There is a myth floating around the web that when Magellan’s ships first appeared on the horizon, the natives, having never seen a tall ship, not only didn’t recognize them, it was so far out of their world view that they didn’t even see them.
There’s a lot of arguing that can be done about this theory, beginning with the fact that natives living along a shoreline would probably be fishermen and would most certainly have canoes or some form of water navigation. This said, they might not have ever seen ships like the Victoria, Trinidad, and Conception before, but does that mean they couldn’t perceive them?
Perhaps, like the Aztecs who first saw Cortez’s ships, they described them as big houses on water. Or perhaps they had a different idea and called them mountains moving over the sea.
In a similar vein, I have heard the story that Native Americans, having no prior construct for the first locomotives that traversed America, were not able to perceive them barreling down the tracks, to their unfortunate demise.
The mind balks at such nonsense.
When there is some new exotic fruit at my local grocery store that I’ve never encountered before, I don’t see an empty bin. I see something unusual that I cannot name.
On the other hand, I have lost my keys only to find them laughing at me from three feet away. I have searched in vain for my glasses while I was wearing them. I realize this is not exactly the same thing. I know what keys are. I know what glasses are. But beyond these personal incidences being, “D’oh!” Homer Simpson type moments, there is something undeniably fascinating about perception and how it works — or doesn’t.
There is also something undeniably real about our human capacity for learned limitations and self deception.
Recently I attended a workshop offered by my spiritual teacher, Guruji Mahendra Trivedi. His discourses are brilliant and deliver deep truth that sometimes flows over the overheated mind like a simple, cooling breeze.
The mind is convinced it’s simple – but did I think of it before it was spoken? No, I did not.
My spirit, however, recognizes the deep truth being presented. My spirit understands that to implement such “simple” truth, there is the not so simple requirement that we must be willing to relinquish conditioned beliefs, attachments, addictions, wrong relationship to people or things… The list goes on and on when it comes to how well and truly the conditioned mind can tangle the truth.
Listening to spirit, one recognizes that we must be willing to step around the corner, that we are called to let go of the old way in pursuit of deeper truth, even though we have no idea what is around that corner, or what to expect if we leave behind the comforts of the known world.
We may very well suffer the shock and surprise of standing on a beach, the once-empty horizon suddenly alive with a forest of tall masts and half-moon sails flying. We may walk the train tracks with the hot earth rumbling — and finally recognize it for what it is.
The truth is simple! And at the same time, it can be so terrifying. There is a reason we don’t see what we don’t see, if that makes sense.
I have no idea if it’s historically accurate that native peoples were not able to see Magellan’s ships. The mind can argue this way and that forever. But it is an evocative fable, a powerful arrow pointing to how profoundly we can manipulate our own perception.
Once we see that manipulation though, we can’t “unsee” it, and that is a beautiful thing, for it ushers us into a whole new world. Even if we are afraid to step foward into that new unknown.
People jump out of airplanes to test themselves, to face their fear.
People climb Everest and walk over burning coals to face their fear.
But how many people turn inward and climb that mountain, that shining mountain that rises out of the ocean like a new land to be discovered, a new continent to be explored?