It is said that culture is all you have when you have forgotten everything. Culture is you, your true essence, the basic code that makes you function and live.
Stefano Gregoretti has recently returned from the adventure he attempted together with Dino Lanzaretti, “Siberia 105th” is the bike and SUP expedition to the coldest parts of the planet, and the 105 degrees indicates the temperature range in those regions, between Ojmjakon to Verchojansk, the two coldest villages in the world, and the Yena River, which were expected to rise next summer with temperatures as high as 38°C. These data to give you an idea of the environmental context which, in the case of Gregoretti and Lanzaretti, is never extreme out of provocation but to say something very clear: we risk destroying the planet, we risk upsetting it with our carelessness and selfishness.
As powerful as this message is, it is not what I want to talk about today. A few weeks after giving up going forward because of the impossible conditions that would unnecessarily endanger their lives, Stefano wrote a post on Instagram of those that you read and, when you get to the end, you think, “Okay, breathe and think about what you just read. And now read it again.”
This is the title of the post, “ON/OFF.” On and off. As if we were machines or electronic devices, we function. Within society, for our friends, family, loves we are either on or off. You might think that someone who rides a bike in -67°C would consider comfortable life as off and only turn on when he is at the limit of survival and exertion. But he is never predictable. For Stefano to get to the limit is to switch off. Not obviously with respect to himself but with respect to the rest of the world.
We do not have to prove anything. We just need to switch off; get back to the basic needs of life: starting a fire, finding water, eating, surviving.
“To “switch off” means to come to the point of no longer being a functioning and functional being in society, to start being for oneself, in a dimension where there is you and the most extreme nature, you and everything else. When Gregoretti speaks of turning off he therefore means to turn on in another context: in himself.
Automatically after 3 days of this life you understand what you really need. You forget all PINs, your phone number, even your house number. You are no more bombarded.
What distance does being on measure from being off? Within a few days of returning to civilization, Stephen returns to being immersed in the flow of civilization, much of which is beyond his control. He is turned on again, however, it is now clear to him what difference there is between what is important when you are on and when you are off: when you are on all the things that do not affect you intimately and that others decide matter, when you are off only the essence, survival, life matter.
We only learned ON and OFF. To give importance to the things that have it and not give it to those that do not. That’s just what big spaces teach you where you are an ant, and that’s why we go and “get lost.” ON and OFF-it’s all there the secret to being better.
When you “switched off” and returned to the essentials (or found, perhaps for the first time in your life, the essentials) you are faced with a question: “How much are you really worth? What can you really do? Who are you really?“. Being able to start a fire at that moment is the greatest asset, surviving is existential, and nothing is more valuable than being able to do so. You have forgotten everything except yourself. You are left with your culture and yourself: what you are worth because that is who you are. As Stefano says, “The most epic of journeys is the one within ourselves.”
To return to the essentials, to switch off-but in a positive sense-means to find oneself, after eliminating all the superfluous, all the noise, all that is unnecessary. The essential defines you, the essential is you.
(Cover photo: Instagram account of Stefano Gregoretti)