Mar 23 2008

Ivan’s Journey: Into the Wild

Published by at 11:38 am under Ivan's Story,Movies

When I sent out the email announcing this new blog a few weeks ago, I asked for your suggestions about what sort of posts and articles you’d like to read. Among the many excellent suggestions, one consistent request kept coming up: Tell us more about yourself.

You visit my website, read my comments, receive emails from me, so it’s a fair question: Just who is this guy?

What’s his story?

Which roads has he taken?

So maybe I should start to tell you a little about my own journey…

Have you seen the movie “Into the Wild”?

Into the Wild (DVD)

I just rented it a few days ago. It’s the thoughtful, visually stunning, exhilarating, heartbreaking film directed by Sean Penn telling the real-life story Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsh), a young man who, in the early 1990s, abandons his upper-middle-class life and takes to the road in search of something authentic. He donates most of his money to charity, burns the rest, and travels across the heartland and deserts of America before heading north to face the wilds alone in Alaska.

Watching “Into the Wild” was a surreal experience for me. That was me at age 17. I took a journey with surprising parallels to the one in the movie. Like the young man in the movie, I too severed ties with friends and family, traveled through the deserts of the American Southwest, and eventually traveled north with the intention of disappearing “into the wild” of Alaska.

I went through my adolescence in the early 1980s, a time that felt to me like a new Eisenhower era in the US. There was blind dollar worship in Wall Street, students wanted little more than to get their business degrees in college, techno dance pop rattled on the radio. Even the post-punk youth rebellion of the day felt prefabricated.

My assessment of the world was severe and absolute. I saw only facades and numbness in all directions. I was convinced that the adult world awaiting me was populated by the walking dead. Succumbing to normalcy in that culture was, in my eyes, spiritual death.

I wasn’t about to join that world. I was desperate to escape, to find anything that was real, anything that was true and essential.

Thoreau’s challenge filled my thoughts:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Also haunting my thoughts were the shamanic myth-fantasies of Carlos Castaneda. I wanted to see what the rest of the world had become blind to.

I graduated from high school. I was registered to attend the University of Southern California, but I felt college was just an excuse to put off what I came to think of as “real life.” Among the scholarships I earned, I received a small cash scholarship from my old high school. I never told my mother about that one. I quietly pocketed it as escape money. I wanted to disappear before I was caught in the net of college and career and family and death without having lived.

I hit the road. I drove through the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona. Saguaro cacti and spiny ocotillo. Red earth and a sky that threatened to swallow me up. Summer thunderstorms battling across mountaintops. Dirt roads to nowhere. Dusty towns with dry fountains and wind-blasted motels. Noon silences that sucked the breath from my lungs.

I needed the greens of my early childhood growing up in Oregon. But I also wanted the frontier, to find the edge of the world. I formed a new destination in my mind: Alaska!

At the same time, I was afraid of unraveling. The crushing solitude of the desert nearly undid me. I needed a traveling companion. Reluctantly, I temporarily returned home to southern California. I reconnected with a high school friend and convinced him to join me on my Alaskan adventure.

We never made it. Already sick of each other by British Columbia, my friend and I decided to turn back.

And that’s probably a good thing. I was frighteningly naïve, and growing more fragmented with each mile.

That decision to return — to Southern California, to family, to college, to normalcy — felt, at the time, like an utter spiritual failure, dooming me to a life in a flat world. I fell into a severe depression that would take me three years to fully climb out of.

But the entire experience prepared me for the unfolding of a more mature and balanced spiritual journey in my 20s. Though lost, I also found a certain freedom. In retrospect, I was given the gift of being able to rebuild myself, to deliberately mold myself, rather than be defined by the unconscious momentum and accretions of life. That sort of shattering and reconstruction is a common initiatory experience. If you can emerge whole, your sense of self is filled with an intentionality and purpose that most people quietly hunger for.

And by confronting my inability to live the life adventure I had envisioned, I learned that supremely difficult virtue: humility. Humility led to compassion. I dropped my harsh judgments of mundane life. Whether our stories are epic or humble, whether we live on the sharp edges or the flat plains, we are all on an immense journey. Each kind act and simple insight is a great victory.

Slowly, sometimes painfully, I was readying for a deeper journey, one that fit a subtler definition of adventure…

16 responses so far

16 Responses to “Ivan’s Journey: Into the Wild”

  1. Emmaon 24 Mar 2008 at 4:11 am

    Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Janice Wilsonon 24 Mar 2008 at 4:38 am

    Ivan , very good for you to share this !

    maybe it will help 'save' someones life , as in not dying in Alaska or elsewhere …

    alot of young folks loved this movie , the thirst for the Real in life , but don't understand one doesn't have to die trying …. of course their is death involved , death of the arrogant ego , to embrace the Real within ones self , but we need to love our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can .

    Enjoying the supreme gift that life truly is . especially enlightened living ~

    love and best to all

    Real joy awaits all thirsty hearts , We are full of it !

    just need to learn the way within to access it ~

  3. Ivan M. Grangeron 24 Mar 2008 at 5:51 am

    Emma and Janice,

    My genuine pleasure to share some of my story. It's my hope that these posts (and your comments) will help others in their own journey, inspiring… what's the right phrase? …passionate balance.


  4. Joanneon 24 Mar 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Hi everyone,

    Yes, Ivan, humility is such an incredible virtue…it is the key, I think, to really appreciating this gift of life that we all have-whatever form it happens to take in each individual case. Some of the most sublime moments I have experienced have been with my children and partner sitting around our dinner table eating, laughing and chatting. Nothing more 'intense' than that.

    I, too, left family and friends to 'find meaning' fifteen years ago. What I found was loneliness. I realised that I had this 'image' of what it meant to be 'free'. I also realised that the life on the road was not for me so the experience was invaluable. I came home and I realised that ,for me, it is the internal journey that gives meaning to my life. In the words of a wise teacher, "It is never WHAT you do but WHY you do it."

    Thank you, Ivan, for sharing your story and reminding us that we all have a story to tell.

    Warmest regards,


  5. ericon 28 Mar 2008 at 5:36 am


    I embrace these words………. "Humility led to compassion. I dropped my harsh judgments of mundane life. Whether our stories are epic or humble, whether we live on the sharp edges or the flat plains, we are all on an immense journey." Thank you for sharing them. Here are more words. "The ordinary mind is the divine mind." If we can manage going past the words to the reality, then the immense journey looms large and whether our story is epic or humble is irrelevant.

  6. Ivan M. Grangeron 28 Mar 2008 at 7:53 am


    Your statement is one of those perfect summations of real insight–

    "The ordinary mind is the divine mind. If we can manage going past the words to the reality, then the immense journey looms large and whether our story is epic or humble is irrelevant."


  7. Dee Bradshawon 28 Apr 2008 at 6:12 am

    Beautiful writing skill. Loved reading your story. You must write and write and write.

    Dee B

  8. Trishaon 27 Jun 2008 at 5:34 am

    Every time I finish reading the Poetry Chaikhana email I always say quietly, "Thank you, Ivan." But I know you don't hear that, so I just wanted to say it here, Thank you.

  9. Ivan M. Grangeron 28 Jun 2008 at 1:43 am


    I do my best to hear those quiet thank yous anyway. 🙂


  10. Blisson 18 Dec 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Movies with poetry or those which evoke feelings of the sublime:

    The Fountain (very relevant for 2012, Xibalba, mayan calendar) beautiful music also and final incarnation of Hugh Jackman character is a Zen like yogi
    Apocalyto (imagery, storytelling, love, devotion, laughter) indigenous energy of Earth
    The New World, all Terrence Malick films (“there is only this love, all else is a lie) rebirth, catharsis, beautiful music, Mozart, Wagner
    Hero (beautiful soundtrack, calligraphy, philosophy, beauty, meditation)
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    Dreams, Kurosawa (colors, score, contrast, mythology)
    Whalerider (beautiful score, water, song, ceremony, innocence, hope)
    Romeo & Juliet
    Basketball Diaries
    Total Eclispe (bio of Arthur Rimbaud French prodigy)
    The Piano (stunning, beautiful dense writing, words, sound, feeling, color) water, earth energy, tribal
    The Motorcycle Diaries
    The Hours
    Baraka (Sufi word for blessing, shots all over Earth, great opening, music, devotion, nature)
    Last of the Mohicans (end scene beautiful prayer sent into Universe, storytelling)
    Dances With Wolves (final scenes, Wind In His Hair calling out “can you not see that I am your friend/ can you not see that I will always be your friend”)
    Kingdom of Heaven (what does the Holy Land mean? Everything/ nothing
    Kung Fu Panda (some koans)
    Touch of Zen
    Dead Man (black & white, Johnny Depp as William Blake in Americas West)
    Benny and Joon
    Legends of the Fall
    Cinema Paradiso
    Lion King (the baboon is a yogi)
    The Avatar (soon to be a movie)
    Tree of Life (coming soon)
    The Curious Case of Bejamin Button *Christmas Day (I was thinking how nothing lasts and what a shame that is/ some things do)

    without permanence how there be impermanence? emptiness
    without separation how could one be one?
    how could thou be another other than oneself?
    thou art that Ham Sa
    unself Big Self
    Heart Love Bliss
    gone aum

    Thank yu, shanti

  11. Dabrielon 30 Sep 2009 at 7:02 am

    I am doing a class project on you can you give me some biographical information , so i can get an “A”. Thank you so very much.!

  12. Ivan M. Grangeron 01 Oct 2009 at 8:07 am

    Hi Dabriel,
    I’m not sure my life is the best subject for a school report, but I am happy to answer any questions you have. You can find out a few things about me on my Poetry Chaikhana page <>. If you want to know more, feel free to email me with your questions at

  13. Barbara Smith Stoffon 01 Oct 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Ivan. Thank you very much indeed. I am reminded of a poem…which I may have posted here before–in that I have kept this close to hand for some forty years now…it’s by William Stafford…”An Introduction to Literature” he titled it in a poetry journal, circa 1967.


    Look: no one ever promised for sure
    that we would sing. We have decided
    to moan. In a strange dance that
    we don’t understand till we do it, we
    have to carry on.

    Just as in sleep you have to dream
    the exact dream to round out your life,
    so we have to live that dream into stories
    and hold them close at you, close at the
    edge we share, to be right.

    We find it an awful thing to meet people,
    serious or not, who have turned into vacant
    effective people, so far lost that they
    won’t believe their own feelings
    enough to follow them out.

    The authentic is a line from one thing
    along to the next’ it interests us.
    strangely, it relates to what works,
    but it is not quite the same. It never
    swerves for revenge,

    Or profit or fame: it holds
    together something more than the world,
    this line. And we are your wavery
    efforts at following it. Are you coming:
    Good: now it is time.

    –William Stafford

    […so we have to live that dream into stories and hold them close at you, close at the edge we share, to be right…]

  14. Barbara Smith Stoffon 02 Oct 2009 at 6:48 am

    Thank you for the list of movies!!!! Us old folks here have a subscription to netflix…it’s wonderful…I will add these to our list.

  15. leilaon 07 Feb 2010 at 7:37 am

    so strange…:) it is great to know some other people have same feeling about this movie and more beacuse they also lived atleast for a while like Christopher McCandless!! around me not much people have much sympathy about this movie,but it is one of 2 movie i have on my pc!!
    I told one friends that i like this movie and its charactor coz remind me myself, even in family life ,i was kind of rebellion,for me started from my 17-18…..ofcourse more in my mind!….very difficult for girl here to just put everythings behind and go,but i did in my mind and what i could do that i spend most of my time in mountain & traveling, the only way i could go away atleast for a while from home,family,city,all bounds on my hands and feet,also by reading & reading & writing,atlast in 2003 for around 10 months,after i finished my uni,i could go to India ,my dream was to vanish & never come back & for the first time facing myself totaly alone,that was amazing experience but in a way i hurt alot too and they got me back …long story….but when i was in uni i also was so odd i couldn’t even talk with girls in same age with me!!people tought iam mad or somthing is wrong with me….:)) some months back one of my mother’s friend told me “oh,you wasted your life already!” :))

    About “Christopher McCandless”, i think when a person is so brave like him to put all behind ,in phisycal or mental way,(sometimes both i guess work better! )so maybe if he knew about meditation,he could reach to enlightenment & become a buddha,..but who knows what he realy experiensed,and what is exaclty enlightment too! i’m sure if he was alive he was a great poet and healer….and i feel like he lived fully ,nothing wasted,and he sang his song most beautifuly and freely…
    Sometimes i feel as much as we get older we shaped more,became solid,that is a pity, and sometimes we face this truth that we have some limitations which we can not go away from them,no scape from them! seems like running in a circle,so pointless! seems we can not fight all our life! and the best way is to find a balance …..(seems i gave up??! i don’t know!)
    And the only time,at least for me,when still can feel free & floating is when i am moved by a poem or kind of art form,above thoughts ,above myself…. sorry for my english!:) & for talking too much and gave u headache!:)

  16. Lois Holubon 08 Feb 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Thank you Ivan for writing about this part of your life here; so many of us experienced the letting go of our childhood/family/home identity in order to test and search and discover at least a glimpse of who we are without those boundaries seemingly imposed by “others.” It is such a journey. Growing into our lives, as well as inner and outer circumstance, changes the scenery but the journey continues as we learn there is no “other.” The passion to take such risks with our lives — as you, as Chris, as Leila, as many of us did (or still do, or have our own children who do – perhaps in the same ways, or different ways) really brings home the meaning of “precarious” — full of prayers! With wounds of grace and healing compassion we get to share some of our discoveries and mysteries and jokes and songs. Thanks for this generous gift of Chaikhana where we are free to do so. And Leila, thank you for sharing your stories here too! You have not wasted your life, far from it. No matter your circumstances, there are no limits to the love you can receive and pass along from your own heart. As for being thought mad, remember Krishnamurti’s observation: It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society. 😉 Much love and thanks.

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