In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy the main character, Lyra, is given a special instrument called a golden compass, or alethiometer. This intricate device can answer any question formed in the mind of the user, including what will happen in the future. Rather than point North, the compass directs the user to the truth, as its hands move across 36 symbols on the face of the instrument. The challenge is that it takes years of study to understand how to read the alethiometer and interpret its answers. After practising, Lyra finds that she has a special gift of interpreting the instrument, using her innate intuition and wisdom, which gives her special powers.
Similar to the alethiometer in this story, we all explore future possibilities and want to find the truth about people and situations that affect us. Although we can’t see the actual future, we make decisions and choose options. While some choices may work out well, others may be impulsive and could lead to future difficulties. For instance, we agree to have another few drinks and wake up the next morning with a hangover. At the other end of the scale, we may have started relationships that were not good for us, or made other choices in our lives that we later regretted.
When we reflect on times of difficulty, we may find that we were a bit oblivious to our gut feelings and intuition and not aware enough of what we were getting into. Even though we go through years of formal education, there’s no comprehensive manual for being human; although we do our best, we can easily make mistakes and sometimes head off in the wrong direction.
What if there was an inner compass; a way of checking in with ourselves when we make decisions, that’s like our own internal alethiometer?
Practising mindfulness means working skillfully with our present-moment experience, without judgement, resistance or avoidance; being open to and accepting the truth behind a situation, a person, or environment. By being open and aware we create the space for options and choices to emerge, which we can then evaluate using the skill of discernment, rather than habitual, and reactive judgement. When we judge, we see the world in a limited, binary way; good or bad, black or white, or things I like or don’t like. Discernment takes a more sophisticated and open perspective, appreciating the complexity, nuances, different colours and shades of reality, which is always closer to the truth. As Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Whether we choose judgement or discernment, we fix our mindset to be either limited, or open to possibilities.
So how can we cultivate our inner compass and consult our inner alethiometer, when we come across an important new situations, people or decisions in our experience?
- The first condition is that we’re awake and aware; not fuzzy, half-asleep and drifting off in thought, but clear and open to our experience in the present moment.
- We need to hold back for a moment, from jumping in habitually, reacting impulsively or judging.
- Being open and creating the space for options to emerge.
- Then, using discernment rather than judgement, asking the simple question “Is this unhelpful and limiting, or helpful and expanding? “
- And responding with openness and kindness to what emerges.
We make evaluations, choices and decisions every day, from the food we eat, the clothes we wear, to the people we build relationships with. It’s not that we have to use our inner compass for all of these, but over time as we reduce old habit patterns, reactivity and judgement and build discernment, we may well discover that we’re healthier, happier and are in more fulfilling relationships and careers.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second one to practice to explore your inner compass.
Suggested weekly practice
- Notice and explore when you use habitual and limiting judgement with curiosity and beginner’s mind and see what insights emerge.
- See how aware you can be of the hidden assumptions and judgments you bring to your experience and try using discernment to see whether they serve you and others, or not.
- Explore using your inner compass during the week and see if you can refine how you use it when you make decisions with greater openness and awareness, free from habitual reaction or impulse.
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