Inspiration: The Call to Adventure

Maddy Harland
Saturday, 1st January 2011

Maddy looks forward to a new year and takes inspiration from those who overcame hardships

Happy New Year to you all who kindly read this blog or who have just stumbled upon it. Welcome.

The New Year is an opportunity to pause and reflect: What do I want to focus on this year? What do I want to change and how can I better find my joy and be a more effective human being? I don't usually set myself a long, self-critical and impossible list of stuff I have to give up but I do take the opportunity of a few days away from work to think about how I can make the coming year better and also focus on what new things I want to be bring into my life.

When I need insights into how to control and master my destiny rather than be swept along in the tides of life, I think people who inspire me. The transworld sailor is someone who comes to mind. I have an enduring image of Ellen MacArthur before she was famous for sailing around the world single-handed. Penniless and unknown, she lived on a small boat in a freezing boatyard on the Hamble, near where I live in Hampshire. Long days and nights were spent working on the boat alone, eating cheap food and sleeping in the prow. Her dream, however, was more powerful than any hardship that life could throw at her.

I am fascinated by this steely grace that all adventurers share. Born in landlocked Derbyshire, she learnt to sail on her aunt’s tiny boat, in the holidays, and saved every spare penny to buy a boat of her own. At eighteen, she sailed around the coast of Britain alone, an extraordinary achievement for someone who had so little experience at sea. In 2004, she went on to be the first woman to circumnavigate the world in record time. Her new book, Full Circle, takes up the story and tells of further record-breaking attempts, plus the unfolding story of her family and her personal relationships. But, to me, what is fascinating about this book is her description of her decision to give up competitive sailing and focus on sustainability. Her passion now is to communicate nothing less than the restoration of the planet and engage government, corporates and the public in positive behaviour change. This is her new call to adventure, an even greater challenge than circumnavigating the globe.

The Hero's Journey

This wonderful evolution from a passion for the sea to a passion for the planet and its well-being makes my heart sing. Many of us hear the call to adventure but how many are prepared to give up everything and devote themselves to its fulfilment? This is truly the hero’s journey and Dame Ellen MacArthur is a quintessential hero of the twenty-first century. We need more of her like.

So what characterises this journey? Can it be mapped? Is it something we could all dare to do? This is work of Dr Chris Johnstone, who sets out to discover the answers to these questions. As a young man, he singlehandedly took on the NHS and fought a legal battle to reduce the hours of junior doctors working in hospitals and won, against huge odds.He went on to be an addiction specialist, helping many people to free themselves from their substance abuse.

His work led him to Rob Hopkins and the Transition Movement where he has helped develop an understanding of our society’s ‘addiction’ to oil and how we can become empowered to create a more ecological society. He also works closely with the deep ecologist, Joanna Macy.Chris has helped me to unravel the structure of my journey of positive change – the call to adventure, how the journey unfolds, how to respond creatively and with my potential – and how to overcome the many pitfalls that may occur along the way. In his book, Find Your Power, he has created a map to help us navigate our own voyages, whether they are to overcome an addiction, learn new skills or nothing less than to become an effective activist for positive social change, a planetary server.

Here are two role models: Ellen MacArthur is one of the world’s greatest adventurers, both brave and vulnerable, and a steely, uncompromising gambler who has a vision and is compelled to follow it to completion. She inspires me and gives me courage. Chris Johnstone, on the other hand, holds a light that helps illuminate the path. He helps me find my way and overcome my lack of faith in my magnitude (and we all have the potential for unbounded magnitude). Chris is able to unpick the delicate complexities of how we can find our inner power that enables us to live our dreams.

Finding Your Power

I know that I have a steely determination and a vision. 21 years ago my partner, Tim, and I decided to found a publishing company to provide ‘information which encourages people to live more healthy, self-reliant and ecologically sound ways of life.’ We started with practical books about permaculture and launched Permaculture magazine in 1992 with just 600 readers. It was not easy. Today, it is read in 78 countries by over 100,000 people. We are now developing the idea of transformational media, connecting together inspiring, information-based, empowering material in every sphere – still producing books and magazines, but also websites, downloads, films, YouTubes, blogs, using social media to network, share information and inspire people globally. And of course we meet and talk with people too.We are passionate about sustainability. We want to share these messages as widely as possible.

There are practical ways in which we can live together on this beautiful planet in peace and in ecological balance and permaculture design is a practical, tested strategy for restoring habitat and creating ecologically sound communities. We know that time is running out for the Earth’s many species and habitats and that climate change is a very real threat to humanity’s survival – let alone all the creatures with which we share this planet.

We are shamelessly in love with this world. We think it is miraculous. We do not want to see it driven to extremes – overheated, flooded, frozen, parched – by atmospheric changes caused by human actions and we want to help prevent as much suffering as possible. We also know that climate change and our collective response to it is the greatest call to adventure humanity has yet to face. It has become a matter of evolution for our species. We are being asked to entirely change the way we live on this planet and to evolve beyond selfishness, fear, greed and instinct into intuition, harmlessness, service, love and reverence for life. This is the call. This is our journey.

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