I often get the question, why do you call yourself an explorer, not an adventurer? My answer is that I see an adventurer as somebody doing sporting challenges as a priority, e.g skiing to the Poles, climbing Everest, basically involving oneself in a personal challenge, most of the time for example excluding other cultures as a main priority. Which is what I think exploration is for me, putting oneself as a second or third, and something more important first. Than again, I have no other name collectively for what I am doing. Though I am getting more fed up by the day with the use of the word explorer and what it stands for. In many countries, for example in the so called developing world, it is a negative word. It stinks of colonialism. In our part of the world, there´s many who call themselves explorers, but who I consider nothing else but cocktail explorers, people who have money and want to rub shoulders with what I would call real explorers. The one´s who got dirt under their fingernails. And what else is there really to explore out there? Lot´s I think if you take the position of Dr Alicia Colson, who rightly according to me, thinks there´s lots to explore internally. What is exploration always generates a heated debate!
Of late I have been pondering the nature of ‘internal exploration’. I will bounce off comments made by Michael Robinson and David Renwick Grant, who in turn commented on Mikael’s post “Am I a fake and a cheat?” I thought Mikael’s and David’s comments were interesting, especially when it came to the question of such exploration and just what it might entail. Surely it is about who we are, and what we can achieve within the resources that are offered by our minds.
Exploration of the world around us is fascinating, but it is very important to acknowledge that perhaps precious little of the planet remains ‘undiscovered’. The world has largely been mapped in many different ways, on paper, on film and on digital formats. The planet has been explored by foot, land, boat, plane and satellite, with the pointed exceptions of ‘deep sea’ or perhaps “outer space”. How many of us will be involved in pioneering expeditions there, given the prohibitive costs of each of those.
Conversely, the unique challenges and adventures of personal or internal exploration are available to all, regardless of our personal resources. Internal exploration is something that we all do at some point in our lives since whether consciously or not, we all ‘do’ internal exploration. Such exploration occurs whenever we seek to achieve specific goals, no different perhaps from those who wish to make their names in the world of conventional exploration. Many explorers have spoken of how much more they learned about themselves, and have realized that they could push their personal physical limits to unanticipated heights. This is the internal exploration I am talking about.
We all have our own past and L.P. Hartley reminds us that, “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”, I would argue the self is that foreign country, and what better project is there in the darkness of those long winter nights than to explore it. If exploration was solely about discovering unknown continents or lost tribes then explorers would be on the brink of extinction. Which begs the question why do we still continue to explore this world even with the beguiling assistance of our maps, satellite phones and GPS devices? Perhaps exploration is really that re-discovery of the self which occurs again and again throughout our lives as we face personal challenges and adventures.
We challenge ourselves to see if we can climb the highest mountain or canoe from the source of a river to the sea? What fires that drive? What drives us to walk away from daily life? Is it to understand others, or to gain better knowledge of ourselves? Perhaps we undertake these challenges for charity or to escape from daily life, to challenge ourselves in such a way that what we experience and see might be life-changing. Certainly not as a sort of ‘competitive sport’ for this seems arid since the ‘loser’ is surely ourselves?
In these terms, we have opportunities to explore the world around us on a daily basis. Life’s challenges oblige us to pursue our personal limits and boundaries. Just as an explorer might seek ways to navigate a complex network of rapids in order to get to the sea, so we can navigate the barriers and challenges to our personal progress. Whether crossing rapids, giving a speech for the first time, learning the script of a play or starting university, the most important aspect of these is that what happens involves the internal character of the explorer. This process invariably becomes both richer and more complex. Explorers of all kinds must overcome self-doubt in order to achieve their goals and this involves each in plumbing the very depths of their being.
So, there are many senses in which an expedition of the physical world is also an exploration of our very souls, our very sense of being. We learn about the place that we explore but also about ourselves as we undergo, willingly or not, our contingent internal explorations. Internal exploration provides us with a deeper understanding of our sense of self, and our limitations. It provides a way in which we can achieve a better understanding of our relationship to the world in which we live. Since we are unique and content frequently changes such exploration will always be contingent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These can be as ever changing as the English weather.
Dr. Alicia Colson (McGill) has been an archaeologist since 1990 and has undertaken archaeological fieldwork in Canada, the UK, the US and most recently Antigua. She is currently involved in the creation of a consortium drawn from the world of New Media and Academe to establish a new digital academic publishing company, working from a ‘think tank’ located in a purpose-built research park in NW Ontario. She has recently become an International Fellow of the Canadian Branch of the Explorers Club.