A is for Adventure
(This is the first post in my new "Spiritual Alphabet" writing series, in which I will offer short reflections on words related to spirituality. Feel free to suggest a word!)
Adventure. Over the years, this has become one of my favourite words to describe my spiritual journey. On a first hearing, it may bring to mind the sorts of adventures we love most: those characterised by exploration, discovery, travel, inspiration, and imagination. We are exploring new paths, discovering our strengths, traveling to new places, inspired by new ideas, and imagining delights around every corner. What a grand adventure! we say, as we savour every drop of milk and honey in this land of plenty. This is the honeymoon stage of the spiritual adventure, and it is characterised by joy.
As the journey continues, the word takes on added meaning: adventure as unpredictable, wild, and unknown – but still delightful and exhilarating, for the most part. These are the rabbit trails and red herrings and side trips we take along the path. We wander off, following our nose or our gut or our heart, and step into something wholly unexpected. The wind rushes us in, whipping our faces with our hair, and we return to the path feeling that something has changed. We are not quite the same as we were before we left the trail. What an adventure! we laugh, breathless and half-tempted to run right off the path again in search of more. This stage of adventure is like a rollercoaster – there are a few fearful moments, but we finish feeling enlivened and invigorated.
"The word adventure implies a remarkable sense of risk, danger or excitement. While our our spiritual goal may be peace of mind, the most effective path traverses risky territory and delivers remarkable experiences on the way to peace."
~ Elizabeth Lesser
And then there are the adventures of which we say What an adventure! in the way a person might say it who has just had their life turned upside down and inside out. We are at the edge of ourselves and maybe even at the edge of our lives. We are exhausted and discouraged, and maybe what we really mean is What an absolute mess!! or perhaps, What the hell is going on?? The delightful path is now dark and shadowed - perhaps even unpassable. We feel stuck, sidetracked, thwarted, or punished. We attempt a short cut and end up with poison ivy and bramble scratches before we are finally forced to turn around in defeat. We lose our way, and sometimes lose hope that there even is a way. We are weighed down by grief and loss, doubt and despair, anger and cynicism. This stage of adventure often feels like the end of the road.
When I have found myself in this third sort of adventure, I think of Sam’s words to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, as they near Mordor and find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances. Frodo is ready to give up and hand himself over to his enemies, but Sam invites Frodo to find himself in the story of adventure once again:
And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?
Sam expands the definition of adventure. He bears witness to the immense difficulty of it. But he also taps into his curiosity and imagination as he seeks meaning and purpose, even in this dark turn of the path. In that moment, it’s enough of a spark to light the way for one more step – not just for him, but for Frodo, too. And so they carry on, and their story continues. There are more adventures to be had – and not all of them will be so terrible.
Sam expands the definition of adventure. He bears witness to the immense difficulty of it. But he also taps into his curiosity and imagination as he seeks meaning and purpose, even in this dark turn of the path.
Elizabeth Lesser describes the spiritual adventure this way:
When you approach spirituality as an adventure of being alive, you start as you would any adventure – with a sense of mystery and not-knowing. Instead of searching for answers that make you feel safe, you set out into the vastness of life and death, with a willingness to continually grow. You open up to the possibility that your ordinary life is an extraordinary adventure, and that your joys and sorrows have meaning. Spiritual practice becomes your rudder, offering direction and insight and discretion as you venture into the unknown.
The word adventure implies a remarkable sense of risk, danger or excitement. While our spiritual goal may be peace of mind, the most effective path traverses risky territory and delivers remarkable experiences on the way to peace. Your willingness to peer fearlessly into life and death is your ticket to this adventure. So is your courage to sacrifice the comfort of your defense mechanisms and your illusions about yourself and others.
What comes to mind when you think of your own spiritual adventures – where are you now?
Are you in the place of deep joy and inspiration?
Are you exhilarated by the highs and lows along the way?
Are you discouraged to the point of despair with the feeling of being stuck?
I wonder what spiritual practices will serve best as your “rudder” on this stage of adventure?
Perhaps it’s gratitude.
Perhaps it’s curiosity and imagination.
Perhaps it’s taking one hard step at a time, when you feel like giving up.
Wherever we find ourselves on any given day (or week, or month, or season or year), may we find that our joys and sorrows have meaning, and may we find courage, rest, and peace along the way.