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Locating North...

A friend invited Robyn and me to a dinner party last weekend. It was not a typical social: requiring the usual small talk about our lives and the party banter about jobs, kids and illnesses. John invited us to come prepared for a more in-depth and reflective conversation. In preparation, we were asked to listen to a radio interview with an anthropologist who has studied the phenomena of talking to God and listening to God- speaking back. The CBC Tapestry program is available here. It was a meaningful conversation together in the midst of great food and much wine. In our new co-operative home, we talk about having these ‘conversations that matter’. I find great value in these intentional practices that give us permission to go deeper into life and learning.

The anthropologist in the interview made a passing reference to how our minds create ‘maps’: these internal and cultural maps provide us with an understanding of our inner and outer terrain and topography. This got me to thinking this week about maps.

I love maps. I have enjoyed spending time pouring over atlases and topo maps. This is especially true when visualizing an upcoming hiking trip. In the outdoors, I value having a map in my hands especially when I am off the beaten trail.

As much as I enjoy and value maps, they have gotten me into trouble. The problem I have encountered with maps, especially the mental and cultural varieties, is that they often mislead me. I am too confident in the map as a guide for reality. A couple of squiggly lines on a topo map- easily traversed in my imagination- becomes impassable cliffs in stark reality. I have been lost in the thick fog in the alpine when my map is useless. When there are no reference points in the real 3-D world then this 2-D representation on a piece of paper serves no purpose.

So when I hike, I have another valuable piece of equipment that I always take with me. This little item has served me well. It is a small, very light plastic disc. The disc encases some water that floats a small magnetic needle: a compass. My compass requires no batteries and no satellite uplinks. It is very sensitive and also incredibly durable. It operates just as well in high winds, thick fog, blowing snow and scorching heat.

What my compass tells me is very simple: what direction I am facing. That’s it. It is often enough. Many times, my compass provides me with enough reference- enough direction- that I am able to line up my map; that hill and that creek on the map all magically line up with reality. But only when I am facing the right way!

My mind is busy making maps! My hectic mind does not know anything about direction.

My heart is a compass (compass plus three small letters becomes compassion). It is sensitive and durable. In the thickest fogs and blizzards, it has been my heart that kept me moving forward to safety, even when I didn’t know all the details as to where I was. I at least knew what direction I was walking.

When I am in balance, when my hand is steady, and when I am taking the time to notice, my heart knows north.

This intersection of life- this inner teacher- lines me up and gives me a bearing. My heart knows enough to reveal to me enough wisdom that I can make sense of the maps I have created.


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