Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Creature Comforts (Part 2): Be a Pioneer!

In my last post, I asked the following questions: How can we help but opt for the comfort that surrounds us? And is there a happy medium? Ultimately, at the heart of these questions lies the purpose of this blog: to live each day to the fullest. I got some wonderful comments in response to this topic, and I invite you to peruse them and supply your own thoughts. In this post, I will continue my Creature Comforts series and offer insights and personal experiences in order to explore how one might find a happy medium between comfort and precariousness (several proceeding posts will feature more on this topic, so please stay tuned).

The first time I ever felt like a true pioneer was when I moved with my boyfriend-now-husband from the East Coast to the wilds of Idaho. This would be the first time I would live in a place where none of my family members (or probably even ancestors) had ever lived. Likewise, I couldn’t help but feel like a pioneer in Idaho, knowing that so many settlers had traversed the central plains of our nation to reach this wonderful land of extremes: big spaces, towering mountains, and rushing, icy rivers. Vulnerability took on a different meaning going from city life in Boston (where I went to college) to a state whose entire population hovers around 1 million. I could dare to do things in Idaho that I never would have back East: snowshoeing to the top of Moscow Mountain just outside of our town and snowboarding back down through fresh powder, barely seeing another human all day; rafting across the Salmon River with friends and hiking to hidden hot springs up the side of the canyon, then rafting back down the river in the dark to our private beach where we slept in the open air; traversing 60 miles of river through the Labyrinth Canyon of the Green River with three friends (OK, that was Utah) battling spells of cold rain, slower than expected currents (therefore lots of rowing), reading stories to keep our minds off the slow pace, and living out of a small raft equipped with only a cooler, some gear, a Groover, and my guitar. I might add that none of these activities cost very much money, though good ol' resourcefulness was required to make them happen.

The thing I took away from these marvelous experiences, and the lesson I wish to impart on my readers, is that I was in fact opting not to be comfortable in all three of those scenarios (actually, very uncomfortable in some circumstances). The uncertainty and precariousness of each situation allowed me to define myself as an adventuress, a pioneer, and a more fulfilled person. Ultimately, we do have a choice in the matter, and choosing to challenge the boundaries of our comfortable lives as often as possible is the wisest option if you are interested in seeing how full your life on this earth can be. It is certainly not easy to go beyond one's zone of comfort, but I'll never forget how it felt to slip under crisp, white motel sheets after 5 days on a cold, murky, and dreadfully slow river. For it is the juxtaposition of vulnerability and safety that make being inside and outside of comfort so worthwhile. Indeed, the great part of living in a society that is so navigable is that you can find a happy medium and live a comfortable, daring, and meaningful life. It all depends on what "meaningful" means to you.

Of course, you don’t have to go “into the wild,” so to speak, to be a pioneer or adventurer. The goal is to find opportunities or circumstances that will spark that ember of bravery that lives inside of you, master it, and put it into action. This can involve an enlightening personal journey through nature or paving the way for change in human rights, cancer research, or environmental policies, to name a few.

Being a pioneer is not something that is necessarily accomplished in one day or sitting, so it is important to think of small steps to take that will allow a pioneering goal to come to fruition. And don’t think you have to climb Mount Everest to be a pioneer. The smallest acts can often make the biggest difference.

My latest pioneering achievement was moving with my husband and business from Texas to our tiny hometown in Pennsylvania. It was a risky and precarious decision but I have already noticed the benefits that came with it. I feel more connected to my community, family and friends and see small but wonderful things happening everyday.

What are your pioneering achievements or goals?
In what ways do you opt to go "outside" of comfort?


ryan said...

Last weekend I went to a dirt track race in Winchester, Virginia. My dad has been racing cars my entire life and although I am not as "gung-ho" about racing as he is, I still enjoy watching him participate in this incredibly competitive sport. As a photographer and a curious person, the subculture of dirt track racing is so incredibly intriguing to me. The sights, sounds, smells, dust and people are so interesting that I often feel like I'm watching from afar instead of actively participating. I feel very different in many, many ways from the typical dirt track fan that I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable being there.

On this particular night last weekend, I decided to try to step out of my comfort zone a bit by actively engaging myself with two men that were blocking the view of the race track for myself and a number of other spectators. They were standing in front of everyone and weren't responding to the curses people were hurling at them from behind me. I thought, well maybe I can mediate by asking them politely to take their seats, pointing out that there were in fact two seats right next to me.

It is never really comfortable to be the person who confronts someone when they're doing something that negatively affects others, but this time felt even more uncomfortable because of my feeling as an outsider. I got up my courage, walked over to where they were standing and asked them in as non-threatening a tone as I could muster, "Would you guys mind sitting down? None of the people can see that corner of the race track and there are a couple of seats here that you could take." The one man told me to “Sit the fuck down before I punch you in the face,” and the other man said “We’ll sit down when we’re ready.”

I was so shocked by how angry I had just made them that I stood there dumbfounded as they yelled and threatened me some more. I kept calm and continued to try to explain my point, but they were not interested. Eventually I sat down and they moved on. Fortunately, no one got punched in the face.

By stepping out of my comfort zone I almost got my ass kicked, but it was a great learning experience to be uncomfortable and to get threatened. By keeping calm during the confrontation, I reaffirmed to myself that I have the power to negotiate these types of situations without the use of physical force. I also realized how lucky I am to be surrounded by the good people I call friends and family and how comfortable I am with these people in my day to day life.

These uncomfortable moments truly help me to appreciate all the wonderful people and experiences I have in my life and I think that is the true importance of stepping out of our comfort zones from time to time.

Thanks for another great topic Larissa.

hallielujah said...

Hear, hear Ryan and Larissa! You rock the casbah!

Larissa said...

This is a great story and an example of even the small risks we take everyday. Sometimes, it seems, you just can't "kill 'em with kindness." But I'm so glad to know that my husband keeps his cool in tense situations. You are a great role model!


Larissa said...

Thanks Hallie, you rock too!

Sparky said...

i'm hoping to pioneer in the fields of ethnomusicology and stress-reduction. talk about out of my comfort zone: i'm taking a meditation class and it's torture in the sense that i don't like being so alone with my thoughts. but it's great discipline, and it helps me try for mindfulness in my daily life. this is scary and WAY away from the norm for me, but i think it'll help me pave the way for what i'm not sure, but i'll keep meditating on that one. i love you.

Larissa said...

Hi Sparky! Great to see your name in the comments list. I'm so excited to hear you are taking a meditation class. Who knows what doors this will open up for you? Though it may seem out of the "norm" for you, I think we are always creating new realities and identities for ourselves and that is so important in our quest to lead full lives. I just know you're going to pioneer in both the fields you mentioned. Best wishes, I love you and miss you!