Exploration is a state of mind : go beyond the obvious, enter the unknown and call certitudes into question
For me, exploration had to be the only valid way of life, and I was convinced that everybody else must surely share my state of mind. Cast off dogmas, get out of the groove and embrace the unpredictable, the world of doubts and uncertainties. Use question marks to stimulate creativity and invent new solutions. Transform the “impossible” into the possible! Could there conceivably be any other way of leading your life ? I thought not, until it dawned on me that the explorer’s state of mind was in fact not commonly encountered on our planet. Exploration frightens those who prefer to take refuge in dogmas, paradigms and assumptions. People often ask me how you become an explorer. In reality, you don’t necessarily decide what you are going to explore.
« My grandfather held an Explorers Club card, and so did my father, so why shouldn’t I too? I decided to become an explorer in July 1969. I can remember the moment exactly. I was 12 years old. My father had just gone on board the Mesoscaph Ben Franklin, which he had built to study the Gulf Stream. He was about to drift for a month along the East Coast of the USA, a voyage of 3,000 km. A few days later, awestruck, I was present at the launch of Apollo 11 - destination the Moon. The most spectacular event in the history of humanity ! »
You just resolve to leave the well-trodden paths and instead take all the side-tracks, seize every opportunity to do what others dare not do, or consider impossible. Is it the same for all explorers? I have no idea, but in any case that’s how I have lived my life, following the guiding thread of my childhood dreams. I started by flying hang-gliders and ultralights when these activities reached Europe, later accepting a co-pilot’s slot to win the first transatlantic balloon race (Chrysler Challenge), before – as a natural next step - initiating the Breitling Orbiter project. After completing the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, I came to understand that what had been my ultimate goal for six years was in fact only a springboard for going further still. Solar Impulse, and the vision of flying around the world in a solar airplane without a single drop of fuel, had just been born.
It’s not simply a matter of breaking records or mounting spectacular feats. A record consists merely of beating the performance of somebody who has gone before. The explorer is capable of something better: discovering something really new or achieving a “first”, that is accomplishing something that nobody has ever done before or even thought possible. An explorer achieves “firsts”, not just records. And all the « firsts » that were the stuff of my childhood stories had been of great benefit to humanity. They had opened up new routes, new modes of transport. They had changed the face of the Earth, and above all profoundly modified our perception of the “impossible”. Those that had no direct practical results, such as the first ascents of the highest mountains, nevertheless had the power to inspire hope in human beings, by showing them what they are capable of achieving with courage and perseverance. Some had also proved to be decisive for the protection of the environment, such as the dive of the Bathyscaph in the Marianas Trench. By discovering a fish at a depth of almost seven miles, Don Walsh and my father put a stop to government plans to dispose of radioactive and toxic waste in the depths of the ocean, where hitherto everybody had thought there was no life.
The 20th Century was so rich in exploration and adventures that one may well wonder what there is left to discover in the present century. Exploration must continue, but how can we perpetuate the pioneering spirit and keep alive the daring boldness of our forefathers? How can we make our contribution to the building of a better future? We face major challenges. These will open up new horizons for science, but scientists’ goals will be less about conquering unknown territory and more about defending the planet against the threats it faces. Let us risk a comparison: the potential of humanity today is similar to that of the planet before the great explorers started exploring it! There still remains so much to be done to bring to light the hidden treasures in human beings …and to improve their quality of life.
Society seems unable to get to grips with existential questions. The political parties reflect a social landscape that’s more divided than ever. Sophisticated means of communication make human relationships very superficial. And globalization is advancing to the detriment of the weakest. And yet every human being, whatever his station in life, has dreams to bring true, a life-path to follow, a meaning to discover or rediscover in order to find fulfillment. Every individual has some potential within him - buried more or less deeply - that can be developed, to enable him to progress with confidence along the path of his own and his family’s life-story.
So this is where exploration should be focused in the 21st Century: on human beings and the development of inner values, both individual and collective. The ultimate goal should be to encourage the pioneering spirit, curiosity and innovation in everyday life. After all, survival on our planet is conditional upon radically changing many of our assumptions and habits. We should be able to protect nature without ecological fanaticism. Individual initiative should be inseparable from social responsibility. Commerce, finance and politics should become ethical, and compatible with environmental criteria. Respect should no longer be treated as an outmoded moral value. And it should be possible to embrace spirituality without dogmatism.
Utopian, you might say? Or even “impossible”? Certainly no more so than deciding to send men to the Moon at the beginning of the 1960s. But to glimpse some chance of success, we have to transform into an exciting adventure what many consider to be just a tiresome obligation to change their settled routines. Our society consumes a million tons of oil every hour, not to mention other fossil fuels. It spits out so many polluting emissions into the atmosphere that the climate is disturbed. And it allows half the population to stagnate in unacceptable living conditions. But it is quite used to all this, and has great difficulty in changing course.
That’s why we, as explorers, have a responsibility. If we want to be worthy of those who came before us, it’s our duty to do everything to invent a better future.”
Adventure in the 21st Century consists of applying human creativity and the pioneering spirit to developing a quality of life which present and future generations have a right to expect.
Exploration is a state of mind in the face of the unknown. It’s a way of conceiving our life as an experimental field in which we have to develop our inner resources, advance along the road of personal development, and assimilate the ethical and moral values we need as travelling companions.
« An adventure is not necessarily a spectacular feat but rather something « extra-ordinary » that forces us out of our ordinary ways of thinking and behaving. Something that drives us outside our protective shell of certitude, in which we act and react automatically. »
L’AVENTURE EST EXTRA-ORDINAIRE
« When we talk about adventure and extreme sports, we often tend to confuse two aspects - the spectacular and the extraordinary. Let’s leave the spectacular side to sponsors and media and concentrate instead on the extra-ordinary. Whether or not we are conscious of it, our entire education and the way our society functions encourage us to be frightened of the unknown, of doubt and mystery. We sometimes hear people say « nature abhors a vacuum », but it’s really human beings who fear the void, to the point that they seek to fill any gap in knowledge with various theories, and any lack of certainty with statistics, so as then to fabricate explanations devoid of doubt. Armored in prejudice, we no doubt have more knowledge, and sometimes we know a lot of answers. But all too often we forget what the questions were! So it’s only natural that our society should witness the emergence of a large number of so-called “extreme” sports, as a reaction against reassuring routines, which tend rather to send us to sleep. These activities, whether in the air, on the ground or on water, have several shared features. Above all, they are cenesthetic, procuring physical sensations of the body passing through space. They imply movement (sliding or flying) in an unaccustomed environment (discovery of another element). They compel the «adventurer» to leave the familiar surroundings of his accustomed life with all its certainties far behind in order to confront the unknown, often in new situations where improvisation and intuition play a vital role. So the adventure becomes characterized by total receptiveness to the present moment. It is a question of remaining concentrated and vigilant to all possible unforeseen events.
Since anything can happen, it is vital to remain open and receptive to whatever may occur, by raising one’s level of vigilance and degree of self-awareness at any given moment.
So most « extreme sports» offer special moments of self-discovery. Not in the sense of a theoretical search for identity, but rather by giving rise to a tangible sensation of being alive, and blessed with an abundance of inner resources. Of course, there’s a danger of going too far with such thrill-seeking. Sportsmen can end up behaving like drug addicts, taking refuge in extreme sensations to escape from dull daily existence, which they no longer find tolerable. There is also the unhealthy phenomenon of deliberately flirting with death, which the anthropologist david le breton has analyzed under the name of “ordeal-seeking behavior”.
But these excesses should not mask the fact that adventures - when people are far away from familiar landmarks and face-to-face with the unknown, which acts here as a stimulant, in a kind of psychological laboratory - allow people to discover themselves.
The spectacular aspects of most of these activities, extensively highlighted in the media, tend to make us forget that extreme sports don’t hold a monopoly on adventure. An artist who turns his back on all landmarks, and turns towards the unknown – a blank sheet of manuscript paper or a blank canvas - is experiencing an authentic process of adventure and is more likely to create a masterpiece than one who tries to create a work by rehashing what others have taught him before. After all, life gives us an incalculable number of opportunities to get out of our familiar rut, to really feel that we are alive, by virtue of encountering unpredictable situations, confronting the unknown and wrestling with doubt.
But most often, all we ever remember about these opportunities are catastrophes, crises, accidents and illnesses, and too often we allow these to cause us to forget everything that we could have learned from them. We cannot avoid life’s difficulties, nor, despite all our efforts, can we avoid being confronted by the unpredictable. But we can live our whole life as a great adventure, by seeking to acquire consciousness of what is guiding our steps. And through this simple question which has no answer it becomes possible to feel that were really exist, and therefore, in some sense, to discern who we are. »
du rêve à la vision
des hommes au sommet