I have to confess that I am a little in awe of this podcast’s guest, and I don’t say that lightly. Between 1994 and 2007, Jason Lewis travelled over 45,000 miles under his own power to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world. He used bicycles, rollerblades, kayaks, swimming, rowing, walking, and his trusty pedal-powered boat Moksha to travel though 37 countries in 5 continents, and across 2 oceans and one sea.
Jason and I have never actually met, although I have met two of his Moksha crewmates, and Jason and I had quite a bit of correspondence in the run-up to my landing in Tarawa in the middle of the Pacific, where he had also landed.
Who Are You Really?
“If you remove yourself from the day-to-day humdrum and all that surrounds you and supports the idea about who you think you are – what is left? Who are you really?” (Jason Lewis)
In an era when the word “epic” is overused to the point of meaninglessness, Jason Lewis re-calibrates the word as it relates to adventure. His 13-year odyssey is positively biblical in its scale.
And yet the impression I take away from Jason’s book and our conversation is that, for him, the most important journey was the inner one. It was not the number of miles, countries or continents that he covered, but the number of layers that he could strip away from our superficial perceptions of reality, in his quest to discover the essential truths beneath.
Physical hardship has long been sought out as a route to spiritual growth. When I read about Jason sleeping in a shed full of swans, or in parks, or under any kind of rudimentary shelter in between his voyages, it reminded me of the Indian sadhus. The Sanskrit terms sādhu (“good man”) and sādhvī (“good woman”) refer to renouncers who have chosen to live a life apart from or on the edges of society to focus on their own spiritual practice. Many of them are naked, bathe in cold water, meditate daily, and live an ascetic life, turning their backs on materialism. Remind you of anybody?!
I was inspired in my decision to row the Atlantic by a book called, “Cave in the Snow”, by Tenzin Palmo, originally Diane Perry from the East End of London, who converted to Buddhism and spent 12 years alone in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas. She grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box, three feet square. Again, not so different from life on board a human-powered vessel.
What is it about the wilderness – maybe particularly the ocean, on this now-overcrowded planet – that is so seductive to the spiritual seeker?
Could it be that, back in an earlier era when we all lived in wilderness, we were on a daily basis connected with something larger than ourselves? That we understood that everything is interconnected and interdependent? And even now that we are mostly urbanised and materialised and “civilised”, we sometimes feel the urge to get back into the wilderness, to reconnect, to try and rediscover that part of ourselves that has got all covered up by the multiple veneers of our new reality?
“It is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Moksha: means emancipation, liberation or release. In eschatological sense, it connotes freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth. In epistemological and psychological sense, moksha connotes freedom, self-realization and self-knowledge. (Wikipedia)
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2:00 Jason and the school careers adviser: “How can you know what you really want to do until you really know who you are?”
4:00 Flying the coop: “My fear was blindly subscribing to the whims of an increasingly materialistic society, with its shallow mediocrity and hollow indulgences, offering no deeper meaning or purpose than the indiscriminate production and consumption of Stuff, the treadmill existence of human battery hens.”
6:00 The long and winding road to adventure (via window cleaning and a dodgy-sounding band)
7:00 Steve Smith and Jason Lewis – comrades in philosophy as well as adventure (Apology: I have no idea why I said Salcombe is in Cornwall. As any fool knows, it’s in Devon.)
9:00 Teamwork and spiritual enlightenment – are they compatible?
14:20 Solo or team? Jason has a uniquely broad experience of solo, various crewmates, same crewmate twice with very different outcomes. Three is NOT a crowd – actually the sweet spot.
18:15 The importance of laughter – and a top tip for frightening away pirates
20:00 The wonders of being weird – bizarre forms of transport bring out the best in strangers
21:30 Paddling vs pedalling, with an honourable mention of Peter Bird
26:50 Bringing mindfulness back to dry land
28:05 Dicing with death
31:00 DON’T LEAVE THE BOAT!!!
32:00 Becoming a sea creature
33:00 Do explorers explore in order to prove themselves? “If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery.” (Apsley Cherry-Garrard)
36:00 What do we have to show for 46 years of life? Not much stuff, but lots of experiences.
37:00 Since the adventure – on writing, money/worth, adventure, and integrity
The circumnavigation website – tons of great stuff here