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Choosing Inconvenience

Learn to be willing and it'll lead to adventure

Adventure. The Rocky Mountain West has a big claim on this concept, although it happens all over the world every day. Some adventures are thrust upon us, but I’m talking about voluntary adventure—the kind that we seek out of a desire to experience life in a more exciting and perhaps more truthful way. What would I do if nothing was standing in my way?

One might hang glide or skydive or ice climb or drag race, but there are many tame versions of adventure, as in taking up a new hobby or exploring local attractions or stopping to talk with a stranger on the street. Even sitting on a gentle wooded slope with a pair of binoculars can bring exhilarating discoveries.

If I choose a demanding activity that’s slightly beyond my comfort zone, do I have a better chance of succeeding if I commit to acute mindfulness about doing it? A lot of skiers, kayakers, climbers, hunters, hikers, surfers, and mountain bikers would say yes, this is a sound hypothesis.  Mindfulness is the best way to both improve one’s skill and stay safe. And this intensity of focus certainly opens the mind and heart to sensations not found in the cozy village far below.

There’s a growing trend to chose experiences over acquiring stuff. “Do I dare open that bulletproof, fireproof combination safe where I’ve locked up my dreams and say, ‘Oh, I’ll do that later, when life is more stable, when I’m more secure?’ What if I try to make this really creative vision—one that I’ve always dreamed of—come true and I fail? Do I even dare to ask, ‘What if?’” This assessment of risk was, ironically, written by New York Times writer Carl Richards, who is a financial planner.

My author friend Tom Harpole of Helena, who recently published Regarding Willingness:  Chronicles of a Fraught Life, draws a connection between his curiosity and the many eye-widening adventures he’s had. “Some challenges have fundamental parts that I understand and I want to see how the sum of the parts come together to keep me alive,” he says. “About a dozen of the 17 essays in Regarding Willingness are about me doing things that could have killed me. Each of those fraught situations attracted my curious self and I wanted answers, even if I had to sacrifice my own safety.” And the title tells us something too: it’s important to be willing.

Sacrificing comfortable security means that every time we choose adventure, we bring back into our lives a childlike curiosity and faith. The unknown, with all its inconvenience and mystery, beckons. Who will we be when we come out the other side? How will this change us? Adventure is more than taking risks; it is a journey that goes on even after we land the plane or fold the tent or fork some hay for the tired horse. It does change us, and that change is deep and permanent.  We prove to ourselves that identity is fluid, that curiosity is a fine thing, and that we can still learn.