Being Outrageous and Taking Risks: Not Just For the Young
I can hear the quiet, pre-dawn rustling of the macaques in the Sacred Monkey Forest just off to my right as the the earliest beginnings of day sneak up on us in Ubud, Central Bali. I am in a ridiculously gorgeous hotel which I am reviewing, so my stay is comped. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Usually my digs are far more spartan, and they don’t involve multiple floors and outside patios and immaculate grounds. Sigh.
A quiet fan overhead keeps the mosquitoes at bay. I’m considering another sneak down to the pool this morning but due to the humidity it takes too long for stuff to dry. If you hang your suit outside it’s likely to get co-opted by a monkey attracted to the colors.
The Pool Isn’t Off Limits But..
Skinny dipping is. I can swim any time. However in this very conservative, mostly Muslim nation ( the world’s most populous) stripping off your suit and doing laps naked might be frowned upon. As it is, when I took photos of a Muslim family swimming on a beach on Komodo Island, the women were fully dressed replete with head scarves, and buoyed by bright orange life vests.
So you would think twice about stripping. But I did last night, once I discerned that the hotel guests were in bed, the place was quiet, and I could slip into the cool, turquoise water for a few laps before surreptitiously and just as quietly returning to my room. It was worth it.
If Not Now, When?
Most of us are taught from an early age to color inside the lines in every aspect of our lives. Risk taking is often discouraged if for no other reason then to prevent us from borrowing a red towel and screaming Superman!! Before leaping off the patio roof. While this most certainly makes for obedient kids who evolve into obedient workers for the state, and yes they are necessary, this kind of training doesn’t exactly lead to a live out loud life.
I’m not suggesting that we all turn into anarchists. I am however suggesting that doing something outrageously fun and completely outside your comfort zone isn’t just for kids testing the system. In fact the way I see it, it’s downright good for the system, ours and the one whose boundaries we have agreed to live within.
Letting It All Hang Out, As It Were
About four days ago I was on a substantial two-masted sailing ship with a full crew and 11 other travelers. As we explored some of the outer islands of Indonesia, the moon was waxing right about the same time I decided to sleep up on the top deck.
As a very early riser, this not only afforded me the heart stopping sunsets each night but also the full array of Milky Way stars and the Southern Hemiphere constellations. We often traveled at night to wake up moored off yet another island. This way I got to feel the wind in my hair, and the forty minute light shows of sunrise over the distant islands weren’t bad either.
One night I woke up at 3 am, which is typical. The boat was cresting some nice waves which were sending spray over the top deck. The only one awake was the captain, who was directly beneath me under the tall aft mast. At least he was the only one I could see, as the crew bunked fully aft.
Without even stopping to think, I ripped off my clothing and grabbed the humming lines, bracing myself into the wind, the spray, and the brilliant blue white light of the fat full moon leaving a broad Rhine River of light in our wake. Arms out to receive all those sensations, I knew damned well that at any moment one of the crew might pop upstairs. I’d seen them do it.
However that wasn’t enough to deter me.
Head On Up
Above me, as on the main mast, two strong white ladders ran to the very top. Getting onto them from the top deck took some doing, but I climbed the starboard ladder even as the boat was bucking with the waves. We were forbidden to do this, but I am strong, agile, and I know how to move carefully on wet surfaces. Within seconds I was at the top of the mast, literally letting it all hang out.
If not now, when?
I live for adrenaline, and for sucking the marrow out of life. Hanging onto the top of that ladder, stark naked in the full moonlight was one helluva rush. I would not have advised the other woman who was close to my age ( I’m 65) to attempt this but I put the work into my strength and agility and know what I can do. So, with the exception of throwing all my clothing on the deck, it wasn’t much of a risk at all.
The Highlight of the Trip
Those few, precious, intense seconds are still the highlight of my trip, full of emotion and sensation and gratitude for life. In every way they underscore that when I am willing to play, to risk being caught looking ridiculous, to possibly be called on the carpet, there is something in me that expands. These risks were mild compared to other things I regularly do, but what is key is that I am willing to try. Not only that I train for eventualities like accidents, of which I have had plenty, but because of the shape I’m in I have walked away from injuries that would have turned most into paraplegics. But that is my choice, and mine alone.
Life On the Outer Edges
I don’t expect others to do what I do, nor do I encourage the kind of mindless risk taking that takes far too many lives of people trying to get an intimate selfie with a rattler or an alligator. Having grown up with both, along with my fellow native-born Floridians, we know what constitutes stupid.
What I am saying is that being willing to color outside the lines in your own way expands boundaries, invites creativity, and in every way imaginable redefines who you are. Being a rebel isn’t the sole purview of the young. It’s a birthright for all of us to find a line we feel the urge to cross (kindly, without crossing other people inappropriately) and stepping over it.
What That Looks Like In Real Life
While I began by stating that this ain’t just for the young, I want to point out a perfect example of how the young remind us of how critically important it is to step over boundary lines. The recent march on Washington, and parallel walkouts and other demonstrations by schoolkids ( many of whom were warned not to) is the kind of exhilarating, in-your-face gutsy reminder of what happens when we have a cause important enough to risk a great deal for. In this case it’s kids’ lives. In my generation it was the Vietnam war.
What happened to all those hippie radicals who stuffed flowers into rifles and took extreme chances even after the Kent State shootings? They didn’t all join the John Birch society. However too many of us crept into conformity and comfortability and far, far too many of us forgot how to play. In other words, we forgot who we could become as the ever-tightening boundaries of being responsible and coloring inside the lines overwhelmed, and erased, possibility thinking. Too many of us traded action for slogans painted on signs that we put on our walls more as a reminder of what we aren’t doing than a reinforcement of what our lives are testament to: be all you can be! Go for it! Live out loud!
While this isn’t always the case, those who are living that kind of life most assuredly don’t need wall signs to remind them to live vividly. They already are. Far too often others are critical of them more out of frustration from the compromises they’ve made rather than anything else. Society loves to control non-conformists but this is where innovation, progress and creativity live. And joy.
My closest friend Jill has a quote on her fridge that runs to the effect of. “ We don’t stop playing as we get old; we get old when we stop playing.” It’s an old saw, but I do my best to live it. I see far too many old people (age has nothing to do with it ) terrified of taking any kind of chance, whether it’s looking silly or trying a new sport or learning a new skill…or just for the sheer ridiculous, joyful, insane fun of being childlike. Fear kills happiness. Happiness and joy are our birthright.
My longtime mentor Meg Hanson, who died at 93 nearly two years ago, was the personification of this notion. We’d have lunch every month at Chez Thui, our favorite Vietnamese place. Right in the middle of an otherwise serious conversation about her clean water business that she ran until her death, I’d look up and she would be making faces at me with noodles stuck on her chin. We’d collapse in laughter. This was a woman who sat on the boards of some of the most powerful companies in America, one of the founders of C-200 ( an elite group of extremely powerful business women), a founding member of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Fully compos mentis. Brilliant. And playful. There’s a damned good reason she was my mentor for 33 years. In her honor I installed an ancient fairy godmother doll on the dresser in my bedroom. She’s wielding a wand and grinning. That’d be Meg.
Just as the longtailed macaques are in full early morning play mode right now just because they can, so can we. The only one who says you can’t possibly do that is you.
I’d like to invite any of you who take joyful chances to share them here for others to read and be inspired by.. please jump in. The water’s fine.