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Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

How To Navigate Uncertainty

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Pitch black. Before me, what seems a never-ending rural road to who-knows-where. On either side, gargantuan looming cypress trees cast shadows. Twenty minutes ago, safe, nonchalant, having the loveliest of times with a group of mothers and daughters. Their laughter, food, generosity, a thing of the past.

Up ahead, the Adams Family. Somewhere along the road home, I took a wrong turn, or more. Hard to know without light. No oncoming traffic, either. Without benefit of road signs, finally I come around a bend and see a house perched atop hill. One solitary light blazes. Turning up the driveway, gravel spits at my car. Nearby, a large red scrawled sign reads "Dogs!" As if on cue from Central Casting, three full-grown Rottweilers, who appeared to have missed din-din, come barreling out of the darkness. Did I mention they were drooling? They are not pleased.

Choicepoint. If I go back without asking for help from this one solitary house, creepy though it is, I am surely lost. I see a huge, overalled figure looming beyond the curtains. Is that a gun he's picking up? All I know is that if I get out of the car, I'm at the very least, lunch for the dogs. Not good. Wandering in the night seems a better plan. By now, the man is on the porch screaming. I lock my doors and do my best to 'high-tail it outta there.' Shades of Alfred Hitchcock revisited.

I hit the main road breach. Which way to turn? Clueless, I go left, traveling about a mile. Heading deeper into a darkened forest, I pull over to the side. Ironically, I know full well I can't be more than an hour away from Seattle. No street lights, no cars no houses. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

If only a car would pass by. I whip on my emergency lights. I wait. Twenty minutes elapse. A green truck speeds by with a flag on the aerial. So much for emergency lights and Good Samaritans. A memory comes back. Sherri is telling me about the dangers of being alone on the road. A close friend of hers had picked up a hitchhiker . Weeks later, her body was found. Her heart had been cut out. So much for hitchhikers. Funny how the mind can have its way with you when fear sets in.

Anxiety is a misuse of the creative imagination. With no place to go, and no clue of what to do, I turn the key in the ignition. Maybe I should just sleep for a few hours until it gets light enough to see.

If there ever were a time for all my years of meditation's benefits to kick in, this is surely it. I am alone, adrift, scared, a full-grown woman reduced to three. Cell phone kaput. "No network," it says. My reading glasses, gonzo, too. You get the picture. Exhausting all options, I let go. Tune in, turn over. "Mother-Father God," I say, "Whatever name you prefer, please help me." Suddenly, everthing becomes still. An indigenous teaching story comes back, one translated by David Wagoner. "What do I do when I'm lost?" asks the youth of the elder. "What do you do when you are lost?" repeats the elder. "Stand still. Stand still. Let the forest find you. No two trees alike to raven, no two bushes alike to wren. Stand still."

Ah, yes, that old 'stand still' theme that shows up throughout human history, whenever humankind has gone astray. Let go the kneejerk reaction, the never -ending temptation to react out of fear of the unknown, rather than embrace what is before us. I breathe. I wait. One thing I know for certain: Creative Intelligence has a way of guiding in ways I never expect. Just now, a memory flashes. It is 14 months ago. I'm sitting in my driveway with my cousin. He's telling me: "Look, I know you don't think you'll ever need this thing. I just don't want you out there, as a woman, lost some time. Its just too dangerous." Opening the GPS system, he punches in some numbers. I placate him. Silently, I didn't plan on ever using it, and never did. So much so that I completely forgot I had one. Until, that is, the moment I asked for help.

I open the thing. It's now 10:50pm. All I can make out is a little icon that looks like a house. I hit the icon, and then the 'enter' button. Blessedly, it is in larger font than the others, which I cannot make out. E.T. phone home. Presto, a map shows up. Font too small to read. I brail 'voice,' and push 'enter.' Nothing. It dawns on me there can be no correction without resuming action. A time for stillness, out of which, a time for action. Too much of either creates a bigger problelm. Like magic, the moment I press the gas, 'her' voice comes on. I'll call her 'Sophie.' Still in the Unknown, I am not alone, but 'known,' 'She ' is with me.

Keys to Lost and Found. The problem is not getting lost, but rather, our relationship with it. The moment we stop fighting, an answer comes. Maybe not in the form expected, but it comes.

So, what can we do when we are lost? Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung pointed out that an answer to everything exists within the human psyche, even though we may be unconscious as to what it is. Whatever literal or figurative road you may be traveling, when lost, it's possible to choose to pull over, stop, breathe in/breathe out, and regain perspective. Help is on the way, if we make space to listen to incoming wisdom. But, this is not enough. When the time is right, we must act. Its not about getting it perfect. It is simply about getting into motion to allow for course correction. None of which happens without first unplugging from the noise. Not only from the outer world, but the cacophany inside our own heads. But then, that's a story for another time.

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