When a great tracker loses the trail of an animal, he may learn where it has gone by discovering all the places it has not gone.
In the moment the tracker loses the track he meets the full 360-degree dimension of possibility. The animal could have gone in any direction and so each path of blank, trackless soil is talking to him.
“Not this path”, “not this path”
As he walks he is eliminating wedges of the full degree of that rotation. Refining where the trail may run by learning where it does not run. In this way, a tracker is always on track even when he is off it.
I always wanted to be someone whose life was an expression of the things I cared about. For me in some cases coming to that path began as an imitation of what I thought I should care about.
The gift of finding the path of ‘not this’. The realization that certain things I thought were for me was in fact not part of my path helped me know myself much more deeply.
By tracking imitation, my own trail twisted, turned and then opened to the authentic. In this way, no trail is ever wasted by the tracker.
Walking in a life that is not for you can be the beginning of knowing the life that is meant for you.
The path of ‘not this’ is a part of the way of a tracker.
When you look at the image above, what do you see?
Perhaps you see a man standing in an odd position (I’m hiding a beer behind my back). Maybe you see the tree on the left of the frame that has had its head cut off or the odd shadow below it.
When I showed this image to my tracker friends and asked them what they saw they all answered as if I was asking a stupid question.
“The elephant track”
The first thing they notice is the twig in the front left-hand corner of the frame and the impression of itself it has left in the powdery soil as an elephant has compressed it to the ground. They see the wrinkled edges of the elephant’s foot.
They see it because they have trained themselves to see it. This is the development of track consciousness. It’s the development of searching images in the filing system of the brain so that you begin to see through the eyes of a tracker. You begin to notice what you’re looking for.
Life is full of tracks. You have to train yourself to see what brings you to yourself and what dissipates you.
You have to learn to see the track. You have to become the sort of person who might notice the subtle signs of destiny if you walked across its path.
That is the way of the tracker.
One of the simplest and most powerful ways to break out of social constraints and be wilder is to find a genuine yes and a genuine no.
It’s so simple and yet it will break you out of all sorts of compliance and obligation.
There is a reason why, in courtroom dramas, the lawyer always says, “it’s a yes or no question.” There is simplicity to these two words that establish a direction without the spinning of elaborate stories. Saying no when you mean no will bring you to your integrity. Saying yes from deep within, before all the reasons you shouldn’t, will open your life.
When I found a clear no it came with all sorts of side effects. I couldn’t act or try to manipulate situations. I couldn’t pretend to be confused or that I wanted to but couldn’t. Learning to say no made me so much more honest. It put me in touch with myself. Then, ironically, it made me less selfish. The more I learnt to say no, the more energy I had, the more I ended up having to give.
This is the paradox of boundaries.
Finding a true yes, one that arose from deep down, started to open me to the things I really wanted to be involved in. A true yes started to discern more elegantly the places I wanted my attention to go. And where your attention goes, your life goes.
The way of discovery is fluid. The way of knowing is rigid.
The way of discovery invites. The way of knowing tells.
A tracker lives in immediate feedback loops of discovery. Often when tracking fast they will simply walk rapidly on the line of the animal in small zigzagging patterns. A track here: warmer… Nothing here: colder…
They respond to the signs on the earth (or the absence of signs) making quick course adjustments as they move in pursuit of their quarry.
They are learning as they go. Giving themselves the space to try things and work through a process of confirmation and elimination. Often if they lose the track they will amble ahead trying different game paths until they cut onto the track again.
So many people I work with tell me that they are stuck. They tell me that don’t have a signal clue what they want to do. They are often of the mindset that when they KNOW what they want to do then they will begin to make changes. This is the binary mind of culture. A culture obsessed with knowing the answer from the moment a young mind enters a classroom. The culture says you can get it right or wrong. The culture says be perfect or flawed. The culture says success or failure. These are the subtexts that the ideals of modern life present.
Life however is not binary. It asks us to try things, take small chances and allow a vision to emerge out of these experiments. A new identity comes from giving yourself the space to try things. To have no clue and, like a tracker, walk on the trail of the discovery.
To be a tracker is to develop a relationship with the unknown. Every time you come across a trail left by some elusive wild creature a question forms in the space between your eyes and the track, a question that is innate to every trail. The scope of unknown that lies ahead is unfathomable. The terrain is unknown, the animal’s movement, mood and whereabouts. Its presence on a vast landscape brings one to thoughts of needles and haystacks.
And yet, the tracker is inclined towards this. He is attracted by all the things he can’t know for within that evolution is the aliveness.
The tracker does not concern himself with outcomes but rather with the next track, the next step and then the one after that.
Rilke pointed to this as he learned to live in the mysterious unfolding:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
To the tracker this is not a flimsy whimsy but rather a resilient state of curiosity. It is a state that requires constant untold commitment to commitment.
Be courageous enough to know that you do not know where you are going, but you are going anyway.
Trackers are adept at creating psychological states. On the trail of an elusive creature they enter a paradoxical place. They are obsessively determined to find the animal but the desire to find it has not been allowed to become a crippling attachment to outcome. What they commit to in order to generate the outcome is simply the next track, then the next track, then the next.
To me, what it looks like, is the dynamic nature of play. They are relaxed; they allow the moment to evolve. They lose the track and check the trail up ahead the go back to the last track. Lightheartedly enjoying themselves doing something that seems almost impossible, they relentlessly allow the process to unfold.
All transformations begin with a single track and then another. Most profound shifts in our lives come from tiny decisions. There are things we want, the person we believe we can be. Between that person and where we are now are small steps… the next track. Cleaning out your bedside table, an apology, a thank you note. Learning to say no or yes.
Commit to the next small track, then the next, and meet greatness in the play of process.
This is the way of the tracker.