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Avid hikers, nature buffs or adrenaline junkies will have come by the art of natural navigation before. Practitioners of the art are those that swear by the accuracy, reliability and organic ideologies of using natural occurring elements of our surroundings as navigation tools to guide one along their journey. Prominent writer, expert and general boss guy on the topic of natural navigation, Tristan Gooley, describes the use of natural navigation not just as a survival skill, but as a means to enrich journeys and connect with the world around us.
I wholly believe these skills are not only useful, but also transferable towards other types of ‘journeys’ one might take, and not solely isolated in its applicability to meandering through jungles, wandering the desert or whatever other ‘nature adventure’ cliche that may arise. Instead, we should re-wire our mental habits to take into account more of these innate abilities already present in all of us, thanks to our wonderful bio-chemical engineering, instead of looking outside to others as external sources of navigation to aid us on our journeys. The most significant, all encompassing journey of all, of course, being life itself.
As a kid, I was lucky enough to grow up in the Daintree rainforest and coastal areas of Far North Queensland (the best state in Australia, for those that might not be familiar with this country.) Adolescent weekends were filled with hikes up hills and mountains, bush walking (sometimes accidentally, because there’s literally bush everywhere you can’t always discern what is cultivated or not), chasing waterfalls, diving off the reefs and all the other adventures you would see on a Queensland travel blogger’s Instagram; and yes, living that kind of life is just as amazing as it looks.
All of us that grew up there would pride ourselves on being locals and ‘in the know'. We answered tourist's questions on where the best spots to do certain activities were and we yelled at other out-of-towners for even trying to do what we did, like jump into 'Devil’s Pool', a relatively calm looking pond that feeds into a rapid that swirls between submerged boulders (we called this part the ‘washing machine’) then spits you out the other side. Of course us local kids knew how to go through it in the correct way that doesn’t kill/drown you, which unfortunately many non-locals have met their demise from. It’s here where I really began getting the hang of journeying through obstacles using inherent tools, not always backed by logic, but by having an innate feel of the way things work.
Then, as one does when you get older, you move away to somewhere bigger, more gentrified and with more opportunities for higher education. Then you move again to an even bigger city or urban area to begin your professional career. I think that somewhere here during this part of the journey that many of us find ourselves in, we forget about how to live and navigate naturally and start following, whether we initially intended to or not, others’ journeys instead of setting out to make a unique one of our own. In fact, we lose sight of our lives and careers as a journey and start to see and live it as a process. A mechanical process that has defined rules, milestones that need to be reached, and shit that needs to be acquired before one can say they successfully managed to make it from point A to point B.
Similar to being out in nature, in the ‘real world’ when you’re lost or facing some kind of struggle you look for help. As a kind of young person myself I know all too well how easy it is to start relying on socially acceptable standards or other people's words and deeds to guide your own journey. Why wouldn’t we look for outside help? I mean really, we have no idea what we’re doing. We don’t know what step is going to be beneficial or what will disadvantage us, we don’t have the skills gained only from experience, that which cannot be taught in a book or seminar, to help us either. So we grasp onto anything that looks stable and safe. We forget how to embrace being lost in the struggle and how to use our internal compass to truly see, listen to and be guided by naturally occurring events that happen to us and amongst our surroundings.
Natural navigators find their bearings by assessing the position of the sun, moon, and stars relative to where they are. They concentrically map out their relativity to the larger structures of their environment and gather information on the next best possible direction to take. They notice and look for signs and clues along the way left by plants, animals, and patterns, deducing and inferring more information to suit whatever point they’re trying to reach, be it a source of water, a patch of cleared land to safely sleep, or a way out of the whole thing. Mechanical, non-feeling things don’t work as well as the human senses out in nature. Maps are useless because nature changes, paths overgrow, and trails alter in response to the environmental conditioning of particular seasons or weather systems. GPS is also useless because GPS hardly works in the best of circumstances and again cannot respond to the changing currents of nature to be helpful.
When it comes to our careers and lifestyle choices people aren’t too different from nature, as we also inevitably change. Our interests change, our mental fortitude towards certain things change, and so do our priorities. Rigid processes, maps with milestones, and any old thing that doesn’t ebb and flow in harmony with our natural subjective rhythms will simply not be enough to accommodate our navigational experiences throughout this journey.
Personally, I’ve also bought into the bit that everyone else already knows something that I don’t so I must abide by their rules because they already know how to play the game and I don’t. But whenever I’ve tried to follow prescriptive methods of doing things or follow in the footsteps of others I’ve only ended up with sensory deprivation and mental fatigue. Some of the best opportunities I’ve had, however, have come from listening to my surroundings for that opening that sounds almost too good to be true, or testing out different trails - even when unsure of where it might lead - letting them carry me along for a while as I soak up more information once more and then re-assess my position at the end. Most of all some of the brightest paths have come from acknowledging the fact that I am lost and letting my internal compass take a chance on something different, guiding me towards certain events or people that have ended up furthering my own personal and professional progress in ways that I could have never imagined, let alone have found if I followed the prescriptive, well-trodden path in some other direction.
It is hard though, having faith in things unknown, whether naturally occurring or not. We live in a world where answers are given more value than the ability to ask questions. We’re constantly searching for someone or something to hand us a map that clearly outlines what we should do and where we should go next. But this makes us susceptible, particularly when younger, to all the outside noise and garbage of the world which may not really have your best interests, career or otherwise, at heart. At the end of the day all you’ve got in times of struggle or wandering around whilst lost is your own set of senses, your gut instinct, and your ability to read the world around you and make your own decisions based on how you perceive and judge it.