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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 are now, and envisioning where it is you want to go.


Simple, but not easy. Inherent in wayfinding is an unwavering attention that allows for alignment in perception and 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 inevitability of 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. Lostness is a necessary component of the journey, and the true art of wayfinding is navigating through the unknown by integrating the clues provided by your experience with your own remembrance and imagination.


Which brings me to this blog, Inklings, and my purpose for it. The creative life journey has so many parallels to 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 Kyselka writes, "... 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?"


Creative wayfinding is about living a creative life, being open to the sources of guidance and direction that our experience offers, navigating through the integration of internal and external forces, and ultimately, arriving at new places. My hope is that Inklings will enrich your thinking, provide clues and inspiration to your own creative journey, and maybe even transform the inevitable lostness from a feeling of fear to one of possibility.


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

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