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Letter To A Former Student

August 23, 2015
Experiential EducationIndia

I have been examining in myself the same question you asked me: how to keep the experience alive. While I certainly don’t have the answers I hope I can offer some ideas. To start, I think that the question you ask might not be the right question. I think that it’s very common question to ask for anybody who has just lived one of the biggest (if not the biggest) adventures of our lives. To experience so much, learn so much, and grow so much as people is a wonderful thing. The trouble is, the adventure wouldn’t be alive in the same way even if we traveled back to Assi Ghat, even if our whole group was sitting in a restaurant on the Ganga in Banaras.

 

To me, as time goes by, those magical experiences can sometimes seems to fade until they’re a dream. Just think that only a few months ago, we were together standing at a chai stall where the streets were alive with colorful painted Devanagari script and the smell of spices and dust and a hundred motorcycles screeching by us in the alleys carrying men wearing bright pink, fuzzy sweater vests over their traditional long kurtas.

 

Part of what makes adventures like that so magical is that they only happen for a short time, then they’re finished. Part of why I like going back to places where I’ve had adventures in the past, especially place I went when I was in my late teen years, is that I get to experience the place with new eyes. In a sense, I get to know the person I was even better. Each time is a new journey though.

 

The question that I have for you is this: what is it about the adventure that you want to keep alive? When I ask myself that question, I find that the answer startles me. It’s the feeling of being in a new place. The constant learning. The community and friendships. The tangible success in dealing with some kind of uncertainty. The feeling that the world is bigger than we can possibly know. The excitement for what’s to come each day, because on a true adventure, every day is something new and wonderful, even if it’s challenging and uncomfortable (which we often forget). When I try to break the experience down into its parts (and I know that this is starting to sound like Lozang’s Mahayana Buddhist analysis), I can’t seem to lay a finger on where exactly the seat of the magic was. It’s everything all at once. It was being alive with wide, sparkling eyes and spending time surrounded by people who were right there feeling the same thing.

 

And now, sitting in a room in an old hotel in Lander, Wyoming, I can see that all those parts are not a product of the adventure, but a product of the adventure mindset. It’s a mindset that is curious, joyous, and always seeking for the gift in every moment. Each piece, by itself, is something that we can cultivate in our lives consciously. And if you look at them as building blocks, you can assemble them into the adventures of the past or into any kind of new adventure.

 

I know that the reason I choose to live a life filled with new adventures is that it keeps challenging me to rebuild my mindset, examine myself, and try to grow as a person on a daily basis. It’s like being thrown off a diving board into the deep end of a pool; eventually, you have to see what’s down there. And after so many times, you start to understand what’s down there, understand how to swim a little. So, I think that the question we should really ask ourselves is not how to keep a past adventure alive, but how to keep adventure alive in ourselves: in our hearts and in our minds. Remember how it felt to step into a grocery store after returning from a foreign country, or even to see a verdant green spring after spending time in the desert. For me, it’s an overwhelming sense of joy for being alive. And I’ve come to realize that it’s something that we have total control over in our lives. We can practice living in that state of wonder, happiness, and curiosity on a daily basis. As Jedidiah Jenkins says in his wonderful short film The Thousand Year Journey, “I want to choose a mind and a soul that’s wide awake because in a sense it turns your hundred years on this planet into a thousand.”

 

Azar Nafisi says, “You get a strange feeling when you leave a place … like you’ll not only miss the people but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” And that’s the magic of it. On your next adventure, on every day you’ll have in life from now forward, your past adventure is a part of you. It’s just a matter of remembering that and working to know it more and more.

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