17 March 2006

On Seeking Adventure

Again, as I was parousing some of the blogs I have begun to read, there seems to be a thread winding through. The need for change, for something new, for adventure. We must be careful what we are asking for.

One of my favorite authors is G.K. Chesterton. Now before we begin a long discussion on the merits and pitfalls of Chestertonisms, one thing is for sure and that is that he was a good writer, an adept thinker, and had a way with finding a clear perspective on things. But again, that's only my opinion. One thing that he wrote about was adventure, and seemed to have an interesting definition for adventure. In his research into the romantic literature and what makes a situation adventuresome, he concluded that what makes something an adventure is having a good deal of things decided for you on your behalf, and you have to get along as best as possible with the consequences. I like that definition. We have sanitized our adventures into safe and controlable outings. We go rock climbing -- in a gym with rubberized floors and belay ropes everywhere (of course we do, otherwise the insurance companies would have a hayday!). We go on mountain bike trips, along trails and roads that see just a little less traffic than the 401 at 4:58pm. We go river rafting, but only with a guide at the helm and warm coffee waiting on shore. But we sanitize it so that the consequences are reduced to almost nothing, and in some cases there are no more consequences. What of hiking up a mountain, with the consequence that you might twist your ankle, so that you must sit down, so that you might find that tiny alpine flower nestled between the rocks that you would have never otherwise seen for the grandeur of the view?

Now I know what you're thinking, we ought not to take irresponsible risks. I'm a dad for two kids, who am I to put my life at risk for the selfish reason of fulfilling some egotistical need for adventure. Don't I know I have to be there for the kids? Provide for them? I'm not talking about that, there are reasonable precautions, but what I am afraid of is that we have so sanitized our lives that we have begun to remove life itself. We get things our way a little too much. We have gotten used to being able to control a lot more things in our environment than has been available for most of human history. Two hundred years ago, if you were born on a farm, you were a farmer. If you were born in a bakery, you were a baker. I know that is over simplified, but life dictated a lot for people. With the industrial revolution came an economic revolution that gave people the freedom to decide what they want to be, and the opportunity to the means to acheive it.

But this wasn't supposed to be about history. We were talking about adventure. So, do we find it by roaming the far corners of the world? Or as Chesterton put it, by climbing the fence into the neighbour's yard and waiting for a reaction? Where do we find that thing which is alive?

I think it's a bit of both. Chesterton said that there is far too much life at home for some people, and that they have to soothe themselves with tigers and crocodiles. I'm not so sure. There is life out there too. But they are two kinds of life.

I've worked a lot with missions teams while I was in Estonia, and the thing that every group leader knows (or should know) is that the biggest effect of a missions trip is not on those that were ministered to, but to those that were the ministers. The team got the most out of the trip. I've seen it, I've been a part of it, and I've experienced it. Going someplace new opens us up to discovery, most of the internal kind. We learn new things about ourselves while we learn about our new environment. In my opinion, adventure without some kind of self discovery is boring. The kind of adventure that really is an adventure, is when we discover something new about ourselves. Someone or something decides something for us, we are stuck in some situation, and we have to try to get along as best as possible with the result. We fall through the ice, to learn that we can be rather adept at clambering out. Or to learn that our bodies really don't like cold water and that being a member of a polar bear club is something you should never consider. We travel somewhere on a bus and it breaks down, and we discover that walking 10 miles to the nearest town isn't that bad, it just takes time, and that we actually enjoy walking that far even though your left shoe rubs your baby toe a bit (when was the last time you walked more than 2km in one go?)

OK, I'm starting to ramble pointlessly, but I believe I've made my point, that they key to adventure, to self discovery, is to try new things. Try travelling to India, try walking to the store, try river running in a kayak, try climbing over the fence into the neighbour's yard (if you can lift your leg that high). The greatest adventure awaits, learn.


Garth said...

You've obviously are reacting somewhat to my recent post on my musings blog. I too am a fan of Chesterton and ironically have a copy of Orthodoxy on the shelf next to me.

Jon Krakauer's book Into The Wild has this interesting quote:

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances & yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, 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."

Any thoughts? Aron Ralston author of Between A Rock & A Hard Place (the guy who had to amputate his own arm after a boulder shifted on it while canyoneering) uses this quote as a manifesto for his life.

Dave said...

I tend to agree with that quote, that people have a passion for new experiences. Although, lately I've been thinking that using adventure as an object of the passion is a little off maybe. I think it's the passion for learning, for new experiences against which we test ourselves. We find out how easily we adapt, change, adjust. I think that at the center of the human spirit there is a passion to become more than what we are. It's one of those philisophical games, we have the ability to understand "god" and as such have the understanding that we are not "god" and that we are less that that. But at the same time we have this desire to become more than what we are (why else are comic books so popular?)

So we have this innate desire to become more, to learn, to expand our horison, to experience more, to grow, to learn.

But then there's the topic of security. I am convinced that what we tout as security builds either a false sense of security, or is moe a sense of ignorant comfortableness. But maybe that's another topic to explore.

David said...

I think to some degree what we call adventure is what the rest of the world calls life. We have money and security so it's "adventure" - they don't so it's life. We've glamourized it. BUT, having said that, I think too much security and too little adventure is not good for the soul.

I guess what I am saying is we live with an illusion and that's not good. We'd be better off living as things were - day to day, in a state where trust is a necessary response to life and not merely a luxury, and where praying for daily bread truly means something.

Things like "ease" and "safety" and "comfort",while being very relative, are not often good for the soul. Stepping out of that is real life, or adventure. Call it what you like, our souls hunger for reality, not illusions.

Rambling. Sorry. This post really resonates with me, David. I find it interesting that you are writing similar things having returned from places far away and I am writing them and dreaming/scheming to go in the other direction. Clearly it is not the destination that matters.


Dave said...

So true David, it's what's going on inside that really matters. Not where you are going or coming from, but what you carry with you as you go wherever you go. It's a spiritual matter, not a physical. Its a process, not a state or location to pause at.

And don't worry about rambling, we all need to sometimes in order to hash our everything that we don't need. Spill it all out and pick up the pieces we want, leaving the rest. I've been doing a lot of that lately.