Imagine we had a compass…

This thought experiment came to me while out sailing with a friend.

What if we discovered that our boat has a compass? What if we had no idea what it was, or how it worked? There it sat. And, at times we would notice certain apparent coincidences. Certain alignments with other things we were familiar with: the position of the sun, the direction towards home….

How would this unfold?

This is the position we are in regarding proprioception and an awareness of awareness. It shows us how difficult it is to attempt to talk about it with someone who has not recognized their compass – or even that such a thing might exist.

Take this as the extreme case, the archetype, played out in our obsession with technology. We want a GPS to tell us where to go. We’re not concerned with how it works: we believe in Progress!™ So we gain comfort from the aura of mystery we allow to settle over its workings. So accustomed to hearing an external voice declaiming what and where we should go we’ve lost all track of any other possibility. We cover our weakness with an identification with the power we ascribe to this external force: Technology, Modernity, Capitalism, Rationalism….

There is great fear and trepidation if we even consider turning the device off, “How will we keep from getting lost?”

The only thing that helps our resolve is a growing sense that we are already lost. We console ourselves, “What do I have to lose?”

Without turning off those external voices, and they are everywhere, we cannot carve the psychic space in which to discover any alternative. Every minor fear and trepidation finds an easy answer declared by voices clamoring for our attention.

There are countless roads back into normal.

If we can get this far we begin to see that this realization itself has brought something to light. Some connection is made. We feel a twinge – not of our customary dread – a twinge… could this be Joy! Whatever it is it connects with some internal pathway that draws us to recognize a source of strength we had not realized before. Each time we stumble upon this awareness we feel – not more certain. If anything our certainties are dissolving around us! We feel… some kind of connection… some kind of centered-ness… some kind of strength flowing through us. And we begin to recognize that – as mysterious as this turns out to be – it holds true.

We don’t need to know how a compass works to be guided by it. In fact, it may be better to hold its workings as a mystery than to develop reductive theories and explanations that lead to a false sense of certainty.

Not knowing how a GPS works – how any of the complex technologies we surround ourselves with work – is not the same thing. They are not mysterious. They are brutally mundane. They work “like clockwork.” Everything about their functioning is known – by someone – and its powers are limited by the finite-ness of their binary foundations. We attempt to add a gloss of belief to give them an aura they do not deserve. We set them up as idols.

When we confront mystery, as in the mystery of our internal compass, we are approaching a true mystery. We are holding its workings in awe because it shows us a glimpse of the infinite. The unlimited.

The difference between these two experiences can be seen in our responses. The ersatz belief in Technology brings us into a weak position of wishing to be wrapped up in something outside ourselves we want to believe is powerful: We want to feel strength by association. When we approach a mystery like our internal compass we find in our every contact with it that we grow stronger in our selves as we recognize how interconnected we are. We find ourselves at this point of distinction between strength and power.



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Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

6 thoughts on “Imagine we had a compass…

  1. Hi Tony,
    Great question ! Maybe the best answer is another question. What would we do if all the technology failed at the same time, by way of massive elector-magnetic pulse( EMP), man made or major solar flare. Suddenly , that smartphone doesn’t work, your jet liner looses it’s gps mid flight over the Atlantic and it’s compass blinks off line. Your laptop goes black, all your memory files disappear. phones go dead, car wont start, power grid goes down, etc. Kaputt! There wont be an (APP) for that, or for anything else, for that matter.

    Our basic survival skills have been augmented backwards as even basic memory skills have faded. What do you really “know” anymore? You are so accustomed to having answers available at the key stroke. How do you communicate, how do you process mathematically. We are tech savvy, and hopelessly trapped thinking that technology is always the only answer. Every technology is dependent upon other technologies.

    Some of us, still know how to harvest seed for food crops, make fire and perpetuate it, work stone and clay, and metal, in primitive ways, know animal husbandry, and maybe know how to use a slide rule. Some of us can still find water, dig a well and not do it too close to the pit privy. Some of us can still work with hand tools to build structures . But most people would be utterly thrown into a state of confusion, fear, and social collapse.

    Eventually confusion would settle down and society would have to take pause and re-align itself. Taking stock of where you are, needs to come first. Then you can begin. I think it would be exhilarating as you regained lost skills or learned new ones. No longer a slave to the media, we could learn to have our own thoughts again,instead of regurgitating the same tired old banal structured beliefs and politics, re- set a moral compass, be neighbors again, or be enemies .

    So, you are on this vessel, and you find This strange disc and it’s little arrow, and you are amazed at it’s insistence to point in the same direction. You gain a strange trust in this object as you realize it points in a line perpendicular to the sunrise and sun set. You develop this relationship with it , and it answers two questions for you. It knows North and it knows South. From that information you can derive where you were and where you are going. It can’t predict what you will find when you get where you’re headed.


    1. John,

      You’ve taken this in a different direction. All that you say here is true.

      One problem we have with scolding ourselves and/or others is that it doesn’t really help. One of the most salient points of our predicament is that we know all about what’s going wrong and how dangerous it is. Behind all the bluster, things wouldn’t be at this point of hysteria if most people didn’t sense that something was seriously wrong.

      I keep returning to a “next step.” What I’ve found in dialogue with Jeff is that I don’t mean a next step as in a plan, although that’s often how it is interpreted. I mean “this step.” What do we do now?

      Ego drama always wants to take us back into futility. Its only haven is keeping our spirit smothered in its machinations. It’s why a sense of urgency can be so damaging.

      In an actual emergency we don’t waste our efforts on feeling urgency. We do what we can and there’s often a preternatural calm that descends. What we can do is either sufficient or it’s not. The result will be what it will be.

      That’s not how we feel when we get wrapped-up in thinking about disaster. That’s when the horror stories come out. No matter how well founded, they don’t help.

      One of the difficult things I’ve been working on getting across is how our minds can work when we’re not whip-sawed by fear and trapped in the ruts of our conditioning. There is an approach to mystery that comes forward. There is an approach to awe. There is a sense of finding action and witnessing how it unfolds, instead of the panicked striving to fit our experience into some preconception and wrestling to dominate a situation.

      As sailors we are familiar with this attitude and how it comes upon us in times of calm and in times of storm. The lesson I’d like to point to is that we need to be aware of how we are thinking, whether caught in reaction or ready to respond.

      That’s where this compass analogy comes in. It’s a thought experiment on how we might approach a mystery in a way that actually brings us closer to the sources of our strength. There’s something about the need for a quiet, open, and wide attention that we need to cultivate so that something like this misunderstood compass would start to make sense to us. We could so easily get caught-up in the drama of our deficiencies, real or imagined, and never free the attention needed to begin to find this “relationship…” As you say, “It can’t predict what you will find when you get where you’re headed.” But it can help us if we are open to discovering what it can do.

      I’m not saying that you didn’t understand the point here, just raising some cautions concerning our predisposition to stay focused on what is wrong. I like to say that when we’re hemmed in by obstacles we need to be calm enough to be looking for the open spaces between them. So many skidding tire tracks end at the base of a lone tree. We hit what we’re aiming at!



      1. Tony,

        Somehow this reminds me of the old pilot saying, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing . ”

        There are times that there are no choices to choose from, or at least no rational choices. Sometimes you just hang on tight , close your eyes , and let things sort themselves out. Other times, i
        f there is wisdom to be had , the best may be to just let go.

        Have a good time in Denmark. My wife just returned from there.


  2. Tony,
    I am afraid that i may have been sounding apocalyptic. That wasn’t where I was trying to go at all. I was trying to point out that we are fettered with the dependence and faith upon technology( as well as extraneous belief systems). That faith keeps us vulnerable, and rather oblivious to faculties we no longer employ, such as your inner compass. Being disoriented is one way to begin the listening, and recognition of inner senses, and instinct, wonder and joy. Like walking or sailing in a fog. when your blindness forces you to hear the shore, or listen for the returning voice of your own bell echoed from a bluff.


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