Adventurer

The Cambrian News described me as an adventurer when they wrote an article about my 3 Peaks by Kayak fundraising journey, (link here). It was strange for me to see myself described as such and this made me think about the concept of adventure per se and that of being an adventurer. 

Strangely, despite having lived my life immersed in the outdoors working as a guide and outdoor instructor, experiencing myriad incredible adventurous experiences for myself and undertaking some fairly major expeditions, I have not viewed myself specifically as an adventurer. This is a title I bestow on others who I deem more worthy of the description than me. I guess, I consider my efforts benign in comparison to what other folks have achieved. Seeing the word attributed to me in the newspaper article at first caused me to cringe a little, but then I glowed with a sense of self-recognition. I'm interested why this simple attribution is important to me. 

First of all, it is important because it is a form of recognition. There is a drive within every human to be positively recognised for who we are. We consciously or unconsciously live our lives in such a way so that we receive attention and acknowledgement which can only be provided by another person or people. I'm never going to be recognised for academic prowess or business acumen, so finding myself acknowledged for achieving something worthwhile in a field I'm adept at is particularly rewarding. 

Secondly, as I reach the later years of my life, I realise the importance of my legacy - the story or stories which will be recounted about me after I have departed this world. I don't want to pass through this existence without a worthy epitaph to mark my presence. This may seem a vain aspiration but as with being recognised for who I am in this present life, I would like there to be a memory of me having contributed meaningfully during my life. If this is as an 'adventurer', then I'll be happy with this. 

Ever since I stopped working for Outward Bound twenty years ago, I have struggled to define myself with any certainty. I suppose rather tongue in cheek I could confidently call myself a Jack of All Trades. I tried my hand in the Mental Health sector, trained in psychotherapy and ran a private practice for a few years, developed a form of 'wilderness therapy' and when I ceased this, a number of other minor job roles including sea kayak guiding. I wouldn't say that I was unsuccessful at any of those roles, it's just that I didn't fit them - they didn't fit me. Maybe I'm a rolling stone, unable to settle in any profession. If this is the case, then defining myself as an adventurer will be the ideal solution, for this is exactly what the specifications for this title demands - a person willing to roll as a stone, meeting and overcoming uncertainty along the way, maybe living with discomfort and undertaking arduous ventures. 

I have to admit there is an element of discomfort for me with the term adventurer. In this age of social media sound bytes and instant fame, there appears to me to be commodification of adventure as a means of shameless self-promotion. The outdoors becomes a playground, the environment barely given a second glance in the race for the perfect adventure photo, for example a blazing camp fire on virgin Hebridean Machar or a dune buggy roaring over pristine sands. I'm not suggesting that adventurers are disconnected from nature but it pains me when I see Nature being exploited for purely egoistic gain. Maybe I hold a naïve view that to be an adventurer who journeys through the wild and natural realms, one needs to do so with reverent mutuality, viewing Nature as an equal partner in the enterprise.

Being an adventurer carries responsibility and it's role which can be a force for good. People look upon adventurers as sources for inspiration. This is one of the responsibilities I find myself accepting with serious intent. Particularly so because I have chosen to associate my endeavours with raising awareness about mental health, depression, suicide awareness and recovery. I recognise that through my profile I have a stronger voice to air my knowledge about these important subjects. Actually, this is one of the motivating factors in me deciding to follow the path of becoming an adventurer - to use this as a platform to highlight the issues surrounding depression. 

Of course I can only be an adventurer if I continue to embark on adventures. I don't anticipate this being an arduous arrangement to fulfil but it does come with costs and these aren't just financial. I will be required to be away from home and separated from my wife for long periods of time. This is probably the toughest aspect of adventuring for me. I feel guilt at not being home to assist with daily home life, particularly since we live on a boat and this requires some extraordinary chores like having to row Ziggy ashore for his walks. This can become an arduous chore if it is not shared. Of course separation is tough and can put strain on the marriage. I have many times wondered how early explorers managed to maintain successful marriages despite living abroad for months if not years at a time. In this day and age though, our means of communicating with loved ones is far more advanced. I am thankful and grateful that Karen supports my desire for adventures, recognising this as a positive force for my continued good health and personal growth. Being away for long periods of time also impacts life in general; missing friends, missing out on social events and negating community voluntary duties such as the RNLI Tobermory Lifeboat in my case.

As with any chosen path in life, the benefits have to outweigh the negatives. It's not as if I am consigned to this role against my will, being the only opportunity within my grasp. The choice is mine and if the costs are too great then it's a simple decision to take a step back, reassessing what's important and what changes can be made. For the moment, though much of my life has been leading to this, it feels like the early stages of my embarkation along this route. It's as if I have just been offered the role and have accepted it. 

In reality, no such role exists and it's not a paid job. I am an adventurer in name only, an attribution pasted onto me by a supportive newspaper article and I have wrapped myself in the glory of it. Whether I can make some kind of living from this only time will tell. It's purely down to me and how comfortable I feel about making this happen. I am a humble soul, not one to seek fame or glory. Yet, for the first time in many years I find myself enjoying discovering a sense of identity and pride in these three words:

Nick Ray, Adventurer. 

Finding Focus

The summer is speeding by for me. This is probably a good thing in a way, because it means that I'm living it fully. I think this is probably true, though I have difficulty in recounting what I get up to each day. Not a huge amount to be honest. 

Anyway, I've recently returned from a journey down south where I gave a presentation in Aberdyfi about my 3 Peaks by Kayak journey, visited my parents in Herefordshire and then spent a few days camping with a group of friends in Pembrokeshire. This journey turned into a rewarding experience for me where I gained significant insights which I believe will be useful for me in my future. 

My presentation in Aberdyfi turned out to be an unqualified success. Seventy or so folks came along to the Yacht Club in the village to hear me give an illustrated talk about my 3 Peaks adventure. To be honest, I hadn't really prepared in any detail what I was going to talk about. I had chosen a number of photos to show and these would offer me prompts to recount anecdotes from the journey. I did have the intention of speaking about how profound the journey was for me and how I gained deep insights into my mental health recovery process as a result of it. As the presentation unfolded, I found myself speaking with eloquent openness about my struggle with my depression, ideations of suicide and how powerful moments of insight into these were highlighted by incredible experiences I encountered. Without preparing for this, I found my voice and it carried impact. 

The feedback I received afterwards was difficult to accept because it was so effusive in its praise. Such is my low sense of self-worth that I literally had to force the compliments into my 'memory banks'. It was when people I had never met before came up to me and spoke of the profoundness of my talk, that I realised that I had given something worthwhile. This was a good feeling for me. 

A few days later down in Pembrokeshire, the compliments continued to roll in and this time they were more thoughtful because folks had given time to thinking about the impact of my presentation. I couldn't help but glow with a sense of satisfaction that my voice had such impact. My intuition that sharing my personal struggle with depression and suicide as an adjunct to the powerful experiences I encountered during my kayaking journey had paid off. With relief, I realised that my desired future path of publicly sharing my outdoor adventures as a source of inspiration for others struggling with mental health issues and general self awareness, was a good one for me to pursue. 

Driving north to the Isle of Mull, I pondered on how I can build on this and make it happen.

Writing seems to be the most obvious pathway. I like writing but I'm not good at focussing and completing writing projects. However, recently submitting an article about my recent kayaking trip to the notable sea-kayaking publication, Ocean Paddler, and having this well received, with an invitation to submit further articles, has boosted my confidence and provided me with the incentive to approach my writing seriously. I have a number of books I would like to write and of course, many shorter pieces specifically about the transformational power of Nature, the outdoors and adventure per se. 

Public speaking is also an obvious route to embark on. I have come to accept that I'm adept at this and I can hold an audiences' attention through my voice and story. I have much to say and I do enjoy sharing my views and tales when these moments arise. However, I'm slow to grasp opportunities to speak publicly or even seek them out, instead waiting to be invited to do so. This will be a challenge for me, to publicise myself as a worthwhile speaker, worthy of hiring. 

Running workshops was another consideration of mine. I enjoy being a facilitator, managing group process and working with the 'here and now' material as it arises. Again, like my writing aspirations, I have a myriad workshop titles in my notebooks. The key here is finding a market for these and more to the point, a relevance for them. In my time, I have worked as an independent workshop provider and facilitator but I found this a stressful process for me. I'm not business minded enough to have made this a success and this dissuades me from following this path. 

Of course there is social media where I can highlight what I have to offer. My Twitter account is a healthy one with wonderfully meaningful engagement with friends, acquaintances and strangers. Here, I largely present myself as I am, not really hiding much away. It would be easy for me to build on this online persona and 'market. what I want to offer. Facebook is a little different and since the international wrangle with 'false news' and manipulation, I'm wary of this platform. I am on Instagram but I don't engage with this as best I could.

Then there is this website and developing my 'Life Afloat' brand. This is an obvious point of reference for what I want to develop and share. Like my writing, I will need to focus more on this, developing useful content and make it an interesting resource for folks to want to visit and remain connected with.

Finally, my Blog. I simply need to keep up with this and keep writing material for it.

If you have ideas and suggestions in response to what I've shared here, then please drop me a line through my contact page. I welcome any feedback you may wish to give me. Thank you.  

The Three Peaks by Kayak

I'm useless at keeping an up to date blog. My best intentions to write regularly and share my thoughts with the wider world come to nought through a mixture of reasons, ranging from low self-confidence to good old fashioned procrastination. I should realise that setting myself the goal of writing regular contributions would not really work for me. I was a poor academic student who was always late with my assignments and essays, leaving writing them to the very last minute or worse, not at all. I became more adept at providing excuses than I did at writing!

This said though, I do enjoy writing and I think that when I do produce a piece, it reads pretty well and I'm pleased with it. I'm not sure why I find it difficult to fulfil my aspirations to write more and I hope that when I do come to understand my blocks, there'll be no stopping me! 

This blog entry is by way of support for my Three Peaks by Kayak challenge which I'm undertaking this May (2018). I'm raising funds for Odyssey, a small charity who provide outdoor courses for people who have been or are being treated for cancer. I have worked for them on a number of occasions and I believe their courses to be incredibly worthwhile. It is wonderful to be writing this entry and to not be covering the theme of my depression and mental health travails. Actually, when I come to think of it, one of the reasons I haven't contributed recently, is because I was tired of only thinking of writing about my low mood, my struggles with this and the more painful truth of fighting my desire to complete suicide. I simply did not want to keep rehashing my negative thoughts and feelings and sharing these with you. It's really lovely at long last to have hope and happiness surging through my veins again. 

My last blog entry was about my New Year plans and I'm pleased to say that I'm at least on my way to undertaking a significant one of these. The Three Peaks by Kayak has been on my list of adventures for nearly twenty five years, really, ever since I began sea kayaking. I had an attempt at completing this in 2009 but was unsuccessful due to poor weather. 2018 will be the year that I put this adventure goal to bed and once I have, I'll feel more able to attempt other plans which have been mulling around in my mind. 

One question I ask myself and I have been asked this by a few other folks too, is - does undertaking these big adventures have a negative impact on the state of my mental health? Without opening up about what I struggle with when I'm in the midst of my depression, I do know that I long to be connected with wildness through some kind of outdoor adventure. Connection to wildness provides me with solace even in the darkest depths of my depression. One aspect of my adventuring lifestyle which I have come to appreciate, is how to reintegrate myself to my life at home and a more 'regular' lifestyle after long and challenging but incredibly rewarding kayaking adventure. Of course having worked as an Outward Bound Instructor and a Therapeutic Wilderness Guide for many years, I ought to understand the important process of transferring ones self from a powerful life altering outdoor experience to the normality of everyday life. I now understand how challenging this can be! The suddenness of the end of a journey can have an incredible impact and for me, and I've struggled to adapt after living a life of wild freedom and solitude. 

Given that I'm now paying attention to this, I'm excited to be undertaking the Three Peaks by Kayak and considering future adventures. It's a continually evolving process of self-awareness which doesn't end because I'm over fifty years old. In fact, I think that I'm learning more about myself now than I ever did in my earlier years. It's as if my life has been leading me to this - the path of the solo adventurer. Despite the risk of future depressive episodes, I have permission to challenge myself so that I continue to grow. 

This kayaking journey then, is as much a personal odyssey as it is a fund raising venture for Odyssey. I look forward to sharing the emerging insights I encounter on the way, as well as the everyday awe and wonder I will enjoy as I traverse the British coastline. 

Thank you for your interest and support. 

2018

Nearly ten days into the New Year and I'm only now sharing my plans and aspirations for the twelve months ahead. Better late than never I suppose, so here goes.

I'm not a fan of loud and boisterous Hogmanay celebrations, preferring to see the year out with a small group of friends or family. I haven't reached the stage yet where I take myself off to bed to wake the next day to a new year. Neither do I sit gloomily in an armchair, clutching a dram with a curmudgeonly air, watching the clock for the midnight chimes. I enjoy the few hours leading up to the bells, where chatter and banter cheerfully ease me from one year to the next. There's always booze to enjoy and we make sure we have an array of tasty snacks on the go through the evening. It's a fun time in a 'fifty-plus years old' kind of way. 

The actual moment when the countdown begins and the bells chime is a movingly emotional juncture for me. My voice breaks and I feel tears welling in my eyes. This is the moment where I enter into a new contract with myself - to become the person I continually aspire to be. Invariably the year I am leaving will have been a mixed one, with challenges and triumphs in equal measure. There is no doubt that my struggle with depression will have played a big part during the year. The moment when the fireworks burst into the skies and people hug, kiss and wish each other every happiness, is the briefest of moments when the pains of the departing year are expunged and hope floods my senses. Amidst the tumult of bonhomie I look forwards, visualising myself embracing my life with vigour and positivity. After the celebration is over, it's always a pleasant experience drifting off to sleep in the wee hours of January 1st with sleepy dreams of exciting adventures on the horizon.

I do not call them resolutions but I do have a number of things I want to achieve in 2018. Like many folk I suppose, I begin the new year with high levels of motivation to tackle things I procrastinated over the year before. The challenge of course is keeping this motivation at a consistently high level to effect the changes and the learning I aspire to achieve. For many years I was a development trainer/coach and I'm an old hand at observing the process of initial enthusiasm slowly shifting towards lethargy and eventual disappointment. I understand what the usual contributing self-defeating factors towards this might be. I see these all too clearly in myself. In the opening hours of the year I resolve not to allow these factors to get the better of me - as they did the year before, and well, all the years before that.

As I always advised folks to do, I have chosen a manageable number of aspirations to work towards, rather than create a long and unwieldy list. I remember likening setting post-course goals to work towards akin to packing a rucksack for a wilderness expedition. Pack what is essential and not carry too many things to cut back on the weight. Where possible, share the load too. Trying to cram too much into the rucksack will leave it overladen, jumbled and impossible to find what is necessary because this'll be buried under non-essential stuff. Again, akin to many successful expeditions, it's essential to understand personal limitations and abilities, thus realising the likelihood of a realistically achievable outcome. I've found with my expeditions that they require purpose, something tangible, which makes them meaningful and provide me with the determination I require to see them through. The same is true with setting new year goals for myself - they need purpose, so that I'm purposeful in working towards achieving them. Finally, to bring the alliteration of the wilderness expedition to a close, it needs to be enjoyable, even if at times the sense of challenge may seem overwhelming.

The common sabotaging blocks in achieving my goals are my lack of self-belief, procrastination, not attending to immediate matters to address developing situations, becoming distracted, a poorly organised approach, and allowing a sense of failure determine whether I progress or not. Neither am I good at drawing on any learning from my achievements and successes, instead preferring to dwell on where I think I'm failing. It's ironic how aware of this process I am, yet allow it to play out time and again. 

This year's first aspiration is to not allow this to happen for 2018. I will nip any self-defeating behaviour in the bud and draw on inspiration from my recent kayaking and other adventurous successes. If I attend to this aspiration as the overarching goal, then the list which follows ought to be well within my reach. It all seems so very easy!

Here's the short list of what I want to achieve in 2018. In fact I will change this, it is the list of what I will achieve in 2018.

  • Kayak the Three Peaks.
  • Kayak to Muckle Flugga from Tobermory and back.
  • Complete writing "Strong Winds are Forecast", the book about my 2015 journey.
  • Establish a You Tube "LifeAfloat" channel and make at least two films a month for this.
  • Sail our yacht at least twice every month when the weather allows.
  • Become proficient in addressing and resolving electrical issues on the boat.
  • Make contact with all the important friends in my life.
  • Teach myself twelve Scottish folk tunes on my tin-whistle.
  • Watercolour painting at least once a month.

The list is self-explanatory and contains some demanding items to achieve. I can see which of these will require the greater attention to prevent procrastination and as I write this I'm aware of a my determination to not allow this to happen. Already I have pleasantly surprised myself by not succumbing to the temptations of avoidance and distraction when I had recently set myself the task to settle down to write. The feeling of achievement at the end of a successfully busy day is sufficient reward indeed. 

This blog entry outlines the contract I have set with myself and by sharing it here, I'm inviting you to play a role in the success of my new year aspirations, by checking in with me from time to time and holding me to account. For example it might be that you ask me to post a recording of me playing one of the tunes I have learned on my tin-whistle! However you  interact with me, I will accept your interest and support with gratitude.

So then, 2018 is under way and I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds. It's not a case of leaving this to chance because of course, I have the means to influence the outcomes I'm aspiring for. I sincerely hope that the same is true for you too and that this year is a wonderful one for you in so many ways.

Dear Reader - my warmest wishes to you for a happy and fulfilling 2018.