“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller
I went rock climbing recently. It was exhilarating.
It also provoked in me, fear. The kind of fear that I haven’t felt in a while. I have felt it to a degree in those heart-pounding moments mountain biking, when traction gives or I commit to ‘the line’ on a tricky downhill, but it often seems to be a quicker, and reactionary fear. It is almost as if the fear follows more so than it precedes the action. Maybe it’s just because it is a faster paced activity, or in my case it may be because there is no longer as much novelty and the challenge is muted as a result.
Playing music live also brings about a degree a fear. There are always ‘butterflies’, nervousness, before a show. There is no danger though; it is more unnerving than fearful. When you feel fear on a rock face though, with many more feet to go above, and the ground below increasingly out of reach, the fear is a true ‘fight or flight’ experience. I find it requires a different, more primal resolve and determination to overcome.
Adventure: Daring And Risk
I had never actually looked up the definition of adventure before. The word is ostensibly overused, or perhaps, misused. Maybe it’s just diluted.
noun. 1. an unusual, exciting or dangerous experience, journey or series of events.
2. the quality of being excited and willing to take risks, try new ideas, etc.
I was mildly surprised to note the components of danger and risk; and I would argue that the word is much more used for it’s ‘unusual, exciting’ connotations. I think I understood this intuitively, but I find when I have attributed the word adventure to activities such as playing music, that the word does not synchronize well. I feel I need to use words like; exciting, or cathartic, but not adventurous, when referring to certain activities, or challenges. I will be using this word more reservedly now as a result.
A Need For Fear
Personally, I am much more inclined to seek out activities that scare, and physically and emotionally/mentally challenge me. I draw mild spurn for the types of activities I engage in, which often hurt me, exacerbate old pains and an aging physiology, and which test my limits. It is who I am though, and it is what brings me some of my greatest joys, and consequently, enduring happiness; I need adventure.
For me, it is less of a gain to compete with others. I gain so much more from competition with myself. I find also, that I don’t experience exhilaration or complete satisfaction unless there is danger or risk involved. Running a marathon, for example, was a novel and challenging activity; it was an achievement, but it was not exhilarating. Yes, the runner’s high is something I recognize and enjoy and strive for with my weekly runs. But running another marathon to, say, better my time, doesn’t interest me. Running an ultra marathon on the other hand, does. There is more danger and risk, and, I will concede, novelty and a different challenge inherent in this goal; an adventure.
On that rock face, the task was once again novel and challenging. It was an adventure. What was significantly different from running a marathon was the fear. I remember clearly that point where I looked down, caught myself, and realized that I now needed to trust my partner, my equipment, my skill and strength, and my will. It was where the decision to carry on constituted a ‘point of no return.’
It is this point on an ascent where the path is no longer clear. The point where you have gotten in the first few moves, you are fifteen or twenty feet up, and it is now time to commit. At this juncture you have to commit because each move from that point onward takes you further from safety, from security. Where each foot gained brings more fear.
It is the point where you either overcome or succumb. It is exhilarating; but that exhilaration can only be truly enjoyed when you reach the top – the very top. I emphasis this last because the one thing I did not remember was how much harder those last few moves would be. I found they were just a little harder than all the ones that got me to this final stretch. Fighting, what Steven Pressfield refers to as Resistance in his book The Art of War. In it he states that;
“The danger [of Resistance] is greatest when the finish line is in sight.”
Once you reach that final mark though, the very top, and you beat Resistance, you take a deep breath, look down with a deep sense of achievement – experience that exhilaration and then, get excited about doing it again.
Fear is a part of adventure. I failed to appreciate this before. I suspect I won’t again.
Adventure And Life
When I was planning for retirement I did much soul-searching and thinking on what life’s journey would be after my ‘formal’ working life. One of the key points I discerned was my understanding of happiness, and that lasting happiness is found in a journey. One with accomplishments and failures, joy and sadness, and of finding novel and challenging goals with which to engage and overcome. I think, maybe, that Antoine de Saint-Exupery (the author of The Little Prince) states it best;
“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Embarking upon adventure, and a journey, in finding moments of joy while creating enduring happiness; this is life. I find I enrich my life more by giving then getting, but also in trying to do something adventurous, or at least novel and challenging everyday. At the very least I get the ‘unusual and exciting’ elements in. Do something (adventurous) everyday, something that provokes that fight or flight instinct, that’s the daily goal; if it can’t provoke fear, then do something that brings excitement; it really can’t get any more simple.
Sure, there’s work, and the household and familial responsibilities. There is exercise and reading. I try to write everyday. I walk and I go to bed early. All this I refer to as my routine.
The real objective though, is to get outside and get adventurous. Kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, motorcycling, river swims and more recently, climbing. Of course, music brings elements of excitement and joy, but I don’t think it is adventure, and I get a different kind of fulfillment from that. Necessary, and welcome, but my soul craves danger and risk.
I am using my Instagram account as my ‘honest broker’ as I try to post that something everyday now. This is new, this effort to post daily. It provides me focus and purpose, maybe even motivation.
If lasting happiness is the journey, with the joys that come from success, and failure, then I aim to succeed, but I don’t fear to fail. I’ll leave this with one final quote (which I will explore in a later post);
“The idea is to die young as late as possible.” – Ashley Montagu
I love this.
Happy Sunday. Get outside and do something, adventurous, if possible.