Have you ever heard of the indigenous Aymara people of the Andes?
I ran across them while researching for our book, Just Push Play- on Midlife.
They literally have their backs to the future. You can see a video here.
“Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies’ orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind.”
When researchers asked an Aymara woman to explain the origins of her culture she starts describing her parents generation, then her grandparents, and so on, extending her arm further and further in front of her, yet describing the past. When she talks about the values she will pass on to her children, she gestures with her thumb, over her shoulder behind her, indicating the future.
Turns out, the Aymara have a sense of the passage of time that is a mirror image of the English language. For them, the past is in front, the future is behind.
Time is a tricky subject, and language is how we resort to metaphors to handle it.
Language also connects the importance we place on the markers we use to convey information.
The Aymara use their language to connect to the importance they hold to vision.
French and Spanish emphasize the gender of an object, (el gato, la cama,) English the gender of the subject (her house, his book) and the Aymara mark whether the speaker saw the action happen or not.
Since eyewitness is so important to them, it makes logical sense that the speaker faces what has already been seen: the past.
For decades people have said the Aymara have it all backwards- the past is what they see in front of them- the future is behind them unseen.
Quite literally they are walking backwards through life…or are they????
I suggest they are living as Eckhart Tolle and similar spiritual thinkers, believe we should live- In The Moment.
They cannot see the future so they are not always fretting and extending in that direction which Tolle and others see as counter productive. And they may say they can only “see” the past, but in reality they are only seeing exactly what is happening right NOW.
The Aymara have, through language, taught themselves to be in the present, and not caught in a future they cannot see.
Perhaps the key for our best life, lies in creating a new language for our Midlife, that like the Aymara, emphasizes what is important, and practices the gifts we possess.
A language that repositions our perspective, and places importance on our innate resources such as our intuition. A vocabulary that reinforces intuition, emphasizing what we are seeing ,hearing, feeling and knowing, without the why.
Our intuition is a powerful resource providing our personal navigational system. Uncomfortable as we may be in using our instincts as a guidance tool, following our hunches, our gut feelings and deciphering those cryptic messages our instincts send us, is a direct way to creating a life that is truly in tune with our heart. The quieter and stiller we can become inside, the easier it is to recognize when intuition hits. We suddenly recognize the pattern as the kaleidoscope snaps into focus. Visual exercises, journaling, drawing, painting, all help in the exploration of our Midlife intuition.
The Aymara are acquiring knowledge, with their backs to the future, flying in the face of reasoning, and doing just fine. Our Midlife navigation, may also appear unorthodox, as we follow the needle on our intuition compass knowing the language of information is much different than the language of understanding.
You must train your intuition – you must trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. – Ingrid Bergman
Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way…We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking