Yesterday I wrote about the joys of journeying both alone and with others as I’ve experienced it in terms of the physical act of journeying – traveling. Today I want to delve into a different kind of journey – the one taken on the path to love, connection, and meaning.
As I’ve mentioned, because of the nature of my work and how much time I spend on the road, I spend a lot of time alone. I’m also a naturally introspective person, and have spent a lot of my alone time exploring my inner workings – insecurities, hopes, anxieties, habits (good and bad), and motivations. Even though the journey of self discovery is a lifelong one as we change with the seasons of our lives, I feel as though I’m beginning to understand who I am. What brings me peace, what triggers my anxiety, my short comings and my strengths. People often say that others cannot love you until you love yourself, and arguably the first step in loving yourself is knowing yourself, and then accepting that person with gentleness and compassion. This is a solitary endeavor that no one else can do for you, a difficult one, but a worthy undertaking.
Another obvious side effect of my work is that it’s very difficult to maintain relationships. I have not been in a serious romantic relationship in…. well, a very long time. What worries me about this is that while I’ve gone to lengths on my own journey of self-discovery – I don’t really know who I am as a partner, which then inevitably leads to the fear that I may be a terrible partner and end up alone forever. This is the point in my thinking where I try to exercise some self-compassion and remind myself what an irrational and un-helpful fear that is, but doubt lingers like the remnants of a cigarette recently extinguished.
The bottom line is, I’m in the middle of these journeys as we speak. Both the journey within seeking my true self, as well as the journey without seeking connection and meaning through my relationships with others. I don’t have answers, but I do feel strongly that both of these paths are intricately vital to a fulfilled life, and that their relationship is synergic in nature. One odyssey cannot be completed without the other.
(**NOTE: Spoiler alert ahead!**)
This is beautifully and tragically portrayed in the book and movie Into The Wild. For those of you who don’t know, Into The Wild is a book written by Jon Krakauer about the true story of a young man’s journey away from society and the material life, towards a life lived in nature, off the land, on his own. It was then made into a stunning movie as well. The young man’s impetus for venturing out into the wild was a frustration with conventional lifestyles and the modern obsession with “security” and material excess. Here are some quotes from the book:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
“You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.”
“It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty…”
I believe this desire to escape conventional life, chase the sunset and live among awe-inspiring beauty is not something unique to Chris McCandless, he just had the gumption to act on it. I, for one, have also fantasized about leaving behind this life of “things” and “bills” and everything I am “supposed” to do.
So 22 year old Christopher walked away from friends, family, indeed the entire human race, and ventured into the wilderness, believing all that was needed for happiness was the beauty found in nature, the strength to live off the land of our incredible planet, and to complete the journey within, to “…explore the inner country of his own soul.” After 2 years of living this way, Chris died, alone, in the Alaskan wilderness. Having taken numerous rolls of photographs, and keeping several journals, one of the last things he wrote was, “Happiness only real when shared.” From the novel:
“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…. And this was most vexing of all,” he noted, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”
At the most basic level he came to understand that the journey within is rendered hollow when severed from the journey without. How poignant, that while on the ultimate quest for the fundamentals of life and meaning on this planet, believing it to be a necessarily individual voyage, that his conclusion and final realization would be that it had been incomplete, as it had not been a shared journey.
“Know thyself.” — Ancient Greek aphorism
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates
“I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?” — “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac