Walking In Circles

Waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change, I reached in my bag to check the time on my phone. After a brief stint of let-me-just-empty-the-contents-of-my-bag-out, I remembered my phone blinking, charging, on my nightstand. Of course. Of course.

I stood there and pondered. The walk back was entirely uphill, and I’d already trekked it twice that day. I was in no mood to do it again. Okay, I have meeting with a friend at 5. He might text or call. I had a couple of texts to answer. A voicemail from this morning that I had yet to respond to. So I reluctantly turned on my heel and walked back, berating myself for constantly forgetting things. I’m always leaving something behind.

The storm clouds overhead threatened to spill their steel gray contents below, and I quickened my pace, my mood growing to match the ominous sky with each step. Now it’s going to pour rain. Not only will I be late, but I’ll also be soaked. Why can’t I just remember the things that I need?

Finally reaching my apartment, I sprinted up the two flights of stairs to my room, grabbed my phone, and ran back out the door. Halfway down the street, I realized I was missing something again. Keys. And my sweater that I’d dropped on the bed as I went to get the phone. Cursing under my breath, I turned on my heel. Oh, I was really in a mood now. And the worst part of it was that I had no one to blame but myself for all of the wasted time. I had walked in circles all afternoon. 

This is not a one-time occurrence for me. My roommates often yell out the door at me as I leave, “Phone, keys, wallet?” And inevitably, I’ll be back in the room three minutes later, the elevator door kindly held by whichever unlucky neighbor happened to step out at the same time. One would think that I would get better at remembering what I needed for the day, but walking in a straight line has never been my style. 

This is why, after reading this article, I was filled with a strong sense of déjà vu. Walking in circles? Forgetting which way to go? Check, and check.

Case in point: post-graduation plans.

A few months ago, my roommate left a post-it note on my desk. I was having a particularly hard time deciding on graduate school for music. Was it right for me? Could I make it as a musician? Was it worth the time, the money, the effort? Naturally, I had talked myself in circles about it for a while, and my dear roommate, catching me curled up on our couch, laptop in front of me, and eyes glazed over– closed my computer screen and made me go to bed. In the morning, I found her note. She’d drawn me a little diagram in her distinctive blue-point pen:

What Everyone Assumes Happens:

Current State (Where You Are Now) ———smooth sailing——–Dream Job (Where You Want To Be)

What Actually Happens:

Current State (Where You Are Now) —- —-xxxxxx Maybe Start Over? —–Try Something New? —– Start Again — Dream Job (Where You Want To Be) xxxx—–xxxxxx —-

Certainly this wandering and wondering can feel dire. As Robert Moor put it so beautifully, there is “Dread and Bewilderment of Walking In Circles.” However, he never states that it is hopeless. And I think that this is crucial to remember.

In the article, Moor mentions a study done by Jan Souman in 2009. Equipping volunteers with G.P.S. tracking devices, he instructed them to walk in a straight line across unfamiliar terrain. He found that while the subjects did tend to circle back on their own trails without the aid of directional cues, there was no evidence to support the assumption that there is a “circling instinct in the brain.” The walkers almost never circled all the way back to the start.

Even though it might feel as if we are walking in circles, the reality is that progress of some sort is being made. If we can consciously tap into this understanding, then it’s possible to believe that nothing is a lost experience. I have to remind myself of this; that it’s okay that I don’t know yet what I’d like to do. The important thing is to try, first and foremost. Point myself in a direction and walk without the expectation of following a straight line.

And just as the hikers at the end of the article realized, putting up “navigational or safety cues” can deter us from the way home. I may not be able to fully return to the very start, but I can begin again, hopefully armed with more knowledge and more trust in my decision. Perhaps that time around, I’ll have remembered to take what I need with me.

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