I recently wrote about adventure for Darling Magazine. Well, I wrote the piece several months ago about a time nearly a year ago. It was accepted in March, scheduled to be published in April, but was delayed until last week to make more room for COVID related content. But revisiting this essay now, its message has new resonance for me.
This year has been the most changeable, capricious year of my life, not just because of the global pandemic. Plans, one after another, have collapsed like dominos. Plans to travel, plans with loved ones, plans of where to move or where to live, plans for my career, plans for another graduate degree.
I crave stability because routine and familiarity steady my anxiety. These changes, like small earthquakes, have unsettled the ground beneath my feet.
I wrote about adventure ahead of many of these unforeseen shifts. Adventure, I learned then, means, in part, “to arrive.” We experience adventure through being present in our own lives. For some, skydiving or free climbing or some other insane “thrill” grants presence through adrenaline. In the way of danger, you have no other choice but to pay attention.
I’m never going to jump out of a plane or climb a vertical rock formation or ski dangerously close to a patch of woods. I have one life, and I’d rather (attempt to) live it with normal cortisol. Adventure, to me, does not require danger or risk, just like bravery does not require putting yourself in dangerous, precarious, or frightening situations. Presence is an option constantly available to us… there is beauty and delight and meaning – I promise you – when we actually pay close attention to the life in front of us. Paying attention means we actually live our lives. It means we arrive.
At the start of 2019, I remember feeling slightly afraid. At our family’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which involves opening every door and window (don’t ask, long story), the wind was so fierce, doors were slamming shut, the shutters on the house were rattling, light fixtures were swaying. I thought, “Oh, God. Is this foreshadowing??”
The start of 2020, though, was markedly different. We released confetti poppers at midnight and spent the whole evening dancing, and I kept gathering up handfuls of the colorful foil to throw in the air so it would fall like a rain shower. I felt joyful. So rarely does pure joy replace my near constant anxiety, but when it does, it is so sweet.
We are still finding remnants of confetti in all our houses now. In Jack’s and my suitcases, in my parents’ couch cushions. In some ways, it feels like a distant memory to think back to the hope we felt for 2020, a new decade. But in others, it is a reminder that it is hope that sustains us. Joy, even now, is a declaration of hope.
This evening, I stood by my bedroom window looking at the hills of our neighborhood in Los Angeles. I could see a slice of the red sign of a coffee shop we love, a place Jack and I imagined visiting every week, a place we thought would nurture and nourish us through this year of many changes. It’s a small thing to grieve, small in comparison to all the big losses strung together.
I realized, then, again, that nearly everything in our lives is temporary, constantly changing, evolving. Like emotion. Like seasons. And it is painful. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that temporality itself is one of the primary reasons human beings suffer. But it is also beautiful.
Like the rhythms that rule the earth, day and night, spinning and revolving, the waves are beautiful and painful. They are what make life an adventure, though, if we brave the changing seas, if we stay on the ship.