The Space Between

Alzar School | 26.03.20

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.  — René Daumal

Alzar School student Santiago looks out toward Cerro Kristine from Las Horquetas summit near the Furioso River valley in Chile’s Patagonia National Park

If you are reading this, you are likely in the midst of unignorable changes. Perhaps you find yourself unexpectedly at home, in contrast to your imagined location and life experience just a few short weeks ago. Perhaps your home is unexpectedly filled with individuals that you didn’t expect to be there. For most of us, some basic life circumstances have changed drastically. We are in transition.

René Daumal’s famous quote (above) has surely been used by a plethora of outdoor educators to encourage students to savor what we might call peak experiences–to be present, to be aware, and to integrate learning in a meaningful way. In fact, some Alzar School students of this semester pondered this quote as we descended from “Las Horquetas” summit during our Chilean backpacking expedition. Through the metaphor of climbing mountains, we come to understand that our lives are filled with proverbial “summits” and “lower regions.” The Alzar School semester is indeed a peak experience, composed of various other peaks and valleys (expedition blocks, memorable moments within expedition blocks, family weekend, academic cruxes, etc). For an Alzar School student, this metaphor is not a stretch.

Considering our lives in the context of this metaphor, we can begin to bring awareness to the relative highs and lows of our daily reality. What is less obvious in the quote, but equally significant, is that the same awareness can and should be applied to the areas in between the high and low points. Come to think of it, those spaces are where we spend most of our time. So, consider if you have allowed yourself to truly be in transition. Are you focusing your attention on the contents of your reality at present, or are you lost in thought on some future peak or past  valley? René might suggest that we buckle up and enjoy the transition. If we don’t pay attention, it just might pass us by.

Alzar School students in the midst of a summit bid up Las Horquetas.