"The purpose in life is not to be ‘happy’. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived well”.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
(Photo credit: Chris Kevern)
Today I went to the place that, at 31 years old, I found my purpose. Penhale Corner beach in Cornwall. During my time running the beach clean programme for Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) I brought together thousands of people to remove many tonnes of plastic pollution from this beautiful beach with our bare hands, so it felt like the perfect place to come to consider what ‘Purposeful Adventure’ means to me.
Over the following 25 days we’re going to be asking you, what this term means to you, as we look to make Purposeful Adventures a central theme in our work for the next 5 years. So it seemed only fair for me to go first!
It is on this beach that I began to realise that what we were doing was far more than ‘just a litter pick’ and that our work was not only protecting the environments that we loved but also having a positive impact on the lives of the people who were donating their time to help.
(Photo credit: Chris Kevern)
One moment in particular, in 2015, embodies this for me. I have anxiety and depression and one of the benefits of acknowledging this to myself has been that I can sometimes sense a similar struggle in other people, men of a similar age to me in particular. On this day, amongst the hundreds of incredible people who turned up to help, I was surprised to see the SAS postman. Tattooed, be-capped and wearing his standard issue heavy metal hoodie and baggy shorts, he was on his own and stood out like a sore thumb. But it wasn’t his attire that marked him out the most, it was his demeanour. In short he was as painfully shy and tentative as he was every time he came into the SAS office (regardless of how garrulous we were towards him) and, as usual, he wouldn’t meet my eye. One thing felt different though, and really cool, he had turned up, on his own, on a Saturday, to do a beach clean with hundreds of people he didn’t know.
As usual, I’ve taken a long time to get to ‘the moment’ but it felt important to provide a little background. The moment in question came near the end of the beach clean, at the furthest end of the beach, where the ‘Postman’ had already surprised me by being the most intrepid and committed beach cleaner of the day. By this point he was kneeling down amidst snowdrifts of micro-plastics and diligently sorting the ‘nurdles’ (tiny plastic pellets) and plastic cotton bud sticks into his bucket, so I joined him. For the next 15 minutes we knelt side by side and sifted through the millions of plastic particles together in silence. But, it wasn’t an ‘awkward’ silence (believe me I know what one of them feels like) it felt good, I had a deep sense that he felt good about what he was doing, that he felt good about himself and that we had connected through a shared experience.
Like me, in that very same moment at the remote end of a two mile long beach, I believe that he felt purposeful, that he was contributing to something meaningful and I was struck by a realisation. That, not only was this simple act of removing plastic pollution from this beautiful place benefiting the environment, it was benefiting the people who were donating their time to protect it.
(Photo credit: Taylor Butler-Eldridge//@notorioustbe)
And so, the importance of the connection between people and place that the first seeds of what would become ‘Purposeful Adventure’ began to germinate. What if we could engage people with our threatened wild places in such a way as to create such a powerful sense of awe and wonder that people feel instinctively compelled to protect and enhance the very places that made them feel so incredible? Moreover, what if that could work equally well the other way round, that this increased sense of purpose could enhance the adventure? Wouldn’t that be cool....
With all that said, and in spite of my firm belief in the potential for ‘Purposeful Adventure’ to play a key role in Trash Free Trails’ mission to reduce plastic pollution on our trails and wild places and reconnect people with nature, a definitive definition of what ‘Purposeful Adventure’ means to me has remained tantalisingly on the tip of my tongue (I guess that’s one of the reasons we’re asking you to help!?) I’d love to hear your thoughts and I can’t wait to see your interpretations. Thank you.