I read two quotations recently that struck me as interesting and worth thinking about. They also bothered me a little: that’s how I knew they were worth thinking about! Here is the first one:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.” –Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakaur is most famous for writing the book Into the Wild. He’s the sort of person who’s been up Mount Everest. The sort of person who climbs mountains for fun. What bothers me about the quotation is that I think he’s right. For me, anyway: I feel most alive when I’m not quite sure what the future will bring, but I’m fairly sure it will bring something. What seems to scare me most is the possibility of stasis. But I think the new experiences he describes can take many different forms: going back to school is a new experience, having a child is a new experience, starting a business is a new experience. Planting a garden can be one as well. Some experiences are quieter than others, but they can still be new and exciting. They can still be adventures. Also, I think if adventures are to be effective, if they are to be adventures at all, you need a certain level of planning. There is, after all, a difference between an adventure and a disaster: Krakauer’s ascent of Everest was a disaster, although it did furnish material for another book. The adventurous spirit needs to be accompanied by the spirit of practicality.
A side note here: I always get a bit angry when people tell me there is nothing I can’t do. I hear this a lot, actually . . . The reason it bothers me is that it’s so patently untrue. There are all sorts of things I can’t do, because I don’t have the time, or the money, or because I don’t want to make the compromises that doing them would entail. There is an odd notion out there that life has no limitations. But life has plenty. That’s partly why it’s life.
Here is the second quotation:
“When we are doing something because it is expected of us or to please somebody else or because we are afraid of somebody else, we become further alienated from a sense of living authentically.
“If we just keep living out a role we know well, the cost of that is to become increasingly cut off from that which is in the collective unconscious, that which not only nourishes us, but also provides the raw material that allows us to mess up.
“Very often in transition periods, that’s exactly what is called for, a change by going through chaos, of losing the way, of being lost in the forest for some time before we get through and find our path again.” –Jean Shinoda Bolen
At heart, both of these quotations are about the willingness to accept uncertainty: in the Bolen quotation, for a while, and in the Krakauer quotation, as a condition of life. Although the Bolen quotation talks specifically about being lost for a while, of accepting that period of being lost before finding the path. That quotation bothered me because it felt so true, and in a way uncomfortable: it was like one of those signs saying “You Are Here.” Because that’s exactly where I am, lost in the forest for a while, doing the work I’m sure I want and need to do, but not knowing where it will lead. Trying to figure out the next adventure.
I think what I will take from both of those quotations is, that’s all right. Life is a series of adventures, and those of us who have adventurous spirits will seek them out. But that means we may feel lost intermittently: we will always be losing and refinding our paths. I think that’s what adventures are all about.
I do have faith that the path is there, waiting. And that it will become clear, eventually.