This week’s post is dedicated to Explorers. Explorers are people who willingly go into the unknown to face whatever the Universe sends them.
As a historian by training, I have had many opportunities to ponder what it would be like to travel into the unknown. Some explorers travel into the unknown on a physical level. The great sailors of the eighteenth-century were such men and women. They had already mapped much of the globe, but did not have the technology to predict storms weeks in advance nor did they know how animals or indigenous peoples would react to their arrival on distant shores. In that world intrepid men like Captain Cook did not always make it home alive.
Other explorers travel into the unknown on a mental plane. I am thinking this time of scholars, scientists and artists, who use their imagination to take them to breakthroughs in their understanding of their field. Those who know me well, know that I spent years researching the experiments of modern artists and designers who found beauty in abstract art of the past and of other cultures and adapted it for their own purposes. I am recalling the image of the 1905 Autumn Salon in France when the Fauves first unleashed their wild colors and violent brushstrokes on an unprepared public. Now I walk down the street of any major city in the U.S.A. or Europe and could see a Fauvist poster hanging in a shop or café and think it unremarkable. But the Fauves caused riots in their day because they broke the boundaries of convention and leaped into a style that transgressed what that culture believed to be “normal.” What a difference one hundred years makes!
Of course, there is another level of journeying into the unknown. It is one that I have been introduced to over the years, but not a type of journeying that I find easy or comfortable yet. I refer to spiritual exploration, where a traveler journeys inward to a place beyond the physical and mental planes to a place that is exists only in the present. I am learning Yoga practice again after a thirty-year lapse from my introduction to it as a young child. My life is very busy and I often feel so over-stimulated by thoughts, sights and sounds of the modern world that I find meditation very difficult. I find slowing down difficult. It may take me many years to become comfortable with journeying inward into transcendence and, perhaps, I will never achieve being fully in the present, but I continue to learn about what others have done in their spiritual practices to find that place.
All three types of encountering the unknown that I have mentioned: physical, mental and spiritual, involve one key factor—risk. And risk is the point at which you decide if your creativity will help you to survive. I think that a healthy person needs some element of risk in her or his life, in order to maintain their “creative muscles,” just as athletes need to use their muscles or fail to improve their skills.
My husband and I are leaving this week to travel by plane to the Central American country of Costa Rica. A professional outfitter with an international reputation and bilingual guides will be taking us to several of the national parks across the country. Costa Rica touches both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and features diverse wildlife and many different ecosystems and climate zones. I am trying very hard not to create expectations in my mind of what I will encounter. I want very much to just “be” for a brief time and make this a real retreat from modern life as I know it and learn from the Costa Rican people some new ways of living and existing. I find myself unable to fully suppress the excitement of observing wildlife, but realize that a lot of the very fascinating mammals I would love to see will probably be out avoiding humans by day and lurking in the shadows at nighttime. I also admit to being intimidated by the idea of hiking through the rain forest with 90° F heat and 90% humidity. My mind wanders when I think of the many stories about the jungle I read as a child (and as an adult!). So I am returning to my yoga training and studiously calling my breath and finding balance.
On my expedition into the unknown I hope to find out what shape my creative muscles are in. Would I have had the courage to travel with a physical adventurer like Captain Cook and explore distant lands? Will I observe something in the culture of the people of this land that I could inspire me to adapt my life at home? And will I attain the calm in the center of the fugue of modern life and be able to fully distance myself from all that I leave behind.
Perhaps I will have answers the next time I post to this blog.
I hope if you have read this entry, you will share in the comments something about your own explorations on any level of your life.