Adventure, The Heroic Life

To adventure is more than a quest for love

Picture by Javier Eduardo Piragauta Mora

This is the story of why love isn’t always enough.

It’s no secret that I’ve found a happy relationship. She’s a fellow traveler and very independent. She revealed her adventuresome nature on an 80 mile bike expedition and since then we’ve run away like bandits.

For me, this is very special: a woman who roams like I do. When we’re knee-deep in mud, or packed with 18 people in a 12-person van, I look over at her, waiting for the flare—the anger, the what-are-we-doing? Instead, there’s my fellow adventurer, chin set, hair up and no sign of anything but determination to beat this challenge.

I’m honored that she’s with me. My time with Jessica gives me a new faith in love.

Yet the reaction I get from others expects more than that: that love itself is the journey. That falling in love is, somehow, everything I set out to search for.

I don’t believe that.

I believe in a life of seeking challenge and attempting impossible tasks. Adventure is not just a pastime until I find love. Adventure is an end in itself, a vehicle to reshape a life.

I guess I can understand why people view love as the greatest adventure. It’s frightening and thrilling, and if you don’t go out trekking through unknown lands then love is much easier to relate to. But for someone who does both, love and adventure look very different.

And different types of adventure are not interchangeable. You can find true love and still fail to overcome your drinking problem; you can lose a marathon and still help change children’s lives. The purpose of one quest is not the purpose of them all.

My purpose is most certainly to explore. To explore myth, to explore the globe, and to dig deep wherever I go. It is to pursue the heroic life.

The heroic life is the choice to use travel as a practice to change lives, starting with your own.

For some, love will be the ultimate treasure found in that journey. But to many others, love will be the temptation holding them back.

That’s because adventure, in the sense of physical, out-in-the-world adventure, is the most transformative practice I know—but it is not the most alluring. It’s much easier to sell comfort and safety, or even mere thrill-seeking, than it is to sell real adventure.

Love, on the other hand, sells itself. We are built to seek love, and told it is pure—but love is just one treasure, one of many wondrous treasures.

So the adventurer has to choose sometimes: do you want to adventure, or do you want love? And if you choose love, what will you give up?

I believe one can have both, but that’s because I believe in true love—love that abides. If you have a quest, true love will not require you to give it up, not to delay it, not to reduce your dream in size or in scope. Your true love will bless you, and send you to finish your great quest. You will both understand that you will be together again.

It is right to take risks for love. But it is also right to risk love itself. True love will not give you up.

One day there will be bands of people pursuing the heroic life together: private journeys on a shared quest. Each of them is on a journey to find (to choose) their purpose in life. And some will find, and choose, Love.

Their fellows will sit down and celebrate with them, will let them go, will let them settle down without objection. And their fellows will go away, still wandering, still in search.

Because there is more to find than love.

Lift yourself up, oh adventurer, and look to the sky: is there not something higher than the heart beside you?

To many, the answer is no: even just finding one heart, one kindred heart, is so much more than many people ever achieve.

But the heroic life dreams bigger, dreams too big, dangerously big. To live the heroic life is to attempt inconceivable things. The moment the journeyman contemplates a normal goal, an admirable goal, his hopes are set too low.

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Atheism, Philosophy, Religion, Spotlight

Mystery of Certainty

Atheist Witch.

This is an excerpt from an essay from Atheist Witch blog.

Some deny the reality of any experience or belief that cannot explained (but not disproved) through existing scientific frameworks, and assume anyone claiming otherwise to be either delusional, ignorant or lying. They would justify this by claiming that many people have been proven to be just that while highlighting the dangers of sacrificing “rationality” for the emotional comfort of religion.

What is ironic about this stance is that it actually shows a lot of emotionality and subjectivity.  With… pending mysteries in areas which are so fundamental, it seems silly to not even be open to the possibility of even very fundamental ideas that we have about the universe being completely turned on their head in the future.  It is also seems risky to attempt to usurp “rationality” or “objectivity.”

I personally am in the science camp. I suspect everything in our universe not presently explained by science can, at least theoretically, be explained by science one day. That’s because anything that happens in our universe, however arcane it may seem, can be observed or has effects that can be observed. With time and study we can understand any phenomena.

I believe there is nothing supernatural, period; even the mysteries of consciousness, divinity, and magic have some natural underpinning. We can understand them.

But that is an unproven philosophic position on my part. It’s a popular position today, but not the only reasonable position you can hold.

I highlighted Atheist Witch’s essay because it nicely showcases the very rational basis for maintaining an openness to the supernatural, even from a scientific worldview. There is no scientific basis for believing in the supernatural, but there is a reasonable basis for it.

This is why I can sit side-by-side with strong supernatural believers in the Hounfo, in the Neimheadh, or in any spiritual setting; I see them as intellectual equals. I consider that their belief has merit.

The full essay is titled “Embracing Mystery to Have Certainty.” I hope you will read it on Atheist Witch’s blog and let him know what you think.

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Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

I told a friend I would never be happy

Used without permission from Jodi Ettenberg.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Jodi Ettenberg.

A long time ago, I told a friend that I would never be happy in life. That my brain was too whirry and too busy thinking of all the things I could/should/will be doing and never able to focus on the present. How can someone be happy if they’re thinking of something else all the time? In the last few years, however, I came to accept the fact that this overarching, fuzzy idea of happiness couldn’t be my goal. It was unrealistic, and I felt that I was failing  – people were writing to say “oh, you’re living the dream!” — but internally I was struggling with what I was doing and why I was doing it.

What I was feeling made sense given that I got here by accident (as in, I didn’t quit my job to be a travel writer or seek happiness), but I still needed to parse through my thoughts and also take stock of who I had become after many years of travel.

* * *

I use the term “building a life” a lot lately. It’s become my preferred expression to discuss my choices because there is such weighted agency in it – I, Jodi Ettenberg, chose this path. It has been a fallback to say I got here by accident — factually accurate, no less — but relying on kismet or coincidence also lets me off the hook for the hard and very damaging decisions I made in leaving New York. I left a place and people I loved, and a career that was going well for me.  It’s true that I didn’t do this to “be” happy or because I was burned out. But regardless, I did it because I wanted to see the world, and the pull of that otherness – not just to see it on a short vacation, but to live it and get my hands dirty – it drew me in. It became bigger than me, a restlessness that corroded. It grew and it grew until I had to act on it; ignoring it was just hurting people around me and myself.

When I left for what I thought would be a year, I found that the restlessness dissipated. I wasn’t looking to travel around the world indefinitely. That’s never been an aim. However, the restlessness was replaced by an extraordinary curiosity for just about everything I saw. I wanted to build a life around that curiosity. All of the work I do – the consulting, the food writing, the blog – is to facilitate that, and to enable me to see and experience more of the little things in life. In acknowledging this shift away from restlessness and toward learning, I came a long way to accepting more of where I am today. I’m making choices only for me, which is not something everyone has available to them.

Jodi is different than other travel bloggers. She speaks about her own experience and doesn’t try to sell you on anything. Here, she really inspires me by showing that travel really does work as a practice—one that helps you find your purpose and live by your values. And that means it also works as a lifestyle. 

This is one of my favorite articles about travel. I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts. 

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

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Philosophy, Religion, Spotlight

He did not fear death

Photo credit: Twitter

This is an excerpt from an article by the late Roger Ebert, on the topic of his own death.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

…Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. “Faith” is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

And with Will, the brother in Saul Bellow’s “Herzog,” I say, “Look for me in the weather reports.”

Many people shared a touching cartoon of Ebert’s old friend Gene Siskel welcoming him to a movie theater in the afterlife. (I shared it too.) But, like me, Ebert didn’t believe in the soul or the afterlife. He neither expected, nor wanted, an eternity of movies and seeing old friends. 

Many people ask me how I can face death—or life—with no belief in a soul. “Easily,” is the answer, but it’s hard to say. These words, from a man who has now been annihilated, express it better than I ever have. 

I hope you will read the rest of the article here.

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

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Adventure, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

To Wander Is the Purpose

Photo by Matso

I’m in a house. One place for six months, but I’m not settled down. My house feels strange, alien, sometimes uncomfortable. Why have I signed a contract that says I must be in one place? Why have I stopped for six months, when the windy road in the morning is all that calls to me?

Renunciation. I never loved that word, not as such, but I gave up my home, my belongings, and my job. I even gave up my temple. A higher path called to me, and these things are no ladder to reach it. As any backpacker knows, the first thing you do is chuck stuff. You packed too much, the bag’s too heavy. A journey of the spirit begins the same way.

But I saw this chucking as pragmatic. It’s not that I didn’t want a house; I just couldn’t afford to keep one and travel. The road says otherwise. It turns out, New Orleans teaches me, I don’t want a house at all.

Religion, too, I’ve renounced. Not denied—I will always abide my vows. But the path of the repeat customer, the path of the teacher-and-student, the path of community celebration, these are not going to take me up the river. I adore them; they are fine tools. I do not, will not mock religion. But when I see the man who still uses these tools, I see a man with a different face, on a different road with unsimilar hopes.

Some days I don’t seek the divine at all, but I won’t pretend I found it.

In the morning my creed catches in my throat. I make sacrifice, I sit before my god—what do I say? What is the oath, the mission I will swear today?

I am on a mission, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know the purpose of my journey, or why I move on. So I’m a wanderer. A dirty, aimless wanderer.

On Esplanade there are kids in brown pants and dirty coats. They’re travelers. Not one of them states a purpose. They tell jokes and ask for money. People spit on them.

So spit on me.

I wear a nice shirt, I wear a designer wool jacket. These kids ask me for money. I’m not their colleague. But I am the outsider just like them. My feet need sand, just like them.

Is it wrong to wander without purpose? Of course: it means you do nothing for Society, and that makes society frown. If you’re not trying to get somewhere, you might not work too hard to get there. A wanderer is next to a freeloader. That’s a sin.

No one loves a sinner except rock songs and reverends. So when I declared my journey I declared a purpose. Purpose is poetry, purpose is soul. I said: meet the gods. 

I hope to. But this is not something you plan. There are no steps to take toward it. When you get up in the morning and make a little list, what do you write: meet the gods? Go the gods’ house? Set up a god call?

There is no bridge to where I’m going. I can’t have faith in any path. So my faith is in the journey.

The most selfish journey leads to enlightenment.

To wander is to see the invisible. It is to place yourself instantly out of the social order, out of normal life. The tourist, at least, fills a recognizable role; but the perpetual traveler departs the prescription of security and stability that society preaches.

From this vantage, the pain and the joy of human life come into tremendous focus. We value kindness more, and become kinder ourselves; we lose more, and learn to live with loss. If I had to design a seminary, I would say it’s this: travel. If I had to design an art school, I would say it’s this: travel.

How do you find the gods? You find yourself.

How do you find yourself? Run.

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Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

Why Did You Give Up the Soul?

One July afternoon I stopped believing in the soul.

Why? That’s a question I’ve been dodging.

But not anymore. State of Formation, a project of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, just published my first guest essay, Giving Up the Soul. If it goes well, I may become one of their contributing scholars.

Why did I wait so long to explain myself? I wanted to do it right. This is a big change in my beliefs, and I wanted to make sure I could explain it. I feel that this essay, at that website, is the right place.

So what made up my mind? Find out for yourself and share your thoughts.

(Hint: it was not my grandmother’s death—that came four days later)

I’d like your ideas. Is my reasoning solid? Am I overlooking something? And what does religion-without-souls look like? Please leave a comment—preferably at State of Formation, if you want to make me look good to my new editor—and tell me what you think.

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Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

Is Travel Training for Heroism?

Whenever possible I hunt down people with smart things to say and engage in weeks-long email dialogues on topics of interest. With their permission I’ll publish them here.

This is an ongoing disagreement between Colleen Palmer of Safe from Shame and myself. Colleen doesn’t believe travel is a necessary training tool for the Heroic Life. I wouldn’t say it’s the only way (nor would most of my readers), but I do believe it’s the best way. Here are our thoughts.

Drew: Let’s start with one of our bigger disagreements. I believe travel is the best training for heroism.

Colleen: By promoting travel as the best training for heroism, you encourage would-be followers of the Heroic Life to believe that the great adventure is always around the next corner, in the next village, in the next country—while neglecting any responsibility at home. It fosters heroism as only being possible when you’re a stranger in a strange land. Awareness is the best quality a hero can have, and the best training to gain awareness is to cultivate it in the best possible environment for the student. If that’s at home; that’s at home. If it’s on the road, then it’s on the road.

Drew: I believe that’s inaccurate. I want to be fair: travel is definitely not the only way to train to live heroically, and anyway most heroes don’t train for it at all. They just step up one day. There are many great people who have done heroic things and never expected to until the moment came to make a choice.

However, for those who want to be as ready as possible to take heroic action, I think it’s important to have an honest conversation about what the best training methods are. Just because you can be a hero anywhere, doesn’t mean everywhere gives you an equal chance or the same preparation. Traveling as “a stranger in a strange land” is a character-changing experience that isn’t easily duplicated in a gym, classroom or weekly session. Much like an immersion course for learning a new language, travel produces a dramatic level of fluency in the skills needed for heroic action. Perhaps most important of all, it forces the would-be hero out of routine and habit.

Colleen: I think you’re defining not traveling as being the same thing as trying to learn “in a gym, classroom or weekly session.” That’s not at all what I’m speaking of. It’s true: safe, scripted learning can be inferior to hands-on experience for most people. However, experiences are always there, if you cultivate the awareness to find them. I don’t go to a class to teach me compassion: I walk down [the street] and talk to the homeless and disposessed. I don’t train my body by going to a gym; I train by using my own power to walk through my own city, learning and observing as I go. I don’t have a (formal) trainer to teach me how to overcome paralysis and act when there is need; I look up to mentors, learn what my own triggers are, and work at taking action every day, even in the most mundane circumstances. Every person I meet, everything I observe around me serves as learning and training for following the heroic life.

Perhaps, however, it would be useful to define “travel.” When I walk the streets of my city, am I traveling? When I go, say, a few hours outside of the city up north, am I traveling? Must it be somewhere I have never been before? Must it be somewhere that there is a sufficient distinction from the culture that I expect? Must I go a certain distance from home? Must I be alienated from a certain amount of the network that supports me when I am at home?

I’ll certainly agree with you that you have to walk roads you’ve never walked before, but I can do that [in my hometown].

Drew: First off, I think you should be proud if you’re working that hard to cultivate awareness on a daily basis. But it’s easy not to, and if we’re looking for an effective training regimen that’s where travel comes in.

I don’t think travel needs to be strictly defined, but only certain kinds of travel teach the skills in question. In discussing the impact of travel, I always point out that high-ticket, luxurious, walled-resort style travel will not do the trick.

The experiential change travel can provoke in the traveler comes from the crisis of it. It comes when you realize you’re in over your head, that there is no one to call, no one to bail you out: that you have only yourself and strangers to rely on.

This kind of travel isn’t comfortable or desirable for everyone. Many try to avoid it. They get terrified and leave if such an experience intrudes on their planned trip. But in every great travelogue you can correlate the moments of intense personal transformation with moments like these. Watch Art of Travel or The Motorcycle Diaries (or any other true travel story) and you’ll see the same.

I would be surprised and impressed if you can get this experience by talking to a homeless person 5 blocks from your home. I would be amazed if you can get it by visiting with someone from India in your home city. Maybe a non-traveler could have such an experience if, for example, they spent a night living under bridges and in shelters with homeless people. But there’s something disingenuous about that. When you know you can go home at the end of the experience, that alone changes it.

Colleen: There’s a lot here that I’d like to respond to, but it’s all rather tangential to the central concept of travel. The primary benefit of travel comes from the crisis of having to rely on yourself or use your intuition to find strangers that will help you, right?

Let’s say I’m hopping on a bus here in the city to somewhere in the suburbs. I’m not quite sure I have the right bus, and I’m a little nervous. I have a few options: I can ask the driver if I have the right bus. I can ask a passenger or someone waiting with me. I can check the schedule on my smartphone. I can read the little hanging things that show the route.

Or perhaps I’m trying to navigate the Underground. I’m going from the Tower of London to Islington. I’m not quite sure how to get back. I can ask a passenger or someone waiting with me. I can check the schedule on my smartphone. I can look for documentation to see if it would help me.

In what way has traveling from home changed how much I need to rely on myself or the people around me?

Drew: Personally, I wouldn’t say “do I have the right bus?” really qualifies as a crisis moment, but I realize that threshold varies for different people. In regards to the local-versus-London examples, the difference lies (at least) in your safety net and panoply of options. Locally you can call a friend if you get on the wrong bus, or if you end up somewhere unintended you know generally what it’s like and how to get back from there. Abroad those factors are not a given: you may be flying blind. Local attitudes and procedures may be so different that just figuring out who to ask or what they mean can be a challenge in itself.

You’re making an excellent case for how the same skills can come into play without traveling. I agree with you; you absolutely can challenge yourself at home. My personal quest is to identify and implement the best strategy to learn these skills. Someone can master the principles of chemical engineering without going to college, but college is a more effective (and probable) way to do it. Someone can become calm and mindful without meditating, but most people need to do meditation first.

I want the most effective and probable method of training toward living adventurously and acting heroically. If you can think of a method that outperforms travel, I want to learn it.

Colleen: I agree that travel is very likely the most effective and probable method of learning to live heroically—for you. And I think that’s where we really disagree, because I have a lifetime behind me of not having a safety net; this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever had one to leave.

Beyond that point, though, you have stated before that one step of living the heroic life is “if you don’t know your purpose, travel.” Which fails to address what to do once you know what your purpose is. If the goal of travel is to find your purpose, then isn’t that its real job, not as an open-ended prescription for living the heroic life? Perhaps once it has achieved that, it still has usefulness as a tool, certainly, but does it still have pride-of-place in your quest to follow the heroic life? Or does it become just one more tool?

I brought up England purposefully, because it is quite far away from where I am, and yet still not apparently far enough away to engage the sense of crisis, dependency, and trust that you have stated are best acquired through travel.

In the end, I reject travel as the “best” method of living the heroic life because of many reasons: it is not required for many in today’s world to actually travel to meet and benefit from interactions with people who are not “just like them”; it presupposes that you have a safety net to leave; it lacks clearly defined unique benefits; and it lacks a good definition. The emphasis on travel seems to be masking the qualities that you are striving for when you travel: empathy, connection, crisis, self-reliance. Travel is a good training method to achieve these goals, yes. It may even be the best, nearly the best, or equivalent to other methods. But by emphasizing the method and not the goals, you’re taking what works best for you and applying an exclusive veneer to what comes next.

For those who will not travel, but are called to the heroic path… need they not apply? Is it the linchpin that holds it all together? For those who do not know their purpose, will it only be found in a country whose language they don’t speak? For those who live without the safety net of a loving family, a secure home, and a good job, must they acquire these things, just so they can leave them?

At this point I find myself largely agreeing with Colleen. I’m never a fan of absolutes, and travel won’t have the same effect for everybody. But most people do have a safety net to leave. Most will be more mindful of suffering in their own home town, after they’ve been struck in the face with it somewhere else. So travel remains an excellent way to jump-start living for your ideals and finding your purpose.

Travel is not a perfect tool, nor the tool for everybody. But this kind of conversation leaves me asking: can you name a better one?

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Adventure, Favorites, Heroism, Personal Development, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

Purpose: Find the Heroic Life

As June 21 draws near I confront my motivations for the journey ahead. This is the final installment of a three part series on why I’m going on the Adventure. Find Part I here and Part II here.

A Heroic Faith

What is there to say?

In my heart, I believe we can do great things.

I’ve created a practicum which, if followed, is supposed to race you toward that end:

Taking action, living for high ideals, charging fearlessly into new and grand plans, building a name around your art or skill, and using your life to change the way the world works.

The whole thing must be tested. I mean “tested” to see if it works; I also mean it the way a baby tests his legs. I will never understand the vehicle I’ve made unless I enter into it and live it for myself.

Neither will anyone else, unless they do too.

Why This Journey

The Heroic Life is a philosophy of action. It is not believed but done, not theory but experience. Its central practice is action: leave and go on a journey.

Many readers will look at my story, take a little piece of the philosophy, and fit it into their lives. I approve of that. I hope it helps your life, even if your life is not one of travel.

But for the heroic to be more than fiction, there must be people who believe in it so deeply, so humanly, that they live it. It is those people I wish to walk beside.

And if I don’t walk it myself, suggesting it is unconscionable.

The Value

If small knots of people join together to live this way, the world will be greater. A fellowship of heroes-to-be: let us leave home, walk where we will, learn what we can, and offer cheerful aid to troubled people.

If this one idea can catch on, the sky will look a little different.

When just a few people give everything to uplift others and carry no agenda, hope travels with them. Then more people take heroic action.

The next two, three, five years will teach me how to make this machine work. If there is a philosophy that can create and unite this kind of fellowship, I will discover it. And when I know how it works, then the real project of the Great Adventure will be complete: then I’ll have used travel to find my purpose, and be ready to help others do the same.

Wish me luck, Rogues, and if you want to lend your support, help a traveler sometime.

What’s the best way to learn about the heroic life as I travel? Do you have suggestions?

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

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