Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On Adventure

For the educated, well-fed and prosperous minority amongst us, the challenges of life are now intellectual, narrowly emotional, hedonistic or cognitive. There are many amongst us who feel numb in this environment and crave physical and primitive challenges, the rush of adrenaline and endorphins, the sweet tiredness of physical exertion and the taste of food when really hungry, a loaded battle with the elements of nature, the solitude of forests and mountain paths, a return to the basics of life, ... at least for a weekend.

For all the mindless distractions of city life, there are those amongst us who still find it meaningful to dump it all and sweat again while climbing a hill.

For a person who is living in the hills, fields or forests, the need for such adventures is non-existent. His daily life has enough interactions with other life forms and with unforeseen primitive challenges. For such a person to see well-heeled urbanites come from hundreds of kilometers away to trek on a path that he/she visits every other week, to climb down a rope from a high rock, to pay thousands of rupees for a rocking ride over the river rapids, to jump from a cliff with a parachute or a bungee cord, leads to incredulity and derision.

There is an artificiality to planned adventures which is hard to miss. Yes, we are trekking and climbing and punishing ourselves in order to enjoy the primitive challenges; but how can we escape the contradiction of our being more than prepared with our Timberland shoes, mineral water bottles, junk food snacks, cameras ready to click any shadow of a wild animal or bird, the North Face apparel, imported camping equipment and the very tangible sensation of being outsiders who are consuming nature, just like we consume and shop in the cities?

The joint effort of Sir Edmund Hillary and the Tibetan Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to "conquer" Everest is illustrative. The westerners saw the mountain as something to conquer, whereas it was an object of veneration for the Buddhists, who used the word Chomolungma (the Mother Goddess) for Everest. It is one thing to live in a challenging terrain and climb the hills which are close to one's home, it is quite another to take a plane to another continent and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to climb a hill for fame or self-satisfaction. It is notable that the Sherpa was not honored with a Knighthood (he was refused) while Sir Hillary was singled out for many honors. The Sherpa was however venerated as a higher being in his own villages.

Though Edmund Hillary worked for the Sherpa community after his "conquest" of Everest, the difference between his attitude and that of Tenzing Norgay is best exemplified by his utterance when he met George Lowe after his ascent: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off."


Instead of living a life more in harmony with the Earth and nature, adventure junkies have turned natural habitats into playgrounds for their egos. There is a whole spectrum of adventure-consumerists: those who flinch at the sight of a single coke can on a mountain trek and who are primarily nature-lovers, to those who go to wilderness as a retreat from a stressful life, to those who deface barren rocks with admissions of their crushes and affairs and only have adventures for bragging rights and photo opportunities.

It is not easy to give up the distractions, the lifestyle and the career opportunities of a big city and move to the countryside or to a remote region, and the planning of "wilderness trips", "treks" and "adventure sports" is perhaps an admission of this helplessness. One does crave a connection with nature, but can only afford a temporary, highly planned adventure.

The psychic pollution in a large city can exhaust the nerves and make one want to escape. Going back to nature does give one a taste of that lost silence and innocence, but the bigger malaise of one living an increasingly artificial life, cut off from the sensual diversity of a natural habitat but having an unmanageable amount and diversity of mental distractions, is left intact.


So what is a man to do? Recognize the artificiality, the cognitive and psychic overload of the big-city life, reject its advances as far as possible; spend some time on one's own (nothing rejuvenates as much as solitude), and spend long vacations in nature without the craving for adventure or adrenaline. The return to nature is a return to elements. If one is seeking "experiences" in nature, it is like shining a torch in broad daylight.

While in a forest, or on a hill, or on the beach, relax... There is nothing to be done, or to prove anything to anyone, or anything to capture in your camera. Let nature act. Become a part of it, rather than a consumer. Let the moment have you, rather than "you" gloating at the moment.

I know how it feels to enter the insane, polluted, crowded, shrieking man-made world of the big city after having had the experience (one cannot fail to catch a taste of the silence and the wilderness despite all the efforts one might have made to spoil it by the habitual seeking) of a nature retreat, and one wonders when humanity will learn to avoid its self-destructive ways of unbridled distraction and self-centered hedonism.


Anonymous said...

Life itself is an extreme sport. Many are lost in the ascent/descent.

Mountain climbing is symbolic of daring to be different.

Mountain peaks are never crowded. I’ve climbed many mountains, and I was almost always alone. Why? Because it’s hard work. Not very many people desire to climb mountains. It’s lonesome, and you have to leave everything behind to do it. You’re likely to get lots of scratches and bumps, and it might even cost you your life.

There is more light on the mountain. Long after the valley is in darkness, you can still see the sun. The valley is almost always dark—full of people and things, but usually in darkness. The mountain is windy and cold, but thrilling.

If you’re going to climb a mountain, you have to have the feeling that it’s really worth dying for!

Any mountain—the mountain of this life, the mountain of accomplishment, the mountain of obstacles, of difficulty—if you’re going to climb it, it has to be worth dying for, to brave wind and cold and storm, symbolic of adversities. But on the mountaintop alone, you feel so close to the Lord. The voice of His Spirit there is so loud it’s almost like it’s thundering! But the voice of the multitude is so loud in the valley, you can’t hear the voice of God. The silence on the mountain peak is deafening. You get a real “high” on top of a mountain. It’s a thrill! It’s almost terrifying!

Of course, mountain climbing is extremely dangerous. You’re never so near the abyss as when you’re on the brink. One little misstep will send you right down to the bottom again. It’s a strange thing about mountain climbing: It’s often much easier to climb up than back down. Once you’re up, you may never get back. That’s one of the prices you pay for climbing mountains. Most mountain climbers who die are lost in the descent, because when they are climbing up they can see where they’re going, but when descending they often can’t see ahead.

Once you have climbed a mountain and reached the peak, you may not want to leave. There’s no inspiration in going back down. Whereas there is a certain drive, almost a spiritual inspiration going up, and you’ll risk anything to reach the top. But going down?—There’s little motivation, no goal, and no accomplishment. You’re just sliding back down into the slough—back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude.

Only pioneers climb mountains—people who want to do something that few have ever done before, people who want to get above the multitude and go beyond what has already been accomplished. Pioneers must have vision—vision to see what no one else can see; faith—faith to believe things no one else believes; initiative—initiative to be the first one to try it; courage—the guts to see it through!

On the mountain you are the first to see the sun rise and the last to see it set. You see the full circle of God’s glorious creation—the 360-degree circumference of the horizon, the entire scope. It’s like seeing all of life from its beginning to its end and understanding.

You feel like you’re living in eternity; whereas down below they’re living in time. You see the world in its proper perspective, with range after range to be conquered, and a world beyond the vision and horizon of normal men. You see distant peaks yet to be climbed, distant valleys yet to be crossed. You see things that the men in the valleys can never see, or even comprehend.

In the valley, people get so caught up in the multitude and the little make-believe world of materialism that they can’t see anything but time and creatures of time and things of time, which are soon to pass away. But if you thrust your head above the multitude, you become like a mountain in their midst, and they will resent and resist and fight you because they can’t understand you and don’t want you. They don’t even want to know that there are mountains!

They don’t want others to hear there are mountains, nor to have a breath of fresh air from those crystal peaks. They want to keep everyone shut in down in the valley, in the mud and mire.

When you appear to be on a mountain while they are in the valley, they hate you, because it’s obvious you are above them, and they don’t want anyone to be above them. They want to keep you stuck in the mud like the rest of them. They don’t want it to be known that there is any other place to go than the valley, and they will do everything they can to discourage you from climbing the mountain.

Do you realize that since time immemorial, wars have been fought between the people who lived in the valleys and the people who lived on the mountains? That’s history. The mountain people were always hardier and fewer, but they survived, because they always had their mountains to flee to. The valley people would rarely follow, as they weren’t tough and husky enough to climb, so they would chase the mountain people up a little way and let them go. They just wanted to get rid of them.

The valley people didn’t want to conquer the mountains; they just wanted to get rid of the mountain people, who were thorns in their flesh and pricks in their side. The mountain people proved someone could live somewhere other than in the valley, something they said was impossible. History is full of examples of mountain people conquering valley people, but seldom of the valley people conquering the mountain people.

However, the danger has always been that when the mountain people had conquered the valley people, they themselves settled down in the valley. The greatest danger is when the mountain people make peace with the valley, when it becomes safe for them to go down into the valley.

The greatest danger is safety and security, because then you lose that freedom and liberty of the mountain, the wild freedom of the mountain!

abc said...

>So what is a man to do? Recognize the >artificiality, the cognitive and psychic >overload of the big-city life, reject >its advances as far as possible;

When you are in the mountains and it is freezing cold in the middle of the night while you're trying to sleep, you'll appreciate every bit of the advances available in the city life.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, harmanjit. But you underestimate how difficult it is for people to sit on a beach and do nothing ;)