By: Ethan Maurice
With no idea of what to expect inside, each of my last steps up to the rim of the volcano allowed my line of sight a step further down into the crater. The world revealed was glacial snow surrounding the milkiest blue lake, a waterfall pouring over its edge running on through ice caves and out the eroded far side of the crater.
Assuming the crater would merely be a hole full of rocks, I stood atop, utterly stunned.
All alone and in my element, my body tensed into a slight crouch, drawing power as I took a couple rushed steps toward the edge. It was as if I were taking a half court shot with a basketball, and all this energy and wonder and excitement came out in this wild, charged, “YHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWHOOOOOOO!!!” across this mammoth scene before me.
Waves of echoes returned, fading into silence. For a moment, the only sound was the heaving of my breath as I hunched over with exhaustion from the climb, hands on knees, gazing out with awe.
Suddenly, a crazed “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHWHOOO!!!” banshee scream sounded back from far off on the opposite side of the crater. A primal excitement arose within me. I yelled back again.
Scanning the crater for my fellow mountain man, I noticed the tiniest spec of a person in the center of a snowfield on the far side of the crater. He provided a sense of scale... And, God! The volcano was colossal! The walls of snow and ice surrounding the lake were not dozens of feet tall, but hundreds! I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, a smile on my sunburnt face as I took it all in.
It was a moment of being truly, madly, overwhelmingly ALIVE.
For the past couple years, I had adopted holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's conclusion that life's primary quest is not for pleasure or power, but for meaning. That meaning was what's most important to find and fulfill in life. For me, this was confirmed while pedaling a bicycle across the United States for the children's hospital that saved my life. An adventure with purpose in every stroke of the pedal, the experience was of a higher level.
I think there is more to life than meaning alone, though. I recently finished reading The Power of Myth, in which Joseph Campbell countered meaning with an alternative I've been chewing on for the past few weeks:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
I've been pondering all this for the past couple weeks. And while both ideas compete for higher priority, they're both now essential pieces to my current answer to the question, “Why am I here?”
Which, at the moment, I might answer: to find meaning in helping others come alive and to relish in the experience of being alive myself.
For me, there isn't much that makes me feel more rapturously alive than leaving the path behind, finding my own way, and howling with a stranger across the crater of an active volcano. And later, to share that experience and these ideas with you.