Adventure Doesn't Happen by Accident
Don't leap—practice at the edges
Adventure is a bit of an enigma. It always felt like something that I wanted more of, and also that I didn’t quite understand how to get more of. Most of the stories about adventure that I read made it seem more like an accident than anything else—like adventure is something that happens to us as the result of an error, or a random turn of events, not something that we have any control over.
I'd like to suggest that we can learn a lot about adventure, and also that it has a lot to teach us. Adventure can be a very useful tool for growth, and in particular, for becoming more familiar with the unconscious, and with intuition.
What is adventure?
Adventure is crossing into the unknown. This could be doing something that you’ve never done before, joining a new group, going to an unfamiliar place, or even exploring a new way of thinking or being. The boundary of the unknown is also the boundary of the possible, and crossing that boundary is part of what we’re here to do.
If I know anything about my own purpose in life, it’s to be myself as much as possible—and to be ourselves as much as possible, we have to find ways to go beyond our current self, into the unknown, across the boundary of the possible. In whatever form it takes—physical, spiritual, creative, in relationship—adventure is crossing the boundary of the possible. That’s what growth is, really. I think this explains the why we all want adventure—it feels good to grow.
The boundary of the known and the unknown is also the also the boundary of the conscious and the unconscious, and crossing into the unknown is also crossing into the realm of the unconscious. When we move into the unknown, we’re going into a place where we can’t know everything—or much at all—a place where the conscious mind loses its footing. In the unknown, we can’t just act based on what we consciously observe. We have to rely on feeling, instinct, and intuition. Of necessity, the conscious gives up at least some control to the unconscious. Going into the unknown is also a way of practicing with the unconscious.
I know from personal experience the frustration of not being familiar with my intuition, of feeling like I didn’t have any idea what role intuition or my unconscious played in my waking life. I wanted to know it better, to feel it within me, but I was out of touch with my intuition, and I didn’t know why. The fact is, I was desperate for my intuition to speak up, but I had no idea how to cultivate it.
There are other things hat helped, but the biggest change in my relationship with my intuition has been through giving myself the freedom to do things that felt interesting, new, unknown, and a little risky—things that I wanted to do, but that wasn’t sure that I could do. As I began to adventure more, my intuition woke up. In helping me to practice moving into the unknown, adventure has been a powerful gateway to my subconscious, and to a better connection with my own intuition. In going into the unknown, we create space for our intuition to come to the surface and to take an active role.
Adventure and Risk
Another misconception about adventure is that it’s about risk, and “adventure” still has the sound of an accident that someone was lucky enough to survive. Adventure does have something to do with risk, but the risk of the unknown is often more imagined than any sort of real risk of life or injury.
If the idea of adventure feels dangerous, it’s because the unknown feels dangerous. Think about that for a minute though—it’s not really possible for the unknown to be dangerous for any concrete reason—because it’s unknown! The unknown feels dangerous simply because it’s unknown. The unknown isn’t actually dangerous—it’s just not known yet.
Adventure is also about the risk of failure, of the not possible. If you’re guaranteed success, if everything is known, then you’re not crossing into the unknown, you’re not in adventure, and you remain in the realm of the conscious. If you get seriously hurt, you may well have been on an adventure, but the price outweighs the reward. The gold lies in between—where there is some risk of failure, but that risk isn’t catastrophic.
Is it possible to create adventure?
Adventure isn’t something that just happens to us—it’s something we can seek out. In fact, adventure won’t ever happen unless we purposefully reach out beyond what we can already be sure of. We have to choose to go into the unknown. It’s not inviting danger—it’s inviting something that’s beyond our current experience.
As with so many aspects of human nature, there’s a paradox here. How can we point ourselves in the direction of the unknown? Just as with the unconscious, we can’t go there directly. That said, just as we can prepare to make art, not knowing exactly what we’re going to create, we can prepare for adventure. We make space for adventure by becoming as ready as we can be in the realm of the known, and then by practicing at the edge of the unknown. We go into adventure by design. We plan to meet the unknown.
Because our sense of self, and of what we know, is so closely tied to our physical bodies, we most often understand adventure in terms of something physical, in the body and out in the world. For this reason, and also because we feel fear directly in our bodies, physical adventure can be a good place to start, but it’s also good to remember that adventure isn't at all limited to what we can do with our bodies.
I have great memories of many physical adventures—and also of the sense of adventure in joining and finding my way in groups, of the adventure of starting, running, and eventually selling my business, of learning new words and languages, and of being in the moment with someone and finding exactly what I wanted to say appear on the tip of my tongue without having thought about about it at all.
Adventure doesn’t happen by accident
A fully planned and predictable adventure is an oxymoron, an impossibility, false advertising—it’s a lie—but it’s no accident either. Adventure isn’t crashing the car—it’s the result of setting off with intention towards something that is challenging, possible, and also possibly not possible. If you’ve heard of Flow (as first defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) one of the most reliable ways to get there is to aim for something that we are in most ways prepared for, but that we can’t be certain of. Getting just ready enough, and then steering ourselves in the direction of the proximate unknown is a great way to get into flow—and into adventure.
Adventure is the best way to practice adventure. It’s still often scary for me to move into the unknown, but I also know that that fear of the unknown doesn’t necessarily signal real risk. With practice, I’ve learned to recognize the difference between fear that signals real danger and fear that is simply of the unknown. For me, the key to getting more comfortable with adventure was to find ways to practice expanding, as opposed to trying to make a leap of faith. That can work, but my approach is to make a map of what I know, and then explore the edges.
Practice recognizing the feeling of being in familiar territory, and the feeling of approaching the edge of what you know. Practice the feeling of moving from the known into the unknown, and the feeling of being in the unknown. As you get more familiar with moving into the unknown, you’ll also come to have a better sense of how prepared you are, and into what type of unknown you may be most interested in moving. If you’re reluctant to adventure alone, invite someone else along. If, like me, you never felt much like joining anything, consider joining something that you already are, instead of something that you want to become. That’s a much easier place to start.
Adventure is one of the greatest gifts of life, and it doesn’t have to remain a mystery. As with everything else in life, we get good at what we do, and the more we practice adventure, the more comfortable we become moving into the unknown, and the more we invite our intuition to come out and play.
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