Let’s talk about adventure. Adventure is a bit of a mystery, right? It always felt like something that I wanted more of, and also that remained mostly out of reach. Most of the stories that I heard about adventure made it seem like an accident—like something that happens tous, and not something that we have any control over. I’d like to suggest that we can learn a lot about adventure, and also that it has a lot to teach us. Adventure can be a very useful tool for growth, and in particular, for becoming more familiar with the unconscious, and with intuition.
What is adventure?
Adventure is crossing into the unknown—whether it’s doing something that you’ve never done before like joining a new group, going to an unknown place, or even exploring a new way of thinking or being. The boundary of the unknown is also the boundary of the possible, and crossing that boundary is part of what we’re here to do. If I know anything about my own purpose in life, it’s to be myself as much as possible, and to be ourselves as much as possible, we have to find ways to go beyond our current self, into the unknown, across the boundary of the possible. In whatever form it takes—physical, spiritual, creative, in relationship—adventure is crossing the boundary of the possible. I think this explains the why we all want adventure—it feels good to grow.
The boundary of the known and the unknown is also the also the boundary of the conscious and the unconscious, and crossing into the unknown is also crossing into the realm of the unconscious. When we move into the unknown, we’re going into a place where we can’t know everything—or much at all—a place where the conscious mind loses its footing. In the unknown, we can’t just act based on what we consciously observe. We have to rely on feeling, instinct, and intuition. Of necessity, the conscious gives up at least some control to the unconscious. Going into the unknown is also a way of practicing with the unconscious.
I know from personal experience the frustration of not being familiar with my intuition, and of not feeling like I had any idea what role intuition or my unconscious played in my waking life. I wanted to know it better, to feel it within me, but I was out of touch with my intuition, and I didn’t know why. Honestly, I was desperate for my intuition to speak up, and I had no idea how to cultivate it. I found the answer in giving myself the freedom to do things that felt interesting, new, unknown, and a little risky—things that I wanted to do, but that wasn’t sure that I could do. I began to adventure more, and my intuition woke up. In helping me to practice moving into the unknown, adventure has been a powerful gateway to my unconscious, and to a better connection with my own intuition. In adventure, we map the shape of the unconscious and create space for our intuition to come to the surface and to take an active role.
Adventure and Risk
I always sort of got the message that adventure was about risk, and “adventure” still has the sound of an accident that someone was lucky enough to survive. Adventure does have something to do with risk, but it’s first of all about the risk of the unknown—not necessarily about risking your life.
If the idea of adventure feels dangerous, it’s because the unknown feels dangerous. Think about that for a minute though—it’s not really possible for the unknown to be dangerous for any concrete reason—because it’s unknown! The unknown feels dangerous simply because it’s unknown. The unknown isn’t actually dangerous—it’s just not known yet.
Adventure is also about the risk of failure, of the not possible. If you’re guaranteed success, if everything is known, then you’re not crossing into the unknown, you’re not in adventure, and you remain in the realm of the conscious. If you get seriously hurt, you may well have been on an adventure, but the price outweighs the reward. The gold lies in between—where there is some risk of failure, but that risk isn’t catastrophic.
A fully planned and predictable adventure is an oxymoron, an impossibility, false advertising—it’s a lie—but it’s no accident either. Adventure isn’t crashing the car—it’s the result of setting off with intention towards something that is challenging, possible, and also possibly not possible. If you’ve heard of Flow (as first defined in the book of the same name by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) one of the most reliable ways to get there is to aim for something that we are in most ways prepared for, but that we can’t be certain of. Pointing ourselves towards the proximate unknown—in other words, adventure—is a great way to get into flow.
Is it possible to create adventure?
Adventure isn’t something that just happens to us—it’s something we can seek out. In fact, adventure won’t ever happen at all unless we purposefully reach out beyond what we can be sure of. We have to choose to go into the unknown. It’s not inviting danger—it’s inviting something that’s beyond our current experience.
As with so many aspects of being human, there’s a bit of a paradox here. How can we point ourselves in the direction of the unknown? Just as with the unconscious, we can’t go there directly. That said, just as we can prepare to make art, not knowing exactly what we’re going to create, we can prepare for adventure. We make space for adventure by becoming as ready as we can be in the realm of the known, and then by practicing at the edge of the unknown. We go into adventure by design. We plan to meet the unknown.
Because our sense of self, and of what we know, is so closely tied to our physical bodies, we most often understand adventure in terms of something physical, in the body and out in the world. For this reason, and also because we feel fear directly in our bodies, physical adventure can be a good place to start, but we should be clear that adventure isn’t limited to what we can do with our bodies.
I have great memories of many physical adventures—and also of the sense of adventure in joining and finding my way in groups, of the adventure of starting, running, and eventually selling my business, of learning new words and languages, and of being in the moment with someone and finding exactly what I wanted to say appear on the tip of my tongue without having thought about about it at all.
Adventure is the best way to practice adventure. It’s still often scary for me to move into the unknown, but I also know that that fear of the unknown doesn’t necessarily signal real risk. With practice, I’ve learned to recognize the difference between fear that signals real danger and fear that is simply of the unknown.
For me, the key to getting more comfortable with adventure was to find ways to practice at the edge, as opposed to trying to jump all at once into the heart of darkness. Sometimes that works, for some people, but another approach is to make a map of what you know, and then explore the edges. If you’re reluctant to adventure alone, invite someone else along. If, like me, you never felt much like joining anything, consider joining something that you already are, instead of something that you want to become. That’s a much easier place to start.
Practice recognizing the feeling of being in familiar territory, and the feeling of approaching the edge of what you know. Practice the feeling of moving from the known into the unknown, and the feeling of being in the unknown. As you get more familiar with moving into the unknown, you’ll also come to have a better sense of how prepared you are, and into what type of unknown you may be most interested in moving.
Adventure doesn’t happen by accident
Adventure is one of the greatest gifts of life, and it doesn’t have to remain a mystery. As with everything else in life, we get good at what we do, and the more we practice adventure, the more comfortable we become moving into the unknown. In choosing adventure, we open a window to the unconscious and we invite our intuition to speak clearly.
Whether it takes the shape of performing for an audience, joining a group of strangers, climbing a mountain, or connecting more deeply with a friend, adventure doesn’t happen by accident.