Today I’m sharing another draft section from my doctoral studies. The Doctorate in Professional Studies by Public Works is all about the candidate critiquing their own contributions and deriving further learning from the knowledge outcomes they have published in the public domain. In my case, those “publications” include my voyages, as well as the more conventional publications such as books, blogs, and speeches.
This section is about that wonderful feeling that you get when you have an idea for a project (or, more accurately in my case, the idea had me) that seems to bring together all the threads of your life into one glorious tapestry, as if all those experiences had been preparing you for this. Maybe even ventures that seemed like dead ends at the time suddenly become relevant again. In my worldview, that’s a clue that the new idea, however crazy it may seem, is exactly what I’m meant to be doing.
This is the first of four or five related sections that I’ve drafted, that I’ll share over the coming weeks. I’ll be on the road for much of October, so if you comment on my blog or reply to my newsletter, please forgive if it takes me even longer than usual to get back to you. I won’t be living in my inbox!
My ocean rowing voyages were, in effect, my first public works. When I received the call to adventure I knew only that rowing solo across oceans ticked all the boxes I had in mind, and sensed that all the experiences in my life had been leading up to this point. These two factors contributed to the sense that these adventures were in some way ordained by a higher power, or were “meant to be”. I little knew just how perfectly my voyages would embody the themes that were current in my life at the time, even when that perfection was heavily disguised in countless apparent imperfections such as injury, breakage, and loss.
Those themes that had been emerging in the lead-up to the call to adventure were:
– In Peru I had particularly enjoyed the physicality of trekking and climbing in the Andes, so a physical adventure of some sort appealed to me.
– I’d raced in a couple of marathons over the previous few years, drawn to the event by people telling me that I would find out things about myself in the last few miles of a marathon. This had been my motivation – the possibility of greater self-knowledge – but the marathon failed to enlighten. Maybe 26.2 miles just wasn’t far enough, and I needed a longer physical challenge, or even an adventure, but I didn’t seem qualified to do much. I didn’t know how to climb, sail, or cope with Arctic conditions. But I did know how to row.
– Although my book on my Peruvian adventure had not (and still has not) been published, I had very much enjoyed the experience of writing, while also appreciating the degree of detachment it gave me while traveling: even when plans were going awry, the inconvenience was outweighed by the prospect of rich material for my book.
– The environmental research I had undertaken in Ireland was still fresh in my mind. I wanted to see more of this planet before we degraded it even further. But I did not want my travels to hasten those changes, so whatever means of transport I chose would have to be environmentally friendly.
– I was desperate to raise awareness of our environmental issues. I needed a platform for my message, a way to get people’s attention. Rowing solo across oceans seemed sufficiently audacious and unusual to capture the public imagination.
– I was increasingly enjoying my own company, and the sense of self-reliance it engendered. I was growing as a person, discovering abilities and strengths that I hadn’t known I possessed, and I suspected there were more. But being rather lazy by nature I knew I had to put myself in a situation where I would have to fend for myself and not depend on someone else for assistance. I also wanted to find out who I was when I was alone – when I was not reacting to the expectations of others. Who was I when I was not being someone’s wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, colleague, friend? So my new project had to be solo.
– I had recently read several books that emphasised the solitary inner journey, particularly surrounded by nature, as a pathway to spiritual growth: Tenzin Palmo’s Cave in the Snow, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. After my strides into individuation came a desire for initiation, a transformative rite of passage that would lead me into greater maturity and insight.
– I wanted to contribute to the greater good. It may have been partly due to the influence of my parents, who spent their lives in dutiful service to others, but I felt a strong need to leave a legacy. I knew I was unlikely to have children, so I wanted to find some other way to make my mark. I needed to believe that my time on this earth would leave the world a slightly better place than it had been when I arrived.
– Conversations with God had instilled in me a belief that my personal longevity was less important than my contribution to the collective consciousness, and to maximise this contribution I was no longer going to play small. It was time for me to step up, be bold, and make a statement to the world about who I was in this new identity.
There was also a newfound awareness of the importance of liminal spaces, the “fertile void of uncertainty”, to use Deepak Chopra’s phrase, where enculturation and social norms melt away into the background, and the individual is relatively free to define their own reality from within, rather than having it imposed from without. Oceans seemed, quite literally, a fluid realm where I would be free to explore and re-create my self and my reality.
It did, indeed, feel as if everything in my life had been leading up to this point, that this was the perfect embodiment of all the values I held dear, and all the interests that had captured my imagination. It was an outrageously audacious idea, but it seemed that I had found my destiny.
More on this next week!