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About Creative Wayfinding

A couple of years ago, after visiting Kauai for the first time and finding there a book titled An Ocean in Mind by Will Kyselka, I became obsessed with wayfinding. And by obsessed, I mean I fell into a years-long all-consuming black hole of research and learning. It wasn't so much that I wanted to learn the practical techniques of traditional Polynesian wayfinding—after all, I know nothing of sailing, or crossing oceans, or how to gauge the changing position of stars over varying longitudinal distances. But the metaphorical, existential practices inherent within the principles of wayfinding resonated deeply.

Those principles are, on the surface, quite simple. As M.R. O'Connor describes in her book, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, "At the heart of successful human navigation is a capacity to record the past, attend to the present, and imagine the future." In other words, wayfinding necessitates remembering where you have come from, paying attention to where you currently are, and envisioning where it is you want to go.

Simple, but not easy. Inherent in wayfinding is intentional effort, an unwavering attention that allows for alignment in action across past, present, and future. Traditional Polynesian wayfinders would perch at the bow of the ship in complete stillness for the majority of the day and night, upwards of twenty hours, entirely focused on navigational clues in the skies and the seas. When wayfinders slept, briefly, they lay in the hull of the boat and felt for changes in rhythm and direction of waves as a source of guidance. Nothing could be missed, not a single clue.

Why? Because also inherent in wayfinding practices is the potential for becoming lost. A storm that erases the sky, making it impossible to chart the boat's position beneath the stars. A fog that cloaks the outlines of distant islands and the presence of shorebirds in the sky. Even so much as a moment of distraction, and the boat is cast adrift in the vast ocean. Lost-ness is not only possible, but inevitable in such a journey. The art of wayfinding is the art of navigating through that lost-ness, integrating the clues provided by nature with your own remembering and imagining to find yourself again.

Which brings me to this blog, and my purpose for it. The creative journey* has much in common with trans-oceanic crossings, and the principles of wayfinding are instrumental to navigating through the unknown. This blog is about putting wayfinding into practice because, as Will Kyselka writes in An Ocean in Mind, "... knowledge alone is not wayfinding. How can you know the wind other than by sailing? The dance, other than by dancing? Wayfinding, other than by finding the way?"

For me, the great unknown persists not only in my writing practice, but in my passion for exploring mountains on and off-trail, and, more broadly, in the way that life unfolds into the story we tell about it. Becoming lost is inevitable in each sentence, each run, each day. And being lost leads me to places I would never have found otherwise. Thoughts that surprise me on the page, views from precipices that give new meaning to immensity, connections that unfold new facets of self.

Creative wayfinding is about living a creative life, being open to the sources of guidance and direction that the world offers, navigating through an integration of internal and external forces, and ultimately, arriving at new places. I'll post reflections about writing, mountain adventures, reading, teaching, and anything else that the stars may illuminate along the way. My hope is that these words will enrich your thinking, serve as clues in your own creative journey, and maybe even transform the inevitable feeling of lost-ness from one of fear to one of possibility.

Bon voyage, wanderers—let's go get lost.

*Note: "creative journey" refers not only to the types of artistic endeavors Western culture typically categorizes as creative (ie., composing a song, writing a novel, painting a mural, choreographing a dance) but more widely to pursuits that are essential to the creation of your own life and the lives of other. More about that in a later post.

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