Explorers of the Infinite
Reviewed by Heidi Boudro
Explorers of the Infinite, by Maria Coffey, is subtitled The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes and What They Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communication, and Touching the Beyond. Many of the extreme athletes quoted in the book are mountaineers; others are snowboarders, skiers, divers, sailors, kayakers, BASE jumpers, and skydivers.
Coffey, owner of an adventure travel company and author of twelve books, has written previously about mountaineers, including Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure. In Fragile Edge, she wrote a personal memoir about the disappearance of her boyfriend, well-known mountaineer Joe Tasker, on Mount Everest. Many of the subjects in her books about extreme adventure are her personal friends.
What I know about mountain climbing is limited to having read Michael Herzog's Annapurna years ago, but I'm familiar with the literature of the paranormal. Explorers of the Infinite is in the pastiche style frequently seen in books about psychic experience: anecdotes; topic-chaining; quotations from the humanities, cutting-edge science, Buddhism; summaries of parapsychological research. Instead of this format, I would have preferred in-depth interviews with the athletes that would include more context about their lives.
But I was fascinated by the brilliance of bringing together the topics: extreme adventure and psychic (and spiritual) experience.
Some of the more curious of the mysterious experiences in Explorers of the Infinite:
An ice climber must hike all night to get help for a horribly injured climbing partner. He follows a blue light that dances ahead of him; at times he turns off his headlamp to look for it. It leads him out of a canyon to a place where he can call for a helicopter.
In a dangerous nighttime blizzard, a mountaineer is guided to a snow bridge ("a needle in a haystack") by the spirit presence of someone he knows: another climber, an acquaintance who had died on the same mountain.
A husband and wife team is filming a caribou migration in Alaska; they follow the herd on foot for some five months. They have precognitive dreams about the caribou; they sense low vibrations they call "thrumming" to find and follow the herd; they eventually join the herd and travel among the caribou. The local native people say that these experiences were familiar to their elders and that "there was a time when people talked to caribou, and caribou talked back."
Coffey makes the point that the experiences of the extreme athletes and adventurers resemble the experiences of traditional shamans, which alike involve fear, suffering, and focus. "Is reaching a state of spiritual transcendence the fundamental lure of extreme adventure?" she asks.
Copyright © 2009 by Heidi Boudro