What does it mean, to navigate? To map a path from origin to destination, to steer your way guided by information, to find a route to travel. Our wellbeing gurus are shouting meditation, yoga, pilates, reiki, diets, see the chiropractor for this and the osteopath for that.
These days humanity is informed by such an eclectic array of information that one must navigate choices, privileges, politics, wellness, community norms, familial prejudices, ancestry, priorities, workload, finances, research, traditions, standing up for being a woman or man whilst engendering the other to be fair and evolved and balanced, rearing a child as a woman or man whilst considering career and family breadwinning. Cultural values that once clearly held and encompassed a community have become diluted, contradictory and confusing whilst simultaneously being open minded, holistic and considerate of us all as global beings.
The same goes for navigating our bodies and the intrinsic nature of ourselves. Granny in Tasmania showed me that gardening until I’m 84 will keep me strong in mind and body and Dad in Greece told me that finding ‘quiet peace’ in my old age may keep me simply content. Yet refugees sprawling into Dad’s small Greek island community were faced with trepidation and anger, whilst refugees taken into the Launceston community gave rise to excited conversations around our dinner table as we watched intelligent heart felt displaced fellow humans appreciate and be in awe of the same wildlands of our state that we are in awe of. Humanity has many deeply intrinsic commonalities found the world over, yet just as many learned behaviours that can set us apart in understanding.
As Wade Davis explores in his book The Wayfinders – Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, “The ancient Polynesians…were not navigators in a modern sense so much as wayfinders.” When describing their way of crossing vast distances during ocean voyages before the days of modern navigational instruments, “Light alone can be read…the tone of the sky over an island…a halo around the moon foreshadows rain…the number of stars within the halo anticipates the intensity of the storm…Petrels and terns travel fixed distances from their nests…a sighting of a white tern indicates that land is within 200 kilometers; the brown tern reaches out as far as 65 kilometers … phosphorescence and the debris of plants in the sea, the salinity and taste and temperature of the water…all of these become revelatory in the senses of the navigator. The navigator by day conceptually divides the horizon ahead and behind, each into sixteen parts, taking as cardinal points the rising and setting of the sun. Thus by day he or she replicates the star compass of the night. The metaphor is that the (vessel) never moves. It simply waits, the axis mundi of the world, as the islands rise out of the sea to greet her.”
Suddenly the ways in which we make choices seem vastly different to the ways of the old, what we consider to be intelligence and the way we interpret and understand the world around us is thrown into question. What is my culture, who are my people, what do I perceive to be worthwhile learning to invest in, how do I prioritise my choices and values?
As I have immersed myself in different cultures around the world, been challenged, confused and astounded by the contradictions that various lands and its people hold; the most persistent quality I have been left with is liberation. To see that the way a people choose to live, share, understand their relationship to themselves, each other and the world around them can be so vastly different from one side of the earth to the other to me is incredible. Each culture chooses and creates a way of being and these cultures exist on earth simultaneously, living in completely different worlds depending on where it is you happened to be born.
I have been challenged over the years with the capacity for choice I am privileged to have been born into. Yet even with an incredibly open minded and supportive family, I have still felt an absence of clear cultural practices and identifiable elders to be guided by. This stands for myself as a human moving through time, as well as a woman in the healing arts where once these skills were passed on generationally with the healer identified early in life and guided over many years.
In trying to source solutions to ground me in the time of existence I am in, what I am beginning to settle into is creating a life based on my own actual experiences and the diversity of knowledge that crosses my path with resonance. This has meant redefining success and ways to measure it, learning new ways to relate to myself, health, my physical body, peers, friends, family, culture. It has meant being deeply inspired by the way in which other people the world over relate to these things. It has meant learning new ways to speak about and describe the world around me. And moreover it has meant crafting an experience that is true for me, despite living in a world that has a myriad of rules, regulations and expected norms.
I write this knowing we face many similar challenges as humans and therefore as encouragement to source your own solutions should you find yourself feeling guideless, without elders or confused about what your culture really is. As encouragement to step toward the life you wish to stand within. To imagine a life as if you are completely your own person, with no brothers and sisters, no parents, no spiritual demands, no financial duties – not to escape reality, but to breathe in your own skin for just a moment with no one and nothing to demand or expect you to be a certain way.
With this in mind, we need to be open minded enough to let the people around us change and evolve. For once we can do this, and live with ourselves as our own navigator, then perhaps we can invite back in all the parts of our heritage and culture that we truly wish to support and carry with us on our journey through time as Wayfinders in the modern world. Accepting, co-creating and redefining our ways of relating to ourselves, each other and the world around us.