Filed in Vipassana

Set the Compass of Your Heart

Jack Kornfield

Wisdom Collection

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You need a reliable compass to set your direction and steer through the rough waters when you are going through hard times, when you’ve been betrayed, when you’ve lost your job, when you’ve lost friends or loved ones, when you’re in conflict with your family, or when you’re going through illness.

But how can you set your direction when you can’t see any clear harbor? And how can you navigate through difficult waters when you’re swamped by overwhelming emotions, when so much of your awareness is taken over with trying to figure out who’s at fault and who did what to whom, or creating stories about who’s wrong and who’s right and why?

When we’re overwhelmed by a difficult situation, sometimes we know we’re behaving in a way that is only making matters worse, but we don’t know how to stop.

No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can always set our compass to our highest intentions in the present moment. Perhaps it is nothing more than being in a heated conversation with another person and stopping to take a breath and ask yourself, “What is my highest intention in this moment?” If you can have enough awareness to take this small step, your heart will give you an answer that will take the conversation in a different, more positive direction. With simple steps like these, you can behave in ways that at least will not fuel your difficulties—or anyone else’s.

Whatever your difficulties—a devastated heart, financial loss, feeling assaulted by the conflicts around you, or a seemingly hopeless illness—you can always remember that you are free in every moment to set the compass of your heart to your highest intentions. In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love.

Adapted from A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path through Difficult Times by Jack Kornfield © 2011. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.

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don123's picture

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John Haspel's picture

A beautiful article that gets to the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. The virtuous factors of the Eightfold Path, Right Speech, Right Effort and Right Livelihood following Right Intention always bring a loving and compassionate response.

Being mindful of Right Intention, the intention to abandon all clinging, craving, desire and aversion, frees one from all conflict.

John Haspel

Tomm's picture

Your REPLYS to the Wisdom Collection articles are most often motivating. And those replys that are negative and critical of the wisdom writings allow me to view yet another aspect. Thanks to all, both positive and negative.

oliverhow's picture

Very good point, thanks.

hmrosen's picture

Be present and be willing to love..... my new mantra. Namaste

noradhussey's picture

Every day I find myself able to pull myself through with readings such as these, meditation, yoga and reminding myself not to be judging and to keep my heart open.. At age 65 and the day after my 47 year marriage ended this article was again enough to pull me through and keep me going with an open heart. I have found through my life that willingness to continue to love, empathy, and non-judging becomes easier and easier as trouble arises. It comes after the purposeful practice over time. So many problems in this world would dissolve if we were all able to have this opportunity.

jackelope65's picture

My wife and I are both 65 and we have been together 47 years; that is the closest that anything has felt permanent to me, though I know that an even 4 -15 billion years is not permanent for this planet and this universe. I can only begin to understand your suffering and will hold you close in today's Tonglen and Metta practices.

tusk2112's picture

"In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love." These words, and this intention on a daily basis, has saved my life and is allowing my true self to emerge after decades of being suffocated under layers of psychological and emotional masking. What a beautiful way to interact and connect with the world.

Dominic Gomez's picture

The life condition of buddhahood, brought forth from within our lives, allows each individual to raise his or her head above water. Next comes treading water, or daily practice, in order to maintain enlightenment. Look! Above and beyond! The North Star. Mindful of the ten directions, you can truly navigate.

edlund.sandy's picture

This teaching is exactly what I needed to hear. I am in conflict with my family ever since my mom went in a nursing home. Everyone is fighting over who does what or some family members are doing more for my mom's care than others. It is hard enough dealing with my mom's decline when everyone is fighting. Thanks for reminding me that I don't have to engage in the fight, that I have a choice in how I respond. I can always stop and ask for a time out and take a deep breath and focus on what is best for my mom.

jackelope65's picture

Having cared for thousands of people with acute disabling illnesses as an MD, I have found that the family member that has devoted the most time to the sick family member during their lives and illness is the most accepting of his/her wishes, the care provided by health care workers, and the optimum future plans for care or withdrawal of care for the ailing loved one . Often those least involved with the ill person during their lives and acute care are the least agreeable to care plans, the most argumentative and/or disruptive with hospital staff or family members, the least accepting of the patient's wishes(eg. DNR OR DO NOT RESUSCITATE status, organ donation, etc.), and the first to get lawyers involved. Most often, I have found, that disagreement often comes from those who are trying to assuage their guilt, not regret, for lack of interest or involvement during the patient's life, whether patient had been difficult or not.