My travels to date have been a learning experience, very much in alignment with how I have lived my life: Dive in and see what happens. Find your way from there. I have discovered, or reaffirmed, a few things to date, including the following:
Life is fluid.
One moment can be magical, another can be despairing. Life is like the waves of the ocean: Each one is new and fresh. One moment says nothing about the next. Staying in the water and riding those waves, even when they are turbulent, instead of giving up and getting out of the water, keeps us present for the magic. Sometimes it is those most tumultuous waves that are the magic, if we stay with them to completion – like when tensions and challenging emotions rise in a relationship. It is those very experiences that can push us to a higher state of being and deeper connection with others.
I think that many people don’t quite grasp these concepts. They get stuck on one of the waves. They get hung up on the fact that a wave just crashed them or someone else over the head, when all one needs to do is rise back to the surface and embrace the next wave, keep going. We are not the waves. We are the Spirits surfing them. But instead, many define themselves by, and judge others by, the fact that a wave crashed them over the head. That keeps them stuck in that moment, with that wave, and missing the bigger picture and experience of the ocean.
These are the kinds of people who have told me that I have bad luck, bad karma, or some variation thereof, based on the challenges I have faced in life – effectively judging me by the circumstances outside my control, ie, by the waves, instead of judging me by what I have done with those circumstances, ie, how skillfully I have ridden those waves. That, to me, is boring, and misses the point of Life, under the misguided banner of spirituality.
Guide Books and Companies Seem Tailored to Able-Bodied Men
While a guidebook may rank activities according to level – ie, easy, moderate, or hard – it doesn’t take into consideration varying degrees of physical or mental health needs. For example, it won’t say something like, “This is a great hike for those who are afraid of heights, because you’ll be surrounded by land on either side of you – ie, no cliffs or steep drops in sight.” Or “You’ll be walking on a lot of rocks along the path, so this is not a great hike for people with ankle issues.”
Guidebooks also won’t mention how safe and/or comfortable a particular activity might be for a woman – for example, “This location is remote, and very few people take this path, but the area is known to be particularly safe, so while there are no guarantees in life, this should be a good spot for a woman biking or hiking alone. There has never been a reported incident within a 20 mile radius.”
In addition, activity company representatives seem ill-equipped to assess or help with physical challenges and uncertainties. I spoke with an adventure company about a kayaking program that included a few miles of kayaking and a one mile hike to a waterfall. I asked about the level of exertion and therefore ability. “Oh you’ll be able to do it,” she replied, based on nothing other than what I looked like, standing in front of her. I assured her that even I did not know what I was capable of, and I asked what would happen if I was not able to make it. “I’m sure they’ll be able to help you,” she said. In other words, she had no clue. Situations like getting stuck on a path, in a group, involve many details that need to be thought out ahead of time, before someone risks going on a group activity.
A couple of years ago, I called REI and spoke with one of their group activity representatives. I shared that I had self-healed from debilitating chronic pain and that I had gotten myself to the point that I was biking as much as 30 miles at a shot and walking a couple of miles at a shot, but that I never could be certain what my ability would be on any given day. I could be just fine, and then my ankle could go out, after stepping at a certain angle.
I asked what systems and structures they had in place for someone who might not be able to complete an activity. He told me that they would not want someone coming on a program if that person knew in advance s/he might not make it. In other words, people with limited and/or changing mobility were not welcome. So I asked what REI leaders would do if someone with no health issues happened to twist an ankle or something along the way and could not complete the activity. He told me that the leaders were trained to get people back to safety.
Tens of millions of Americans have chronic pain, not to mention a host of other health issues. It is unacceptable for companies to fail to take into consideration the unique needs of this population. I believe that it is by coming together in a group, and going out into nature, that we elevate our healing to the next level. By barring from participation those who are anything short of entirely able-bodied, we shut out the demographic who could perhaps benefit the most.