Years ago a friend needed help finding his way through the woods. He confessed that he was actually navigating midlife crisis, but wanted to do so backpacking. He came to me for gear advice, and I got to witness his enlightened tears and ear-to-ear grin on the Appalachian Trail. Something transcendental happened between shouldering a 50-pound pack and slogging 80 miles through the Smoky Mountains.
Adventure is meditation.
I’ve been stuck on this idea for a month or better now after reading a post by my cousin-in-law, Matt Johnson. In “Stop Looking for Your Purpose in Life,” he writes…
“Purpose is not what you do, but how you do it. …purpose does not come from a cause, it comes from inside: through personal growth, meaningful relationships, and service to something bigger than yourself” (here).
Matt’s post resonated deeply with me. The truth is not out there, an X-phile though I may be; the truth is inside. Still, I find that it’s something about adventure, about wandering out there, that clarifies what’s in here.
It was the late Colin Fletcher–author of The Complete Walker III, handbook to generations of backpackers–who first came to mind. In The Secret Worlds… he began his journey needing to ‘sweat out’ something of the ‘human world’. By the end of his journey he wrote there “was none of the gaping meaninglessness that had hung so heavy on me….” But what is that thing which characterizes ‘mucking about’ through the wilderness backcountry that helps resolve life? Colin wrote…
….there is nothing like a wilderness journey for rekindling the fires of life. Simplicity is part of it. Cutting the cackle. Transportation reduced to leg – or arm – power, eating irons to one spoon. Such simplicity, together with sweat and silence, amplify the rhythms of any long journey, especially through unknown, untattered territory. And in the end such a journey can restore an understanding of how insignificant you are — and thereby set you free. (from River).
This March edition of Outside Magazine highlights The Quest to Achieve Flow State. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory has been a fav concept of leisure studies for two decades. The short idea is that people, particularly adventure athletes, experience optimal experience when they engage in activities in which their skills are challenged but adequate.
Take rock climbers for instance. There is this ultimate experience in adapting critical thinking and physical technique to climb the vertical challenge. Your awareness is limited to your own grip, strength, route finding and inner fortitude; your field of vision to the rock, it’s micro edges and cracks. Then when you top out and look down or out on the exposure around you, the accomplishment part of such an exponential context.
A bit over one week ago was the anniversary of Malcolm X’ assassination. At the memorial, his daughter referred to recent civil unrest (that I wrote about here), saying “I would never suggest that my father would want the revolutions of today to have to be violent” (here). Malcolm X’ story arc began with the call for more separation from White Americans. It was adventure that changed his mind: his pilgrimage to Mecca for The Hajj. Afterward he called a press conference, reversing his position, saying…
“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors” (here).
Encountering your self in proximity to the world, to challenge, to others and their communities is to come face to face with our own spirit and interpretations. What we find has the potential to explode our normative assumptions and enable us to think what is otherwise beyond our capacity to imagine. (Check it.)
Back to Colin Fletcher. In the Complete Walker III he wrote…
if you judge safety to be the paramount consideration in life you should never, under any circumstances, go on long hikes alone. Don’t take short hikes alone, either – or, for that matter, go anywhere alone. And avoid at all costs such foolhardy activities as driving, falling in love, or inhaling air that is almost certainly riddled with deadly germs. Wear wool next to the skin. Insure every good and chattel you possess against every conceivable contingency the future might bring, even if the premiums half-cripple the present. Never cross an intersection against a red light, even when you can see all roads are clear for miles. And never, of course, explore the guts of an idea that seems as if it might threaten one of your more cherished beliefs.
Discovering the breadth of the world around us is the truest discovery of the innermost spaces of ourselves.
It’s too easy to believe you’ve figured it all out when you’re comfortable, unchallenged, and among the familiar. Not that adventure changes your mind, necessarily. But it helps you to know the world of which you are only a part in instead of your imagining a world apart from what you think you know.
Thereby adventure elicits personal growth, meaningful relationships, and service to something bigger from inside yourself.