I’ve been learning how to navigate with topographic map and compass. Despite trekking over what must have been several thousand miles in the Himalayas (not to mention the Western US), my knowledge of maps has been sketchy; of compasses, nil. So it adds a new dimension to an old passion.
And it’s fascinating to watch the compass needle’s quivering ancient dance, a bit of magic lodged in a cheap plastic case.
North is the universal orienting point, at least in this culture. I’m fascinated by the fact that there are two Norths: Magnetic North, where the compass needle points, and True North — the direction of the North Pole. The two seldom line up, so it’s necessary to compensate the declination by degrees that depend on your actual location.
It all reminds me of the process of interior navigation, navigating through life. We have the Magnetic North of our instincts: where the needle is naturally drawn — wholeness. And the True North of the map: how we think things should be, how we would like them to be — the ideal of perfection. Which do we choose as our guide, and how do we steer our course? At the very least, we need to be aware of the difference between the two (sometimes quite large), and take that into account. Sometimes a situation doesn’t live up to our ideals, yet we’re still drawn to it, by instinct or emotion.