The Ramblings of a “Lost Worlds” Explorer”
To live in one land is captivitie, To runne all countries – a wild roguerie!”
– John Donne
As a writer of adventure travel books, I’ve become accustomed to using unfamiliar and exotic places – “lost worlds” if you will – as a metaphor for self-exploration and the discovery of inner lost worlds. So join me briefly in one of my earlier experiences:
I am on an island. An ocean of sloppy, slow-moving wavelets, shimmering in a heat mist; a fringe of low, bent palms offering welcome shade and a beach of the most beautiful pink sand I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world – a magnificent slowly-curving strand of talcum-softness stretching into hazy infinities in both directions. Untouched, unbroken, unspoiled by any sign of human intrusion. No buildings, no boats, no people, no nothing. Just this perfect place – this tiny island – this little lost world set in a turquoise ocean under a dome of blue sky. And it’s all mine!
I realize here, once again, that the magic of journeys and explorations is not to be found merely in the external adventures and discoveries – wonderful and terrifying though they are – but in the worlds that such experiences lead us to find within ourselves. Those “other spaces” in the spirit, that beckon and tantalize us all, but in which we may spend too little time.
When I allow my eyes to really see, freed from the filters of the mind, I’m amazed at how much I don’t see most days. In the mystery and silence of this evening I’m tingling. Time doesn’t really exist anymore. My watch is stowed deep in the backpack and my body begins to respond to its own rhythms. Rhythms of which I’m too often unaware. I am learning to expect nothing – to expect no expectations. So what comes? Surprises, of course, all the time.
We have to be alone to touch our inner selves. And if we cannot touch ourselves how can we ever truly touch anyone else?
A question comes: “Who are you going to be today?” And then a thought which I scribble in a sea-stained notepad:
to have no rigid goals and plans
except to be
all the am-s, I am.
And to celebrate too
all the you-s
That was all a few years back, but I still have the yellowed note today, tacked to the wall above my desk. When I first wrote it I wasn’t too sure what it meant, but I kept it anyway and left my lovely, lonely island after days of slow, mind-evolving, beach-wandering and moved on to Australia.
Things then became a little clearer while drowning.
It was my near-death experience #3 (in twenty-five years of adventure travel writing, I have had a total of five, and that is just about right) and the fickle riptides and wave-crests of the Western Australian ocean were whirlpooling me down for the third and final time. I was experiencing a very odd range of emotions, as if a plethora of different people were inside me fighting for attention while I was very preoccupied with the process of drowning. One was a dour doomsayer convinced that death was nigh and flailing about in a panic-stricken state trying to grab a last breath before the final wet darkness; the second was a somewhat indifferent projectionist playing a crazed film collage of mostly forgotten head-clips of random, and often poignant, life events as the currents pulled me down; the third was the good old writer-journalist – I knew him pretty well – thinking what a great tale this would make if only he could keep notes – and stay alive, of course; then a fourth, far less known to me, that in the midst of the chaos and confusion brought enormous, quiet calm with an illuminating certainty that seemed to say, “there’s so much more to come, so many things you’ve never dreamed of.…”
Needless to say, I survived (thanks to the timely action of a true-blue, Baywatch-built, good-on-yer-mate, Aussie) and when the nightmarish strangeness of it all had diminished I was left with one clear realization – that there seemed to be a heck of a lot of people living inside me and it was time I met more of them and let them out into the world for a romp. Suddenly that little scribbled island note-to-myself took on fresh significance.
To be honest, the idea of the “multi-me” was not altogether new. Travel writing has taken me to some pretty odd places around the globe and put me in situations that, looking back, make me wonder incredulously at my naiveté, stupidity, and blatant bombast in the face of seemingly doom-laden situations. As each crazy adventure was surmounted by even crazier escapades, I’d gain fleeting glimpses of other me-s – unfamiliar characters who emerged unexpectedly to perceive something, say something, or perform some act completely out of character, and then vanish again into what I thought was the “real” me. On these occasions the consistent, unified, “centered being” I assumed myself to be just kind of stood there watching in amazement and occasionally amusement. Who, I would wonder, was that? And who, for that matter, am “I”?
Dismissing chronic schizophrenia as something that did not appear to run in the family, I began observing some of these “other me-s” in more detail. At first it was like pursuing the tail end of dreams-you remember the emotive force but the rich shadowy details fade fast. But over time, a few of them became more familiar, even good friends, and I found they had much to say, much to teach that – given a more traditional life – I might well have ignored.
T. S. Eliot was right: “Each venture is a new beginning.” To which I would add – and a “new being,” a new range of insights and discoveries of the self, or rather, other facets or manifestations of this complex oddity we so curiously call the self. We all find our own unique ways of exploring these inner-selves. We use the familiar stimulants of meditation, mystic meanderings, music, philosophical-theosophical studies, “altered state” devices in whatever combination seems to work best. For some reason I chose travel as my stimulant of choice and catalyst of inner explorations. In my earlier life I was a city planner in England and later in various other parts of the world, and though I say it myself, I was a pretty good “urban designer” – mildly ambitious, with no complaints at all about inflated salaries, generous expense accounts, company cars and all the beguiling enticements of ladder-climbing professional success.
And so it came as much as a surprise to me as to my colleagues when I suddenly gave it all up at the ripe age of thirty. I said I intended to take a three-month sabbatical but apparently I lied. So far it’s been a twenty-five year hiatus and – given a reasonable chance of modest mortality – it’ll stretch on another twenty-five. Maybe it was that delightful line from Agassiz that started it all: “I cannot afford to waste my time making money,” or Joseph Campbell’s releasing reminder: “Trust your bliss – walk on!”
As I grew more aware of the “multi-me” concept, I found I was not alone. Joseph Campbell again:
When we travel we meet ourselves in other guises…by exploring ourselves in many forms of humanity we travel lifetimes in the course of an instant.
And Robert Jay Lifton in his intriguing book, The Protean Self:
We are all multiple from the start…we are by nature multiminded…we are fluid and many-sided…evolving a self of many possibilities.
A friend of mine who has experienced a series of death-defying illnesses and other catastrophes recently returned to life outrageously reinvigorated and told me with an idiot grin, “Dying’s not the risk – that’s the sure thing. The risk is not living.”
So – for life’s sake – let’s live! It’s a risk we avoid at our peril, for why would anyone ignore or discard the one truly free gift we have? And travel has nothing to do with it really. Others have “taken the risk” in far less arduous ways of inner-journeying than my haphazard ramblings around the globe. Even I find the constant need for movement and new experiences a little mellowed now. The inner journeys seem to continue quite happily at my desk, by the lake, in the garden, cooking, rambling the rutted back roads a few miles from home, or while performing the most mundane of tasks. My me-s emerge and move more freely now and as I meet and embrace each new persona (nuance, facet – call them what you will), I find inevitably that I naturally embrace far more readily the multihued dimensions of other people I meet or new situations in which I find my-selves.
So let me summarize the key ideas behind this book:
- We are, each one of us, shards, fragments, holograms of the Creator and/or (depending on how tolerant you are of single-creator concepts) the Creative Wholeness of the universe.
- Each one of us, it thus follows, is extravagantly and exuberantly multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, multi-talented, and multi-selved.
- However (and it’s a rather significant “however”), for reasons only fear, cynicism, or ignorance can explain, most of us have been intentionally indoctrinated, programmed, and very often effectively convinced that we can and should only use as modest a number of these multi-selves as possible. This, we are told, is because of their insidious tendency to create a permanent state of personal experimentation which can obviously lead to such dire consequences as irrational joy, inconsistency, restlessness, unpredictability, and stimulate excessive urges of a highly erratic – even ecstatic – nature which, in turn, may be disconcerting and unsettling to personal and family lives and society in general – and downright spiritually anarchistic in some instances.
- The problem with all this erroneous programming is that, for reasons we often find convenient to ignore, we tend to forget that the single driving force behind human evolution and the only thing that makes our little world tick and evolve is (dare I say that much-misused word) L-O-V-E. Substitute more acceptable terms such as mutual empathy, tolerance, and understanding if you wish – anything that encourages us to listen to and learn from one another and see others in our-selves and vice versa.
- Once we recognize the idea – the reality – that we do, each single one of us, “contain multitudes” (Walt Whitman’s words), then it follows that we might naturally be meant to mutually celebrate the release of our individual multitudes and, as a species, learn to evolve together more effectively – and enjoyably – through mutual empathy and support. Obviously, the more you see and celebrate the kaleidoscopic richness in your own spirit, the more you’re able and willing to celebrate the kaleidoscopic array of other human spirits and, for that matter, our species as a whole.As I said before, I chose travel as my conduit to these multi-selves. Real travel. Personal travel. Adventure and exploration. Endless. No finales, only preludes. The kind of travel that tingles and reverberates and resonates and sends symphonies of enlightenment and transformation rippling through our souls. The kind of travel that requires some willingness on the part of the traveler to let go, to seek and celebrate uncertainty, vulnerability, the thrills of fresh discoveries, and the riches of inner journeys that recognize that their ultimate destination is ourselves.And this door is open to you. To each and every one of us. So, there it is. This book is a clarion call to us all to learn to live and travel through life in a true Renaissance Spirit. You’ll likely meet an amazing array of characters inside yourself, characters you had no idea existed. And that will merely be the beginning of the greatest adventure of all – the celebration of life – your whole multi-self life – and thus the lives of our whole human miracle.Now, if chords have been struck in your head, heart, or soul, then read on, and keep traveling and celebrating the ongoing rebirthing of all your-selves. May you enjoy all your journeys.DAVID YEADON
Almost Gone #1: The Bridge-Where All the Adventures Began 1
The Gate-My Very First Exploration 5
The Island-Rediscovering the Gift of Solitude 9
Reflections: An Ode to Dawdle-Days-The Gift of Time 21
Disappearing Selves-The Power of a Photograph 22
An Uncle in Us 26
Just Letting Life Happen 29
Pub Pearls: The Noosphere 39
Almost Gone #2: Tepuy-Terrors 41
The Synergism of Little Kindnesses 48
Reflections: A Whack of Wordsworth
Kumbh Mela-A Bath for Fifteen Million People 52
Into the Light 58
We Shall Live Again 59
Reflections: Into the Vine 66
Lost in the Bungle-Bungle 68
The Hunt 71
The Blissful World of Hannah Hauxwell 77
Reflections: Twilight at Kingley Vale 80
White Water Wisdom-The River Within 82
The Peacock’s Tail-A Journey in Solitude 90
The Stream 101
Almost Gone #3: Riptides and Riddles 104
Reflections: Releasing My Inner Woodsman 110
An Aboriginal Dreamtime Odyssey 112
I Am Home 123
The Mysterious and Magical Lives of K.C. 125
Tokyo-A Subway Named Desire 130
Pub Pearls: Experimenting 136
I am Bananas 137
Seeking the Hermit of El Tisure 141
A Mushroom High 149
Almost Gone #4: Disappearing Into Whiteness… 154
Love and Improvisation-A Périgord Interlude 158
Reflections: The Tree 163
Almost Gone #5: Perils in the Pine Barrens 165
The Temptations of a Tanka 170
Reflections: An Absolute Disaster 176
Burn Your Boats 178
I am Amazonia 179
A Wonderful Wacky Weekend 186
Pub Pearls: All Used Up 191
Finding My Kami 192
The “Why” of the Wilderness 197
Reflections: Ode to Onions
Epilogue: The Wildest Places of All
The Bridge-Where All the Adventures Began
In which I glimpse one of life’s greatest mysteries.
I think I travel because I’m alive. And I don’t mean that to sound glib. I mean that I really should be dead. A part of me still thinks that maybe I did die years ago when I was an ambitious urban planner working in Iran on the future master plan for the city of Tehran, and that someone else, another me, in fact, quite a generous array of me’s – took over my body and mind and have been living here happily ever since.It’s a short story, but still a disconcerting one. Even as I write it now I feel an odd tremor through my fingers.
My wife Anne and I were high up in the Elburz Mountains of Iran. This dramatic range acts as a 14,000-foot wall separating Tehran and the desert from the lush jungled hills bordering the Caspian Sea. We’d had a few lazy days of meandering, trying to learn a little more about this anomalous country and its long history. We were returning back over the mountains on the “old road,” a narrow unpaved trail that promised more adventure than the carefully graded curves and tunnels of the new road a couple of hundred miles to the west. Everything was going fine. There was no traffic and we felt very much at peace among the peaks and high valleys.
We were descending a steep pass, the road curling and twisting through a broken stretch of country. Around a sharp bend we approached a one-lane bridge with no retaining wall on either side – just a vertical drop of 300 feet or so into a shadowy ravine. A dramatic place. Then suddenly, with no warning, an enormous Mack truck came barreling across the bridge spewing rocks and dust. He, like us, assumed he had the road to himself and was trying to gain acceleration for the long climb up the pass. By this time we were actually on the bridge, which seemed hardly wide enough for one car, let alone two vehicles heading straight for each other. We realized he couldn’t possibly brake without careening off the bridge. We also knew the same applied to us, and there wasn’t time to stop anyway. But I did brake. I didn’t know what else to do. And-like watching a slow-motion film – we could see our car skidding sideways right toward the wall-less edge of the bridge, and the ravine. We both closed our eyes and I remember two silly things quite distinctly: a beautiful color of bright purple inside my closed eyelids, and feeling a strip of torn leather on the steering wheel and wondering why I’d never repaired it. We were still skidding; I could hear the gravel hissing under the sliding tires. We waited, eyes still closed, for the collision with the truck or for the fall into the ravine – or both. We were absolutely calm. No screams. Just acceptance.
What seemed like minutes later, but can only have been a second or two, we opened our eyes to find ourselves moving very slowly forward, down the center of the bridge. The car seemed to be driving itself. We pulled to a stop and looked behind us. There was no truck. No dust. We got out of the car and listened. There was no sound – no indication that the truck had ever been there at all. We were absolutely calm; no fear, no shaking, no aftereffects of shock. We just kept looking around and then looked at each other. We even looked over the bridge to see if the truck had tumbled into the ravine. Nothing.
We got back into the car and drove on. We didn’t speak for a long time. Then Anne said: “That did happen, didn’t it?”
“It happened” was all I could think to say. Though what had actually happened we couldn’t understand. All we knew was that something very strange had taken place, and we were still alive. And then we were weeping. Great big sobs. And then laughing, and then very quiet for most of the journey back to Tehran.
Many people experience some climactic event that makes a radical change in their lives. Well, this was ours. We still don’t know what happened; we don’t know if we “lost” our old selves and somehow emerged unscathed and “new”; and we don’t know how we survived when it was obvious even now, having written it all down, I’m none the wiser. Wiser, that is, about the event itself. But we both became far wiser in other ways that completely transformed our lives.
We began to understand with greater clarity the fragility and wonder of life itself; we knew from that moment on we would try to live our lives to the full, doing what we felt, deep down, we should be doing, no longer putting things off until we had accumulated enough cash or confidence, or security, or whatever it takes, to feel “free.” We found our freedom on that bridge. And we needed for nothing after that. Even though there were difficult years in material and other ways, we never had any doubts about what we were doing with our lives. It didn’t always make sense, particularly to others. But somehow that singular experience bored a hole into our souls and certainty flowed out and has just kept on flowing.
And it is that sense of certainty that has acted as a catalyst for all our ongoing adventures and explorations around the globe which, over the years (a lot of years!) has revealed so much to us of the magic and mystery of our earth and the peoples who inhabit it.
And, as we explored outwards so we inevitably explored inwardly-deeper and deeper, revealing hosts of newly-discovered selves we have been getting to know ever since.
If you haven’t experienced that “climactic event,” look for small signs and listen to your inner voice. That “certainty” about your true path is there, like the oak tree in the acorn.
Reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1996 by Travelers’ Tales, Inc.