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  • George Samuels

The Art of "Seeing" & Wayfinding

While some try to imagine all the details of their futures in their heads before taking action - a tenet of the New Age concept of the Law of Attraction - my philosophy is that by taking courageous action first, clarity then comes.

There’s a well-known Polynesian navigator, who only recently re-surfaced from historical records, called Tupaia. He helped Captain Cook make his way around the Pacific, but what startled historians for centuries was how Tupaia mapped out the Pacific islands. See below:

History of Mapping: Tupaia's Map. Source: Mappedin

It seems nonsensical at first, but modern Polynesians with knowledge of the "old ways" provided context to historians in order to fill the gaps. Blogger Shanae Vander Togt's summarizes it well:

"In actuality, Tupaia’s map was an exercise in cultural differences. His map was actually incredibly accurate, once viewed through the right lens. For instance, his European counterparts aboard the ship with him viewed the world as stationary and the individual as moving through it. For mapping, they measured their location using longitude and latitude, and then created a travel route from there. Tupaia and the Polynesians viewed themselves as stationary, and believed that the world moved towards them. Tupaia used noon, or “avatea”, also known as the time of day when the sun is at its peak. In order to read the map, you treated every island or land on the map as the centre (depending on where you were), getting your bearings by looking at ‘noon’."

And so, we have a clear example of how our physical world is interpreted in different ways depending on the lens being viewed through. This lens determines how we move through it, which is why you can experience the same person, place, or thing differently, depending on how you see it at different points in time.

Finding your Way

I can’t assume what is right or wrong when it comes to this approach, but I know that this way of seeing the world aligns with my particular personality traits. My "way."

And I hope that documenting this way will help you find your own.

This is what I’ve come to understand of my Polynesian ancestors like Tupaia. Some of them were known as “Wayfinders," which is how my nickname "The Digital Wayfinder” came to be. The Wayfinders were documented extensively in a book written by Western author Wade Davis.

Even the writing of this article was structured by just writing. After I finish downloading my thoughts, I go back and organize them in a cohesive manner. But I often try to let the words flow through me, instead of from me. I take action, and clarity comes after. I find my own way.

Using all your senses

“The less dependent you are on your eyes, it’s like your skin feels more." ~Actor Jason Momoa

A key part of Polynesian wayfinding is using all your senses.

There's a show I started watching this week with my partner called See. One of its main actors is Jason Mamoa (below) and is about a world where humanity has lost its ability to see. Everyone has learned how to navigate and live as blind people (it's quite amazing to watch in the show).


Over time, humanity lost "sight" of its own past, so it plunged into another Dark Age filled with barbarism and superstition. However, a few centuries years later, children start to be born with the ability to see again. Those born with the ability to see were considered "witches", and anyone supporting them was deemed heretics.

What's interesting is how they touch on modern issues, by highlighting the rising tension between those with sight, and those without it. Just replace sight with any perceived "privilege" observed today. The have's vs have nots. Same story, different times.

Some of the next generations of children start seeing themselves as superior, because of their ability to see, but some of the wiser characters in the show (e.g. Jason Momoa) demonstrate that just because one can see, it doesn't make you a "god".

In fact, there are scenes where, although the children can see, they are unable to defend themselves better than those who fight blind. The "blind warriors" sense so much more than the children because they engage with all their senses, not just one.


I share this because it is similar to how Polynesian wayfinders navigated the world. They did not just observe the world around them, they felt it. They would engage in unique tactics in order to determine their distance from nearest lands - like placing their testicles just above the water (strange, I know), on the side of catamarans, to count wave frequencies. They'd engage with their dreams before voyaging, to "see" their destination before heading out.

And finally, they'd never picture themselves going to a place, but their destinations coming to them.

The middle Way: thinking and feeling

"The middle path is the way to wisdom." ~Rumi

Growing up in the West has taught me to use a lot more of my mind. Especially in the tech industry.

But it has sometimes caused me to “lose sight” of my other senses. And as a knowledge worker or digital nomad, I often engage with people virtually as opposed to in real life. As a result, I have to be wiser with the words I choose to use.

Being stuck behind a computer can numb us to the effects of what we do and say virtually. We end up not being able to feel those consequences, so we make assumptions about the effects of our own actions based on data from algorithms and machines.

Re-engaging with this feeling aspect is part of what indigenous wisdom teaches us. It's part of the Eagle vs Condor prophecy I've written about previously. By re-learning how to feel, and balancing it out with our over-emphasis on thinking in the West, we improve our relationship with the environment around us.

Respecting different ways of seeing

It can be argued that our relationship with people, places, and things, is what determines the level of respect we give them. So if our culture removes such relationships, it is logical why we are experiencing what we are today - from the pollution of our environments to increased depression, to increasing inequalities.

From the story of Tupaia's way of seeing the world to the over-emphasis of one gift (sight) over another (feeling) in the show See, we gain insight into the value of observing different ways of "seeing" generally.

Our seeing is based on our belief systems, so constantly reviewing our beliefs helps us improve our ability to see clearly. In doing so, we better understand others and create better solutions. We also learn to develop solutions that not just reverse the roles of discrimination and the seats of power but include those disadvantaged before us and create the space for wiser leadership.


This post was originally published in my weekly newsletter here