I need to know I can be lost and not afraid.
~ Trip the Light
This lyric, from the most recent Where the Hell is Matt? video, really resonates with me. To travel to an unknown land and to explore it beyond the bounds of the neatly curated tourist experience is truly a special experience because the authentic is almost always better (or at least more enlightening) than the fabricated. Sadly, I think few people are willing to dare to explore outside the artificial bubble created by tourism boards.
Butterflies in March
While I might have preferred to use the heading Butterflies in May, I had this experience on a beautiful Saturday morning in the opening days of March one year. Severely jet-lagged, I found myself in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I’d effectively been up all night on the flight over from the US, but it was too early to seek sleep, if I wanted there to be any chance of getting over the jet-lag in a reasonable time period.
I needed to find something else to do.
Now, you may not agree with the wisdom displayed by my choice, but I decided to go exploring. Specifically, I wanted to find where church services would be held the next day, but that just served to provide a context and location–a perfect launch pad for a bit of wandering about.
For those who have not had the opportunity of visiting Barcelona, let me describe its basic layout. It is a seaside city built in what is effectively two intertwined valleys. So, naturally, there is a low-lying mountain range surrounding the city.
My quest to find the church building happened to bring me somewhat up the slope near the edge of the city. The main goal achieved, I continued onward and upward. Leaving the buildings behind, I discovered a hiking path that traversed the city-facing hillsides of the two valleys. Offering great views of the city, the trail seemed the perfect way to spend the next hour or two, so I took it.
Along the way, I was pleasantly surprised to find little, white butterflies flitting about the plants. At home, snow still covered the ground, but here the butterflies played.
Now, I can’t really say that I was ever “lost” in this little walkabout. Being able to see the city almost constantly meant I could roughly tell where I was based on some of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks, such as Sagrada Família. It’s true this was my first visit to Barcelona, but as I said earlier, its layout is fairly straightforward.
The stepping into the dark is what happened next.
I had walked for quite some time, eventually traversing from one valley to the other, and now it was time to start heading back to the hotel. A choice presented itself. I could either turn back, retracing my steps, or I could find another way.
I took the latter.
At a convenient spot, I strolled back down into the city. This meant not only was I in an unknown part of town, but also I no longer had the visual landmarks to guide my path.
As it so happens, I found myself in a residential neighborhood. The homes were beautiful and in a way quite quaint. Walking along, I could hear families gathering together for their now-afternoon activities. I saw and heard things I would never have seen or heard. As small as the experience may have been, it was unique. I saw Barcelona not as tourist, but as a human.
Still, I needed to find my way back to the hotel.
Barcelona has a wonderful subway/metro system, and my hotel conveniently sat directly on top of one of the main stations. Bonus! But, being in a residential area, the likelihood of my finding a station was rather remote. However, what I could find was a bus stop.
So, the continuously evolving plan once again adapted: I’ll ride a random city bus and look for a subway/metro station. As long as it was a local city bus, I wouldn’t find myself in a different city, which would have been a bit awkward. If my chosen bus didn’t eventually take me to a station, I would certainly find a stop where I could transfer onto another bus and try again. Rinse and repeat.
Whether or not it was a good plan, it was a plan, and it worked. I found a station and returned to the hotel and a much needed rest.
And, I had seen butterflies in March.
Leaps of Faith
Throughout our lives we are asked to make leaps of faith, to step into the darkness and go beyond our own understanding. Often this happens in cases where we may intellectually know the correct course of action but we can’t see how it will work or what the end will be.
It reminds me of the iconic “only in a leap from the lion’s head shall he prove his worth” moment for Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade. Ignoring all that his senses told him, he knew he had to take the step off into the abyss and trust. Go back or trust, those were the only two options.
Now, we all love stories, like Indiana’s, where the suspense is immediately resolved and we can celebrate along with the hero because fear was overcome, action was taken and the reward gained. Unfortunately, that’s not always how life works. Sometimes, the reward is not realized immediately. Sometimes it takes time.
One thing I loved about the World Domination Summit was the passion held by all of the attendees. Each was passionate about something, and many were actively pursuing those passions. Calls to “escape from Cubicle Nation” were common. We celebrated those who had done just that–put everything on hold or risked it all to follow their dreams. They succeeded, so it follows we can, too.
Except when they didn’t.
One of the most poignant talks given at the summit was by Tess Vigeland. Having had a skyrocketing career culminating in being the host of a NPR‘s weekly show Marketplace Money, she found all of her dreams fulfilled. Unfortunately, this silently caused her to stop dreaming. But, we all need dreams. They are essential. One day she awoke to find she was no longer happy. Successful, yes. Happy, no.
She was no longer pursuing dreams.
So, she made the decision we were all celebrating: stepping into the dark. She quit her job. Commentary was immediate:
What the hell are you doing?!?!?
She entered the difficult transition period. This is the testing period where fear becomes real. It is no longer the self-inflicted projection of some future possibility. It is the here and now. And, self-doubt, fear’s constant companion, attempts to scare one off the path by brandishing its fangs.
As time grew long and disappointments arose, the battle became harder.
And, the battle continues. At the time of her WDS talk [transcript], she still didn’t have the magical storybook ending. The landing hadn’t yet happened. The ending was still unwritten. Her talk’s authenticity was palpable.
But, an important thing is happening. Dreams are being reborn.
I truly believe Tess will find what it is she is looking for. The story will have a happy ending. Our hero will complete her quest, though it will have taken a little longer than she expected. But really, at the end of how many heroic quests does the hero say:
Oh, that was a lot easier than I expected.
That’s right, none… ever.
Here’s to Stepping into the Dark
I first discovered Paulo Coelho‘s inspiring fable, The Alchemist, while at university. The central theme is when one follows one’s dreams, the universe will conspire to help make those dreams reality.
Now, this isn’t the new age gobbledygook put forth by Rhonda Byrne‘s The Secret because it’s all about personal growth in preparation for the tests the universe will put in one’s path to ensure the lessons are well learned. Following dreams must lead to personal growth, or the exercise itself will provide little true value.
Stepping into the dark is a personal recognition of the need to grow. The path can’t clearly be seen with the pre-growth eyes, the pre-action eyes. It is a leap of faith.
So, search for an area that needs growth or the overcoming of fears. It may be a small thing like my Catalonian wanderings or a life changing leap.
Take a step into the darkness.
Walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find that the light will appear and move ahead of you.
~ President Harold B. Lee