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Navigating the Wilderness

There are so many wonderful places we can go to visit, to explore, to understand, to learn from and take in to the depths of our souls. The ability to be captivated by all of the surroundings, to be taken in so far that the beginning or the edge of the path is completely lost to your wanderings. There are after all, so many endless possibilities to veer off on, the ridge to the east, the river cascade, the beautiful grove of trees, or even a soft sandy beach. There is always more than one path, more than one view or perspective and each individual will find something that invigorates them or terrifies them that will be utterly different from your own.

There is always the possibility of straying off course too far, getting turned around and loosing all sense of direction. Especially when a storm rolls through in the middle of the darkest hour, the trail becomes overgrown, it is completely unmarked, you lost your compass or the batteries died in your GPS. Most of the time, embarrassingly, any situation where a problem arises can be traced to a lack of preparation. There are some quick ways to navigate these situations to make it through all of the panic, the chaos, and the fear to make it home and be grounded once again.

The first step in any situation where there is a need for reorienting without any tools on hand is to breathe. One large deep breathe can amazingly bring you back to the ground and provide your brain a good dose of oxygen to do what needs to be done the most...thinking. Now we can look at three great ways to navigate through the wilderness with tools that simply come from yourself.

Navigate by the Sun

There are a few ways to do this and it does depend on the season and which hemisphere you are in, but I will assume the Northern Hemisphere. If it is in early morning the sun rises in the east, but it only rises exactly east in the fall equinox. In the summer, it will rise in the northeast and set in the northwest. It moves further and further south into winter, where is rises southeast and sets southwest.

Another way to use the sun is to know that it is always crossing the southern sky, so when it is highest in mid-day, it is directly south.

A third way is to make a sun-dial, which I absolutely love to do but it takes some time. Place a stick into the ground so the sun sends a shadow out of the stick. Place another stick at the end of the shadow. After an hour or more, you will notice that the shadow has moved, place another stick at the end of the new shadow location. Now, draw a line between the two shadow-end sticks and that is your east-west line.

Of course, you can always look to see where the shadows are cascading in the first place. The light always has the ability to illuminate everything in front of you showing you all of the beautiful things right in front of you as well as all of the shadows and hazards. It is important to pay attention to what it is revealing and that it is always showing you exactly where you need to go and where you need to avoid. Knowing this can eliminate so much fear and anxiety that it usually prevents the situation in the first place.

Navigating by the Stars

Most of us have heard that you can navigate with the north-star but you have to know how to find it. First, find the big dipper which is that giant scoop in the sky. Regardless of the direction of the dipper, if you trace an imaginary line from the edge of the scoop you will find a very bright star. This is actually the first star of the handle of the little dipper, and it is called Polaris. Once you have north, you have south, east and west. Even when the sun disappears for the night there is always light to light up the darkest places and show is the way to go. We just have to know where to look.

Line of Sight

This is a simple and practical way of not loosing your way. If you have a course charted, or at least know which direction you need to head, it is helpful following a ridge line, or a water way or even a large tree and keeping it on one side of you. In addition, stop and find a prominent object to walk to where you will still be able to see where you are now. Tie a piece of cloth in the tree or put a stick in the ground before walking to the next spot. When you are at the new spot, make sure you can see the location where you just came from, including your marker. Try to avoid breaking or defacing tree branches on a large scale. This allows you to always know where you came from and track your progress. Knowing where you came from makes it easier to stay on a straighter path as well as clarifying where you need to go next.

The Wilderness is Everywhere

Everywhere we go we are surrounded by wilderness, whether that is out in the mountains, the desert, the ocean, your campsite, a city, a foreign city, an airport, your office, your family relationships, your friend's relationships, your fear, your vulnerability, your anxiety, your insecurities, etc. This does not mean it is something to be feared or avoided, on the contrary, it is something to know, to understand and to shed light on, even if it is just a little bit.

There is so much that must be navigated through on a daily basis but with the proper tools, practice and preparation it all becomes known, familiar and predictable. More importantly, your own reactions become known, familiar and predictable. It is essential to know the way, not through fighting with clenched fists and gritted teeth, but with grace, confidence, patience, awe and amazement. It is OK to mark where you have been to lead you to the next place, not because the previous place is terrible or not suitable. It's actually always beautiful because otherwise you wouldn't have gotten to the next one. We all have the tools and knowledge to find our way through whatever wilderness we find ourselves in without anger, confusion or resentment, for these things are what leaves those lost and never to be found.

"When we can truly be ourselves, it is quite relaxing"

Suggested Reading:

Braving The Wilderness; by Brene Brown

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why; by Laurence Gonzales

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1 Comment

Sue Pijacki
Sue Pijacki
Aug 05, 2020

I'm reading Brene Brown now. This is a beautiful article. It is amazing we can get so easily lost but being mindful and open and planning is so helpful. I feel I have come a long way in the past few weeks. I have Sohum to thank for pointing me in the right direction. Thank you

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