Creating our own Wilderness
My friend Charlie is training now for sea-kayaking solo around Ireland. The passage will take weeks. Charlie will paddle 10-15 hours a day, camp ashore each night, then set off again the next morning. This will be no modest or risk-free enterprise. Seas, even in summer, can be monstrous off the rugged Irish coast. As Charlie himself admits, you have to be a little nuts to conceive of, and then live out, this kind of wild-and-woolly adventure.
It’s a Wilderness Passage.
A deliberate Wilderness Passage, with the aim—as in an involuntary passage—of attaining a deeper sense of who one is and of what is important to him.
I salute Charlie. I think it’s great that he’s doing this.
A case could be made that attempting to qualify for the Navy SEALs (or adopting an infant or auditioning to play Lady Macbeth in your community theater) is an eyes-wide-open form of entering upon a wilderness passage.
Each is a hero’s journey, but embarked upon intentionally.
We deliberately eject ourselves from the Ordinary World. Like Dorothy or Alice, we enter an Inverted Universe where everything is new and nothing we thought we knew can help us or aid us in finding or keeping our bearings. Our aim, like Charlie’s, is to return home a different person—battered a bit, and chastened perhaps, but wiser, and with a deeper understanding of ourselves and of life.
Charlie’s passage is a metaphor as well. Does even he know what for? (I have my own theory, but I’ll keep my mouth shut.)
A few years ago, I ran the L.A. Marathon. Orthopaedic Hospital downtown organized a nine-month training program. We novice runners would meet every Sunday morning, about 150 in all. One Sunday there’d be a class about hydration. Another would be hosted by an expert on running shoes or the best way to set up a training schedule. It was fun. You got to meet a bunch of interesting people.
What struck me, however, was how many in the group were going through divorces or had experienced a recent tragedy of some kind. These weren’t trained or practiced runners. They had picked the marathon (and I include myself in this category) as a Wilderness Ordeal, whether they knew it or not or could articulate it or not.
And it worked, just like Charlie’s solo circumnavigation of Ireland will work.
A Wilderness Passage is baked into our DNA. No law says we can’t pick our own.
[To follow Charlie’s adventure, click here.]