For those of you who didn’t check in last week, we’re discussing Felicity Aston’s solo crossing of Antarctica.
To me, the bravest thing about Aston’s journey was her willingness to be on her own for so long. The lack of connectivity with other humans must have been more frightening than the possibility of encountering hostile wildlife or getting frostbite, and much harder to prepare for. A pistol helps discourage pesky wildlife, and some super high-tech longjohns and wicking socks help combat the cold. (I’m not a survivalist, so substitute the specialized garment of your choice for my longjohns and socks.)
Nothing helps with the alone-ness. How many of us get slightly panicky at the thought of being without our smart phones, Facebook links, or email for a day or two? Never mind not seeing or talking to another human being for weeks on end. (Your initial reaction might be, “Oh, heaven. I don’t have to talk to the guy in the next cubicle or my snotty teenager for over a month,” but I think the reality of being so cut off might make even your teen’s sullen growls look appealing after a week.)
The fear such solitude engenders, for me, comes largely from the realization that I’d have hours upon hours to think. Between writing, kids and hubby, household tasks, volunteering at the church, working out, reading, and other such activities, I can go weeks, maybe months, without really thinking. Scary, but true. When I try to meditate or have a quiet devotional time, my mind skitters to tasks left undone, projects in process . . . anything to avoid actually having to come to grips with who I am, what makes me happy, what my purpose is, how to better connect with the people in my life. I can’t sit, being quiet, for more than a few minutes. Imagine weeks of alone-ness and time to come face-to-face with yourself and tell me that doesn’t scare you more than the prospect of a hungry leopard seal leaping onto your ice floe.
And if that doesn’t terrify you, how does the possibility of a hugely public failure grab you? I’ve been known to let fear of embarrassment keep me from talking to a woman whose name I should know but which I’ve forgotten. The fear of embarrassing myself in front of one near-stranger seems silly compared with the prospect of millions of people knowing you tried and failed. Wait a minute . . . maybe it’s the trying that earns respect, and the success or failure is secondary? Aah! Kudos to all who are willing to tackle almost unreachable goals with the whole world watching.
One of my big challenges in 2012 is forcing myself to be reflective without setting off on a solitary cross-Pacific jaunt in a canoe. I’d love to hear how you quiet your minds and allow space in your lives for serious thinking.