I was going to write about the sixth law of adventure but something subtler gripped my imagination- the idea of combining ‘zen type’ thinking with adventure. I’ve been thinking recently about small scale and large scale adventures. It isn’t that hard to boost a small adventure into a big one. I’m a big fan of thinking BIG, as thinking big and thinking small take the same amount of effort (when viewed after the event). One just takes more boldness and less tendency to worry than the other. But thinking BIG should not get in the way of enjoying life. One can, all too easily, fall into the deadening mindset of only being ‘alive’ on some outlandish trip or another, which begins a polarising effect, a self-induced bi-polar disorder, that eventually interferes with even making those trips in the end.
Zenventures can happen anytime you step outside the door, but it can’t be guaranteed. You need to trip the switch somehow. A new route never before walked might work. Wearing a new and possibly ludicrous hat. What we are looking for is that tell-tale rise in spirits as we leave, and, at its most noticeable, as we trip lightly back up the steps to our home. Zenventures happen in the interstices of life, the cubby holes and whirl pools; I remember descending a river in Japan 20 years ago, I still recall almost all the details now even though it took only a day and didn’t require any special efforts.
I was talking to a pal with a camper wagon, he told me waking up in new places is very exhilarating, though his wife said she was ‘less keen’. On the road, house on your back, he told me Europe was better than Britain because we have less space here, more officious parking regs. I have often been tempted by the whole camper lark, put off by some of the tight lipped snaggle toothed dimwits I’ve seen plying the highways and byways (mostly the highways to be honest) – not my pals of course- they are all great. As a kid I remember walking up a back road near my house and seeing a 2CV parked, that baby blue colour they were – a French one with French occupants, - it was parked by a small patch of grass and they had a small tent pitched. How did they find this obscure spot I remembered thinking? Having a zenventure.
I read about a man visiting all the Starbucks outlets in the world. Talk about insane…ish. The more I read the more convinced I became. This guy, who had changed his name to some kind of street artist tag, said that he knew it was silly, ‘but a goal’s a goal’ and I thought how exactly right. And as psychologist Steve Carter points out, “A serious goal induces anxiety, which can interfere with your ability to achieve that goal. A non-serious goal doesn’t have that problem.” And like a diamond bullet between my eyes it hit me (I like this to happen fairly regularly so that I can use the aforementioned phrase) anyway it hit me that there isn’t a HUGE amount of difference between serious and non-serious goals when you take a distant enough perspective, and then it hit me, like a second diamond bullet etc that ‘high’ achievers often have a playful approach to what they do ie. they’ve turned it into a non-serious goal. Not that they’re ‘not serious’ about achieving the goal- just like Starbucks-man (3000+ outlets visited and counting) they are super dedicated, it’s just that they don’t have wrinkled brows and a demeanour that suggests an imminent nervous breakdown and that we should all admire their efforts as superior and worthy.
Zenventuring should not require drugs or alcohol. My hunch is that any slight effort, touch on the wheel, that lifts this excursion, episode, experience into the zenventuresphere is all you need. And that slight bit of effort, mental effort, mainly make sure things are not being repeated. But the list should be more exhaustive. Something like the requirements for ‘kaif’ that ineluctable eastern essence of vitality that either is, or is not, present. Zenventuring has about as much to do with Zen as most things borrowing some Japanese credibility, maybe a tad more; what we know about Zen is that you shouldn’t try too hard. This carte blanche for slacking is bookended or counterbalanced by an admonition to be present in what you do, which means, usually, given things you do your best shot. I like the idea that in a Zen monastery every day is planned out to the last minute, rung out with bells and lots of running about, but the moment another task comes up, say showing someone round the Zen garden then you are allowed to drop what you’re doing immediately. The timetable isn’t a ‘must do’ list it’s a ‘do this if you haven’t something better to do list’. Even that misses the mark a little, sounds a shade too downbeat and pessimistic. To retrack to zenventures: they surely are about finding that spark of novelty or originality that enables something to feel very present, on the nose, right there. As well as being fun or a good story or preferably both. Being able to find the fun in anything is a good zenventure attribute.
Going to the pub is usually not a zenventure. Going canoeing in surf when you’re something of a novice at it is, probably. Not sure why, maybe I’m talking about myself here…something to do with getting out of the comfort zone. A friend of mine just got back from picking up litter at a music festival, he said it was great because a) got free entrance, site, food etc b) wasn’t paid cash and in return there was no compulsion to pick up litter he didn’t want to (when people taunted him by dropping sweet wrappers in front of him he just moved on) and c) had something to do when he wasn’t doing what you think you’ll be doing at a music festival because he did that too. All of which set me thinking about how a dip, now and then, into the world of super low status activity is like getting a pair of optically perfect goggles after swimming underwater without them…
To go to the other end of the spectrum, a zenventure could pivot around doing something no one else has done before. Though I can feel myself getting dragged off into familiar territory here. What I am trying to nail is the pristine sense of having pulled something off, a kind of heist on the everyday, a wedge driven into a tiny fracture, which, with some applied force levers off a big chunk of …what? Freedom from the everyday cares, freedom from familiar downward spiralling tropes, and upward motion in favour of new directions, projects, people.