A different moment, a different world

Prompted by my Apple Watch fitness challenge I am walking between five and six miles a day for the whole of November. I do the same loop from my home which has been enabled by roadworks in Chesham meaning that the usually busy main road that we live on is really quiet.

Doing the same walk each day could be thought of as boring, and I occasionally go for long periods without doing my local walks for this reason, but boring is in the eye of the beholder! Just getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other you realise that boring is just a thought. Even if that thought passes through your head you still take the next step and in moments, boring has turned into fascinating.

Rememberance Day

I often look at local village memorials where the dead from WWI are recorded and think of all the life sucked from those quiet places.

I ache when I think of parents whose children will never get to live their lives thanks to some misguided political posturing or protection of commercial interests in an unknown part of the world.

And every day, when I walk past Hyde House just along the road from us where burn victims from the RAF in WWII were treated, I think of those who have to live with the scars – both inside and out.

I find much to grieve but little to celebrate.

Bursting power bubbles

I keep thinking of the 70 million or so Americans who voted for Trump and how easy it is to be blind to them or to stereotype them. It was the inability of the media and those conventionally expected to assume power to understand them or relate to them that got Trump elected in the first place.

They are not going to go away. It is going to take a lot of skill and courage to bridge the gap that has opened up in American society.

The same risks exist everywhere. A broadly liberal educated “elite” making assumptions about the rest of the world. You see the same thing watching conservative politicians here in the UK completely misjudging communication around COVID and making assumptions about the people that they are talking down to.

It was different in the old days when politicians had to get out into the world to connect with potential voters. Encountering real face to face dissent and difference. Grappling with the consequences of their actions for real people and not just numbers in polls.

They all need to get out more.

Enthusiasm

There is nothing quite like watching Alby bounding up the garden to say hello.

Now that we have let him off his lead and free to wander he keeps coming back to check on how we are. Sure this might be anthropomorphising but it is hard to see what else it is. He will see us waving at him from inside the house, run the length of the garden as we hold the door open for him, come in and miaow a couple of times, turn around, and go back out again.

I realise that this will come as no surprise to those of you with cats, and those of you who have been extolling their virtues to me for years, but as someone who assumed that all cats were disdainful and aloof this level of enthusiasm has come as something of a revelation.

Strictly

There are many things that I love about Strictly Come Dancing: the amazing production skills; the amazing live music; watching people learn a new skill and get really bitten by the dancing bug.

But the biggest delight is watching many of them discover things about themselves that they may have kept buried for years if not their whole lives.

There are a couple of contestants this year who you can see are going to open up and deal with aspects of their approach to life that will transform them. This happens every season on Strictly. This is what makes it so compelling.

Time travel

The amazing images of cities in the Apple TV screensaver prompt daily memories of my various trips. I have been to all of the cities that they show, many of them many times. I have been so lucky to see so much of the world and never take it for granted.

The image at the top of this post popped up in Facebook today and is of me sitting in a restaurant opposite Doc Searls’ apartment in New York a couple of years ago. The good friends that I now have all around the world are another thing that I very much don’t take for granted.

But as we sit here in our much constricted world I find myself thinking of those far flung places and people and wondering if I will ever travel to the same extent again? Will I ever “really” be there “really” talking face to face to all of those people?

My interactions with both people and places have taken on an air of unreality. My memories feel more like dreams than recollections.

Those places are still there, or are they?

The people are still there, or are they?

Consider this a little experiment

I would love it if I could just post on my blog and generate the sort of interesting conversations that we used to have in the old days but, let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen.

As the main Facebook news feed gets noisier, and the ads get more obtrusive, I have started to choose instead to go directly to the pages of people whose writing I enjoy. This makes for a more considered and less enervating way to keep up with their thoughts.

So putting these two together I have decided to set up a page where I will be able to auto post to from my WordPress blog in the hope that what I write will pique people’s interest and start interesting conversations. I will also revert to posting stories about mountains and cat pictures to my normal profile feed.

Wish me luck!

Doing nothing

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

It’s really hard. We are so used to always having something to distract us, even if it is our next attempt to be productive.

Doing nothing feels like a guilty pleasure, or a never ending torture, depending on our mood. But it is good for us. It is essential.

It is worth practicing.

Ted Lasso

Having just finished the first series on AppleTV+ it was great to hear that the second series starts shooting in the new year and a third series has already been commissioned.

Clever writing, great acting and even the cinematography was innovative and on occasions beautiful.

Any fears we had of it being a syrupy romanticised US take on British culture were soon dispelled. Lots of wry humour, sensitive character portrayal and loads of one liners like “Hey Dad, what’s a scone?” “It’s like a muffin but it sucks all the saliva out of your mouth”.

South Downs circuit

One of the advantages of having a daughter studying in Brighton is that when I drop her off I will get to do a walk on the South Downs. Today it was just over 8 miles round Ditchling Beacon, the Jack and Jill Windmills, and the Chattri Monument to Indian forces killed in World War One. Blustery weather and great skies certainly blew the cobwebs away.

If you are interested in the route and precisely where the photos were taken you can see it all on Viewranger

Facebook hasn’t ruined social media, people have.

I have been enjoying not being on Facebook or Twitter so much. My experience of both was better than most, because of the effort I put into building and maintaining my network, but even so there is something about these online spaces that encourages mithering. In fact the algorithms bring mithering to the fore.

Don’t get me wrong, as many of you will know, I have enjoyed a good mither in the past, and it has occurred to me in the past weeks that I miss that opportunity to a degree.

But no, I feel better for not having a focus for my disgruntlement. I am less disgruntled as a result.

Hunkering down

I get tired of the way all news has to been attention grabbing these days. Even news stories about Apple, that I would have previously enjoyed , all feel the need to have some sensational angle to them. I am more and more inclined to restrict my reading to a few tech sites that I trust to give me information rather than opinion, that celebrate the positive about tools rather than sensationalise their downside, and that don’t knee jerk to every meme that rattles around the internet.

Come the revolution…

As someone who has a daughter who is studying dance, a wife who works in comms for a cyber security firm, and having thought a bit over the last few years about the impact of technology on the world of work, I feel reasonably confident in predicting that the dullards whose thinking is behind this sort of advert will regret not having more sources of entertainment available to them as they sit at home twiddling their thumbs wondering what the hell happened to them.

Sixty

It feels like a big number. It is a big number. But I don’t feel my age, and I don’t act my age.

My Dad is ninety and, totally illogically and unreasonably, this encourages me to believe that I have another thirty years to go. Much can be done in thirty years.

I’d best get on with it though.

The ghost in the machine

By far my favourite widget on my iPhone’s Home Screen is the Photos widget. Each day this presents me with a photo from my library that was either taken on that day in the past or was chosen for some other algorithm of predicted interest.

Since my mum’s death last month there have been an uncanny number of photos of her appearing in this feed. It may just be a heightened awareness, in the same way that when you are thinking of buying a new car you seem to see nothing but that type of car on the road, but for whatever reason it has been very moving and a real delight to be prompted with so many fond memories nearly every day.

Driven

It’s not often that I am on the road during rush hour these days, and I haven’t been since more people started to return to work. But I was this morning and I really noticed a difference.

All these pushy shovey drivers jostling for pole position at every junction. It reminded me of Amersham station in the mornings where the same sorts of people vie for the optimum place on the platform to secure the best seats.

I imagine this is the way they behave in the office. Keen to be in front, keen to be seen to have impact, desperate to be driving change.

All this “driving” is overheating them, overheating the people they work with, and overheating society and the planet.

Maybe if more of us were less driven…

Flickr

The magic of having online spaces in which to share our perceptions of the world around us is that we start to notice more. Having a blog makes me more aware of the situations and people that I encounter each day when life presents me with things that pique my curiosity and hopefully the curiosity of readers when I write about it.

The same is true of the things that I see around me. One of the biggest upsides of modern mobile phones is that they have amazing cameras in them and I have never before been more able to capture and share the landscapes, artefacts, people and animals that surround me.
Sadly over the years this piquing of interest is what has become the engine of commercial social media platforms. The innocent desire to share what interests us become distorted by algorithms and peer pressure.

My recent inclination is to pull back from these increasingly distorted online spaces and to revert to the older tools where it all started. Part of this is to turn my back on the advert ridden world of Instagram and to resurrect my very old Flickr account.

I was one of the first users of Flickr when Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield set it up all those years ago. I stuck with it through various changes of ownership and periods of neglect but have really enjoyed opening it up again over the past few days and am more than happy to pay the annual fee to enjoy other people’s images in an ad free and less pressured environment.

Bullet Journal

Over the years I have come and gone so many times on various systems to capture, organise, and share my thoughts. I have learned not to feel awkward about this to and fro because all systems become stale over time and there is no shame in believing that a change of system will bring renewed focus.

One thing I find frustrating about having so many tools is that things can become scattered – “Where did I store this?”, “How can I connect these two bits of information?”, “Is this a to-do or a note?”. The idea of having everything in one place. The fact that a Bullet Journal is an analogue place is a plus not a minus. The friction of getting this into the system and moving them around gives pause for thought and pausing to think is a good thing!

So, my new Bullet Journal notebook arrives tomorrow and I am currently re-reading Ryder Carroll’s book on his system. I feel suitably re-invigorated at the prospect of, yet another, fresh start.

Ripples

Every change in the rules from the government about lockdown causes ripples into society out of all proportion to the facts.

Different interpretation of what the rule “means” depending on your political leanings; personal commitment, or otherwise, to adhere to the rule depending on your sense of individual liberty; increased or decreased worry depending on your confidence that things are under control and will get better.

Apart from the original statement everything is under our own control. Our reactions and all of the subsequent consequences are up to us. It is worth remembering this rather than letting anyone yank your chain.

Technological predeterminism.

I was talking to my dad yesterday about technology, how clever it is, where it is heading, and how important it is that more people get involved in making informed decisions about what we do with it. He asked me “If you had a seven year old child now what would you tell them?”.

I said that I would do what I had done with my two kids already. Talk about what I know, notice the things I notice, get excited about the things that I believe will make the world a better place, and let them watch me using the various devices to their full capacity.

He had expected me to tell the seven year old what it all means and what they should do with it. But I am very wary of this sort of idealism. I have no idea what is going to happen. I have no idea what technology will be used for. I would have no idea what aspirations and skills my child might have. Any attempts I might make to “steer” them in any particular direction are almost certain to backfire.

Sadly as societies we are still driven by the idea that we should know, and should be in control of, our futures rather than arming ourselves with as much knowledge as we can and training ourselves to react in the moment to the situations that present themselves.

Mental Clutter

I have written before about my addiction to buying books and how this regularly outstrips my ability to read them fast enough. Part of the issue is that I have so many books that I start, see another one that catches my eye, buy that, start reading it, see another one and on and on.

I have bookshelves of “real” books glowering at me as I sit at me desk, chastising me for abandoning them. I have Kindle apps on my iPone and iPad which have “downloaded” sections groaning under the strain. I have Audible apps testing the storage capacity of all of my devices.

I haven’t got around to nuking the bookshelves in my office but this morning I reduced the downloaded or currently reading queues on all of my devices to one each. In addition I have resolved to neither buy a new book nor move onto another previously purchased one until I have finished the one I am reading.

I am anticipating that this new found resolve will last about 24 hrs

Video fetish

One of the upsides of lockdown has been the rapid, albeit forced, adoption of remote working technologies. One of the downsides has been the obsession with video calls.

So many people’s endless meetings have migrated to endless Zoom calls – and it is knackering. Staring at that screen for call after call has become the norm for too many, and all in the name of “face to face” communication.

But is it really so important?

For three years in my first job at the BBC, as a clerk booking editing and lines facilities, I conducted my entire job on the phone and never met most of the people I worked with. It didn’t cause a problem and we built up some great relationships and trust.

During a recent Zoom call someone started banging on about the importance of eye contact and I had to point out that because he had his Zoom window in the bottom corner of his screen, and his camera was top centre, he hadn’t “made eye contact” with me once during our call and as a result looked decidedly shifty!

Don’t be bullied into turning your camera on. If you think better walking round the room, if you are tired of arranging your seat in front of your carefully selected rows of books, if you are getting back problems maintaining that unnatural newsreader position, do yourself, and the rest of us, a favour, turn the bloody thing off!

The passage of time

My sense of time has been changing. Since lockdown began there have been less junctions, less demarcations, between different periods of time. One day merges into the other. One week merges into the other.

This feeling has become more extreme since my family went on holiday on Friday. Within my days the only “events” are feeding myself and the cat, and letting him out. But it isn’t boring, far from it. I am quite content with each moment as it is. I have no expectations of the next moment. It is what it is. And it is now.

Each day my iPhone presents me with a photograph from my past. Very often these are photographs of the children when they were younger. It fascinates me the degree to which they are different people. The people in those photographs don’t exist now. The person I was doesn’t exist now.

In fact the person I was five minutes ago doesn’t exist now. I only exist in this moment now, and now, and now – and each moment is ok.

Solitude

My wife and children have gone on holiday to Cornwall for the week. I didn’t fancy facing the crowds that are apparently there at the moment and decided to stay at home.

Some people might find this challenging, being on my own in the house with only our cat for company, but in fact I’m quite looking forward to it. I’m very used to my own company. One of the pleasures of travelling as much as I have in the past has been the time that I have had on my own.

It’s not so much that I’m antisocial (at least I hope not), and I will miss the company of my family, but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to focus on walking, thinking, and writing.

Given recent events there is a lot I need to process so this week couldn’t be better timed.

Apple’s got my back

I like being told what to do by Apple. Well, being nudged by them at the very least. The new Watch OS (I’m playing with the beta) does a couple of things that I really like.

The first is sleep. I set a schedule for the times I want to go to sleep and when I want to wake up. The watch then goes into Do Not Dusturb 45 minutes before my intended sleep time and can open apps like meditation timers or Kindle if I set it to. It then vibrates an alarm at the time I want to wake up and shows me a record of how much time I have slept. I have used other sleep timers in the past which have purported to show more detailed information about the depth and quality of sleep but I actually appreciate Apple focussing exclusively on the amount of time. I like that they are nudging me into behaviours that will make it more likely that I meet my sleep target rather than making me worry about things like sleep quality which I have no control over.

The second new thing on the watch is hand washing. If I have been out my watch nudges me when I get home to wash my hands and then automatically times my hand washing aiming for a target of 20 seconds. It also triggers the timer every time I wash my hands through the day. I have found it to be amazingly reliable in terms of knowing when I have started washing my hands, and not responding to false positives like running a tap for other purposes. The gentle nudge it gives me has meant that I am more careful about washing my hands than I have ever been and this is no bad thing.

I know that some will react to the idea of Apple and their devices “controlling their lives” but I have been into habit building apps for years, and to varying degrees the whole Quantified Self thing, so I am used to expecting my devices to monitor my behaviours and to nudge me in the right direction.

Grounded

Another photo from the Photos widget on iOS 14, this time from one of the many, many flights I have taken over the years.

During lockdown, especially in the first month or so when there were virtually no flights, the quality of the air here was noticeably better. Clearer skies and sparklier light.

I have travelled so much over the years and seen so many amazing places, but I have come to realise that “wherever you go there you are”. Getting away doesn’t change things. The grass isn’t ever greener.

For these reasons I now find myself disinclined to fly again. Never say never – but who knows?

Glimpses

One of the real pleasures of using the public beta of iOS 14 is having the photos widget on the homepage. Getting glimpses of places or people from my past is a real joy. The image in this screen grab is of Tallin, the capital of Estonia.

The widget below is for Drafts, my favourite ever app and as ever Greg Pearce has proved his wizard status and managed to produce a widget that responds in ways that even Apple’s own widgets don’t! It’s a glimpse of what other widgets might achieve in the future.

Algorithms

I am sure many people have wondered why I have been banging on about the ideology of algorithms for years. My insistence that “there is no such thing as a neutral algorithm may have appeared geekily nit-picky. But then naybe some of those people have children who are affected by the current A Level results fiasco?

Once upon a time, in a world of supposedly equal opportunity, it may have appeared not to matter what school you went to or what it’s previous students’ results had been. Even now there are lots of bits of data collected about you that in their current context may appear similarly innocuous.

But what if someone in the future decides that those bits of data mean something else? What if they combine those bits of data with other, similarly apparently innocuous data, and suddenly 2+2=5? What if this continues to happen for the rest of your life, increasing exponentially year on year?

What if it’s already too late to do anything about it?

Distracted from life – and death.

For a long time now I have been getting better at reducing distractions. Not watching or listening to the news, reading books on my phone more often than checking Facebook or Twitter, spending more time meditating, and learning to just sit in the garden without constantly feeling the need to do something. It takes a conscious decision and it takes practice. Our default is to seek distraction.

Not seeking distraction is all the more challenging in the days following my Mum’s death last week. Sitting still and being with my thoughts feels like the last thing that I would want to do. The temptation to fill any silences with noise is strong.

But I am putting into practice all I have learned from meditation and my bookshelves full of books on mindfulness and Buddhism. Pushing away emotions doesn’t get rid of them. They just go underground and fester. When the Buddha talks about clinging and aversion being the sources of our suffering, it is in our pushing away of bits of life that we don’t like that we give them strength.

Being with sorrow, letting it well up and pass away of its own accord (which it will) doesn’t mean not feeling it. If anything it means feeling it more fully. But it is a very different thing from fighting it and getting locked in a battle with it which just gives it strength.

Allowing myself to fully feel the emotions that well up at the slightest, and sometimes most unexpected triggers, really matters. Not being afraid of the feelings feels important.

The achingly sad thing is that I can’t talk to Mum about it…

Walking

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it … but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill…. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Writing

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.” – Vita Sackville-West

I write all the time, constantly taking notes in Drafts or dictating into my watch. Not much of it sees the light of day, but the process of getting thoughts and ideas out of my head and “onto paper” has all sorts of benefits. Mostly it helps me to work out what I think about things.

The process of writing slows down the thoughts rattling around in my head long enough to deal with them. When facing challenges it helps to get them clarified and to some extent objectified. Getting them out of my head and somewhere that I can look at them helps to get perspective.

I am currently reading Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold in which she re-introduces the practice of morning pages, the act of hand writing three pages of A4 every morning, first covered in The Artist’s Way. It is amazing how hard this can feel. Around the end of page one three pages feels like a lot! But the point is that in pushing through the trivial verbiage that inevitably starts off this process you eventually start to surface stuff that matters.

It is surprising cathartic to “get things off your chest” in this way and I recommend it if you haven’t already tried.

Just a thought…

“The past does not decide now. It is our now that decides the past.”

I’m not sure where I got this note from but when I came across it this morning it stuck with me.

We are so convinced that what has happened to us in the past dictates how we feel in the present. And yet our only experience of our past is in the the thoughts that we have about it in the present. Those thoughts emerge unbidden, they change all the time, and they are fleeting glimpses rather than a consistent narrative.

This is true even of the immediate past. That row you just had can either feel like a major tragedy or something that will blow over. Which it is, is just a thought and the next moment that thought can change.

Rather than getting locked into the ruminative circles that keep us stuck, what if we consistently noticed that our past is just a thought?

YouTube audio

YouTube audio

There are so many really interesting and informative YouTube videos but I don’t always have the time or patience to sit and watch them. Unless there is some sort of visual demonstration or diagram involved, especially if the content is simply a talking head or a discussion, I have no need for the video.

Fortunately the paid version of the podcast app Castro has a share sheet extension for iOS that at the click of a button strips the audio out of YouTube and adds it to what it calls a Sideload playlist. I can then listen as I drive or walk around and this has massively increased my ability to learn.

Well informed

I was musing, yet again, over the pros and cons of Facebook this morning. There are days when I feel like closing all of my social media accounts and reverting to just blogging. These thoughts are triggered by the balance of signal to noise in my feeds and also the levels of righteous indignation. Too much noise and too much indignation and I grow wearied with it all.

But there are two reasons that I don’t leave. One is the connection to smart people all around the world that I would be very sorry to lose. The second, and I know this is going to stretch your credibility, is that without my various feeds I would feel less well informed!

Yes, I really said that. Because I make an effort to have a range of views in my networks, and do my best to follow people who have an eye for interesting and well written content, I generally feel up to date and “well informed” on most big issues.

Perhaps more importantly for me the alternatives are increasingly unattractive. I haven’t bought a newspaper in decades and never watch television news if I can avoid it. Admittedly some of the well informed and well written content that I rely on through my networks comes from those sources but the thought of having to wade through all the other badly written, partially understood, and biased rubbish they contain is untenable.

The ghost in the machine

This morning a message from a social media platform reminded me that it was a friend’s birthday. Sadly that friend died a few years ago.

I used to feel awkward about these messages which come from the accounts of a few friends who are sadly no longer with us.

Now I enjoy taking a moment to remember that friend and hope that the various platforms continue to remind me for years to come.

Civil society is a thin veneer.

Why is it that outwardly nice, respectable people can turn nasty at the drop of a hat? Why do they get so wound up by movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmattter? What’s their problem?

I am beginning to suspect that deep down they know that they have enjoyed privilege through their race, class, nationality etc. and know how lucky they have been.

They also know how unfair and untenable their position is. They don’t let on that they know this of course, perhaps not even to themselves, but this is why they get so bent out of shape when someone less privileged than them dares to question the status quo. The teeth are bared and the knives are out. They feel as if their very existence is challenged and react as if they are involved in a fight to the death.

But they needn’t be, and nice people don’t really want that… do they?

Life On Mars

We watched the last of the TV series Life On Mars again last night. For me it was the third time. Thankfully this is where my lack of ability to remember anything I have watched or read comes in handy, as the ending came as a complete surprise! All four of us sat there stunned and in tears.

Such clever story telling. Despite his toe curlingly appaling attitudes Gene Hunt manages to be one of the greatest screen heroes ever.

The main reason that we are watching both Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes again is that there is apparently a third series coming. Can’t wait!

Clouds over Whitstable

As I lay on Whitstable beach on Saturday, watching clouds constantly forming and reforming in the sky above me, I found myself thinking, yet again, what a loose approximation for reality words and concepts are.

There is no such thing as a cloud. The word is an apparently convenient way to refer to something that is constantly changing. This is obvious with a cloud, but it is also true of ourselves. The cells that make up our bodies change at a bewildering rate and those cells are mostly made up of space. Even the apparently solid cells are made up of particles that are themselves mostly space. The distance from the nucleus to an electron (which itself doesn’t really orbit its nucleus but exists in a so called electron cloud with only probable positions – a bit like the cloud we started with) is approximately 1325 times this distance from the earth to the sun! This is why Buddhists refer to emptiness!

This is also why I bang on about our very fixed ideas of reality being totally made up. The words I choose to describe the reality around me, even the separation of the word me from reality, are nothing but concepts. And like the clouds my concept of reality changes. Thoughts pop in and out of my head without my bidding or control. Emotions and moods form and dissipate just like the clouds above Whitstable.

No cloud ever stays the same, ever, even for the briefest second. I never stay the same, even for the briefest second, and nor do you.

And then we make up stories about “I am a…”, “You are a…”, “We are…”. We expect reality to conform to our stories and get upset when it doesn’t. Very upset. Existentially upset. We pick fights over the fact that your story differs from mine.

What struck me about all this is that for years we have banged on about change as if it wasn’t the way the world was anyway! We have so deluded ourselves that the world around us is fixed, predictable, and controllable, that we have to pay “change experts” to realise that it’s not. And what those people invariably give us is yet more delusion about a planned transition to another apparently fixed reality!

Change and complexity have been seen as outside of the norm. As if simplicity, understandability, and a fixed stable world were real and anything else is unreal. But the next time you feel stuck or trapped in this delusional reality, this cage of your own making, remember the clouds over Whitstable. It might help a little.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall.

The world that we see around is a reflection of our own personalities, warts and all. Sure there is a “real” physical world out there but what it “means” is entirely made up. What your made up stories are is a result of your culture, background, and personal experience and they are inevitably totally different from mine.

As it does with everything else the internet speeds up and amplifies this truth. It is worth remembering that the next time you let it bend you out of shape. It is your own self created shape that it is bending. That’s why it hurts.

Practicing compassion – now.

I was aware of the risk of some people misinterpreting my recent post about getting stuck in stories about the past – but that is the risk one takes In attempting to challenge deeply held assumptions.

I had no intention of diminishing the pain and distress inflicted on people of colour every day around the world. Now. Quite the opposite.

Nor do I negate the pain and distress caused to people in the past. Standing on the steps at the entrance to the industrial scale gas chambers in Birkenau is a memory that will never leave me.

But that felt sense of mankind’s ability to inflict pain and suffering is a different thing from getting stuck in the stories about it, the differing interpretations of the what and the why, which trigger the tit for tat that keep the endless cycle of suffering going.

Yes, make the effort to understand man’s inhumanity to man, definitely change laws and policies to protect the vulnerable, but don’t let pulling down statues distract you from facing up to your own capacity to cause hurt and distress the next time you meet someone whose stories about the past are at odds with your own.

Dredging up the past.

The recovery of Edward Colton’s statue from Bristol harbour is literally dredging up the past, but the past is made up.

Our own past, even our immediate past, is a partial recollection of highly filtered perceptions. This past only exists as a thought in the present and yet we allow it to drown out what is happening now. We dwell on things that happened even moments ago and distort our reactions to what is in front of us.

We live in a cloud of conditioned responses, steered by the collective made up stories of our families, friends, and culture. These collective stories on the grandest scale are history. This historical past is even more made up.than our individual past. It is not real, yet we allow it to dominate our present, to distract us from the only reality we will ever know. Now.

Deeply imbedded cultural norms of seeking justice, of retribution, of an eye for an eye, keep us stuck in a made up past that we can’t change. Even in our personal relationships we risk being trapped in a perpetual tit for tat that will never end unless we find a way to step out of it.

What matters is how we are now, in this moment, fresh, each time. Without baggage, without the stories, without prejudice (from Latin praeiudicium “prior judgment,”). Not black, not white, not wronged, not guilty. Human beings made of the very same residue of an exploding star, facing the same challenges, frightened of the same things, yet capable of the same unbelievable acts of courage and compassion.

Drafts

Drafts is probably my favourite app ever. It allows me to get ideas, things to do, quotes, etc. out of my head and records them easily for me immediately. I can do this either by typing into my iPhone or, as I am now, dictating onto my watch.

Once I’ve captured the text, Drafts then lets me do all sorts of useful things with it from sending an email, to sending to my blog, or collating into a longer form document.

If you want to find out more this fantastic video by Christopher Lawley is a great place to start.

I’m not going to like anything any more

I have been experimenting with not using the like button in comments threads on my posts on Facebook. Using them can so easily turn into a silly pecking order of responses to responses – a childish “I like you because you agree with me” nonsense.
 
Either that or it became a sort of passive aggressive “That comment was so stupid I’m not even going to respond to it!”
 
So, I have decided not to use buttons to respond to comments. If people have made a statement then I will leave it for others to work out their reactions without my input. If the comment is a question I will answer it. But mostly if the comment piques my interest and I want to keep the conversation going, I will join in.

Being different

Growing up where I did, just south of Glasgow, “different” meant Catholics and The English. The tribal gap between Rangers and Celtic supporters was immense and carefully maintained. Being an English kid whose parents had moved north through work would be enough to get you bullied in the playground. Thankfully from an early age I realised just how mad this was.

Now, having travelled as much as I have, and having friends of every colour, creed, and sexual identity all around the world I truly struggle to understand how difference can be so important. Why is identity so fragile that people become blind to the fact that we are all human beings, facing the same challenges, with the same hopes and fears?

I distrust tribes. I get bored around groups of blokey blokes. I’ve been to one football match and hated the crowd mentality. Even the “do you want to be in my gang” side of office politics has me running in the opposite direction. Sublimating your self to the tribe, going along with the majority, not wanting to stand out, this is where it starts.

When you ask someone with racist views why they have a black friend they invariably say “oh they are different, they’re not like the rest”. Bollocks. You just don’t know the rest and have consigned them all to being different, to being “them”.

There is no them. There’s just us, all of us. Don’t let your tribe convince you otherwise.

West World

So many people said to me that I should watch West World. They were right! Finished watching Series 3 last night.

What a complex, fascinating roller coaster. The show touches on so many of the issues that fascinate me; Artificial Intelligence, morality, free will, society, power, conditioning, and on and on… So many overlaps with dreams I have had, things I have written, they even played a bit of Dark Side Of The Moon in the last episode!

What struck me though was how many of the issues raised are becoming ever more current for us as each day passes. Watching our trust in “the elite” diminish even further. “The Truth” becoming totally malleable. Seeing people protest under intolerable pressure. Excited to be getting back into space again but very aware that it is in a billionaire funded spacecraft.

If you haven’t watched West World – do!

Buffeted

As we read our feeds, and react to the things we see, we are buffeted backwards and forwards by our emotional reactions. “That’s good”, “That’s bad”, “I wish I’d done that”, “Oh my God that’s awful!”.

Emotions wash through us based on nothing but opinion. Sometimes powerful emotions that take their toll on our nervous systems. But none of what we are reading or watching is happening here and now or happening to us. None of it is real.

We convince ourselves that we should care, that to not react to what we are seeing would be inhuman. But we are indulging ourselves. We are entertaining ourselves with the endorphin rush. We easily become addicted.

And once we are addicted we can be manipulated. Someone else can yank our chain.

Practical application of technology

Sitting in the sunshine in the garden with my phone (and the internet) well away from me. I am listening to an Audible book fed from my watch to one headphone (so that I am not cut off the from the wonderful early morning sounds around me) and dictating notes on the book (which are automatically transcribed) also on my watch. This is why I love technology.