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Inner Gold 1: To Be An Explorer…

Before the reality of Covid-19 had hit, I wrote a blog about exploration. I never got around to posting it, but now it seems more pertinent than ever. Here I share an updated version.

Navigating the rollercoaster of daily life has distracted me of late: bladder surgery to remove two large stones after a stint of infections; re-arranging my diary as work plans are gradually being cancelled due to Covid-19; trying to stay focused on training with the doubtful possibility that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics may still go ahead: the ‘stuff’ of life. 

It is this stuff that de-rails us as all too often from peace and space, as we try our best to be our best and keep up with our over-busy, ever-faster world. 

When not de-railed, I find peace in exploring: outside and in, to adventure toward ‘boundaries’; after-all where on earth do they lie? We know but a fraction of how the universe works; how we as humans interact with this vast unknown; the workings, abilities and potential of our own minds, bodies and spirits. 

I sometimes describe myself as an ‘Explorer’. It’s a word that conjures images of someone venturing into unknown territory, perhaps by sail, foot or skis: someone discovering new lands. ‘Explorer’ is a job that never showed up in our schools career service list of suggested jobs. I matched with ‘Fireman’ or ‘Photographer’. 

In 1904, the ‘Explorer’s Club’ was founded in New York to bring together eminent explorers and scientists. Feeling dismissed because it was an all-male organisation, a group of intrepid women set up the Society of Women Geographers in 1920. To celebrate this a decade later, AFAR travel magazine have reinvented an all-female travel society, https://www.afar.com/magazine/women-to-watch-2020where I am surprised to be included (and a little ashamed to be listed with Greta Thurnberg given the level of travel I have participated in). From Arctic and Antarctic exploration, air and space travel, to campaigning for protection of land and climate, the last century of exploration has been about looking out at our external world. 

However, the crises we face in the 2020’s are rather different than those of the 1920’s. In most of the world we are not fighting for women to vote or venture beyond the domestic sphere. We are beyond figuring out what continents lie where or whether the earth is flat or round. We are instead struggling to make sense of the climatic, political, consumption-focused chaos of our densely populated world, and now with a virus strain that threatens our very existence. Perhaps it is time for a different type of exploration.

In these times, the explorer in me has a foot in two camps: to explore the ‘traditional’ way, to discover other lands and cultures and the external world; but I also love to explore the internal world. Life has taught me to look within, and largely thanks to the trauma of spinal cord injury and the challenges it brings at times, I can find as much adventure and discovery during weeks spent largely alone in a small room as I can cycling across a continent. It will prove very useful in these weeks of lockdown.

In 2020, the ‘old’ explorer in me has been planning the last of the ‘Quest 79’ journeys (www.karendarke.com/quest79) , a series of cycle rides across the 7 continents. The last journey remains, to Antarctica to create the ‘Pole of Possibility’. The vision is to inspire many on what is collectively possible when people, passion and purpose come together. I have learned through these journeys and my companions on them, most of them entering totally new terrain for themselves, that stepping into new territory and being brave enough to change ourselves impacts the people around us, the communities we are part of, and in turn that can change the world: heart by heart, step by step.

Simultaneously, the ‘new’ explorer in me is focused on journeying within. I am discovering more deeply than ever how each of us can rewire our brain and recondition our body, and change our world from the inside out. I am fascinated with exploring our ability to heal, to ignite the potential within us for abilities and possibilities we may barely be able to imagine. I believe we can change our energy, transmute dis-ease and create wellness for ourselves if we pursue practical ways of reducing stress and pay careful attention to the thoughts we have and the emotions that we attach to them. This is so relevant now that our medical systems can barely cope: systems that under normal conditions are incredible at managing medical trauma, but that lack solutions for chronic conditions. 

If exploration of the 1920’s and since has been externally-focused, towards new horizons and outer space, perhaps exploration of the 2020’s and forwards calls to combine our ‘outward’ knowledge with exploring inwards, towards understanding how we can change and influence our reality and our world from within. 

Today with Covid-19 we are suddenly all explorers, pushing into new territory. We may experience pain and trauma – in the ‘old explorer’ world it could be analogous with long days trekking in extreme cold with little food across a frozen unknown continent, not knowing what will happen from one hour to the next. But we will also experience moments of clarity, peace and maybe an unfathomable appreciation of what is unfolding – like an explorer in the depths of uncertainty pausing to take in a new horizon or a soul-moving sunset. In unknown territory, the degree to which we resist the reality of our new world and wish for things to be different will influence our degree of suffering.

With social distancing, we have an opportunity. There is time, permission and space to recover, reflect, re-connect, re-set and re-emerge in a new way. We can recognize patterns in ourselves and our society that need to change (busy-ness, stress, separation, limitation….?), let down old ways of thinking, break old habits and ways of being and open up to new possibilities for ourselves and the world we live in. Perhaps this is an opportunity to discover how we can change ourselves inside to change our world outside. 

An explorer needs to be prepared for the unexpected, to be resilient, adaptable, to live in the moment and let go of fear about the future. 

An explorer finds freedom and peace in the fact that things are changing and unfolding, letting go of futile worry about what will happen tomorrow. 

An explorer needs to trust and rely on team-mates, a “we are in this together and we will get through this together” approach. 

An explorer always needs to pack some vital ingredients, and its usually not toilet roll or baked beans. Here is my favourite packing list… 

  • COURAGE: We have to be bold and brave in facing new horizons, and willing to embrace the unknown, to face what feels like disaster or trauma but trust that ultimately we will arrive in a better place.
  • INSPIRATION: We can be inspired by the experience of others – in the case of Covid-19 that may be the Chinese, the Italians, the medics, those on the frontline…but also by anyone you know who has lived through trauma or difficult times or has experience in resilience.
  • SWEAT: We have to work hard. Take a break for a short while, but there is work to do here too, to stay mentally, physically, emotionally and economically sane and healthy. Or to stand for what we believe in or feel passionate about, where we may previously have put it off.
  • LOVE: Despite the isolation, we can connect now more than ever, on a different, deeper, heart-felt level with other amazing humans, supporting each other through this challenge, pulling together with the tools that technology allows us to, and expecting that surprising things will be possible… 

Thanks for listening or reading this first blog. Over the coming weeks I will share one a week, each with a theme that I hope will be useful for you in your life at this time. Each theme has been a gift that I have learned from each of the Quest 79 journeys, so if you stay tuned, I will be taking you on a virtual travel experience, exploring both ‘outside’ and ‘inside’. Next week, the ‘Golden Way’ which was my journey to the Rio Paralympic Games…and the topic of beliefs. 

Future topics will include:

The Golden Way : Beliefs
The Wild Way : Vulnerability
The Express Way : Freedom
The Water Way : Gratitude
The Sacred Way : Love
The Hot Way : Joy
The Continental Way : Transformation
The Cold Way : Possibility

Audio version of this blog at https://soundcloud.com/karen-darke-110198085/inner-gold-to-be-an-explorer-episode-1 

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