Mel and I used to work at a place called Outward Bound. It was wilderness based education -taking people out into the middle of nowhere so they could get some space and perspective on their lives. The goal was simple – to challenge you and expand your whole idea of what you are capable of. Once you get out there and you look into the fear, the uncertainty or the sheer determination needed to journey through the wilderness for 3 weeks – coming back to the normal routine seems a little easier. Suddenly losing your iPhone charger doesn’t really seem that big an issue any more.
There are so many things about my 6 years there that I could ramble on about for an eternity. Like the fact that in 6 years I can recall exactly ONE day where I actually felt like I was working for money. The rest of the time I was just doing what I loved and at the end of the month I happened to get paid. But there was one symbol of the place that ran deeper than the rest. The Blue Peter.
The Blue Peter is a nautical flag – white square on blue background – that is a symbol of Outward Bound internationally. It starts to get more beautiful when you know the nautical background. It is the flag that ships fly when they leave their home port destined for somewhere else. Leaving what they know, leaving safety, leaving certainty…to face one of the most uncertain and hostile environments on our planet – the ocean. It says to all those who know: “Here we go….not sure when we’ll be back and I am not even sure what will happen to us….but we are leaving anyway.”
As a participant at the end of the longest Outward Bound programs you got a little Blue Peter badge. It always moved me as an instructor when I would hand these out at the end of a 3-4 week journey. You have never seen someone cradle something so small and seemingly insignificant in their hands and marvel at it.
So as an instructor at the start of a wilderness journey I would stop and explain the significance. I recall standing at the gates of the Outward Bound property, 24kg of pack on my back, food, maps, compasses, shelters – surrounded by 12 nervous participants and explaining what it meant and what they were about to face. But for me standing there I was never really scared. I had responsibilities of course, I had uncertainties but I had also spent so much time in the outdoors that I felt comfortable and excited. It wasn’t my comfort zone that was being stretched it was theirs. I was in control to a degree. So as I talked about the Blue Peter and fear and uncertainty – I had a twinkle in my eye because I wasn’t scared or facing the unknown.
I sit here today in the comfort of a Darwin hotel. Laptop open, surrounded by what I know – but in 48 hours I will be sitting in Dili surrounded by everything I DON’T know. Feeling vulnerable and hideously responsible for the three little lives in my care. I don’t know what foods I can eat for the diabetes or what happens if something goes wrong. I am nervous. And I realised just how little we get really, truly challenged back in the security of our ordered lives. We think we do, but the challenge is often just more of what we know. The late nights, the long work hours, the relationships. But how often do you stare into the face of something completely unknown and let the thought roll around your head: “I have NO idea what is about to happen to me….”
It’s not in my nature to be comfortable here. I like control (yes…I said it). I like knowing. I like being in command of my environment or at least so prepared that I am in command of my response to that environment. So I have been playing mind games. Visualising flying in low over a Dili city scape. Getting ready for that SMELL. Imagining where I will change money, what I will say to the taxi driver, what will be going on around me. All in some desperate attempt to be in control again. But I have to now let that go.
So my challenge course begins. Staring into something I don’t know. A little sick with the burden of responsibility. Wondering how I will go with the emotional energy needed to face into a journey. Because journey is what we came for. Journey is different from going to a destination and staying still. Journey implies uncertainty and the unknown. Journey means that you are leaving for a distant place and you are not exactly sure what will happen along the way. But that you are still prepared to leave anyway.
Here we go….flying the Blue Peter all the way……