Sunday, March 27, 2011

lessons learned #1: focus

So I'm thinking about restarting my trans-American walk. The first time around, my purpose was to explore American religious diversity, and to do so by visiting various houses of worship and meditation to talk with the folks about their attitudes toward religious diversity (see my ten religious questions). Instead of planning my route in advance, I had thought it would be interesting to visit a place, and then have that community send me onward to the next place. To my mind, this would have been a way to build relationships among disparate religious communities: for example, a Sikh gurdwara could have sent me off to a Buddhist temple, which could have sent me over to a Catholic church twenty miles away, which could have sent me to a synagogue the next town over, etc. In reality, though, this didn't happen, and part of the reason was that these communities didn't seem all that interested in connecting with each other. Getting people to make those connections sometimes felt a bit like pulling teeth. This may not have been their fault, though; I may have been using the wrong approach.

So the walk took a slow, meandering path as a result. I had also chosen to break eastward after I'd reached Portland, which meant stepping away from most of the religious diversity of the west coast. Some of my friends and helpers began to question why I had chosen the route I had, and where, exactly, the focus of my walk lay. If it was truly to explore religious diversity, they said, then shouldn't I have been following the west coast down through California, precisely to be able to meet all those Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, adherents of native American religion, etc.? By cutting suddenly eastward at Portland, Oregon (I had started in White Rock, British Columbia), and setting off into the high desert, wasn't I refocusing the walk on just getting across the country? It seemed to many that I hadn't really defined my project well enough, and that I was, in a sense, walking at cross-purposes to myself.

I think, in retrospect, that the criticisms had merit. The walk needed more focus. Although the exploration of religious diversity through the prism of my short list of questions wasn't a bad approach, I had paired that approach up with a very poor notion of route planning.

This time around, then, I want to make clear from the outset that this walk is to raise awareness about glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), and to raise funds for GBM research. I want a percentage of those funds to go directly to the Parks family, whose acquaintance I made a short while ago, and in whose lives I have become somewhat involved. The walk has other goals as well, but those goals have a more private relevance-- things like self-improvement, the restoration of a sense of purpose and meaning to my life, the feeling of accomplishing One Big Thing before I die, etc. Those private goals depend on the public act of walking across the country.

In my next post, I want to talk about the lessons I learned regarding planning.


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