THE BLOG
04/11/2014 12:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We All Want To Find 'The Edge'

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

The Edge.
The end. The beginning.
The end of what is known. The beginning of what is unknown.
The transition zone from safety to risk. The overcoming of fear is the moment in which life truly lives.

Be it floating out of the airlock into the void of space, running across a field of fire as bullets explode around you, grabbing that kitten before the car runs it over, tottering on two wheels as your father lets go of the bicycle, stepping onto a stage for the first time, walking into a gym for that first workout or reaching towards him eyes closed for that first kiss, it is in such moments that we are the most alive. In fact it is what makes life Life! It is the crossing over. The challenging of what is safe. The conquering of fear. The move beyond ourselves as we are now into what we may become. It is becoming.

We face fear many times a day, in many ways, and usually we turn away from it. It often hides itself behind laziness and complacency, which are its shadows and aliases. We accept the things-as-they-are world in which we are comfortable. We do not become an astronaut because we fear not only the risk of space, but we fear the risk of failure along the way more than we want to put in the work to make it happen - and it is easier not to try. We do not begin those exercises because we are afraid of the aches and pains that lie between us and the body we want to have, and we don't go to the gym because we fear the ridicule of others who might see us there. We do not change our routine because it makes us anxious to not have things set up in ways that we are used to. In other words we fear the changes to those routines. And most of the time that is fine. After all, if everything was different for us all the time we would lose our minds. We could not be able to focus, nor learn nor have any context or ability to develop any foundations upon which to grow our lives and families.

But when we let those foundations solidify around our feet rather than provide us a place on which we can stand and from which we can venture, we begin to lose life. It turns into a nothingness, or at its worst a place that moves around us as we seem stuck in one place, unable to move. That is one reason our memories of things seem to feel so much richer when we are doing new things as opposed to routines and why people who do a lot of different things feel their lives are richer than those who do not. Again, our mind is designed to focus on the new and different as means of understanding itself and our passage through time. It also needs the room, and like some clever video compression algorithm in your computer that stores only the things that are different in each video frame, it dumps the things which are the same and fills itself with the new, which is why you can recall the very taste of the wind when you were hang gliding or the smell of her perfume when you leaned in for that kiss when you were a kid, but nothing of the day before nor after or the rest of the weeks between such moments.

We often mistake the artificial chemical and psychological thrill of fake edges for the real. In fact we often seek them out as a substitute for the reality of change, growth and exploration. Our minds and bodies help us in this, as they react much the same to this simulations as to the real world. Thus we scream in horror movies or amusement park rides and get a rush from blowing up the bad guys in video games. But inside, underneath we know these are not real, and though we might saturate ourselves with them, climb into them to escape the fears and challenges of life, they leave us empty in the end. They are not food, they are a simalcrum, sweetened sawdust instead of the stuff of life. We need more.

We require as a species the difference between what is safe and unsafe to define ourselves. Be it in darkness or in light, where we are means nothing without the comparison to the other place - where we are not. And thus it is the difference between them that tells us who and what we are. It is also our proximity and relationship to that line between the here and the there that tells us where we are going. It gives us our bearings and establishes for us the vector of our movement forward, backwards or tells us if we are not moving at all. In other words, it tells us what the heck we are doing, how we are doing and gives us the information we need to compare what is happening to the Why? Of our doing.

You see, if we do not take on the challenge of crossing the edge we are static, lost and floating in a void. It is only by motion, by moving from the place we are into some place different that we know where we were and can create the hope of something different occurring in where we will be.

And it is risky. If we get up off the couch we have to go somewhere that is not "couch". If we stand we can fall down, if we move the risk increases, and if we go somewhere new we can get hurt or lost. But which is the more alive? Which one provides us the compass to find our direction? After all, a compass is nothing more than circular list of all the places you don't want to go surrounding the one place you do.

And so you move in that direction. And each step is into the unknown, each forward motion means occupying a space you were not in before, accepting a future that had not occurred until you moved into it, and creating a new place simply by leaving the old.

The edge is a loud place, and to step beyond it is to find peace. It is a shouting match, between the screaming voice of fear and the whisper of possibility. And if the possibility, the idea, the desire to Do is strong enough, if it is based on enough facts or knowing then it grows louder, stronger and firmer in its tone. It becomes courage. It begins to speak with confidence and win the debate, and at some instant, even as fear screams its last scream, courage wins and the entire moment shifts and you take action. You Move. You Do.

And in that moment everything changes. The world shifts. The frozen rictus of inability becomes a forward motion and yes, you may still hear that voice of fear fading in the background but it is too late. Like the wind in the ear of a skydiver, it is left behind you, like the safety of the plane from which you have just exited... You are moving, you are committed. All systems are not just go, they are Going. There is no pulling back when this happens, if you have truly committed. And although you may shift and maneuver in that forward direction, no change of course in that moment can stop you until the moment is complete, and for better or worse the action has been taken. It is Done.

So we must constantly break out, we must fight the fear that is routine and try the new, even as we accept that there will always be some routines, some safety we need to keep, after all, without the place we are or were there is no place to go to or new place to be.

And what often happens next is a miracle. Life becomes a new place. Things change. You are riding that bicycle and traveling to new places in your neighbourhood faster and wider than ever before. And you are Doing It! You! You fee great! You are empowered. You are new! And life is alive in you and around you. Suddenly, when we cross into this new place we become more than we were, and are able to imagine becoming more than we were.

And yes, we fall down. She doesn't kiss you back. The spaceship explodes and people die. And the screaming voice of fear rushes back onto the stage of our life and tells us why this was inevitable and how we should have never tried, never taken the risk. It speaks in commanding and validated tones about how much safer we were before, and sings to us in soft tones of returning to that warm and cuddly place where oblivion is our master and keeper...the grey...the black...the infinite white....the dead zone of boring, comprehensible yet meaningless nothing. Where we cant be hurt, yet slowly and constantly die.

As it goes for each of us, so it goes for our society.

The choice is yours and each moment brings a new choice. So what are you going to do about it?
Remain. Move. Sit. Stand.

Do you risk yourself and lose or win or risk nothing and lose it all.
Do you dare to move UP?
Or do you lie down?

The edge is right there. It will always be right there, waiting for you in the next moment after this one. Do nothing and life will pass, cross over and live...

And then, of course, comes the next Edge.

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