Tess Ley aka @TinyGreenHands is one of our Melbourne Girls Outside leaders. She’s given us permission to re-share this beautifully written piece on her current experience with cancer.
After my cancer diagnosis in October 2016, and several subsequent cancers since, my craving for adventures simply cannot be quenched.
I feel most at peace in nature. It is the one place I can breathe deeply and escape the morbid, clinical reality I find myself in day to day. It opens me to the life cycles of our planet and brings me peace with my own mortality. There is something primal about sitting under the stars, before a wide body of water, or under an immense canopy that allows us to truly feel how insignificant we are.
We cannot escape into nature without observing those incredible life cycles that make it possible: the death of a baby bird falling from its nest before it has learned to fly; the destruction of a bushfire torching everything in its path in a wave of extinction. And yet, both will feed and nourish the ground, flesh and bones becoming rich soil, charcoal adding nutrients so cherished by the earth: the truest of circles.
Often gentle contemplation is not enough. I feel myself seeking movement, seeking challenge and adventure. Unwilling to simply accept nature for its healing qualities in and of itself, I seek the need to move through the wilderness as a means to come to so many of the epiphanies that have graced my mind over the last year.
I am not alone. For thousands of years, people have taken pilgrimages, relieving themselves of their material belongings, walking to a place of significance to find some kind of higher enlightenment or spiritual revelation. The revelation for me is an inextricable peace with my own mortality; a clear view of the beauty that future lifelessness adds to my own living odyssey.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For us to wish our children a long and healthy life requires our own acceptance that we must, subsequently, die. To give life is to accept death, as without death there is no biological imperative for reproduction. We are designed to die, and more than that, we are designed for our death to have meaning for our beautiful planet: to give our bodies back to the earth which nourished us and feed the soil to create more life. It is expected of us. It is our price of admission.
Therefore, the day we leave this world, the wind will not howl its dissent. The clouds will not cry their tears for you. The stars will not fall to Earth in dismay. Life will continue. The birds will still sing their beautiful songs exactly 42 minutes before sunrise, excited for a new day. The waves will continue to crash toward the shore, inexorably pulled by the moon. The rocks of the Earth will continue to age and slowly push against one another, creating new landscapes.
As it all should.
And the more I come to peace with this fact, the more I realise my own personal reason to venture into the wilderness. It is not, in fact, to shift my emotions in the way I once thought or even for spiritual awakening:
I adventure to practice dying.
Adventures require the willing separation from all the material connections I have in this world, including the people I love. Adventures require so very little physical baggage, and allow me to explore a foreign space with only my spirit, values, and inner wisdom to guide me. Adventures require an absolute peace with my own thoughts and spirituality. They help me practice entering a new environment with a little trepidation and as much planning as possible, but most importantly with excitement. Which is exactly how I hope I’ll die: open to adventure.
And while much of what I’m writing may seem dismal or morbid, it is truly the most peaceful I have ever had the privilege of being. It is beautiful, meditative, and divine. It is a full letting go of all material things that define me, leaving only me.
Since my stage 4 cancer diagnosis, so very many people have talked to me with the pitying eyes of a person watching another die. And while they don’t do it to be unkind (in fact, many of these people are the kindest I know), they do it with the almost unwavering conviction of an immortal. I do not wish to take away the foundation of safety that was taken from me with my cancer diagnosis. But the reality is, I can’t help but smile at their wilful ignorance that we are ALL dying. Every single one of us. And, as such, my early stage 4 diagnosis has been the most inspiring that has ever happened to me.
It has unequivocally reminded me that I am mortal. Every doctor’s appointment. Every scar. Every kiss. Every change of season. It all reminds me that we are ALL dying. And there is nothing more sobering, clarifying or motivating as that.
As Thoreau put it: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Tess is one of our MGO leaders. This beautifully written piece was originally published on Adventure Mummas and has been repurposed with her permission. Follow along with Tess’s adventures on instagram.