EPISODE 12: ADVENTURE REQUIRES TRUST
Visual acuity is measured with a Snellen Chart where black letters of progressively smaller size are printed in rows on a white page. The phrase ‘20/20’ defines ‘normal vision’, which means reading text at 20 feet that a person with ‘normal’ vision can also see at 20 feet. The year 2020 was a year of increased clarity. But for reasons that no one anticipated.
As of today, over 2,240,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19. Many, many more have lost their livelihoods, their families, their realities. When the human brain faces the clarity that we are only biology and that our biology - like all life - must also follow the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, perceptual blindness is reduced and the possibility for clarity increased … if only for a moment.
Perceptual Blindness is a veil that is often chosen more than imposed. A choice to look towards manufactured priorities and identities and away from natural truths. One reason is uncertainty. When we encounter truths that challenge what we thought to be important - especially those to which we have tied our identity, it creates the greatest of uncertainties. The uncertainty of self. But sometimes life forces open the veil. And when that happens you have a choice.
The year 2020 lifted the veil for many. Once lifted many had the courage for the implicit to become explicit in their lives. More people changed jobs, ended marriages (and started new ones) and moved to wildness than in any time in recent history. Basic truths of life, love and work that were always there became clear.
… that giving to others has always reduced your anxiety more than focusing on self (even in the spirit of ‘spiritualism’).
… that touching and being touched in the context of care has always been essential for your well-being.
… that loving and being loved has always enabled you to thrive within uncertainty.
… that wisdom through self-honesty has always created more possibility than blind delusion.
… that we are not observers of nature, but evolved extensions of it.
… that we are defined through interaction, not by our essential properties.
… and that TRUST in others has always been essential for every step you’ve taken.
Which brings me to the point of this episode: Adventure is trust manifest.
After 5 days cycling from Seattle to San Francisco by boneshaker, I had reached the north shore of the Columbia River. 32 years previous, when I first made this crossing, there was a wee ferry with enough room for a few cars and cyclists. But like many things that have more intrinsic value than financial, the ferry became extinct. Making the 6.5KM Astoria bridge the only route for bikes to the North Western corner of Oregon. The bridge is not short because the mouth of the Columbia is not narrow. But its lanes are.
The shoulder is about a half-a-meter wide (the width of a bike with panniers). To its right is a cement rail. To its left a 10cm white line. A conceptual barrier between you and the cars and trucks. The ‘Mad-Maxian’ logging truck tyres pass you at 60 MPH at arm’s length. Their drivers have no room to deviate since the traffic in both lanes is continuous. You are fully exposed by the enclosure. Your task is to go straight while gusts of wind hit you from passing vehicles on the left, and off the Columbia River on the right.
Then there are the Cormorants.
As seabirds, their habit is to fly close to the water’s surface. So when they encounter a low bridge blocking their path, they fly upwards, but remain proximate to the bridge’s surface. Straight into the windscreen of speeding cars and trucks. On the day of my crossing there were a hundred dead cormorants in different stages of decomposition laying within the 500cm shoulder pushed there by the constant movement of vehicles.
Cormorants are not small. Their carcasses are feathered mounds 4 inches high by 2 feet long. You cannot ride over them without falling. You must avoid them and thus ride on the 10cm white line … the cyclist’s tightrope where the threat is not the void below, but the ton of metal moving at speed to your left. You must place your body and bike in the same space as the cars and trucks that you cannot see coming up from behind. And just to complete the picture, there’s the smell. As it was a hot summer’s day, the air was infused with the cologne of exhaust and rotting flesh. The feeling of crossing the Styx River located in the Underworld created a sardonic smile across my face.
The Styx river separates the living from the dead. In order to cross into Hades (i.e. Oregon in this instance), a dead person must pay the ferryman, Charon. But Charon will only take the dead across if the correct fee is paid. Those who are unwilling (or unable) to pay the fee are forced to wander the river’s banks as a Wraith for a 100 years … if not for an eternity.
When a God swears on the River Styx, they are bound to keep that oath or else be paralysed for a year and a day, and risk being excommunicated from Mount Olympus to have their immortality given to another god. So even gods fear ostracisation … just like wild dogs. Wild Dogs, if they misbehave, aren’t killed by the pack. Like the Gods of Olympus, they are excluded from it. Since death follows exclusion. (This is likely to be one reason why social networks are devastating our young people - indeed society - with anxiety. Social Networks feed off of the evolutionary threat of exclusion.)
Like with all bridges in life … literal or metaphorical, you must pay a price. And once paid, there is only one thing that enables you to cross:
Trust in others … as the dead trusted Charon … is why you are alive right now and why you will continue to survive every moment for the rest of your life … until you too meet Charon. Your brain came into the world trusting. It had too.
Right now, while reading this, you are probably sitting in a chair of one form or another. Before sitting, did you check to make sure it’d take your weight? Why not? Because your brain trusted it would. But maybe ... you’ll say ... “Well, I KNOW this chair. I’ve sat on it hundreds of times”. True. But what about the chair in the cafe that you’ve never sat upon? What about the food you ate in that cafe? Did you get out your microscope and make sure that it wasn’t covered in E. Coli? What about the floor of your home upon which you’re now sitting. Did you personally check the engineering drawings? Or the drawings of the roof overhead? When you drive, are you not trusting that those driving in the opposite direction will stay in ‘their lane’? Or that they won’t pass through a red light while you pass through the green?
If you’ve never considered this before, then pause and consider the hundreds … if not thousands of actions and situations that you experience every single day in which your physical and emotional well-being … indeed your life … is placed in the hands of others. In the hands of the person who built your chair, your gas heating system, your home, the grower of your food, the provider of your water. Your doctor. Your lover.
… And in my case, when crossing the Astoria bridge, the drivers of trucks and cars.
I trusted their physical ability, patience and kindness (or at least tolerance) in avoiding the intrusion of a cyclist who is trying to avoid dead cormorants across a narrow bridge with no shoulder en route to San Francisco for no apparent rational reason. Each passing car and truck was a potential death warrant. As each warrant passed, I felt a brief moment of nervous gratitude for their ability, patience and kindness were not owed to me. Instead, as in all relationships no matter how brief, vulnerability is a humble request. A request for trustworthiness … if only for a second or a lifetime.
Sure, it could have been seen differently. That I - as a cyclist - had as much right to the road as did they. And while this perspective of entitlement might be legally true, how does entitlement make crossing bridges in life, love and work more likely to succeed?
Entitlement fosters expectation and disappointment. Whereas trust fosters gratitude and optimism. When you trust another, and that trust is matched with action (and not just words), your brain receives an intrinsic reward. A brief moment of pleasure induced by the release of specific neurotransmitters that increases the bond between you and that person (or object). Remember, your perceptual brain is looking through nature, not at it. You’re seeing through Nature’s mind, which learned that living requires others. None of us can survive on our own. Never could. And evolution knows this.
During evolution, being social wasn’t a choice for your ancestors. Much like the Gods of Olympus or Wild Dogs, if your ancestors weren’t part of a group, they - and their genes - were removed by Natural Selection. You exist only because their neural wiring favoured interdependent perceptions and behaviours. Because you’re looking through the genes, eyes and brains of your ancestors, you - like them - perceive the importance of reliability (in action). You - like them - perceive the importance of honesty (in action). And it’s why you - presumably like them - perceive authenticity to be one of the most attractive attributes of another person in friendship, love and even parenting. Children who trust their parents feel more secure in themselves. Of equal importance - which is too often forgotten, children who feel trusted BY their parents are also more likely to thrive.
What is true for individuals is also true for institutions: Employees in brands that are trusted are more productive and collaborate better (much like members of a tribe). They stay with their employers longer and suffer less stress. They actually perceive their lives to be happier and more creative.
So we’re wired to trust.
As the engine of humanity, it’s remarkable how little most of us are explicitly aware of how omnipresent trust is in our lives. Google search ‘trusting others’ and you’ll see thousands of entries about learning to trust. But you don’t. You came into the world with it in the form of oxytocin: The more you trust, the more this neurotransmitter and hormone is released by your cells … which increases empathy towards others. Whereas the stress of uncertainty decreases oxytocin release, and thus trust and empathy.
Trust is not something that you gain. It’s something you lose. And when you lose it, you lose more than trust. You gain fear, anxiety and suspicion.
Sowing the seeds of distrust especially for one’s own gain (as in recent US presidential politics) is cruel: It changes your brain chemistry and wiring, removing the foundation from which your brain is able to step. But step it must. So when trust is lost (or is taken from you), your brain will create it, even in places where evidence is contrary to future predictability. Your perceptions and behaviours can become ‘grounded’ on anything but the ground itself. On conspiracy. In ‘Political Demigods’.
In amongst its personal and social devastation, COVID offered the potential to see more clearly that your life depends on the trust of truth. But you’ll not see this lesson if you haven’t seen the other: Humility. Many of those who suffered the worst from COVID, including those who initially denied its existence, speak of their humility. And from their humility arose the ability to see … to create … to better care for oneself and for others.
In 1921 a child who would grow into Captain Sir Tom Moore was born. Ninety nine years later, during the UK's first COVID-19 lockdown, Captain Tom - as he became to be known - decided to walk the 25 metres around his garden 100 times. Not for himself. But to celebrate and support those who support others. At 99, he had the humility to see the truth of our existential biology. Of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in action. Of the connectedness of nature. His hope was to raise £1,000 for the people who are the UK’s National Health Service. He did a great deal more. In the end he not only raised 33 Million Pounds, he also raised the awareness of the value of acting according one’s trust in truth.
Yesterday, at 100 years old, we lost Captain Sir Tom Moore. He has started his journey across the River Styx … back to the earth, to the sky … to nature. While the energy of his body will re-infuse the world around us, the energy of his spirit will infuse the world within us. Of the importance of lifting the veil to what is true. Of trusting others that they too will see the importance of adventuring 100 times around a garden for others.
Written by: Beau Lotto.
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If you’d like to contribute to the NHS in honour of Captain Tom, please go here: https://nhscharitiestogether.justgiving.com/
(The Astoria Bridge photographed by David Patterson. Access via https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-the-astoria-bridge-david-patterson.html)
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