“We loved the unknown. We loved that part of climbing which you have to overcome with what’s inside of you. And that’s what makes it an adventure – the combination of the unknown and the risk.” – Royal Robbins via NPR interview
Royal Robbins, famed pioneer in the world of climbing, passed in March of 2017 at the age of 82. I first heard of Robbins just a few years back, as my climbing-obsessed husband was then always nose-deep in a book of adventures on either Half Dome, El Capitan, Everest or others. Unfortunately, as with the lives of so many, I didn’t know too much about Robbins until news of his passing. For a spectacular movie on the history of climbing and Robbins’ role in developing today’s sport, free-climbing and the environmentally sound techniques that we’ve now come to expect, see Valley Uprising. It’s inspiring and worth a watch, even for those, like myself, who are not climbers.
When I first heard the NPR interview referenced above, it was like music to my soul. What is it about adventure and the ability to work through the unknown? Why should our highly-evolved, assumedly self-preserving brains seek risk? Because it’s good for us. Our every-day lives offer risk, but we’ve forgotten. We’ve become entirely unaware of, and accustomed to every-day risk. Because we no longer view our day-to-day as risky, we no longer have to stay aware. Minds wander, boredom ensues, daydreaming happens; we spend most of our time rehashing the past or worrying about the future. It’s takes a spectacular type of risk to slap us back to full awareness, and a chance to truly live by being completely enmeshed with the present moment.
All photos in this article by Sara-Mai Conway
It’s a false idea that anything we ever do is “safe.” We may statistically reduce the risk of certain activities, places or practices. We can collectively say, “fewer people get injured doing this versus that.” But we can never truthfully say, “no-one has ever or will ever get injured doing this.” As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Lama Marut, is fond of saying, “there is no average life span for any one individual.” The ultimately worst end-result of risk and failure – death – may come for us at any time. To be certain that it won’t is foolishness. Once we fully embrace this logic – we can use it to live in fear, or we can follow it through the door to freedom.
As a frequent Baja traveler, I’m subscribed to all the groups, the forums, the boards, the blogs. Awareness is a good thing, and it’s important to be informed. But lately, the posts on “a crime happened!” and the reactionary responses have been exhausting. Yes, crime happens. Yes, travel can be risky. Yes, being a stranger in a strange land can put one ill at ease. Yet even as I sit here on my couch, in America, writing this story, crime is happening. There are people doing every-day activities like driving to the store, walking to school or eating their lunch who will have accidents, who will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In my country. In my neighborhood. In my bubble. You can live a life of avoidance, or you can admit to yourself that there’s no certainty in avoidance.
When I first began to fully embrace the idea that tragedy might always be around the corner, that I just don’t know, my world got bigger. When I let go of the lie that by “not doing” I would be safe, I found to freedom to “do.” I want a life of growth, of realizing potential, of getting out and doing things, of exploration and learning, of creating new synapses in my brain, and fully experiencing the joy of being 100% occupied with and committed to the present moment. I choose freedom over fear.
And what does choosing freedom get me? When I move beyond my comfort zone, it’s not that the fear goes away. The fear becomes a partner in hurling me towards the NOW and keeping me there. And it’s in the now, this present moment, that we live our best lives – because it’s truly the only moment in which we are LIVING life. Without the little bit of the unknown, without the little bit of risk, would surfing in the pocket of the perfect wave be so exciting? Would riding a dirt-bike around a corner on a sandy Baja road feel so satisfying? Would coming face to face with a bug-eyed fish 50 feet under the ocean’s surface bring the same sense of awe?
Travel can be risky. Motorcycles can be risky. Diving can be risky. The ocean, the open road, the mountains, the desert; it all carries risk. Life is one big fat risk. But oh, the rewards that are there for you when you overcome the fear, embrace the unknown, and explore. “Love the unknown” as Robbins and his cohort did. Move towards it with a sense of curiosity and welcome the resulting awe. We all have it inside of us to overcome fear. We all have it inside of us to embrace the freedom of taking risks. Plan a little adventure and begin.
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