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July 8, 2015

Expedition stories: Becoming an Adventurer

sagarmath 360

I was on the outside looking in at the first few knowledge expeditions. While the passion of the participants whom I knew was compelling,  I couldn’t make time to jump in. Yet as I interacted with the other sherpas, it became increasingly clear to me that there was something available in this process that was distinct, and it called to me in a unique way.

Initially I was skeptical about the “climbing Mt. Everest” trope. I’d grown cynical about that type of high adventuring and was increasingly attracted to stories that overplayed the cultural hegemony and environmental degradation that the mountain treks engendered. Still, it was hard to ignore the proposition that ascending to life-threatening altitudes would put one in the presence of certain elemental truths. The truth-seeking that I recognized in the early participants was most compelling element.

Finally, we launched, and I was on my way up as a fledgling Sherpa. The storyverse unfolded in ways that were at-once familiar and disarming. Insecurities rose to the surface. I found myself called to be present in ways that didn’t seem to correlate with the activities I was carrying out; after all, I was just typing into a text box and reading and responding to others who happened to be there, synchronously. But the story was remarkably immersive, and my sense of responsibility to journey participants was real and tangible for me in my seat. I awoke in the morning as if on the mountain; it was a disorienting and fascinating experience. While on the mountain, in camp, we chatted as campers would do, swapping stories and songs, waiting with anxiety and anticipation the next leg of the journey.

Up to that point in my life, I considered myself adventurous. I would embrace new experiences, launching into unknown situations without much fear or trepidation. Perhaps I was a bit impetuous, and not preparing or gearing up sufficiently was definitely one of my shortcomings. But I embraced the new and unknown, more than some and certainly less than others. That’s how I knew myself.

When we arrived at one of the points on the mountain, the visual was a panorama animation. In that moment, after days of virtual trekking, the encounter with the whole of it changed my life. I got, down to my heels, what the appeal was to making this kind of life-threatening trek. The whole experience of it, even virtually, was one of profound magic. It opened unfamiliar sensory pathways. There was a mystical call that enveloped my consciousness. I was in the presence of Sagarmatha –  the Mother – an exalted presence for the natives. At that point the whole experience for me assembled and I saw what it meant to be an adventurer, as opposed to being merely adventurous. It involved an embrace of life and all its mysteries that transcended typical immersion in everyday things. It meant embracing the risk that taking on life on its own terms implies. It meant moving humbly, in respectful, graceful service.

All this came to me, and I was provoked to explore and grow into the question: What would it take to serve, truly? Beyond that –  I have pondered the only question that we have found the mountain to ask of us: Who are you? Each day since I’ve opened myself to pondering this question that is without end. It’s been a truly transformative experience.