JB but nonetheless there.
The mooring reference was fitting. I was once a fancy sturdy yacht and now I float peacefully as a tattered life boat. Both versions love the sea. Thank you for the reminder.
Wow. This is a good one!! I close my eyes and think of my own reference points only to realize the old me has “died”. I’m not a caterpillar, but the goop in a chrysalis. Will I discover new reference points that lead to me flying like a butterfly or beautiful Luna moth?! Equal parts exciting and terrifying—the unknown. Sure wish I was trained by the CIA 😊
Have a beautiful and creative week everyone!
Exactly where I am, today, having just turned 75. Reference points … lifelines to life. Well said by you. To be well done by me. Will let you know.
Good post. Good thoughts people are adding above.
I suspect this whole life is an amnesia drama. Just like when we enter a movie theater, our awareness of the outside/real world disappears. It’s in this forgetfulness that we enter this movie drama, these life dramas.
Maybe this is why little kids have “imaginary” friends and can recount details of a life “when I was big.”
Oh, jeez… trying to remember something I heard in the past week. I think it might have been Isabelle Allende on the Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Saying that she was present at the birth of her granddaughter. Paraphrasing: “I pulled her out and I cut the umbilical cord. I held her to my face and said, ‘Quickly! Tell me what you remember.”
poorly edited above; sorry!; got a work meeting going in my ears; fragmented attention. 🙂
Love this! Yes, spirit that we are and gives lifecto our bodies and mind comes here to realise it’s infinitum – through challenges of forgetten source of itself.
Joe, that’s very interesting and amazing. When my niece was just about old enough to speak I did actually ask her what she remembered from her pre-verbal time. She didn’t understand the question, which is also interesting. I expect I was hoping to gain some impression of the state when one is completely free of categorised behaviours, and the ‘doors of perception’ and open. That’s my rationalisation now anyway.
This idea of being unmoored, free from previous references. Whenever I’m walking in a town, or anywhere, I welcome those rare times when I briefly feel lost. That’s such a liberating feeling. Ideally on a good hike you’re not lost but there’s nothing familiar in sight, which is an interesting hybrid state I suppose.
We need to feel lost or unmoored more often. Able to reorient to the present moment. I think meditation captures this, looking for the ‘in between’. Trying to drop the usual mental ticks.
Hey Peter… on walking, unmoored from previous references, I’m thinking about a film that Jill and I saw last night. It was probably the fifth or sixth time I’d seen “The Way,” with Martin Sheen — and written, produced, and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. The relaunched it for a one-day, in-theater re-release in collaboration with travel writer Rick Steves. It’s a beautiful film, and not so much a story about “walking the Camino” — but a story about a father and a son, which happens to take place on the Camino.
“Welcoming feeling lost…” Yeah, baby.
When I returned from the Vietnam War it was like being in the wilderness. I thought everyone would ask me what it was like to be in Vietnam. No one asked. I am still wandering in many ways.
Have you read ‘Tribe” by Sebastian Junger? http://www.sebastianjunger.com/tribe-by-sebastian-junger
Here is a podcast where he talks with Tim Ferriss about a number of things and his book Tribe: https://open.spotify.com/episode/6luIGz0tSFCLVm6EOooK0O?si=MzWgv6kGQbylFXpmR6dd-g
I listened to the podcast–must have been 2016 or 2017, then got his book. The podcast is nearly as good.
Sebastian makes some great points in this book and podcast. I found them both to helpful.
In many ways, I was at my absolute best in combat. My performance never wavered for 16 months, and those closest to me do not know that guy at all.
My wife asked me one time why I’m not willing to be that guy here. Good f-bomb question! I think about often as I try to go all-in with the same conviction, focus, energy–but it simply is not the same.
It seems to me that we conflate politeness with cowardice. Is it too rude to ask people deeply personal questions, or are most of us afraid to hear something outside of our comfort zone? I wish you well.
B! Ditto on Junger’s Tribe. Lots of wisdom in there.
Great post, as always, Steven. Thank you for sharing. Have a wonderful day 💚
When I found myself in the position of an inadvertent whistleblower, they abruptly called in a doctor from outside the company to declare me mentally disabled and sent me home with the paperwork to accomplish the process. (If you read Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness you’ll find out this is what they sometimes do in an act of desperation to silence us.) Their doctor(s) questioned me and my (formerly) expert judgement. I was suddenly being gaslighted from multiple sides—doctors, management, HR, friends, and even my own doctor.
My wilderness passage since has been to relearn and rediscover the sources (reference points) from which my expert judgment was forged, and to discover new insights (supporting reference points) I would have never imagined had I not been sent on this odyssey. Now, armed with this even bigger revelation/gift from the muse, I am plotting my return from the wilderness with the full expectation I’ll be further ridiculed and gaslit.
It’s not about getting them back. It’s about getting me back.
I’m looking forward to reading this new treasure and discovering who I am. I’m still evolving.
A great post from Steve, which makes a lot of sense. Unless you are a person without curiosity in the world about you, and happy to keep rinsing and repeating, we’re constantly turning into our future selves and shrugging off our past selves. Alvin Toffler described in his book ‘Future Shock’ his concern that the pace of change would accelerate and one would feel in a state of permanent disorientation. It’s kind of like that for us permanently, even at very slow rates of internal change.
I feel like I’m often floundering and out of place, exhausted and a little hopeless, unable to be actualised. But Steve’s thoughts suggest to me that we could take the liberating step of actively dropping our past reference points. Let’s ditch some of those mofos and create ourselves anew, instead of always being behind our self-image, unable to even live up to that.
Thank you Steve.
This is really smart, especially the idea of reference points, which can really ground and guide a narrative.
Now I’m totally alarmed that my new novel, now under sub, which is definitely an “amnesia story” (great term), doesn’t use those points clearly enough. Argh.
Holy shit, Steve. You reading my mail? WTF? This one reached right into my heart and soul.
I do enjoy reading your emails as I’ve followed you after some of your books. I love the bridge to fiction and real life.
Personally speaking, amnesia can be a multitude of moments on the journey-at least for me.
By the way, I was watching a series on Amazon about a a Game Warden called Joe Picket. Somewhere about episode 7 or 8, they take his badge. I told my wife that you said it’s the biggest cliché… lol
As an older guy I have studied a ton of books. I have been saying to myself for over a year “the only thing I’m interested in is RADICAL CHANGE” in-myself. I am bored beyond bored with moving the f-ing deck chairs around on the Titanic. I do not quite know what I am talking about but on the other hand I know exactly what I am talking about. This post really triggered this in me. Again, thanks Steve!
Serendipitously, I am in the middle of reading the first of Robert Ludlam’s Bourne series. The universal meanings you have drawn from the movie version hit home. Now I think that I was drawn to reading the book (and rewatching the movies a few years back) because I, like Jason Bourne, am searching for reference points.
Too many great comments to limit a reply to only one of them, or even a few. But to echo a few, What Color Is Your Parachute? author Dick Bolles agreed that all of life is an amnesia story. Before we’re born the heavens (or whomever) ask what we’d think of a particular mission. And before they (or whomever) can get the question out we’re like, “Oh, yes. Choose me!” We come to earth as a baby with supposedly no knowledge of this; the lifelong puzzle (and fun) is in the remembering.
For a more modern take on what it’s like not to be in on the big scheme, may I suggest Jury Duty?
I’ve been lucky enough to live another amnesia story beyond the whole “that’s what life is” thing, but I couldn’t imagine writing it because the inciting incident was too humiliating. Thanks to what I’ve learned from Steve and finally internalized, I did write it. A summary, at least. I let it rip. Publication feels (while definitely Oz) somewhat beside the point now. I got something out that was begging to get out, and was rewarded with an unfamiliar mixture of glee and peace.
This stuff works, guys!
I really enjoyed this.
I love your phrase “we have come unmoored from the constellation of reference points we had relied on to tell us who we are.” The art is finding new reference points indeed and quieting the inner critic and score keeper.
It was being lost in the entrepreneurial wilderness that led me to be an intuitve astrologer and numerologist – literally a new “constellation of reference points” revealing clues to the questions of “who am I” and “where am I heading”. A discovery of clues and markers to take the next step with curiosity and willingness to see if indeed it was true and where it might lead. Being open to hear messages, see signs and trust the path by the light of the moon certainly keeps the journey interesting and in time leads us out of the wilderness. Wiser and reverent for the experience, able to serve and uplift others with our story, experience and wisdom. As you just did Steve. Thank You.
Thank you very much dear Steve.
The Reference Points that you write about reminded me of a conclusion that I came along the day before yesterday: that I lost so many *important, crucial* Referrence Points of some kind in life. I lost points like my favorite music (completely dedicated to it for decades, then suddenly it disappeared into thin air), my favourite hobbies, my friends, my intrinsic flow to write the book (although that one can’t get away from me now), my desire to write music, my desire to explore many aspects of this world, the hunt for the soul mate etc.
The Reference Points remind me of yet another dynamic: the steps that one must go through in order of importance and sequence in order to achieve a desired destination. In that case the reference points are like anchors that root you on a place, on a staircase, before you can climb on to the next one higher.
Our Amnesia, like you name it beautifully, may be the loss of the anchors or lands. In the ocean of Life we forget where our lands were, we don’t even see them after a while, while we sail forward to find the islands of New Desire. We should be very careful while designing the new directions, or we will end up in bare lands and not on those exotic lands full of gold for all levels of a man (spiritual, emotional, physical etc.) And we must remember that if we don’t lead a certain way, then the waves lead us. There is nothing wrong with that, besides that the waves make us so usual, so conventional (in their Shadow dynamics) that we lose the sense of Purpose. Still, that may be half the truth because many people with conventional wisdom may end up with hard work creating beautiful and exceptional, unique things in/for the world.
Since we are crazy enough to not follow the waves in the storm (I guess every boatman would somehow parallel to the waves to save their lives), then we should approach the unknown armed with a number of heavy anchors and a good nautical chart created with caution and detail.
Did we lose tons of desires because of wrong choices of Reference Points?
The only challenge I can think of that is even more… challenging, is the fact(?) that we must plan with more wisdom than ever. There is wisdom into us building new reference points, and that wisdom can extend endlessly, we can never be wise enough. So e.g. I now question among other things the mode of “sitting at the desk every day and writing”. That is very dangerous thought because Resistance is waiting to crash my strongest tool. But what if the desk becomes the world, what if I should write at this point out there in the wild, “among the men and the beasts”? In the end, do we lose our reference points or we just shape them in a Universe where the principle is that of the Conservation of Energy?
Ah, I feel like a pin in a barn. Even pins should have some anchors with them all the time and seek for newer and better ones!
“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.”
Ooooh so that’s what’s happening to me 😉 Certainly alarming when, in a crisis, all of your tools in your kit lose their meaning utterly. I often feel like I’m just holding on to the mast, breathing in and out. But, I have had a tiny voice telling me that I am actually undergoing something.. a Wilderness Passage is a good place to start. Thanks for this bit of wisdom today.
Yes. Truth spoken here. Who am I? And what a journey the discovery is.
the latest version of all types of Games MODS Games Like Mini Militia
The Bourne Identity is one of the nicest movies I ever seen. I learned a lesson from this movie.
As a professional platform for academic ghostwriting, Top Essay Services specializes in providing high-quality and high-scoring writing services for international students in Canada. Our team of expert writers has undergone a rigorous selection process and professional training to ensure the highest quality completion of various types of academic assignments, online courses, and exam tasks for students. https://www.lunwentop.net/jianadadaixie/
It’s time for Amnesia Stories and It’s time for territorial io. Let’s go!