Exploration is, for many of us, a very compelling word. It opens our minds and imagination to never seen places, to never discovered information, and to ideas of pursuing something that is beyond the ordinary. I believe each one of us is an explorer at heart; when we are children, we want to learn as much as we can about everything that comes our way, that is the explorer in us that is forming. We should continue to foster that explorer through our lives.
As a cave explorer, I have received requests on how to become one, I have even been asked to conduct classes, and give pointers. Unfortunately, or better, fortunately, there are no direct paths to exploration, and there are no single answers. Exploration is not a checklist we complete to arrive at the next level.
So what is exploration? I think the first thing about being an explorer is in the mindset. To appreciate the value of the significant discoveries, I believe we need to start from the small wonder and findings of our everyday life. We need to train our attention towards the details we miss in pursuit of more significant ideas.
When do we go from being someone following the path to someone creating the way for others to follow? I believe it happens when we have taken the time to walk the tracks, to see where others have been, to learn from their mistakes, to have acquired a little bit their point of view in how they searched for the new path and have built our point of view. Only then can we leave the regular road and look for the new one.
In cave exploration, it can happen in different ways. If we are lucky and we are less and less as the world is becoming smaller, we may find full new cave systems. But if we are observant and learn from swimming the lines and learning to listen to the cave, we may find that a lot of areas and passageways were left behind by other explorers and divers.
I have yet to discover a brand new big and long cave; I am waiting to find the entrance that will allow me to access something that stretches for thousands of feet, miles even. In the process, I have explored thousands of tunnels in existing caves that others had explored before me. I developed this capability by diving these systems many times over, by realizing their layout, by learning to read the cave, the way it formed in the past and the way it had come to rest. Caves that initially looked as flat landscapes offered at time two to three layers to swim through, it was just a matter of finding the shaft that connected one level with another.
To find it, it took several attempts, failure, and a lot of tries. One of the misconceptions about exploration is that it has to end in a complete success, but that’s not necessarily true. We are explorers through the simple fact that we have seen a possibility and sought after it. Finding a possible new cave entrance to realize that the area has collapsed and the rest is inaccessible, does not take away from being explorers. Exploration is a series of repeated attempts and failures, dead-end tunnels, small areas that lead to nothing. Exploration requires passion and tenacity, but also the capability to try over and over without giving up when a series of failures preclude us from reaching our goal.
These attempts, these moments will only build another essential tool for the aspiring explorer: knowledge, understanding. Each time we attempt a route, with either a successful result or not, we collect data in our brain on how the cave works. We start to recognize rock patterns, similarities, our eyes, and our minds begin to associate them and give us additional information on the possibilities behind what we see and what our brain perceives to be.
Being an explorer starts with our first fin kick and ends when we break the surface. In between, we need to keep our eyes open and let the information build up in our brains.