Here's a fascinating article about a fascinating man. His life story reads like an allegory plucked from the Bible. Evan Tanner was a gifted individual with a message to share with the world, but he also had his share of misgivings. One man's incredible journey that provides two full cups of wisdom: a scoop of inspiring glory and another scoop filled with a cautionary tale.
An article from mmafighting.com has this to say about Tanner:
His was always a life in motion, always a midnight inspiration away from the next town, the next challenge, the next adventure. It was a voyage born of a noble pursuit: wisdom. Tanner always wanted to learn. He wanted to be a force for positive change, to influence anyone who listened to him with knowledge culled from real-life experience.
To do this, he was willing to go further than anyone else. He got on his motorcycle and rode, by himself mostly, and in the freezing cold or searing heat. He lived up north, down south and points east and west. He worked a series of menial jobs. He hiked, surfed and camped. He fought in a cage. To truly learn something, after all, it was best to live it.
Evan had a fiercely independent spirit. He even taught himself how to fight by watching an instructional tape. He had a flair for the unconventional and pursued things for his passionate interest instead of vanity. It is often said that humanity has a highway towards suffering and a dirt road towards happiness. The conventional highway of the herd provides comfort but lacks flavour and meaning. The less common dirt road is filled with danger but also offers purpose and profound satisfaction. Evan Tanner lived and died on the dirt road. He didn't do things for fame, money, or any extrinsic reward, but rather because of something else, something elusive to most of us. Meaning. He believed that having a purpose, a message, and meaningful connections with people was worth far more than any fancy possession and that one must think outside of their own needs in order to gain everything. In part 2 of that video, he goes on to say:
In a sense, I lost myself in order to gain an understanding of the things that matter. It's not all those things that we're taught from childhood, in this society anyway. There's some cultures that are in tune, that understand it, thats got it. We've kind of run away with ourselves, run away from ourselves, we've lost touch and very few people get it. It took me a while.
At first that may sound like the crazy blatherings of a madman. He's talking about the hidden costs associated with our current society. An idea that's discomforting to consider for those of us who have lived our entire lives inside the confines of said society. One illuminating example of this is the idea that many people today are unhappy in their own company and some even prefer painful experiences instead of their own thoughts.
Prof Timothy Wilson, who led the research at the University of Virginia, US, said: "Our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time."
I know what you're thinking: "obvious study is obvious!", but lets take a closer look shall we? Let's imagine a society that's different from ours, one that's less 'advanced'. In this different society, there's less instant messaging, less articles to read, and just less distractions in general. It's harder to escape boredom in this hypothetical society. We all know about the pain of boredom and isolation, but what about its' benefits? What if boredom is the cost for discovering meaning? A toll that must be paid prior to entering a deeper realm. What if all this outer noise is preventing us from understanding the deeper truths? In silence is where we're able to formulate our own ideas, and our own meaning. It gives us time to digest ideas, see the patterns, and uncover the truth. Truth that is often uncomfortable. The truth that we're vulnerable, not immortal, that we're tiny creatures in a gigantic universe, and that we all ultimately depend on each other for survival. The sheer amount of noise that's present in our society today makes it very difficult to see the truths. As Elliot Hulse says, "you find yourself not through books, not through videos, not through ideas or ideals, or religion, you find yourself by descending back into your body". Evan romanticized about temporarily escape the distracting noise by voyaging deep into the desert, a journey that would ultimately end up being his last. While planning the trip, he blogged:
Today, I ran to the store to pick up a few things, and with the lonesome, quiet desert thoughts on my mind, I couldn’t help but be struck with their brutally stark contrast to my current surroundings, the amazing congestion in which we exist day to day. The landscape as far as I could see, crowded, choked, with me and the rest of the species, an almost writhing mass of organisms, fighting over space and resources, on the highways, in the parking lots, on the sidewalks, and in the aisles of the stores. And to think, there are still places in the world where man has not been, where he has left no footprints, where the mysteries stand secure, untouched by human eyes. I want to go to these places, the quiet, timeless, ageless places, and sit, letting silence and solitude be my teachers.
The beauty of Evan's message was that he was trying to show us all another perspective, one that was acquired from living a life of extremes. His message reminded us of our own shortcomings and the folly of our pursuit for material gains and other distractions instead of meaning and deeper connections. Yet Evan's own life also had stark downfalls. In his search for freedom and independence, he would often seclude himself from the outside world. Tanner's friends say that he would sometimes shut himself out and not answer calls for days at a time. The price of his independence was his inability to seek help outside of himself, and giving into the delusion that help could be found in alcohol. Perhaps the freedom that he most sought after was freedom from the memories of being abandoned by his parents when he was still in high school. Yet he was somehow uncommonly open about his struggles, blogging publicly about his drinking and gambling misadventures. He knew he had messages and lessons which we could all benefit from, even if the lessons were delivered at his own expense. Perhaps the greatest learning from all this is that we have the most to learn when faced with extremes, both from the good and bad for they are ultimately intertwined. He alludes to this idea in a blog posted on July 1, 2008:
I took a ride with my friend once. We were both taking pictures along the way, documenting the adventure for posterity. I would stop with the camera, take my time finding the perfect angle, worrying about the perfect composition, concerned with every detail. She was just pointing the camera everywhere, click, click, click, click, click, taking pictures of anything and everything. I was getting frustrated with her at first. She wasn't doing it right. She wasn't doing it my way. What a bunch of worthless pictures, she was missing all of these beautiful shots. I was busy setting up these grand poster quality shots of all the scenery, and she was just shooting.
At the end of the ride, when we sat down and looked at all of the pictures, I had some great shots, some beautiful landscapes, perfectly framed and composed, pictures of this and that, all well done, but they meant nothing to me. They were generic pictures, the type that could be found in any travel brochure or magazine, or on any website about the different places. The pictures that took me back, that made all the places ours, that made the trip ours, were her silly, unplanned, unpatterned, random shots of the unexpected. A bug on the gas tank, the back of my head, our shadows on the pavement as we moved down the road, cars in the rearview mirror, random buildings and bridges, a stain on a pair of jeans, etc.
When I look back on the adventure, it's her shots that bring back the memories. It's her pictures that mean the most to me. I learned from her on that trip. I still look for those magical poster quality shots, but I make sure to take as many shots as I can of the random, and non typical. Those are the character, personality shots.
He also seemed painfully aware about the price of his endless appetite for searching:
I have had some things happen that have made me very, very sad. I am struggling, but this is not a breakdown. This is not out of the ordinary. My life has been one of extremes. I set out on this path with the best of intentions, but once one has been some places, once one has seen and done some things, can they ever go back? I have always been a seeker, but I sometimes wonder if I have found too much. There is a certain wisdom in choosing ignorance.
There is beauty and pain in all things and Evan's life was no exception. The idea of uncovering beauty through pain is exemplified by Evan's final quest into the desert. It reminds me of one of my favourite lines from The Alchemist: "Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees". Tanner had this to say about his quest:
I’m hoping that very soon I’ll be sitting out in the quiet of the desert beneath a deep blue midnight sky, listening to the calm desert breeze. The idea going into the desert came to me soon after I moved to Oceanside. It was motivated by my friend Sara’s talk of treasure hunting and lost gold, and my own insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration. I began to imagine what might be found in the deep reaches of the untracked desert. It became an obsession of sorts.
“Treasure” doesn't necessarily refer to something material.
In his search for treasure, he found the ultimate respite and release from all his pains. There was also a price to pay for his belief in the power of one. Taken from a mini documentary about Evan Tanner, Jeff Green, a member of the search and rescue team that found Tanner's body says:
When Mr. Tanner got to Clapp Springs, he could physically see Palo Verde, the question is why did he not call for help? Why did he not focus his attention on Palo Verde. Why did he continue to try and go back to his campsite. Those are questions that bother all of us and our team. Because we look at it like that would've saved his life. That was his rescue. But what bothered me most of all was his thought of 'power of one'. But unfortunately the power of one, not relying on anyone else, that was his fall. That was his fall from the pedestal, his fall from life, without asking for help
Evan Tanner's belief in the power of one was perhaps the most fascinating thing about a most fascinating man. As he said:
Belief in the power of one is the belief that one person can change the world. Believe in yourself. Believe in your own potential for greatness. It is something that is within each of us. Your words and actions resonate resonate out eternally. It reaches one person, then two, then four, and continues to expand out exponentially.
We need to take responsibility for the power that we have, to make sure that our actions and words are worthy and that they stand for something.
The power of ideas is something that cannot be overstated. Each one of us has the capacity to transform ourselves. To create splashes of inspiration that ripple out into the world like a cascading chain reaction of change. Here's a fantastic video illustrating the domino effect that a tiny change can produce
He led a rich life, with many twists and turns. A minimalist, seeker, fighter, philosopher, and more as he mentioned on his ufc.com bio:
I've washed dishes, I've been a baker, I've dug ditches, I've been a salad prep, I've mowed lawns. I've worked at a slaughterhouse, was night security at Big Sky of Montana Ski Resort, worked the ski rental shop for Mammoth Mountain in California. I'm sure I've forgotten a few
And right now, I'm a fighter. In the future, a husband, a father, a lover, a writer, a poet, a philosopher, a teacher, and definitely a surfer again. The best is yet to come.
Even in passing, his message continues to ripple out to those who are listening. Tanner would probably be unapologetic and smiling if he could currently speak to us. This statement, told by Tanner after his struggles with money, gambling, alcohol is a fitting conclusion for a fascinating life that harboured equal amounts of pain and inspiration.
I went for it. I put it all on the line. I always will. I knew what the consequences would be if I failed, and I was willing to accept them. So any of you reading who might be feeling a twinge of sympathy, don't. I made my decisions, and I accept the consequences. I'm no victim. And to those who are thinking about preaching at me, don't bother. I won't hear you. I haven't accomplished anything in this life worth remembering by playing it safe. That's boring to me anyway.