On Navigation

In this world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself. -Frantz Fanon

I realized recently that I’m not a great navigator. I’m not horrible, but sometimes I make some really bad decisions while trying to find my way. Generally, mistakes come from either not trusting my instincts or from losing track of where I am in the journey. This got me thinking about navigation in the broader sense — philosophically, of course. Lucky you.

I believe it’s more important to have a sense of where you are over where you are going, as you will be more equipped to adjust course in the face of adversity and navigate the obstacle rather than chase an expectation for the future. Yes, you must define a destination in order for there to be any journey at all, but there is more than one way to reach any given spot. And, ultimately, it may be a completely different destination that you arrive at. And that’s OK. Let go of attachment to outcome.

At any given time, a professional pilot will have an emergency landing location in mind. The closest or most feasibly reached known location to put the plane down safely if something were to go wrong that very moment. During a flight, this location may change depending on the current location of the plane. And at some points when this happens, there must be a defined threshold — a point at which the switch occurs. But in reality this threshold is far less sharp, and there is likely a range over which either plan would be virtually equal in their pros or cons, and that might even depend on the particular emergency. So if you know where you are, you can be most prepared for the unexpected. If you are focused on the destination rather than today, you may ultimately lose sight of what you will do when life throws you a curveball. Or you make a mistake.

There are no straight lines. Life is not a straight line. Time is not even a straight line. We have this urge to set things out in a certain way that fits with the stories we know, because we use stories to remember what we know. But this is an illusion, because it lacks detail. It lacks the heartache and the losses and the glory and the victory and the dirty and the sublime experiences that life throws our way. These are the things that are the most different between people(s), and so no visual model of life could ever hope to generalize this accurately. Yet still we treat life as quite linear and straight-forward, leaving us with a skewed perception of how to evaluate ourselves as we go along.

The term ‘full-circle’ is generally used in a positive way, to explain when seeds sown in earlier years come to harvest relatively unexpectedly at some later date. To go full circle is to round things out — to not fall victim to the straight-line model and to understand that to finish where you started is OK, as long as the path taken to get there was virtuous. Ultimately, it is OK not to know where you will end up. Choose the right path, focus on it and have faith in it, and the ending will write itself.

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