The very first thing we did in business school was hike a mountain. In total silence. In the middle of January. We were told to turn off our phones, left to retrieve some primordial skill of gauging the passing of time to know when to return to the parking lot. We were without maps, or compass, and even though the terrain was new to all of us, our professor was not the least bit concerned. Instead, she turned to us and grinned while she whispered the final words we’d hear all afternoon: “get lost”.
At which point I kind of freaked out. My family is here today and can attest to the fact that us Wheelers are experts at indecision. So I did what I do best – I immediately went into strategy mode. If I left now and didn’t look back, could I make it to the top of the mountain and back again, fitting in a workout without being stranded? Which path was going to bring me the best possible existential experience? Wait, where is he going? Why is he going that way? Does he know something I don’t know? It was a requisite stall - time for my inner pragmatist to resist our teacher’s instruction so that I could swiftly move through the first test of mindfulness practice, which is always all about watching how needlessly crazy we make ourselves.
After that, I was quickly carried away by the sound of the crust on the snow under my boot, the shadows cast by the few diehard leaves still dancing effortlessly in the breeze, the smell of distant wood stove fires. I stared for what felt like hours at a stream making its way to the river, noticing water flowing through and underneath ice, and wondered how it is that molecules come to the decision to freeze still or flow ahead. Precisely because no one was watching, I channeled my inner four year old and raced myself to the top of a hill.
And so, the joy and grace of getting lost is the very first, and very best, lesson I learned at Marlboro.
By being willing to get lost, we give our practical minds a much needed repose. By surrendering to the unknown, concerns about efficiency, productivity, or what path makes the best logical sense are released in exchange for our senses – all of them, all at once. Smartphone GPS applications are replaced with internal compasses – our intuition or our curiosity – that bring us to unforeseen heights and unknowable experiences.
By being willing to get lost, to let go of what we know, we find ourselves.
By venturing into the unknown, possibilities emerge that we never could have seen if we had stuck only with what we already know. The unknown is where true change happens.
One of our best science minds, Einstein, professed that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
I think one of our greatest challenges in being human today is learning how to not over think it, to not forget the gift of the intuitive mind.
Because even when we know we need to change, we resist and revert to good old rationale. Despite our highest aspirations to change the world, we settle for a steady job and good retirement benefits. Even though there is irrefutable evidence that our economic system is broken, we invent economic models to justify carrying on business as usual. And as sea levels rise, income inequality expands, and corporations assume personhood in order to enact anti-people policies, there is one essential piece of the puzzle that is all to easy to overlook: our ability to change.
At Marlboro, we learn how to change the world by seeing two things that are seemingly opposed as two parts of the same whole.
Building community through distance-learning.
Sustainability and business.
Getting lost to find your way.
This education is about becoming whole ourselves in order to create a world that is more whole.
I’m sure we all have an idea about what comes next. Life after grad school. We’ve given it thought, we’ve mapped out the various routes we can take, we’ve assessed the most practical path forward.
But the truth is: here we are again, on the edge of the unknown.
We’ve learned an immense amount in our studies. We’ve managed projects, created business plans, and become experts in our fields. All of this essential to be effective, to feel successful, to make an impact.
And, I encourage us to be willing to go beyond what we know. To not simply follow the next logical step, to not over think. I ask us to step away from what makes the most sense in order to return to our senses – the sound of the snow, the dance of that leaf, the smell of winter. To follow our intuition and our curiosity into what we don’t know, into what is possible.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about the unknown: “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Or, as Beverly, our professor at the base of that mountain on that day in January would say: Get Lost.