Dave and watched the movie Into The Wild on Monday night. It was directed by Sean Penn and is based on the book of the same name by Jan Krakauer. It is the story of Chris McCandless, a recent college graduate who decides to go off on his own and explore the Alaska wilderness. He doesn’t tell his family what he is doing and sets off on his quest to find the truth about life.
Chris thinks life is meant for new experiences and new adventures and the traditional life path many of us follow doesn’t leave enough room for that. Something Chris says to an elderly man he meets early in his journey expresses that idea.
In the book, Jan Krakauer has Chris put it this way. At the core of our spirit is a passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from changing horizons. To get more out of life you need to let go of some of your monotonous security and adopt a kind of helter-skelter lifestyle that many will think is crazy but you will find it full of meaning and incredible beauty.
Near the end of his life when Chris is living alone in an abandoned bus and is dying after eating a poisonous plant by mistake he underlines a passage in a short story by Leo Tolstoy.
I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books , music, love for one’s neighbor – such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps – what more can the heart desire?
The two quotes seem at odds with one another. In the first one happiness is to be found in having one endless adventure after another. In order to get that you need to turn your back on the traditional ideas of home and family and constantly be in search of something new and interesting. In the second you find joy in family, nature, rewarding work, reading, music and a quieter and more secluded setting.
I’d like to think that life is richest when you have a bit of both of those philosophies. It is important to try new things and plan adventures for ourselves. Thomas Merton wrote that sometimes it is necessary to “jerk ourselves clean out of the habitual.” And I agree. But we can do that and at the same time appreciate and savour all those good things Tolstoy talks about. There can be times for quietness and seclusion too. In fact seeking those out might even be the way we ‘jerk ourselves clean out of the habitual’ busyness of our lives.
Perhaps the key lies in simply being thoughtful about what we will do with our one wild and precious life as poet Mary Oliver describes it. Perhaps we don’t have to go into the wild to have a meaningful and interesting life but we do need to look for new adventures, new things to learn, new things to try, new things to appreciate, new people to get to know and new things to astonish us wherever and however we choose to live our lives.