The Anatomy of Adventure

The notion of adventure connotes a sort of breathlessness, poised and waiting on the edge of an unveiling. And at this perch we stand, crawl, kneel or are otherwise in the domain of the unknown. Adventure is rubbed in the spice of daring, smoked in the hot char of danger (even if just a hint). How do we come to adventure? Does one land in our lap, like a little present hand delivered by toga-wearing gods? Do we seek them out; make them? Are they good for us?

First things first: Toga-wearing gods. There’s something to this. I feel it quivering in my bones, anointing the fibers of my muscles with the intoxicating nectar of excitement. Why? Because it conjures images of Odysseus stepping out of his realm to set sail and go out there. Don’t stop here. This isn’t the exciting thing. (It’s not nearly nerdy enough.)

I would like to butcher–I, mean enlist Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. He observes that the hero trope generally starts in one way. Boring. The hero or heroine is going about their usual business, minding their manners, doing a chore they’ve done a thousand times. Then it happens. The “Call to Adventure”. Whether the hero knows it or not, it’s about to go down. The thing about this moment is complacency. The hero is cozy in his/her reality. Nested. Sure. They think they know the world and their place in it. This is where the hero is when the call comes. This is the state of mind. Business as usual, and then the hero departs into adventure, embarks into the unknown.

We peel back adventure’s skin, its muscles, peer into its circulatory and nervous systems, examine its bones. A whole series of events plot the hero’s journey. The hero accepts the call, eventually. A guide appears along the way. This person has traversed rough waters, circumnavigated circles down into the pit. The hero loses connection with past realities as he sinks into newness. There’s more, but I’m not making a list. The point I want to make is this: adventure is a vehicle of transformation. Not all adventures are hero’s journeys, although even mundane adventures hold the potential for transformation.

When I went backpacking a month ago, the trip leader guided us a few choice sites. I’ve done some desert camping. The other occasions had a little bit of wildlife, gorgeous geologic formations, but nothing like this. Yonis were sprinkled around the valley. Obviously modern minds find this graphic and sexual. That component should not be dismissed, nor can it override the symbolic aspect. Fertility is associated with this symbol. So is the metaphor of birth, which is transition and transformation, movement from one realm into the next, leaving the known to face the unknown. The great punctuation in life is birth and death. Campbell argues that we face many deaths and births over our lifetimes. We shed fragments or whole identities as a snake sheds it’s skin. Adventure is critical to the process. It is not easy, or pleasant at times, but it is better to step into new skin than accept the smothering embrace of stagnation.

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