Why You Need to Find North. Right Now.

FM 21-76 US Army Survival Manual.

That title was my favorite book as a kid. It was my guide to an imaginary world of danger and adventure in the backyard. A way for my pretending to feel much more like reality.

My favorite section in the manual was on navigation. I have always had a love for maps. Old maps, new maps, digital maps, hand-drawn maps – any map for that matter. All of it fascinated me.

If I ever had an alternate life, I think I would have become a cartographer.

Navigating without a map.

As a kid, cartographer was not the first thing on my mind. Being a wild woodsman who carried around a stick (that was my knife, okay?) and a knapsack was the most important priority. And every good woodsman has to know how to find his way in the backwoods.

When I would get lost (in the backyard), it was time to put those survival skills to use. After reading the US Army Survival Manual, I attempted to find North using only one stick and two stones.

Here is how you do it:

  1. Find a straight stick that is about 3 feet long. Stick it in the ground in an open, sunny location. The stick should be casting a strong shadow on the ground.
  2. Mark the end of the shadow with a stone (or just mark the ground). The longer you wait, the more accurate the reading.
  3. Mark the end of the second shadow with a stone (or just mark the ground). Draw a straight line connecting these two marks
  4. The first mark will always be WEST and the second mark will always be EAST. If you stand on the line, left foot on the first mark and right foot on the second mark, you will be facing NORTH.

And that is how you tell direction with a simple stick and two stones. The key is to:

  • Stop
  • Wait
  • Orient

Stopping to navigate.

Losing your cool in a survival situation can mean life or death. By stopping to orient, you give yourself not only direction but also confidence.

But isn’t that what we want in life? Don’t we all want to know where we are going? To go with confidence?

Then we look at this swirling chaos called life. More than ever, direction and confidence seem like distant mirages. Some respond by giving up. Others respond by trying to ignore. Very few stop and orient.

the north star

If you take a long exposure shot of the night sky, you will see thousands and thousands of concentric circles. Each line is a star moving through the sky (okay, we’re moving not the stars…but you get what I’m saying).

In the midst of all these swirling stars, there is one star that never moves. One immovable that will guide you North. One constant you can rely on to point you in the right direction. That star is called Polaris.

Also known as the North Star.

a greater reality

Just like that North Star, there is a greater reality that exists beyond us. Something that never changes or falters. An Immovable to guide you forward. A Constant to point you in the right direction.

And this Truth can help you not just navigate life, but navigate life well. To move forward in the right direction. To pursue that direction with confidence. To go where you were meant to go and do what you were meant to do.

But if you rush through life without ever stopping to think and orient, how do you know if you are going in the right direction? What if you get to the end and you realize it was all wasted?

This is not just life or death.

You’re navigating life itself.