Finding Your Path, Your True North

Expert navigators know that by following the North Star they can find their way wherever they want to go.

As a metaphor for life, true north is both easy and difficult to follow. It requires the willingness to listen to the wisdom of our heart and surrender to that wisdom. Surrender is difficult because we don’t believe the wisdom. Few of us are intimate with the wisdom of our hearts, so we don’t recognize it.

A woman named Cheryl embarked upon a journey to intimacy with the wisdom of her heart. Grieving the death of her mother, she couldn’t find her true north. Seeing a brochure describing the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), she decided to hike the trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada. She admitted she didn’t know why; she only knew she was a woman “with a hole in her heart” who hoped the hole would be healed as she hiked.

Cheryl’s true north was hidden from view by the cloud of her mother’s death. Her mother had been the focal point and compass of Cheryl’s life for 22 years. Losing that, Cheryl’s grief became her focal point. Everything she did from that time, even the decision to hike the PCT, was to assuage her grief.

As Cheryl hiked the PCT her mind became clear. Just as she saw the landscape she walked from the perspective and panorama of the PCT, her perception of her life and her mother’s life and death began to come into focus. She could see with a clearer vision.

Cheryl’s focus became the trail and her own survival. Blisters on her feet, water to drink and food to eat, where to camp at night, staying alert because of the threat of wildlife- bears, wolves, coyotes, rattlesnakes-enveloped her mind and her engulfing grief began to lessen. Near the end of the trail, standing on the ridge of Crater Lake in Oregon, she realized the hole in her heart had begun to fill. As she hiked the PCT she found her true north. Though it had been with her all the while, she hadn’t recognized it. Having the courage to set out on the trail and endure the months of her journey, she discovered a strength she didn’t know she had. Facing her fears and surviving the hardships of walking a wilderness trail, alone for many weeks, she discovered the person she always was: a brilliant writer, a loving, faithful wife and a mother to equal her own. The PCT pointed the way to her True North, her true self.

Most of us have a hole in our hearts, without the eloquence to know what to call it. We yearn for something and try to fulfill that yearning with food, drugs, work, shopping, and other addictions. All addictions are simply something we use to fill the hole in our hearts because we don’t know how to listen to our heart wisdom. In our own ways, we’ve walked a PCT, trying to find our true north, trying to fill the hole in our hearts. And the irony is, the distance we have to travel is just inches, from our heads to our hearts!

True north, our true self, that for which we yearn, is always silently waiting right where we are. True North is never found outside ourselves. Though she found her true north while hiking the PCT, it was the time Cheryl spent becoming intimate with herself, discovering the strength of her character, that led her to her true self.

When we’re struggling with our addictions, we’re walking the PCT, allegorically. Our paths twist and turn and lead us to places we didn’t intend, or even want, to go, as, blinded by our addictions, we chase one thing then another. Without the journey, we can’t reach the destination. That’s the human condition. How often we say, “No pain, no gain”? We don’t appreciate our good until we’ve experienced heartaches. That’s the lie we’ve been told and we’ve accepted it as the truth.

The “real” truth is that our true north is as steady and real and clear as the North Star. When we step outside on a clear night and look up, it’s there. It will guide us home if we let it.

When we listen to our hearts, when we silence the noise of our minds, we discover our True North. It will guide us to our purpose, our reason for being.

There are clues all around for finding True North: what makes you feel alive? What makes every cell in your body tingle with life? What is it that gives you the greatest feeling of accomplishment?

That’s your True North, your True Self.

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Finding True North

I love maps and I’m fascinated by Global Positioning Systems (GPS). It’s amazing to me that a tiny electronic device can pinpoint my exact location anywhere I am and guide me to my destination. When traveling in an unknown city, I often have both a map and a GPS in my lap, trying to find my way.

Maps differ from a GPS in that they offer possibilities, while a GPS, if programmed correctly, will lead you where you want to go and let you know when you’ve gone astray, loudly! “As soon as possible, make a u-turn and go….”. Over and over…ack! Turn that thing off!

I like the possibilities of maps, but when I have a destination and a deadline, a GPS is better. It takes me where I want to go without deviation.

Then there is the compass. Compasses point the way, but there are variations, because of the magnetic pull of the earth. If I want to find true north, a magnetic compass will not help. True north is different from magnetic north. Magnetic north varies from place to place because of local magnetic anomalies. To find true north from a magnetic compass I need to know the local magnetic variation. A good map will have magnetic deviations marked. Magnetic north differs from true north because of magnetic declination, a measure of the angle between true north and magnetic north. True north is a geographical direction, represented on maps by longitudinal lines. Each line of longitude begins and ends at the Earth’s polar and represents north and south travel. Finding your way north by following longitudinal lines may be tricky; you may encounter impassable terrain or other obstacles. A magnetic compass will lead to your destination, but you may wander and zigzag.

The simple way to find true north is to use a GPS, which tells you where you are. Be selecting true north on your GPS and entering your destination, the GPS will show you how to get there.

True North has become a metaphor for life. Everyone has a True North; it is something within that calls us. How we find it depends on our choices. Sometimes the choice is made because we hear the call clearly. Some people know from a very young age what is calling them and they don’t let anything stop them from heeding the call. Some people may know but they become deterred or distracted. And some people don’t hear or don’t trust themselves.

True North doesn’t pull you toward it or tell you how to get there. It does, however, point you in the direction, when you look and listen.

There is a True North for your life. It is uniquely you. No one else has the same True North. It is an internal compass that will guide you through life successfully, if you will consult it. Your True North is you at your deepest level – your passions, your values and what motivates you. It represents what gives you satisfaction. True North is your point of orientation and leads you forward.

Finding your True North is both easy and difficult. Easy, because all you have to do is pay attention and listen. Difficult because you have to listen and make the commitment. Most of us don’t want to take the time or make the commitment. We often don’t trust ourselves. We’re so busy following the compass, we zigzag when the quickest way might have been to go straight. How do you know what your True North is? It’s so simple we often ignore it. There is an inner knowing, a “gut feeling”. Is there something you love to do, just for the sheer joy of doing it? That’s your True North. Pay attention to how you feel and you’ll learn what your True North is – you’ll learn what satisfies you, what makes you happy.

If you’ll take the time to consult your internal compass, you’ll always be led in the right direction. Finding your True North is applicable to every area in your life: you’ll find true joy in your work, your play, your relationships. You’ll know who you are at a very deep level and that knowledge will guide you in every thing you do.

And when you are seduced and get off track ( and you will!) your internal compass will let you know. You’ll have an internal knowing, that “gut feeling”, that something is wrong and you need to make corrections.

Consider this: what makes your heart sing? What, when you’re doing it, gives you such pleasure that time flies? Think about that…that’s your True North.