INTRODUCTION: MEET YOUR RHINOCEROS, HEAL YOUR LIFE
The imminent possibility of being killed by a rhinoceros isn’t bothering me nearly as much as I would have expected. True, my heart fluttered when I first saw her, but from awe, not fear.
Well, maybe a little from fear.
Until this exact second, my friend Koelle Simpson (her first name sounds like “Noelle,” but with a K) has been so focused on the rhino’s footprints that she forgot to look up—a common mistake for people who, like both of us, are just learning to track. By the time Koelle raises her eyes and leaps backward six inches, nearly bumping into me, we’re within about twenty feet of the rhinoceros.
Trust me on this: observing an animal in a zoo, particularly an animal the size of a Subaru Forester, is very different from encountering it on foot in its own neck of the woods. I can be startled into a cardiac emergency by a reasonably robust spider, so realizing that I’m close enough to spit on a mountainous animal who has two enormous pointy horns is . . . disconcerting. I open my mouth to yip like a wounded poodle. But then the awe kicks in, and I simply stare.
The rhino, half hidden behind a thorn bush, cocks her primordial-looking head—which is roughly the size of a grocery cart—and swivels her satellite-dish ears toward us. She seems edgy. I soon realize why. A rustle in the brush reveals the presence of a second animal, her calf. He’s tiny in rhinoceros terms, no bigger than, say, Shaquille O’Neal. He appears to be circling around behind me, putting all four of us humans between himself and his loving mother. I’m no woodsman, but I suspect this means Mamacita will soon have not only the means and the opportunity, but also the motive, to commence goring and stomping.
And I feel just great about that.
It’s like waking up in Ionesco’s absurdist play Rhinoceros; instead of panicking, I find the possibility of death by skewering in the African wilderness weirdly pleasing. I mean, how many middle-aged moms from Phoenix get to go out that way?
The mother rhino paws nervously, and I feel the impact tremor in the ground beneath my own feet. She is huge. She is nervous. She could kill me as easily as I clip my fingernails. But my mind is filled only with wonder, distilled into two basic questions.
Question 1: How the hell did I get here?
Question 2: What the hell should I do now?
Both issues seem equally mysterious. Oh sure, I could follow the breadcrumb trail of choices that brought me on this jaunt into the African wilderness. But how did I even stumble into the opportunities to make such choices? I defer answering this first question in favor of the second, which seems more pressing: How, exactly, does one extricate oneself from the close proximity of an alarmed rhinoceros? I hope my African friends have at least a two-pronged plan for such emergencies, seeing as how the rhino is tossing her own two prongs repeatedly in our direction, like a placekicker warming up for a field goal.
As if reading my mind, my friend Boyd Varty, who grew up here in the African bush, outlines Escape Plan Prong One. “Breathe,” he whispers.
Oh. Right. After an initial gasp, I’ve been holding my breath, a typical fight-or-flight reaction that’s spiking my adrenaline and heart rate. Technically I know better than that, but I forgot. Most of my knowledge, after all, is secondhand. I’ve spent the past few years interviewing all sorts of experts on human consciousness, from neurologists to psychologists to monks to medicine women, and prosaic as it sounds, they all agree that deep breathing is a profoundly powerful act, the cornerstone of everything from longevity to enlightenment. This is especially true when dealing, up close and personal, with a wild animal that outweighs your entire family.
Breathe. Just one long exhale will transform my whole body: change my brain, my hormone balance, my intuitive abilities, and my effect on other creatures. I know this intellectually. My friends know it viscerally. Koelle might look like a fitness model, but thousands of hours as a real-life “horse whisperer” have made her super-cool when dealing with large, nervous animals. Boyd is so tuned in to the wilderness he’s practically a wild African animal himself. The fourth and final member of our party, Solly Mhlongo, is a Shangaan tracker of legendary skill and courage. He once sprinted across a river to drag Boyd from the jaws of a crocodile who was gnawing his leg like a drumstick until Boyd, thinking fast, shoved his foot down its throat, opening the membrane that keeps water out of its lungs (the so-called gular flap or pouch), setting Boyd free and inspiring the song “Kick Him in the Gular Pouch,” which is sung by Boyd’s entire family on festive occasions involving alcohol, and would make an excellent hip-hop number.
But that is not my point.
My point is that, of the four people in our little expedition, I am definitely the weakest link. Nevertheless I’m feeling as bubbly and joyous as a four-dollar box of sparkling wine. I give Boyd a clumsy thumb’s up, and he flashes me his movie-star smile. (It seems unfair enough that these people are brave and smart—do they also have to be good-looking?) As the rhino mother squares up with us, snorting, and her baby continues to mosey toward our rear flanks, Boyd silently launches Prong Two of our escape plan, which is to edge sideways into a thorn bush. We place our feet carefully to avoid rocks, animal burrows, and snakes. The thorns rip at my clothes and hair and skin. I’m well aware that any misstep could result in exceptionally stimulating consequences. I can’t stop smiling.
How the hell did I get here? What the hell should I do now?
It occurs to me, as I tiptoe, that I’ve been asking these questions all my life, certainly by school age, when I began to suspect I’d disembarked from the universe’s light-rail system onto the wrong planet. Slowly evading the rhinoceros, I flash back several decades, to other moments when my hair was full of sticks, my arms covered with scratches, and my attention fully invested in some animal—a bird, a squirrel, a feral kitten—for whose friendship I would gladly have risked death.
HOW I GOT HERE
At age four, when most of my memory begins, I still half-believed my favorite books: fairy tales with talking mice and deer; Arthur, the Once and Future King, whom Merlin could change into any beast; Tarzan and Mowgli, who were raised by animals. When people asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” I said, “An archer,” not because I wanted to shoot things with arrows, but because I thought that that job title would qualify me to live like Robin Hood, hanging out in a forest with a bunch of idealistic friends.
This felt not only like a normal life ambition, but like the one, inevitable occupation of my core being, my “true nature.” I thought it up myself. No one ever told me to think that way, to learn the names of several hundred mammalian species or to spend hours outside watching birds and munching random plants to see what happened. No one even urged me to read—but I did, obsessively, because how else could I travel to distant wildernesses, have great adventures, learn about animals I could never hope to see in real life? The great gift I got from my family, as the seventh of eight children, was the absolute freedom to read what I wanted, dive into any patch of wilderness I could find, and assume that I’d keep doing it my whole life. Unlike thousands of clients I’ve counseled in adult life, no one ever tried to stop me from following my true nature. Until I was five, anyway.
Perplexingly, once I started school I found that my first teachers were not convinced I’d grow up to learn animal languages and live in the woods. After a few quizzical, critical responses from adults, I realized that none of my literary heroes or their sylvan lifestyles was real. Chasing stray cats around empty lots wasn’t going to get me anywhere in polite society; to succeed I had to focus completely on my education. Which I did. In fact, I focused long and intensely enough to grind my way through three Harvard degrees. By my late twenties I was well on my way to being a professor of sociology or social psychology or organizational behavior or sociobehavioral organopsychology or whatthehellever.
There was one tiny fly in my career ointment: the thought of spending my life writing for academic journals and attending faculty meetings made me want to beat myself to death with my own shoes. So in my early thirties I went back to that five-year-old self, the one with dirty fingernails and a passion for field biology, and asked her what she’d like to do. Within reason, of course. She said that she wanted to write hopeful thoughts for other people who felt imprisoned by offices, bureaucracies, or family pressures. She wanted to write books that made people feel free, the way Tarzan and The Jungle Book made her feel free. She wanted to tell readers they could create their own rules.
This sounded marginally acceptable to my schooled self. I pictured myself living The Writing Life in the country, wearing a billowy blouse, churning out prose, and collecting checks from a quaint, rustic-looking mailbox down by the front gate. By the time I realized I’d joined the entertainment industry, it was sort of too late. But as writers go, I was lucky. I ended up on a kind of endless book tour, traveling constantly to give luncheon speeches, conference addresses, and TV appearances. Then the Internet arrived. Information was being spread in fabulous new ways. Now, in addition to writing, speaking, and doing media interviews, people told me I had to blog, tweet, and post on Facebook. I did my best, but whenever I tried to join the Internet revolution, I felt like the creepy middle-aged high school teacher showing up at a student kegger. I was running as fast as I could while again becoming miserable and overworked, defined by rules about How to Succeed in Business by Really, Really Trying.
In the midst of this I’d received an unusual request. A man named Alex van den Heever, who was a game ranger (whatever that was), invited me to come see what was happening at a game preserve in South Africa called Londolozi. I’d been to Londolozi once, during a book tour, and fallen utterly in love with the place. Because of this, Alex’s email had forcefully grabbed my attention—or rather, the attention of my thorn-scratched, twig-haired, four-year-old self. The very word “Londolozi” had sounded a clear tone somewhere inside me, a note that resonated purely and perfectly with my true nature. I’d begun to cry as I read Alex’s email, not quite knowing why.
But at this moment, having responded to Alex’s email, become a frequent visitor to Londolozi, and arrived face-to-face with Mama Rhino and her calf, the reason for those tears dawns on me. As I carefully pull a thorn from my cheek, hoping the rhino won’t charge but not really minding if she does, things start clicking together in my mind, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle settling into their proper positions.
Londolozi is a Zulu word meaning “protector of all living things.” The people who gave that name to this wilderness have spent their lives doing something they call “restoring Eden.” The land under my feet was once a bankrupt cattle farm, almost devoid of life. This ecosystem was restored to its original state by just a few people, including Alex, my friend Boyd Varty and his family, and Shangaan trackers like Solly. These folks have already helped restore an area of the Earth larger than Switzerland, and they have no intention of stopping.
So—it all seems to me clear now—it was my uncivilized four-year-old self, with her passion for animals and love of running around in places with few humans, who dragged me ten thousand miles to this wild, magical place with these wild, magical people. Right now, I’m creeping into a bush with an African tracker, a conservationist, and a woman who really can talk to animals. The reality hits me as hard as any rhinoceros: the world I believed in, back in my most innocent, uninformed, childish mind—the world I long ago stopped hoping to find, the one I’d buried under decades of thankless work toward “civilized” goals—is real. That’s why, right now, I could die happy—happier than I’ve been in forty years. My life will have been worth living for this one moment, with these friends, this place, those primordial animals, this joyful pounding heart. I’m finding out what it feels like to reclaim my true nature. It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced. And because ecstasy loves company, I want you to experience it too.
The wild new world of the twenty-first century is the perfect setting for reclaiming your true nature. And your life will work much, much better if you let that nature direct your choices. It will bring you freedom, peace, and delight; give you the optimal chance of making a good living; and help you create the best possible effect on everything around you. I’m not certain exactly how it will play out in your case, but here’s what I do know: it’s time you met your rhinoceros.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE? WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NOW?
Your “rhinoceros” is anything that so fulfills your life’s real purpose that if someone told you, “It’s right outside—but watch out, it could kill you!,” you’d run straight out through the screen door without even opening it. Barefoot. Right now, you know what your rhinoceros is, but you may not yet know that you know, because the part of you that clearly sees your right life is your true nature, and it doesn’t talk much (as we’ll see later). Your rhinoceros may not be quite as attention-getting as mine. But it will awaken in you such happiness you’ll want it to return again and again.
Maybe you’ll have a rhinoceros moment while playing a cool new video game, or decorating a room with your soul mate, or helping a toddler grow a flower, or nourishing a circle of friends who rarely stop laughing and never stop helping one another. Maybe your rhinoceros hasn’t been invented yet. When the younger of my two daughters asked me what to choose for her college major, I told her, “Design your own major. Then take all the classes that make you want to jump out of bed in the morning—or afternoon, or whatever—because your real career probably won’t exist for a few more years.”
As we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, the pace of technological and social change has reached what statisticians call “the knee of the curve” in an exponential growth pattern. That means that, after many centuries of slow progress from basic fire-making to the Industrial Revolution, we are now inventing more powerful technologies at such a pace that soon the human brain won’t be able to keep up with the machines it has built. Even professional futurists have no idea what the world will look like in the coming decades, though they do highlight a few key trends that will almost certainly continue. For example:
• Individuals like you and me now have the power to do things, such as getting information to billions of people, that only large organizations, like governments and corporations, could do at any earlier point in human history.
• The means for achieving objectives like this are becoming cheaper, more accessible, and more ubiquitous by the day.
• Knowledge is no longer power, because knowledge is no longer scarce. What is scarce is human attention. Directing human attention is the way people trade goods and services—thus how they survive financially—in the wild new world.
• The qualities that capture positive attention these days aren’t slickness, blandness, and mass consensus (boring), but authenticity, inventiveness, humor, beauty, uniqueness, playfulness, empathy, and meaning (interesting).
• The scarcest, most coveted resources aren’t high-tech machines or highly developed cities, but “unspoiled” places, people, animals, objects, and experiences.
Once we figure out what constitutes your rhinoceros, your best bet for living happily and prosperously is to go interact with it. Maximum positive attention (the most valuable resource in this wild new world) comes from being absolutely yourself, operating from your true nature, to connect with the true nature of people, animals, plants, events, and situations.
THE FUNCTION OF YOUR TRUE NATURE
Having received some social science training in my day, I knew all this before I finally met my own actual, flesh-and-blood rhinoceros. I also knew that the true nature of all humans—indeed true nature broadly defined—has always been limited by survival pressures, including those the sociologist Max Weber called the “iron cage” of rationalization. As long as people keep making money by rational means, Weber wrote, society’s iron cages will keep imprisoning them, obliterating their desires and differences, turning human workers into mere components of the great financial machine of society.
As a graduate student reading Weber’s work, it did not surprise me to learn that the great theorist tended to get a little blue; in fact he sometimes lay in his room for years on end, and described humanity’s future as a “polar night of icy darkness.” Nor was I surprised that Weber (like me) had chronic physical pain that crippled him for decades. Whenever I took breaks from my graduate studies to lie down and watch wildlife documentaries (the better to tolerate my own chronic pain), I’d invariably hear predictions that a literal “polar night of icy darkness” was on its way, whether it was nuclear winter or some other form of global disaster. How the hell did we get here? What the hell should we do now?
I was super fun at parties.
Yet even though I had long ago accepted that true nature—yours, mine, Earth’s—was damaged beyond repair, when I went to Londolozi I heard my true nature whispering a new message. I’d thought I was just stealing a few moments from the iron cage of my work to glimpse one last piece of the vanishing natural world, but the instant I accepted death-by-rhino, a different thought entered my awareness. For that wordless instant I let go of the false self I carry around in my mind. In the single beat of inner silence that followed, I heard the message from my sunburned, grubby-fingered four-year-old self, the message that the very existence of Londolozi, the people who had restored it, the anxious mother and her healthy, strapping calf all represented: Nature can heal.
HEALING YOUR TRUE NATURE
That one short sentence became a watershed in my life. It told me that, if we give ecosystems a chance (as humans have at Londolozi), whole landscapes can begin to repair themselves. It said that, despite the years I’d spent in various iron cages, my own true nature could repair itself too. So can yours. Even if you’re a devout city-dweller, even if you see nature solely as that deplorably mall-deprived space you must drive through to get to the airport, even if you believe, with W. C. Fields, that “anyone who hates children and animals can’t be all bad,” that very expression of your unique preferences is part of your true nature. Your job, now and for the rest of your life, is to heal that true nature and let it thrive.
These days the iron cages of many industries are collapsing, taking with them the jobs of many people who traded their happiness for supposed economic security. Change is reaching a scope and pace that has left few social or economic institutions unchanged (and is quickly getting around to changing the rest). The wild, fluid world of the twenty-first century means that you not only can free yourself from your iron cage, but you must. Freedom and health for your deepest, truest self is essential for thriving in this strange, unprecedented time, when (as we’ll see later) authenticity often equals attention, which equals value, which equals prosperity.
How the hell did you get where you are? By making your way, as best you could, through a maze of social pressures that were often destructive to your true nature. What the hell should you do now? Find a new way. A better way. Your way. The unknown, uncharted path through this wild new world that allows you—yourself, in your uniqueness—to reclaim the full measure of your true nature.
Can you accept this challenge? If you can’t, I hope that you’re comfortable living in your cage—and seeing it smashed by a tidal wave of escalating change. If you can, congratulations. Your future will be filled with adventures and excitement. It will also find you charting your course in a new peer group. The decision to heal your own true nature, by definition, makes you one of nature’s healers. And as it happens, healers play a unique, powerful, perhaps unprecedented role in the wild new world.
To get something done, as any murder mystery will tell you, we need motive, means, and opportunity. Your true nature provides the motive for creating the life you really want. The fluidity of our civilization is creating the opportunity. The means you’ll use to realize your “right life” may not be as obvious. I believe they must come from ancient traditions created and used by wise healers in many different cultures and places. These ways of mending were developed to fix any precious, complex, broken thing. Our culture, while zooming far past previous societies in its ability to manipulate the physical world, has lost or deliberately discarded these ways of repairing what is broken in people and in the world. Teaching you to use them is the central purpose of this book.
THE HEALING TEAM
Way back when I was teaching in college and business school, something incongruous started happening to me: for some reason, people kept showing up at my office and asking me questions, not about school but about their lives. “How the hell did I get here?” they would ask me. “What the hell should I do now?”
I had no idea. Fortunately, I realized that if I just sat there, people always figured it out for themselves. That’s the reason I ultimately became a life coach, part of a profession so cheesy it fairly screams to be covered in nuts (and some would argue that it is). I didn’t choose life coaching as a career; I wanted to be something more prestigious, like a professor, or a convenience-store clerk, or a crack addict. But as a coach, I gradually noticed that many of the people who hired me were oddly similar. Though they looked very different superficially—all flavors of gender, age, race, nationality, and occupation—they sounded weirdly alike. Here are some examples to show you what I mean.
• Kendra was a nineteen-year-old college student, sent to me by her parents after an academically disastrous first semester at Columbia. “I can’t focus,” said Kendra, who was once an excellent student. “I walk around New York feeling trapped by concrete. I don’t belong. I want—I need to be somewhere else, doing something else. Something that, I don’t know, somehow helps.” Her voice trembled as she said this; it made no sense to her, but the emotions behind it were clearly overwhelming.
• Born to a wealthy New York City family, Jack once aspired to be either a mounted policeman or a dog walker in Central Park. “Those were the only professions I knew about that involved being outside, with animals,” he laughed. When he was fifteen, Jack met a boy who had autism, and a lightbulb went on in his mind. “I saw how Denny relaxed around animals, and I became obsessed with facilitating that.” Jack studied special education in college and graduate school and eventually began doing occupational therapy with children with special needs, using interaction with animals as part of their therapy. “This is simply not what we do in my family,” Jack said. “But it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”
• “I’m ridiculously busy, but almost every day I find myself putting everything aside and just listening to people,” Lorrie, a middle-aged mom, told me. “Sometimes people I hardly even know. I’m not sure why they want to confide in me, but they do. And then I hear myself giving them advice that never, until that very moment, entered my head. I feel like I’m taking time away from everything I’m supposed to do, but when I’m in the moment, none of that seems to matter. What’s wrong with me?”
• Pete was my driver from a conference in the Catskill mountains to the Albany airport. He grew up hunting for fun, but began soul-searching about the morality of taking a life, any life, when he joined protests against the war in Vietnam. Frustrated with the government, Pete went to live on an Apache reservation, where he became best friends with the local medicine man. Many years later Pete still lives to connect with the wilderness and thinks constantly about healing it. “During hunting season,” he told me, “I put on my camouflage, go out into the woods, and scare animals away from hunters.” When I pointed out that this sounded just a tiny bit dangerous, he laughed. “It’s not the way I was supposed to risk my life serving my country, but it’s the best way I know.”
• All April ever wanted was a good, steady job with a decent salary, benefits, and room for advancement. But her job with a prominent bank “wasn’t completely fulfilling,” she said. “Actually, if I’d stayed I would have randomly stabbed someone in another cubicle.” April found fulfillment elsewhere: “I love talking with my friends about how we’re going to change the world. We’re just goofing off, but I’m half serious. I do feel as if something is happening, and I’m not supposed to watch it from a corporate job.”
See what I mean? Though very different in terms of demographics, all these people shared a querying, relentless, urgent need to connect with their true nature. As more and more of them told me their stories, I realized they shared clusters of other characteristics, though not anything demographers record. These virtually always include the following:
• A sense of having a specific mission or purpose involving a major transformation in human experience, but being unable to articulate what this change might be.
• A strong sense that the mission, whatever it is, is getting closer in time.
• A compulsion to master certain fields, skills, or professions, not only for career advancement, but in preparation for this half-understood personal mission.
• High levels of empathy; a sense of feeling what others feel.
• An urgent desire to lessen or prevent suffering for humans, animals, or even plants.
• Loneliness stemming from a sense of difference, despite generally high levels of social activity. One woman summed up this feeling perfectly when she said, “Everybody likes me, but nobody’s like me.”
In addition, these people shared clusters of the attributes below. Only a few individuals possessed every single trait, but they all had a clutch of them:
• High creativity; passion for music, poetry, performance, or visual arts.
• An intense love of animals, sometimes a desire to communicate with them.
• Difficult early life, often with a history of abuse or childhood trauma.
• Intense connection to certain types of natural environment, such as the ocean, mountains, or forest.
• Resistance to orthodox religiosity, paradoxically accompanied by a strong sense of either spiritual purpose or spiritual yearning.
• Love of plants and gardening, to the point of feeling empty or depressed without the chance to be among green things and/or help them grow.
• Very high emotional sensitivity, often leading to predilections for anxiety, addiction, or eating disorders.
• Sense of intense connection with certain cultures, languages, or geographic regions.
• Disability, often brain-centered (dyslexia, retardation, autism), in oneself or a loved one. Fascination with people who have intellectual disabilities or mental illness.
• Apparently gregarious personality contrasting with deep need for periods of solitude; a sense of being drained by social contact and withdrawing to “power up” again.
• Persistent or recurring physical illness, often severe, with symptoms that fluctuated inexplicably.
• Daydreams (or night dreams) about healing damaged people, creatures, or places.
I had a lot of these traits myself, which, I assumed, was the reason other people who had them kept confiding in me. These people’s inner lives and personalities were so much alike, and I had such a strange feeling they were somehow meant to work together, that I began calling them the Team. By my forties I was meeting Team members everywhere, and they were asking, “How the hell did I get here? What the hell should I do now?” with increasing frequency and almost disturbing intensity. Literally hundreds of people came to me for coaching, approached me at speaking engagements, or wrote to tell me the same story: though they don’t know why, they felt they were born to be part of some very specific and beneficial change, they’ve been preparing for it since birth, and the time to act is getting closer.
Though I had no idea what people on the Team were expecting, I expected it too. When one woman asked what we were doing, and I said I didn’t know, she replied, “Okay. Well, whatever it is, we move at dawn.” We both laughed heartily as I wondered what brand of antipsychotic my peers would prescribe for me.
It was shortly after this incident that an anthropologist told me, “You know, in a premodern culture, the people you’re describing would have been recognized as the tribe’s healers—druids, medicine people, shamans, or whatever. You did realize that, didn’t you?”
“Why, no, Professor,” I said. “I did not.” And I scampered off to do me some book larnin’.
FINDING A TERM FOR THE TEAM
I discovered my professor friend was right. Throughout human history, in every geographic region and cultural tradition (except modern rationalism), individuals with Team attributes were thought to have the gift—and responsibility—of connecting the natural and supernatural worlds with the express purpose of providing comfort and healing to all beings. This was not only their vocation, it was their job and their career.
Generally this wasn’t a hereditary role; individuals with the telltale traits were recognized by their elders, then trained to be a . . . something. Every culture had its own word. Modern Western culture doesn’t. We divide the roles of mystic, doctor, therapist, artist, herbalist, naturalist, and storyteller into separate, often inimical professions. In most other societies, there was one word, one job assignment, for somebody who was all these things at once.
I’m still struggling to find an English word for the Team that doesn’t evoke images of simplistic superstition or New Age devotees who dress in wolf pelts and rechristen themselves Moonbeam Hummingbird. The word “healer” describes the Team’s desired effect on the world, but as I’ve researched this topic in both developed and developing countries, I’ve encountered a lot of self-designated “healers,” “gurus,” and “spiritual teachers” who seem primarily devoted to the health of their own bank accounts. They certainly aren’t the Team.
Every now and again, though, I’ve met individuals who seem to embody the whole promise of the healer’s archetype. These people are walking generators of peace, hope, compassion, and restoration. The things they accomplish often seem miraculous, but they themselves are universally humble, insisting that their work is simple and pragmatic. To differentiate them from icky counterfeits, I began using the word “mender,” which describes the core function of these lovely people and fits their humble approach. I’ll use it often in the pages ahead. But the word I’ll use most to describe the Team is “wayfinder.”
FIGURING OUT HOW THE HELL WE GOT HERE AND WHAT THE HELL WE SHOULD DO NOW
The anthropologist Wade Davis coined the word “wayfinder” to describe the ancient navigators who first discovered the Pacific Islands, guiding small boats across vast stretches of open water to patches of land so small they make needles in haystacks look like anvils in breadboxes—all without modern navigation equipment. In his book Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, Davis writes that Polynesian wayfinders (a few of whom are still with us) can “read” the ocean so sensitively that they recognize the refractive wave patterns of island chains hundreds of miles away by watching ocean swells break against the hull of their canoe. They use empirical observation and a dash of intuition that looks damn close to magic.
This is a perfect metaphor for the task humanity is facing right now. We must chart a course through conditions as fluid as water, in such a way that we not only stop the destruction of our own true nature, but reverse it. As we do that—and only as we do that—we will naturally begin healing the earth. I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “Dear Humans: Save yourselves, I’ll be fine. Love, Earth.” Our Team of wayfinders are people who feel an internal call to heal any authentic part of the world, beginning with their own true nature. If you’re a born “mender,” you’ll pursue this healing almost in spite of yourself. And as you find it, you’ll automatically become the change you wish to see in the world, healing the true nature of the people and things around you.
YES, YOU’RE ON THE TEAM
Just the fact that you’re still reading this—the fact that you picked up this book to begin with—means you’re almost certainly a born wayfinder. These days, frankly, we’re everywhere. This isn’t just a social role, it’s an archetype—a role or pattern of behavior intrinsic to all human psyches. Humans, for the most part, have the capacity to embody almost any archetype that happens to be needed in a specific situation. For example, if you’ve ever been in danger, you might have called on your “hero” archetype, finding the courage and grit you needed to prevail. If you’ve cared for a baby, a pet, or a sick loved one, you may have drawn on your “gentle parent” archetype to provide the necessary nurturing. And when you see someone or something wandering toward his or her or its own destruction, it awakens your healing-wayfinder archetype. Right now, wherever you look, some form of true nature—people, animals, places, relationships—is crying out to be mended. As a result, people everywhere are feeling the pull to express the archetype of the healer, the wayfinder.
If you suspect (or know) that you’re on the Team, don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to go back to school, to get more formal training or degrees. Few schools teach what you need to reclaim your true nature. You need to learn what a wayfinder would have taught in an ancient tribe. You need to know what Merlin taught Arthur. In short, you need magic.
© 2012 Martha Beck