A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Fear, Courage, Quiet Desperation and Shangri-la

Back in early December, in the frozen, dreary, town of Ihtiman, Bulgaria, I bargained with the hotel clerk for a room. I had just spent the previous night with a dog in a tent at -20 degrees Centigrade. The dog almost hadn't made it, and one of my toes was still numb and purple at the tip. I was going to splurge a bit on this day to keep warm.
The bargaining got me a room for cheap, and included the dog. The carpet was badly stained, the TV didn't work, and I was thrilled to be out of the cold.
Inge had called me earlier in the day to see if I was still alive. She had also gone through a hard subzero night with her own dog in a tent some 30k ahead of me. Now I phoned her to see what her situation would be on yet another frozen night. She was camped again, under a highway overpass, and it was warmer, she said. Maybe only a low of -5 or -10 degrees this time, as she had got to a lower altitude. She was concerned that there were men walking around nearby, but felt sure that the worst case scenario would amount to robbery and not rape. I told her I'd call her again later, but she later SMS'd me to tell me not to call her; the men were near her tent and she wanted to be as qu─▒et and discreet as possible.
I spent the night warm but unable to sleep. Between the cold Inge was exposed to, the guys creeping around her tent and my inability to communicate with her, I was too worried to sleep.
But Inge got through the night and cycled on the next day.

Inge had clearly been afraid that night, but she'd camped while I'd found a hotel.
Inge had revealed many fears to me the many months we'd travelled together.
She revealed her fear of water, and how she overcame it by learning free diving; her fear of her life in Antwerp going in a bad direction, and how she'd overcome that by travelling. She revealed her fear, her terror, even, of loneliness, and how she was still overcoming that by travelling alone, on a bicycle, in Bulgaria, Turkey and later in Iran and Pakistan. She revealed her fear of failure and how she overcame that by always moving forward. She revealed her fear of the unknown and of danger and how she overcomes those fears with in-depth  research and, again,  by simply moving forward and facing those dangers when they are unavoidable. Inge also does rock climbing, so, though she has never mentioned it, I am absolutely sure she is afraid of heights. Inge is afraid of spiders, and camps among them, and with them.
An aside: curiously, Inge has no fear of scorpions.
I share many of the same fears that Inge has, but I believe I am generally not as afraid on my journey as she is on hers. For example, spiders don't scare me. Much. Or at least I am not as willing to confess it. Maybe I have less to fear.
I will confess I am terrified of spilling a drink filled to the brim of the glass, and I shake and do in fact spill the drink because of this fear. Inge has no such fear. She can carry all kinds of drinks filled to the brim and not spill a drop.
But I digress.

Nevertheless, it should be obvious by now, despite my digressions, that I am writing about courage, and not about fear.
It should be obvious because while Inge is terrified of the water, she managed to face that fear, and she  learned to freedive, and this is courage.
And the greater the fear, the greater the courage required to overcome it.
So let me translate this sentence: "I believe I am generally not as afraid as Inge", to this, "I believe Inge is more courageous than I am."

Along with much encouragement, there is sometimes the discouraging word that is shot at the pilgrim, the traveller, the seeker of Shangri-la. Let me now address those authors of discouragement; all the caged, comfortable masses of men living in quiet desperation, and let me ask them not to impart their cautious wisdom on the travelling seekers of the world. Let those men not accuse the seekers of the world of running away from responsibility when 'responsibility' is merely a synonym for 'quiet desperation'. Let them not accuse the seekers of running headlong into danger when it is in facing and overcoming fears that Shangri-la is found.

Abandon quiet desperation and seek Shangri-la, ye masses of men! Begin by acknowledging your fears. Then learn how to face them. And let my friend Inge, the travelling seeker, show you how. bikenomadism.wordpress.com


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