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Sense of Direction

Perhaps the most stressful part of our entire trip to Ireland in June was the driving and navigating. It wasn’t so much driving on the opposite side of the road, as the fact that almost all of their roads are extremely narrow.  Every time a truck or bus came the other way I cringed, sure that there was not enough room to get by.  And every time we drove through a town we would lose track of the road signs telling us which way to continue on to our destination.  My husband did all of the driving, mostly because we had to rent a stick shift car, and I was the navigator.  In my everyday life, directions are not my strong suit.  I seem to have a poor sense of geographical intelligence.  Even when I was growing up in New York City, I would get off the subway near where I lived and depending which exit I left from it would take me a moment to get oriented.  I can help navigate as long as I have a good map in front of me, but it is something I really have to work at to keep straight in my mind.

After just a couple of days of driving in Ireland, however, I began to have this sense of what direction we should go in if we got a little lost. And I was right every single time.  Back at home, I can almost count on the right direction being opposite to the one I think it is, but in Ireland I connected to this intuitive knowing in a way that startled me with its accuracy.  There was something wonderful about suddenly knowing which direction to take without much thought.   I began to trust myself in ways I had never done before.

I would like to say that returning to the States, that I kept this magical inner knowing.  Alas, having taken two more trips since then, I find myself back in my usual state of geographical challenge.  I am so puzzled by this.  What was it about the landscape of Ireland that shifted me into a whole other way of being?  I tend to be someone who generally has a good sense of my own direction when considering things other than physical geography.   And yet, there was such a beautiful sense of confidence I developed for a time there that was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  One thing it signals me to honor are the insights I had while in that ancient place about myself and the spiritual journey.  It feels like an invitation to trust deeply the knowing I had there in all of its forms.  Ironically some of my most moments of deepest clarity while in Ireland were about the way my spiritual path continues to unfold organically–as I continue to let go of the map I’d like to create for myself, I discover myself in even more wondrous landscapes than I ever could have planned.  I continue to be invited to live into this very moment and all of its revelations about the shape my life wants (needs) to take.

How is your sense of direction these days?  What is the path you are following?  Where are you being invited to go?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

(street sign in Cong, Ireland)

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5 Responses

  1. Interesting, indeed. As a coastal Californian, I have generally an accurate sense of direction, based upon my deeply-implanted sense of where the Pacific Ocean is, relative to my physical location.

    However, last week while on an aimless sort of day trip, I pulled off the highway for a sign that advertised, “Labyrinth Open”. Needing such a tool, I decided to check it out. It was made of 10-foot high bales of hay. And I discovered upon inquiring that the labyrinth path had been changed — into a maze. I decided to give it a go anyway.

    There were a lot of dead ends. And confusing doorways. Certainly no obvious path, and an hour into the task, completely disoriented, tired, hot, thirsty and in need of the restroom, I decided that I Do Not Care For Mazes at all. I did make it out — though through the front door again, not the exit — thirty minutes later.

    As a metaphor, I believe that God has placed me on a labyrinth, not a maze, and though the path twists and turns in unexpected ways, the way is always sure, always complete, and always brings me home….

  2. Tess, I agree that some of the detours have taken me to the most delightful places. I really enjoy laying aside the map.

    Bette, yes I probably did have my inner compass tuned. Although I have often traveled with no improvement in my sense of direction. I think it was something about the landscape itself, I felt such a kinship to it. I love your skylight image.

    Pam, I agree that we have lost our trust in other ways of knowing, logic rules in our culture and I think that is a tremendous loss. I find intuition and dreams a much more interesting and accurate guide.

  3. When I have gone to other countries, I haven’t noticed a better sense of direction, but I certainly have found out that my eyes are open in a totally different way. Since there is so much new around me, I am much more aware of my surroundings. It is usually my primary focus. I am always wondering about what is around the next corner.

    At home, I tend to take “the way” for granted and have many distractions. My mind is often more likely to be on my “to do” list (or poetry) than on where I am driving. This would all lead one to have a better sense of direction in foreign countries. The challenge is to stay as “awake” at home. Your observations and pondering about “inner knowing” could lead down some interesting paths.

    As women have been more involved in the work world, I believe that we have tended to trust and use our intuition less. It is a great loss. There are many ways to come to “know” and it does not have to be all defined by the external.

  4. perhaps your sense of direction improved there because you were anticipating this journey and ancient landscape as a spiritual quest — you were more ‘aware’ and open to ‘signs’ and those irish cairn ‘markers’ :) when i go to a very special place, i always turn on my inner compass to focus so i don’t miss a beat or a scene or a message from Nature . . .the Sacred.

    i believe the here and now, each moment, is our Path. and what i’m dealing with now is just trying to take it all in and make it a good one. to open up the skylight and let my true Joy shine.

  5. Interesting, I wonder what it was about Ireland that transformed your navigational ability.
    When I first moved to the town where I now live, I found it difficult to navigate because all the roads looked the same. Now after some years I know exactly where I’m going and even if I do stray out of the way a bit can easily find my way home.
    I’m not sure if the same is true of my spiritual life and I’m not sure if I want it to be true. Sometimes we can find really interesting places when we lose our way.