Finding Our Natural Directional Tools

Picture of a Cairn
Cairn's are common trail markers in areas without trees. Picture from mettem at

Life is not always easy.  It can throw us curve balls and keep us on our toes.  I find many people float through with no real sense of having control over their direction.  I recognize this, because it was my M.O. for quite a long time.

As you know a couple weeks ago, we were lucky enough to head out for some backpacking.  As we walked, one foot in front of the other I realized there was a lesson here for life.

Picture of tree trail marking.
This is a common trail marker used in forested areas. Picture copyright of Christine Lustik. Taken in the Anaconda Pintler wilderness.

In backpacking there is usually a trail, and in many cases the trail is pretty easy to follow.  When one is on national and state forest land you have wonderful organizations, like our local Montana Conservation Corps people that maintain the trails.  But you have to be aware of a few things.  Often there are other trails intersecting and you have to watch for the signs or you’ll find yourself headed in a different direction, hopefully sooner rather than later.  It’s common to see markings on trees and cairns telling us we are doing well.  These are forms of trail signage. But sometimes we find ourselves doing trails that are not well traveled and it’s easy to lose the trail.  In these circumstances, we use our compass, maps, GPS, and knowledge of these tools to find the trail and keep going in the right direction.  When we hiked the length of the Wyoming range it was common for the trail to just disappear and we’d stop to assess the situation and use our tools.

Easy trail
There are easy to follow trails that are also a pleasure to walk. Not to many tripping opportunities, easy walking. Picture copyright of Christine Lustik.

Similar things happen in life.  Sometimes we are following well marked trails.  For example, getting through school we follow the crowds and we have teachers and advisers keeping us on track.  But throughout life there are lots of ways we can lose ourselves and our direction, even in situations that seem well marked!  I would argue this is one of the main reasons to practice Mindfulness.  When born we are provided with a set of natural tools that are always with us and we can use them to keep us moving in the right direction.  These tools for life include our body, breath, thoughts, emotions, and feelings.  These tools tell us when we are headed in the right or wrong direction, if we practice paying attention to them.

Many of us have been at a point in life when we purposefully did not listen to these warning signs telling us danger, wrong road, TURN AROUND!  These tend to be the times we know – we just don’t want to hear it, or aren’t ready to hear it, for whatever reason.  BUT, the breath was trying to tell us something was wrong.  It was probably shallow and fast, possibly a little more focused on the inhale.  The body was also warning us with signs such as, increased heart-rate, headaches, tightening in our throat or chest, inability to sleep, or consternation in our digestive system and abdomen.

Rock Trail
Then there are trails like this. They aren't as easy to follow and they aren't even easy to be on, they are naturally hard and cause some pain - But, you can see the trail gets easier! Picture copyright of Christine Lustik.

It’s possible our feelings and sensations were on high alert, there’s a buzzing or tingling we may feel in the head or limbs when we are excited or anxious; in various places in our body we might feel tightness, discomfort, even sharp pains.  Our emotions are likely trying to get our attention and fluctuating between worry, discomfort, and anxiety.  Even if we consciously override or ignore those feelings and focus on the supposed happiness or calm we are getting from the activity that is heading us down the wrong path, we can still feel the general sense of dis-ease.

How are you using the natural tools we are given to help assure you are on the right path?  My need for these tools is no longer to keep me out of the unhealthy and dangerous activities of a college student; but I still use these tools throughout every day life to tell me things like:  Is this project really the direction that fits my goals?  Is this how my time is best spent? How can I communicate in the most skillful way with this person?  How can I take care of my health in the best way today that also meets my food and time needs?  Pretty much any dilemma I face, my body and breath can help me with.

I invite you to practice listening to your natural directional tools and trusting them.  You can begin by gently closing your eyes right now and just following your breath in and out 3 times with curiosity.  Practice listening to it.  Does it have anything to share?

Daily Mindfulness Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration

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