A change of direction

I’m not really sure why, but most of the time I do my local circular walk, I do it anticlockwise. Tonight I turned right instead of left.

It never ceases to amaze me how different changing direction can make things look. This is why I am never bothered about having to do an out and back walk, the view is always different on the way back.

[Walking in “the golden hour” and a full moon can even improve HS2 boreholes!]

Reflections

I get glimpses, occasionally, of just how much my experience of the world is me reflecting back on myself.

What I notice, what I like, what I recoil from, it is all me.

Sure there is a “real” world out there. If I get hit by a car it will hurt.

But even that experience, what it means, how I respond to it, my state of mind as my last thought passes through my head as that solid object snuffs me out…

All of that is my consciousness filtering and sorting the only experience of life and the universe I will ever have.

Realising this changes your attitude to what is.

Weather

It fascinates me how some people get bent out of shape when the weather isn’t what they expect it to be. Especially as weather forecasting gets better there is now this feeling of being let down when the weather isn’t what “They said it would be…”.

But there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. Sure we all love it when there are blue skies, and endless grey days get us down, but the weather will be what the weather will be whatever “they” say or we feel. Getting bent out of shape about it just adds to our suffering.

Bit like life really…

We are the world

“Nothing is so much food, drink, and sleep for you as the return to your beginnings. The wave roars around you, and you are wave; the forest rustles, and you are forest. There is no more outside and inside. You fly, a bird in the air; you swim, a fish in the sea; you absorb light, and you are light; you taste darkness and are darkness. We wander, soul, we swim and fly, and smile and tie the torn threads and with ghostly fingers and blissfully drown out the destroyed pinions. We no longer seek God. We are God. We are the World.”

~ Hermann Hesse, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (via David Kanigan)

Don’t feed your inner troll.

We all have one, even me! Ready to pounce at a moment’s notice on any internet ignoramus. “How on earth can you think that?” “You clearly haven’t read the thousands of books that I have that prove incontrovertibly that you are wrong.” “Can’t you see that I have just proved how intellectually superior I am?”
“How dare you…[insert here your favourite flavour of righteous indignation]?”

Especially that last one is hard to resist. It’s what social media is designed to trigger. I call Facebook and Twitter indignation engines and it is why I spend much less time on them these days.

But indignation is a bit like people who are vehemently homophobic of whom I always think ” Have you never stopped to wonder why it bothers you so much what other people do in their beds?” Similarly why does it bother you so much that someone sees the world differently from you? Are your views so fragile? Is your inner troll a sensitive little soul who is easily hurt?

Don’t be fooled. Your inner troll is out to make you and everyone else miserable. If you don’t feed him he will eventually die. And then we can all live happily ever after.

Clueless

I increasingly notice the things that I think I understand but really have no clue about.

Science has done so much for us but the biggest downside is thinking that it explains everything. I often talk about this with the kids, that we are fooled into thinking that because we have words like conception, and gestation, and cells, and DNA and on and on that we “understand” where new life comes from. Looking at them and falling into the trap of thinking that it had anything to do with it I realise that I have literally NO CLUE as to how things really work. I have all the words but no real understanding.

The same is true as I look out of my, rather grubby, window this morning at the sun rising over the horizon. I know about photons, and energy, and molecules and on and on… but I have NO CLUE as to what is really happening before my very eyes as life awakens under the gentle blush of that remote star.

I am coming to the conclusion that the greatest casualty of the scientific world view is wonder, the ability to be truly humbled by the wonderfulness of this planet and our life on it. Wonder is not some reverence for an imaginary beardy guy in the sky but it is a celebration of not knowing, of being part of something so much bigger than our small self, and of allowing what is to be simply bloody amazing.

Getting nowhere faster

I was going to do a post with some photos from my walk this morning about how lucky we are to have such beautiful countryside around our house. Literally out of the front door. And we are.

But then it started…

If you turn up the volume as you watch the video at the end of this post the racket you can hear is the sound of an HS2 piledriver knocking holes in our beautiful landscape. All in the name of getting nowhere faster.

Goals and targets

Talking about goals and targets may seem at odds with yesterday’s post about idling but far from it. Idling is less about doing nothing and more about being really choosy about what you do. One of the things I choose to do is walk, and I want to do more of it.

I know I want to walk more. I want to walk further and in more places. But this doesn’t just happen, I need to plan and I need to build habits.

Country Walking magazine has an annual challenge of walking 1,000 miles and I was on the brink of signing up for it. 1,000 miles is equivalent to walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats and works out at just over two miles a day. Two miles a day is nothing, but miss a day and it becomes five, more of a challenge. Miss a couple days and even with longer walks, say fifteen miles as I did the other day, and you are still struggling to catch up. So all of a sudden this challenge, that is a good thing in that it gets you out and walking, can easily turn into a grind.

When on my abortive Munro bagging trip before Christmas the thought occurred to me that life is too short to spend it driving up and down the M6 and grinding up another 230 or so hills. But then if I don’t I miss all those fabulous hills!

My friend Dave Snowden amazes me in many ways and his ability to set himself walking challenges (like all round the Welsh border, all of the Wainwrights, the South West Coast Path and on and on) in spite of a busy work schedule is the one that most impresses me. He is going to die having done more amazing walks than me, and that gets to me.

So back to goals and targets. Does having them make us more likely to get off our arses and achieve things – or does it turn life into mindless tick lists, grinding obligation, and a fear of not having ticked enough boxes?

I’m not sure, what do you think?

Idling

One of my favourite books is How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson. As one reviewer says “It’s not really about being idle per se, but simply allowing yourself to slow down, enjoy life and family, and resist the relentless pressures of consumerism, social conformity, fear of financial failure, and so on”

Through a combination of circumstances, good fortune, and choice I am currently mostly idling. I have been for some time. I may continue for some more time.

I have written often about the cultural pressure to be busy, to be making an impact, and how this pressure is overheating our lives, our societies, and (literally) the planet.

I am convinced that the next wave of automation will hit knowledge workers in much the same way as mechanical automation hit the factory production line. For those of you who are currently very busy, and perhaps outraged by my flagrant time wasting, consider it research undertaken on your behalf.

On the other hand I like the idea of an engine idling shortly before it bursts into life and roars off in a new direction. This may happen to me – or it may not.

Nine years

I watched a documentary about David Bowie’s time as Ziggy Stardust and the words from the song Five Years have been running through my head ever since – except I’ve been singing it as nine, not five. Maybe a Freudian slip.

Nine years would take me up to three score years and ten, my conventionally allotted time on this planet. But with a ninety one year old dad and a mum who made it to eighty seven – who knows.

But time has got very slippery these days. Days, weeks, months and years merge into one another. Images will pop up of work trips to the US, or Australia in the Photos widget on my phone and not only will I struggle to remember when the trip happened, the very fact that it did is becoming increasingly unreal.

All I know with any certainty is that I get up, stuff happens, and I go to sleep, over and over again. The past is a dream that I have here and now, the future a fantasy that likewise is a figment of my imagination that I experience here and now.

My very last moment will be just the same and it may happen tomorrow, in nine years, or thirty. I will wake up, stuff will happen, then I will go to sleep…

Sitting in judgement

It is such a shame that the prevailing assumption seems to be that management are there to judge whether people have done their jobs well enough or not. In fact it is worse than that. It often creeps into the both parties feeling as if the judgement is not just that they have made a mistake but that they themselves are somehow intrinsically not good enough.

We are trained into this in school. We take for granted the idea that if you don’t get good enough grades in your exams you have failed but this slips unnoticed into you not being good enough as a person and also that someone else is in a position to judge this to be the case.

But failing at things is how we learn. We never get anything right first time. By pretending otherwise we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn. We then stop taking chances and stop growing just in case we are judged a failure.

We know when we have made a mistake, and more often than not we know where we went wrong. We don’t need someone else to tell us that. But we often end up giving in to the prevailing culture, not taking responsibility for our actions, and wait for someone else to do it for us.

We all fail at things all the time but none of it is any indication of our intrinsic worth as a person. Giving in and letting others take responsibility is!

Normal

I’ve been thinking again about the pernicious power of the word normal. The idea that there is some acceptable way that we should be in the world, or that other people should, is the source of so much misery.

How many teenagers have killed themselves because they didn’t fit in to other people’s idea of how they could be? How many genocides have been committed because other people have not been “normal” like us?

And yet it is all made up. There is no such thing as normal. We are all different and we all see the world differently. The sooner we realise that the happier we will all be.

Déjà Vu

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Often when I start to write a post I am aware that I have almost certainly written a similar post before. But I have learned over the years not to worry about it. My thoughts on the topic may have changed, those reading it will have changed, the current context will have changed, and even if nothing has changed we all think the same thoughts over and over again and that in itself is interesting.

The photo above is of a tree that I must have walked past thousands of times in the 30 years we have lived here. But every time I walk my local route the tree has changed, the weather has changed, I have changed, and even if it looks like nothing has changed the tree is still beautiful.

I love Queer Eye

If you haven’t seen Queer Eye, it is a reality TV show where five experts go in to help someone adjust their life to overcome challenges they face.

The choice of the five experts is perfect and they help the subject of show with tact and sensitivity. Antoni (food), Tan (fashion), Karamo (relationships), and Bobby (design) are all gay and Jonathan (personal grooming) is just Jonathan!

The people they help are usually those considered outsiders by society in some way and you almost always start the show very aware of the differences and the unhappiness they cause. By the end though you always come back to the shared humanity that has been hidden by prejudice and judgement.

As I get older I am increasingly convinced that the idea of “normal” is one of the most widespread, pernicious, and damaging of our shared cultural inheritance. I love that the show blows the idea apart.

A couple if days ago we started watching the new series and the second one, about a trans woman called Angel, had me in floods of tears. She was so smart, so pretty and so happy as a woman but her dad had never come to terms with her decision to transition from the sporty boy he had thought he was bringing up. The moment when they were reconciled and hugged each other sobbing was what got me and tipped me over the edge.

Culture burdens us with rules about how we should be in the world and it takes real courage to step away from them. Often we don’t even know who we really are outside of this inherited baggage of ideas.

Seeing two people who really loved each other having the courage to let those rules fall away to reveal their shared humanity was so powerful and moving.

Like I said, I love Queer Eye.

Connie the Campercar

My overnight stop at Bridge Of Orchy.

One of this blog’s readers asked if I could go into more detail about our campervan and, while I promise all my posts from now on won’t be about our van, here we go.

We’d been tempted to get a motorhome of some sort for years and in fact rented a four berth one a couple of years ago and took it to the south of France. But it was too big. Too big to park anywhere we wanted, too big to go up all the roads we wanted to, and too big to park on our front drive. So we started looking at campervans, modifications of commercial vans with a pop up top. The most iconic of these is the VW California and we were initially seduced by the branding and image. They are very expensive and buying one was going to really stretch our finances but we decided to go ahead. The night before we were about to commit I realised that I hadn’t actually sat in the front of one with the top down. It’s just as well, because at the eleventh hour, when I turned up at the dealers for this final check, I discovered that I don’t fit! My height is in my back and there is no way I can sit in the front seat of a VW California!

So, this took us down the route of looking at other campervan conversions and led us to Sussex Campervans and the Nissan NV200 which we now proudly own. It is very small, smaller than many SUVs, and Sussex call it a “camper car”. This means that we can park it anywhere we like, even a multi story car parks, we can drive it down the smallest of lanes, and it fits easily on our front drive. As Nissan no longer import the diesel manual NV200 on which the conversion was originally based ours is a petrol automatic imported directly from Japan with about 4000 miles on the clock. Sussex Campervans have been doing the conversions for about nine years and have got it down to a fine art.

Getting ready for a modest “car warming” party for some neighbours.

The van has a rotatable passenger front seat and a rear seat with two seatbelts which really quickly and easily converts into a comfortable double bed. There is also a 50l fridge, a cooker with two gas hobs, a sink, more cupboard space than we know what to do with, and a pop-up roof where we could sleep another couple of people at a push. There is a plumbed LPG gas tank which fuels the cooker and a very effective climate controlled heater. There is also a large leisure battery and a solar panel on the roof so we can apparently survive “off grid” and without moving (which would normally charge both batteries) for up to three days.

Me drying out my walking gear after a wet and windy day in the highlands.

What the van gives us is complete flexibility. We can use it as the family car with an option to stop wherever and whenever we choose, but it is also easily up to the job of longer trips. I’ve already used it for a week in Scotland and a weekend in Wales and Penny and I have had overnight stays in The New Forest and Dorset. Even in winter with cold wet weather it has been really comfortable. Once the weather gets warmer, if COVID regulations allow, I’ll head south with it, park it somewhere nice, in The South of France, or Spain, or maybe Italy and Croatia, and Penny can fly down and join me for a long weekend or longer holiday.

The fit and finish of the van is superb (a friend who recently rented a VW says ours was much better fitted out) and Sussex Campervans have been a delight to deal with. Despite COVID restrictions, the van getting stuck on a boat in The Suez Canal, and Brexit changes slowing down the supply of parts, they bust a gut to get the van to us with as little delay as possible and have been incredibly supportive and helpful as we discover the joys of this new toy.

You can see the company owner Daniel explaining how the van works in this video and you might enjoy the various useful posts on their web site.

The road to nowhere

I wrote yesterday’s post lying in my bed. At my Dad’s. Not that I have a bed in my Dad’s house but now that we have our little campervan I can be lying in my bed anywhere.

In fact I was there to “take my Dad somewhere”. He had chosen to spend Christmas and New Year alone and, predictably it had got him down.  Getting out the house and going somewhere, anywhere, seemed like a good thing. In fact my taste for going places came from him and the motorbike trips we used to do together.

Penny and I got the van to enable us to go lots of places. We love going places. Unlike me though she is still in full time work so it’s going to be me who is going even more places, hopefully lots and lots of them.

But I am always aware of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s truism that “wherever you go there you are”. Add to that that “the grass is always greener”, and “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive” and you get some sense of the excitement tinged with realism, that I feel as we grow into our use of our new toy and set off on our road to nowhere.

I have always loved going places and being places. I am lucky enough to have traveled the world with my speaking career. But the paradox is that as I get better at being present, not escaping this moment by living in the future or the past, I will be spending more time now, here, the only time we ever have, and I will be spending it wherever I am – like it or not!

[The photo was taken at dawn on top of The South Downs on one of my first trips]

Scratching the blogging itch

I’ve been missing blogging – missing having a reason to get my thoughts and reactions to life down in writing where I can see them, and, yes, missing sharing them.

I have surprised myself by how little I have been missing social media. I miss the connection it affords with my friends around the world, but I haven’t missed the “indignation engine” that it has mostly become.

I have been writing in my personal diary, Day One, but there is less reason to do so when the only person reading it is going to be some future me.

So I’ve decided to scratch the itch again and to do so regularly. Not as some sort of New Year’s resolution that I can fail to sustain beyond February, but in an attempt to rediscover the joys of blogging and to reach out to the many people around the world that I am fortunate to know.

[I am going to experiment with sharing these posts on the social media platforms as a means of reaching out but will hope to focus any ensuing conversation on the blog itself]

Rest in peace Rageboy

I’ve just learned, from a lovely post by AKMA, of the death of Chris Locke aka Rageboy. One of the Cluetrain authors and writer of the wonderful EGR blog he had a huge influence on my early enthusiasm for blogging and in fact I brought him over from the US to talk to an assembled group of senior BBC folks. Chris didn’t let me down and no one ever forgot the event!

So sad that such a brilliant mind and lovely bloke had such a hard last few years. Very sad.

Memories

I decided to have a touristy day today. Travelling past hills I’ve climbed is always dodgy as I need to remember to keep my eye on the road but had a great trip past Loch Tulla, through Glen Coe, through Ballachulish, down the coast to Connel, then back along Loch Awe to Tyndrum.

These were also roads my dad and I knew like the back of our hands in our biking days when we barely gave the hills a glance as we screamed past at silly speeds. One time when I was on the back of his bike he reduced me to tears drifting the back wheel round the tight, twisting bends just north of Loch Lomond.

Today I felt very sedate pootling along in my little camper.

Nah…

Oh well, I got about 2/3 of the way up Ben Vane today and then turned back. A number of reasons. It’s a couple of years since I’ve been up a hill and I’m out of shape, it’s pretty steep all the way and there had already been a couple of bits that I didn’t fancy reversing as tired as I was, and as there was another hour’s worth at least of climbing I decided better not.

Add to this the fact the weather was coming in and getting colder, wetter, and windier. By the time I got back down to the van it was, to use a technical term, shit.

A grand day out all the same as you can see from the photographs.

Finally…

Not only is it “Finally I’ve written another blog post”, but more importantly, finally after Covid, Brexit, and Suez incurred delays we at last took possession of our new camper car a couple of weeks ago. Since then we’ve had a really nice overnight in The New Forest, and I’ve done a couple of other overnights, but this is the first multi-day trip.

As you will see from the photographs I’m at the northern end of Loch Lomond, in the car park opposite Inveruglas power station. The hill you can see behind the photograph of the powerstation is Ben Vane which I’m going to go up tomorrow. It’s a lovely quiet car park with views down the loch and at this time of year is free to park in.

I’ve got a few days to play with and, depending on how knackered I am after the first Munro tomorrow (it’s been more than a year since my last hill) I will try to get a few more in this week.

When 2+2 = 5

I have written and spoken many times about the risk of the data collected on our behalf at some time in the future being combined in ways that we don’t know about, can do nothing about, but affect our ability to do things. This could be databases that in themselves at the time don’t appear contentious, but when combined in the future are perceived to have meaning that couldn’t be anticipated.

I have just had a small taste of this. For some completely unknown reason Google suspended my YouTube account – and I genuinely can’t think of, or imagine, what might have triggered this. (Since reinstated with no explanation). Thankfully it wasn’t an issue as I stopped trusting Google years ago and don’t use any of their products other than YouTube. However, if I did rely on their services, having them suddenly withdrawn without an apparent reason could cause considerable difficulty.

As it is the impact was minimal, other than reinforcing my instincts not to touch Google with a bargepole.

Old man’s hands.

It is strange to look down at my own hands resting in my lap and see old man’s hands. How did that happen?

I am very lucky. I have the sort of skin that doesn’t age or wrinkle much (it drives my wife nuts).

If I put in a bit of effort I can still be relatively slim.

And someone I met the other day thought that I was younger than them and they were 50! (I am 61)

All the same, age creeps up on you…

Good works

I remember being in Amsterdam many years ago and looking at the canals and the town houses and the evidence of the growth of the industrious mindset. I was struck by the amount of activity and energy that it took to manufacture, sell, and distribute things all around the world and the wealth that was created in the process.

But it is that whole Protestant, Northern European, urge to have an impact on the world, to improve the world, that has ended up with us having a huge and damaging impact on the planet. And has it made us any happier?

I contrasted this with the efforts of an Indian swami who rather than impacting the world outside attempts to explore and change the world inside. The inward journey alters how we react to the world, how we interact with the world, and that activity, collectively, over time changes the world. But it changes it in a very different way. It is not forcing it to be any way particularly, to bend to our will. It changes through our behaviour, our actions, our relationships to each other and to nature.

We held a memorial service for my mum on Saturday (it had been delayed by COVID). Sitting in her church, with her nice, good, friends around me made think again about her inclination to be good and to do good in the world. Through her Christian faith she had a high standard to meet up to which she didn’t always achieve and I certainly didn’t. That feeling that I’ve never been good enough, that I needed to improve, was imbued in me from an early age. It is probably the single biggest bit of baggage that I have to learn to get rid off. Even after 61 years I am still trying.

A lot of the mindfulness stuff in fashion these days, mostly because it is being driven by the American culture, feels like a reinvention of the Protestant good works in the world mentality. It’s all about improvement, self improvement, improving the world.

But what is fascinating when you get into this is that the problem isn’t the improvement bit it is the self bit. It is the false self, the created self, the combination of all of our stories and should’s and shouldn’t’s and enculturated norms that we selfishly protect and that we try to make the world fit in with. That is the problem. That is the source of all of our suffering. In the absence of that false self we get to be the real us, the calm peaceful loving self that remains when you strip everything else away. And if we all manage to do that then the world becomes a better place.

Sitting quietly in a room on my own

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

– Blaise Pascal

Currently my family are on holiday in Devon and I am at home looking after the cat. Well, that was my excuse. I actually wanted to spend time on my own and to take the opportunity to do nothing.

It is surprising how difficult it is to do nothing. Our brains don’t like being left to their own devices. It is fascinating what they do to try and avoid this. Just sitting, as the Zen tradition refers to meditation, is ridiculously difficult. The temptation to get up and do something, to pick up my phone and read something, to feel justified in tidying up or tinkering, or to replay events from the past, is enormous.

But doing nothing doesn’t half teach you about yourself. You get to learn what occupies the constant stream of chatter in your head. You get to see what you think is incredibly important, and what isn’t. You get to peel back the layers on what you think. Layers upon layers…

The idea is that by stripping back these endless layers of chatter, self obsessed thinking, culturally induced guilt, and on and on … that you finally get to the calm, peaceful, contented true nature that we hide from ourselves.

I’m not there yet …

What do I believe?

The book I am reading about writing at the moment suggests starting with big or important questions. So…

What do I believe?

I fall at the first hurdle with this question as I am wary of beliefs and more inclined to attempt to see or understand truth, which by all accounts eventually reduces to “I am”. Everything else is concept or opinion which if held strongly enough over a long enough period of time turns into a belief.

The other forms of belief are those handed down from other people as dogma or doctrine and I am even less inclined to place any importance in those.

But there are also some deeply held ideas of how the world works that I am probably not even aware of. These are the ones that I “believe” are just how the world is and considering alternatives is genuinely inconceivable. What are these? 

That being good matters.  

That it is important that we try to be good.

That people who don’t try to be good are not good. 

That I am not good enough.

That I therefore have to constantly try to be better. 

That life means something even though I don’t know what that is.

That there isn’t a god. 

That nature is all powerful.

Maybe that nature IS god.

If anything I am wary of beliefs. They feel artificial and rigid, but the ones that I am unaware of holding are likely the most rigid of them all because I don’t even know that I have them 

The problem with religion

Religions are based on the same core insight, the perennial philosophy, that we are not separate from the world around us and that thinking we are is the source of our suffering.

This insight was experienced by exceptional individuals, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and the principles of what they discovered were shared, usually in a simplified, concretised, watered down form to make them accessible.

Over time these initially helpful practices are turned into rules and dogma (by rule keepers who thereby achieve power and who often interpret the rules differently even within a religion) and we arrive in the position that “if you don’t follow the rules you can’t be in our team”.

Sadly this reinforces the idea of separation and we end up where we started, suffering.

Time

There is nothing quite like a birthday to make you contemplate the passage of time. But this year it’s getting weird.

I’ve been aware that our experience of time is subjective since discovering Einstein and relativity, but as I get better at being present in this moment, the only “time” we ever truly experience, the more unreal the past, and indeed the future, are becoming.

  • Have I really been around for 61 years?
  • Are the little people I see in family photos really my now grown up daughters?
  • Have I really been to all those fascinating places and are they all still there?
  • Is my Mum really no longer at the end of the phone waiting for me to tell her about my latest adventures?

I am less and less sure of all of the above with the passing of each day. Maybe it’s my age…

Busily getting nowhere

It is so interesting to notice what I resist throughout the day. As I get better at noticing my thoughts and emotions it is apparent that what winds me up is lots and lots of little things. Drivers on the way to the station, the way “some people” put rubbish in the teabag bowl, the way that my todo list manager works, someone’s responses in a chat about Buddhism.

It is a constant stream of “this shouldn’t be like this” chatter that induces stress, makes no impact on the world, takes energy that could be better spent on other things, and in the end gets me absolutely nowhere.

Fitting in

We are all pretending to be something we’re not.

We fit in to our parents’ expectations when we’re toddlers.

We fit in to the norms of our peers at school, or conform to the role of our idealised heroic loner.

We fit in to the roles expected of us as adults – husband, parent, dependable worker, boss.

But none of this is who we are.

The real us is the bit that knows that this process of inculturation is happening, that watches it taking over our lives, that regrets the pretence.

Fantasy

“I live in a world that is completely seamless between the two. Fantasy is the real story. The world in which we live is structured from notions that are completely fabricated; your clothes, your wallet, that we all agree that pieces of paper are worth something. Geography is a complete fabrication. Where does Mexico start and America end? From space, nowhere. We agree to kill each other, to tax each other, to shame each other from notions that are complete fabrications. To me, those are harmful fantasies. Whereas my fantasies are liberating.”
– Guillermo Del Toro

H/T Whiskey River

Thinking

When I was young my dad would accuse me of “thinking too much”. Ironically you could argue that I’ve made my living for the last 16 years by thinking!
But what he meant was the sort of ruminative thinking that you just turn over in your head, over and over again. The sort of thinking that he has struggled with all of his life. We all do. Clinging onto some worry, or slight, or threat and attempting to beat it to death with thought.

It is really hard to stop doing this, especially when you’re not aware of it, if you think it’s just the way that things are. But it needn’t be. This is one thing that meditation has taught me. Not all the time, but some of the time, I am able to step back, to notice that I’m stuck in ever decreasing circles, and in the noticing of this its power begins to diminish.

We tend to avoid sitting thinking by making ourselves busy but that can be problem in itself. We can use busyness as a way to run away from ourselves. Especially nowadays when it is all too easy to pick up our phones to stave off “boredom”. In fact many of us have very few moments in the day when we actually stop completely.

Lockdown has given me the opportunity to stop more than usual. It can be a challenge. Echoing my dad I can have “too much time to think”. But as I get better at noticing when my thoughts career out of control, and better at bringing myself back to “just sitting”, the better equipped I feel to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Off Kilter

I have always felt that we know deep down when what we are doing is wrong. Wrong for us or wrong for other people. We don’t need Ten Commandments or a Noble Eightfold Path because we know if what we are doing is causing harm to ourselves and others. Expecting other people in the form of dogma to force us to do the right thing is a hiding to nothing.

Likewise we know deep down what is good for us. I knew that stopping smoking was something I should do and the deepest part of me “just decided” and told the more conscious part of me to shut up and get over it. The same happened with stopping drinking and giving up meat. The part of me that has my best interests at heart knew what to do even if my chattering monkey didn’t.

We know when we are off kilter, when we are out of tune with the universe and the way it works. Call it God if you like, or consciousness, or nature but we are aware when our lives are in tune with what makes the planet turn and the plants grow.

We can learn to listen to this all too often hidden part of us if we could just sit still long enough…

Noticing

One thing that lockdown has given me is an increased ability to notice the world around me. Instead of jetting off to new and exciting places, or even driving hundreds of miles to new and exciting hills, I have been “stuck with” walking the same local walks over and over again. And I have loved it! Each walk I notice something different.

Sometimes it is something small, like the first bluebells, at the side of the path. Sometimes it is the changes in the path itself as the weather changes and the mud dries. Sometimes it is a horse who I have admired many times in the distance but who yesterday decided to come over and say hello.

Sometimes it is the light on the many views I am lucky enough to enjoy. Yesterday these were stunning and several times, on a walk I have done hundreds of times over the nearly thirty years that we have lived here, I was stopped in my tracks and left just saying “Wow” over and over to myself.

Spring springing

A part of me always misses the winter as it passes into memory. The wind and the rain and the snow bring their own excitement. But walking in the warm air today, with the bluebells beginning to flower and the dry paths a joy to walk on, there was a definite spring in my step. Even the red kites seemed elated at the clear skies and the warmth.

Being told what to do

Last night I had a dream that I was being asked what to do by a young man who had built a business on the strengthen his own skills but was on the brink of having to take on the management of others.

I didn’t tell him what to do. I told him stories of my own experiences of managing others. I remembered that many had expected me to tell them what to do but that I resisted. My job was to explain and give context and then get out of the way as they worked out what needed done.

The same is true of life. All too often we expect someone else to tell us what to do, whether some beardy guy in the sky, some ex-pat Tibetan Lama, or the latest self help guru. We want to be told what to do to make everything all right.

But it doesn’t work like that. It is our life and we have to work it out for ourselves. We can listen to their stories, and we can learn from their experiences, but it is the working it out that is the point.

Miss that and we miss life.

Management

I have been known in the past to be disparaging of management but when you see it done well it is clear just what a difference good management can make.
Every time I ate in a Pret A Manger (in the dim and distant past) I used to marvel at how consistent the food was, how pleasant the staff were, how dependable the whole experience was and think “None of this happens without fantastic management putting in place effective procedures and getting staff on board with acting them out consistently”.
I think the same every time I get a message from a logistics company telling me when something will arrive, increasingly down to the nearest half an hour! Having spent my time driving I got to see first hand what this takes in terms of management, incredibly efficient systems, staff focus, training etc.
Good managers are worth their weight in gold. Staff know this as well, if not better, than anyone. Sadly what too often happens is that once in that select club bad managers are allowed to coast and can do untold harm to both their organisations and the staff who work in them. In fact rather than rooting out poor performing staff, doing something about underperforming management could have an exponentially greater effect.
But the divide between staff and management is like a class barrier where culturally it is easier to deal with staff, because that is your job, than with other managers, because they are your peers. Add to this that managers managers have come up through the system with the same mindset and you have a real problem that can only really be addressed from the top.
As I said, it is impressive when it is.