When my mother died her world died with her. What she saw, how she saw it, and what it meant to her no longer exists. The same will happen when I die. The world that I take so seriously, that feels so real, will disappear when I do.
This is not solipsism, there is a “real” world of matter and energy out there. But what I experience and what you experience are fundamentally different. Sure there are broad overlaps, and these are what allow us to communicate and to co-exist, but the reality that we are each so convinced of, and so attached to, is made up.
Remember this the next time you get into an argument about whether that shirt is green or blue – you are both right.
Remember this the next time you get into a bigger argument about bigger stuff too…
Over the weekend my family were watching a film set in Australia. The story took place on the coast to the north of Sydney and the scenery and the sounds of the wildlife were so, so familiar. I started to feel a strong pang of homesickness.
I have been lucky enough to have been to Australia many times, and have seen more of the country than many Australians, but with the changes in my life and the world around my I find myself wondering if I will ever get to visit that wonderful country again.
In fact the many trips I have been able to experience around the world are taking on an air of unreality. Was I really there? Did it really happen? With the odd effects that lockdown is having on my sense of time and place it is getting hard to tell what happened last week never mind last year.
But this is a good thing. Time and place are much more malleable than we think. Our brains construct our experience of both and that experience changes all the time. Truly being where we are is hard enough never mind worrying about being somewhere else!
As my Apple Watch ups the monthly challenges my daily mileage is increasing to about nine miles a day at the moment. At my usual speed of around 3.5 miles an hour this takes me just under three hours. This is three hours incredibly well spent.
I don’t listen to audio books or podcasts. I just walk. I don’t even think that much. I just walk. I notice what is around me, which even on walks that I have now done hundreds of times changes every time, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in surprisingly significant ways.
My eyes and ears become more attuned to the world around me. I notice the smell of recently ploughed fields long before I see them. I notice the sound of different birds, like the mob of unruly sparrows that has moved into a couple of the trees on my most frequent route. My sight increasingly expands from the next step in front of me to the wider horizon and becomes more attuned to the flash of white as roe deer move away from the sound of my feet.
More than ever, in our disruptive times, feeling grounded matters. The best way to feel grounded is to place your feet on the ground, over and over again, for hours on end…
In this episode we first talk about driving (cars, lorries, motorbikes, people crazy), then we hear about Euan’s new HomePod Mini, and finally we discuss about past present and future of some real and some fictional politicians (American, Italian, British).
During lockdown the number of people out walking, cycling and running has increased enormously and to such an extent that a lot of footpaths have become quagmires. As a consequence I am now more inclined to walk on our local network of single lane roads.
When growing up in Scotland I was always aware of the Highway Code instructions that if there is no footpath to walk on the right hand side of the road so that you are facing oncoming traffic – unless you are on a blind bend when you can briefly cross to the left then return to the right once you are back on the straight.
I am not sure why, but a large number of the folks now out running on the roads appear to be unaware of this “rule” and run on the left. I couldn’t do it with the traffic coming unseen behind me! But the other consequence is that they are now running straight at me – and a disconcerting number of them keep running straight at me clearly thinking that I am in the wrong for walking on the right.
Each time it happens I hold my ground. I am 6’3″ and about 15 stone so a pretty immovable object but they still keep running at me until eventually they capitulate and swerve past.
What is interesting is how this affects me. To begin with I was getting bent out of shape about it, indulging in righteous indignation, making sweeping generalisations about runners, and character assassinations of the individuals involved.
But I am getting better at letting this go. I am “right” and I am more than able to keep walking in the face of oncoming bodies, but what I don’t have to do is to add the extra layers of moral indignation.
Watching DIY SOS last night there were various trucks and vans delivering to the build and I found myself missing it. Missing the traffic marshals and their banter, the puzzle of navigating through complex sites, the cleverness of the unloading processes, and the sense of relief at having made my way through it all without incident.
The experiences I had driving large trucks were among the most terrifying of my life – but they were also amongst the most satisfying. I may at some stage return to them.
It is so easy to get caught up in writing to achieve an outcome rather than writing as an end in itself. We become trapped in worrying about if we write well enough, worrying that people might read what we write, even worrying if we will be able to read our own handwriting at some future point!
But just the act of getting your thoughts out of your head and onto “paper” is a worthwhile pursuit in itself – with no regard for what becomes of it at some future point. It is the process of thinking out loud that is worthwhile, “seeing” your thoughts as you think them, slowing down your racing brain long enough to be able to relate to your thoughts and understand them.
I have so many notebooks that start off with the intention of bullet journaling, or recording gratitude, or whatever other extrinsic outcome that end up slowing to a halt as I give up on their original “purpose”.
But I now know that just writing, with no aim in mind other than to enjoy the process, is something that I get great value from and return to again and again.
While on a walk with Mollie yesterday we passed through a wood that I have walked through hundreds of times. I was going to show her a different footpath through that wood than we would normally take. Not sure whether it was due to everything looking different in the snow but I took a wrong turn somewhere and we ended up on the path we would have usually taken.
But I didn’t realise! My brain was trying to make the path we were on look like the path I thought we were on, waffling on about the helpful arrows painted on the trees by The Chiltern Society. Even when we came out of the wood, where we usually would expect to, I didn’t recognise it because my brain was still trying to make it look like where I thought we were!
When I was playing my clarinet in orchestras and wood bands my tutor used to say “If you are going to make a mistake make it sound like you meant it”. In other words don’t be diffident. Do whatever you are doing with confidence.
But I have learned, especially on mountains, that false confidence can be dangerous. Admitting you don’t know where you are as early as possible and doing something about it rather than marching on in the wrong direction is so important.
I reckon the same is true in business. How many hugely expensive mistakes have been made either because people ignored the signs that the path they were on was the wrong one, or when they knew they were on the wrong path but were trying to bluff it out?
There is a lot of power in life generally in admitting that you’re not sure…
Today I was thinking back over the various mountain ridge walks I have done. Some of them were very narrow, with steep drops on either side, and I remembered advice I used to give myself, and those with me, that there was “nowhere to fall”.
(OK, to be fair, the photo above is of Penny on Crib Goch on Snowdon and people kill themselves falling off that most years, and to be doubly fair to her she was doing this having taken a tumble on a steel slope in Torridon a couple of months before, but hey let’s not allow the facts to spoil a good principle!)
Even on the steepest ridge, there is usually some sort of gradient. It is not like climbing straight up a cliff face. Admittedly in snowy or icy conditions if you do fall you are more likely to keep going and not stop, but in any other weather, on even the most frightening ridge, if you look hard you realise that you won’t fall all the way to the bottom. You will bounce at least once!
It occurred to me that this advice works in less extreme circumstances too. What is the worst that could happen? Really imagine that – and nine times out of ten you realise that you could cope.
I walk every day. Sometimes more than once a day. But the one walk that I love, and that I do every day, come rain or come shine, is the walk from our house to Herbert’s Hole and back.
It is just over three miles and takes me under an hour. The mid point is the bottom of the valley and the short climb back up is nice and steep. Some days I do it a bit faster and enjoy the sense of powering along, other days I just saunter, taking my time to enjoy the surroundings. But one thing I do every time is to stop for a few minutes in the valley and just take it all in.
As you can see from the video above yesterday was spectacular. Hardly a breath of wind, warmth in the sun, and very little noise from distant traffic or airplanes. All you can hear is the silence and the birds enjoying the warmth.
For these few moments I feel totally connected to the world around me. Thoughts start to drop away and intrude less. I get closer to the underlying calm and happiness that is always there for all of us under the noise and bluster of our near constant internal chatter.
I am increasingly aware that I don’t need to go to a physical space to achieve this sense of calm and peace. In fact, as you can see from the video below (looking in the opposite direction), the feeling arises even when the weather is what others would characterise as “bad weather”.
The weather is what it is. It is neither bad nor good. My happy place is independent of the weather, in fact it is independent of the place. I can take it with me wherever I go – if I only remember to do so.
We are taking our main family car back to the dealer today. It’s been on a PCP loan that has come to an end. The choice is to renew the loan and get a new car or hand the car back and bring the contract to an end. Given that it has spent most of the last year sitting on the drive, and that any brand new replacement that we might be suckered into buying looks set to do the same this year, it was costing way too much money to just look at it.
I am also increasingly wary of being suckered into buying stuff that you don’t really need just because the norm is that you are expected to do so. Where we live we need cars to get anywhere, as we are too far to cycle to our nearest station and there is no public transport, but small cars fill that need just fine. Sure it is fun to blast along motorways with the sound system cranked up but, especially given my shifting attitudes in this time of COVID, do I really need that?
On the other hand I know it is just stuff, and that this is the right thing to do, but it is surprising how attached you can become to a lump of plastic and metal. It has been great fun to drive, enabled lots of great family memories, and safely carried us all over the UK and Europe, so I will miss it.
Paolo and I just published our latest edition of SOTN in which we take a look at Clubhouse – and Euan runs away! But he can run faster thanks to Fitness+. We then go long on capitalism and market forces firstly talking about the upside (yes there is one) and downside of Facebook’s algorithms then end up with the fascinating story of GameStop and the power of Reddit.
It has been a few weeks now since I stopped visiting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn regularly. I still check in about once a week to see how close friends and relatives are doing but otherwise I have logged out in all my browsers and removed the apps from all my devices so each visit is a conscious decision. And it feels good.
The one thing I am missing is reaction. I love it when people comment or like the posts on this blog, but my writing used to get much more of a response on the social platforms. It is interesting considering what this change means. Am I only writing to get a response? Do I need approval of my ideas? Or is it enough to get the “down on paper” and shared even in a modest way?
This neediness is true in real life. I remember worrying in work meetings if what I said didn’t get a response, or worse still if someone else’s boring comment got an over the top reaction. I guess we feel the need to relate our thoughts and feelings to others, to gauge their “value”. But the risk is that we lose our way, we don’t know what we really think and become influenced by what we think other people think we think!
Anyway, for the moment, in these times when I am not meeting many people in real life, and my writing is getting less reaction online, I am seeing it as an opportunity to work out what I really think…
“One pharmaceutical executive told me that observing how his employees had responded to life on a form of basic income had left him wondering if they would accept returning to the kind of working life they had before. “The genie’s out of the bottle,” he said.
Once something is done, it becomes possible, and scare stories about the world falling apart without workers chained to office desks become less effective.”
As the author Ursula Le Guin put it: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
The deep link sociologist Max Weber explored over a century ago, between the protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism, still sits in the heart of our culture, and anyone who seeks to have us work less will be told that what they are really doing is suggesting we all become lazier. In Britain, successive governments have very effectively fostered an environment in which people feel as though everyone should be working as hard – and suffering as much – as they are, with any thought that life could be improved in any way scornfully derided.
It’s the bit about half way that got me where he is running across the cliffs with a steep drop to his right. His brakes must have been red hot by the end. Next time I want to see him do it in the wet…
The fuss generated by Liz Hurley’s photo of herself in her back garden in the snow in just a fur coat and bikini bottoms triggered an interesting discussion with the girls this morning around celebrity, sexiness, manipulation of images, influencers, and the media.
For me it relates back to this sorts of images of ourselves that we choose to share online. Are we trying to keep up with some media driven ideas of success, beauty, aspiration? Or are we genuinely sharing our enthusiasm for something that gives us pleasure.
As with so many of these question for me the important thing is intent. Is your intent to manipulate, achieve power and influence, or otherwise take advantage of your situation? Or is it to lift others’ spirits, open their eyes to possibilities, or simply lighten the collective load?
As part of their Fitness+ service Apple recently introduced Time To Walk. This is a series of recordings, added to your workouts on your watch, of various people, recorded while they themselves are out for a walk, reflecting on their lives and careers. They also include some of their favourite music and at appropriate points your watch vibrates and a photo appears on its face of something pertinent to their story.
I listened to my first one this morning and loved it. It was actress Uzo Aduba talking about her career and being a first generation American from Nigeria. You get to hear the atmosphere around her as she walks, in a park in New York, and it really does feel as if you are walking with her.
Many moons ago I registered the domain name walkingthetalk.co.uk with some vague ideas of setting up a business around the unique appeal of conversations that take place while walking in the great outdoors. There is something about the situation, the rhythm of your steps, the open space, the fact that you are not facing the person you are talking to, that makes it more likely that you relax and think more clearly. In fact Uzo commented that she was surprised at how much she opened up on the walk and how much she learned about herself.
Uzo wasn’t someone I knew of, and her music wasn’t my usual listening, but perhaps that was part of the appeal of the thing. The general idea is to get people, perhaps not used to going for walks, to get out and get moving and from that point of view it seems like a great idea.
Our girls are doing their drama and musical theatre classes from home at the moment so with Penny working from home as well there is hardly a room in the house not being used and it’s hard not to overhear what they are all doing.
I am always impressed at how the girls and their tutors are coping with doing what would normally be a very physical activity, that relies heavily on presence and use of physical space, virtually. In particular yesterday one tutor was doing a great job of adapting his teaching method to the circumstances and was being really inventive and clever about it.
At the end of the session he asked the students how they were coping. Again stories of people adapting to, in some cases, very challenging circumstances with sick relatives, far flung families, and generally a very different situation from what would normally be an exciting and optimistic time in their lives.
I promise I won’t do this for every post but following on from my previous one about using audio occasionally the link below is off the top of my head thoughts about where civilisation took a wrong turn.
My daughter Mollie gave me three bottles of Molton Brown bath and shower gels for Christmas. They are all lovely but there is definitely a pecking order of good, better and best thereby presenting me with a challenge each morning as to which to choose.
My current strategy is to use up the good bottle first, saving the even more special ones for the future. The upside of this is that I have something to look forward to, the downside is that if I get run over by a bus tomorrow I will have denied myself the pleasure of the better and best beyond my original small samples.
If that rogue bus is imminent, or if I feel generally vulnerable, perhaps starting with the best would be the right strategy, but that would leave me with a general decline in pleasure down to the good to finish up with.
Perhaps the most sensible strategy would be the one I adopt with meals, namely to try to achieve a balance of tastes in each succession of mouthfuls, and ensuring that I end up with an even mix of the various tastes at the end.
And isn’t this true of life generally? Rather than saving ourselves for some fictitious nirvana in the future, retiring to a tropical island and sipping Pina Coladas, or wellying in without restraint to every current opportunity for excess and indulgence, perhaps we should consider every experience as a part of our incredible good luck to be able to experience everything that life has to offer – the good, the better and the best?
Over the years people have consistently told me that face to face communication is best because you can see the other person and work out their intentions from facial and bodily expressions. I have countered this by saying that in some ways face to face makes it easier to dissemble, you can smile while stabbing someone in the back, wear a uniform that makes you appear trustworthy while you are engaged in dodgy dealings etc..
It is therefore fascinating in the current circumstances watching everyone being forced to resort to online communication. The perceived need for face to face equivalence is driving the obsession with video calls but these bring with them their own challenges: worrying about how you look (at least on the top half); arranging an impressive choice of books on the shelves behind you; maintaining eye contact throughout mind numbing meetings; and trying to look interested when your boss takes a breath, says “to keep things short”, and launches into another endless monologue; the list goes on.
What is more optimistic is that some are learning the craft, and benefits, of asynchronous conversations whether through a different approach to email or tools like Teams and Slack. Working out how to say enough, but not too much; adopting a tone that engages and informs; how to keep the to and fro going and how to end it. These are all skills that those of us who were early adopters of online tools have discovered can replace, and in many cases enhance, more analogue forms of communication.
It will be interesting to see how many of these new found skills survive the return to the office – whenever that happens.
I’ve been pretty good about being stuck at home during lockdown. I love my walks, I love having the family around, I love not having to travel.
It became obvious this weekend that, despite having worked from home for years, I am still conditioned to expect weekends to be different and the fact that at the moment they are not means that each day is exactly the same as any other.
The new Photos widget on iOS is a constant source of delight. Each day the algorithm selects a photo from my collection and displays it on the front screen of my iPhone or iPad. Sometimes it is based on date, sometimes on season, but it regularly digs out photos that otherwise I would have forgotten or not seen for ages.
I realise that it is probably the same thing as when you think of buying a new car and see nothing but that type of car on the roads, but since my mother’s death the widget has presented an uncanny number of photos of Mum. Lovely photos of her with the kids at the beach, photos of her on her first day of school, photos of her in her last days in the care home.
Mum and Dad’s wedding photo coming up today and I found myself looking for a long time at both families, bridegroom, bridesmaids etc. all standing neatly arranged on the steps of the church. As far as I know all of them are dead apart from my Dad.
It is fascinating looking into their smiling eyes, especially my grandparents on both sides, thinking that they are all part of me. Their stories, their hopes and aspirations, their challenges, are all encoding in my DNA.
Being part of those story lines disappearing back into the forgotten past is a salutary thought.
One of my favourite things for lunch is a tin of mixed beans with some chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, Italian herb seasoning, chilli flakes, olive oil and lemon. As I was slowly eating my bowl of beans this lunch time I was reminded of one my favourite Buddhist ideas, namely that everything is connected and everything is dependent on everything else for its existence.
I started thinking of all the people that it had taken to produce the ingredients in my lunch. All the growers of the various bean plants, those who harvested them, the lorries that took the raw materials to the canning factory and the lorries that delivered them to the shops. The people who grew and harvested the onions and the tomatoes, the people working in the canning factory and the shops, even the graphic artists who designed the tin that they came in.
Having had my lunch I sat down to look through my RSS feeds and there was this lovely post from John Davies about never feeling alone in his garden. Looks like he’d been having similar feelings of connection with everything around him.
One of the upsides of COVID is the number of people discovering the delights of getting out into the countryside. I now walk every day, no matter what the weather, and today was one of those days when it feels mad to be setting off into the grey gloom. But it is consistently wonderful. As I’ve said before in some ways wet weather feels more real, more immediate.
I took the video above to convey the feeling of being out in that real weather. What I hadn’t noticed until I got home and watched it on the bigger screen is that, if you look closely, there are three deer walking along the edge of the field in front of me!
Following up on my post the other day about sharing I thought I’d share a bit about why sharing is hard, especially at work.
Most of us are conditioned to keep things to ourselves until we feel very safe and confident of what the response will be. I suppose a lot of this comes from school where sticking your hand up risked ridicule from your mates, and writing things down came under crippling scrutiny from your teachers.
For most of us things got harder at work. Sharing brought with it the risk of being found wanting by your peers and your boss, if done in writing there was an accountability that most avoid.
Sharing on social media might sometimes feel too easy, especially other people’s sharing, but it isn’t. We’ve all had the experience of sharing something that we thought interesting or revelatory and getting zero response. Either that or what we have shared is misconstrued and the indignation engine kicks in and the comments thread becomes a battlefield.
In some ways it was a weariness with sharing into those spaces that inclined me to return to my blog. At least here I can just write with very low expectations of unwanted exposure or unanticipated responses.
I would also write whether anyone read it or not. I have often said that the biggest beneficiary of my blogging is me! Just getting things out of your head and down in writing is beneficial. I write a whole lot in my journal and in notes all over the place that never see the light of day.
But even the slightest chance that what I share might be interesting or helpful to someone else, as I hope this very post is, is enough to incline me to keep sharing.
I was recently asked to do something about knowledge management for a client and, yet again, found myself pondering what it was that they were asking for. However much the topic gets mangled into document management, internal communities, after action reviews, etc., it all comes down to an inclination to share. This inclination can take many forms but if no one has it then no knowledge gets managed.
I really love Charlotte Joko Beck’s writing. What attracted me to Buddhism in the first place was the pragmatic philosophy and positive psychology that under pin it – and this is very much what Everyday Zen focuses on.
Too often this very applicable knowledge gets buried under metaphysical speculation, or religious dogma. Even though Buddhism isn’t theistic it has been turned into religion over the centuries by various groups with very different perspectives.
Seeing past this to the underlying principles, and the truths that they help reveal, is far from straightforward. When you add in the cultural conditioning that we overlay on top of these universal truths then the scale of the challenge emerges.
But this is what this book is so good at explaining and describing. It’s one of my favourites and highly recommended.
Thanks to Quentin for this great share of some Lumiere Brothers’ footage from all around the world shot before the turn of the last century and lovingly, and painstakingly, restored and colorised by Denis Shiryaev. As Quentin says, not a lot happens, but they are strangely mesmerising.
And I do, even to the extent of believing that the ultimate extinction of the human race could be seen as a good thing for the planet.
But it could get very ugly and dystopian in the short term.
Watching America struggle to keep a grip of the norms of democratic society, and the rise of violent groups responding to, frankly, trivial provocation, it is worth imaging what would happen if climate change, for instance, leads to real global instability and gave people a real reason to riot…
The factors at play are so intricately interlinked and so complex that idealistic or simplistic interventions are likely to make things worse not better. And yet each of us are a part of that Indra’s Net that, increasingly apparently to me at least, underlies the world we live in, and as such we have more power than we believe to change the outcomes.
What we think, what we say, what we do, what we buy, what we share, who we connect with and how we relate, all have the ability to affect the whole of the universe, each and every moment.
Some of you may have seen on my various social media feeds that I have decided to pull even further back from them. I have logged out of them in my various browsers and removed the apps from my devices. I will still pick up if people message me but otherwise I’m off.
One of the triggers for this decision was becoming frustrated at recording my reading in Goodreads. Worrying what people thought of my reading list, worrying about my reviews appearing on Amazon, worrying that I wasn’t finishing books that I had started, basically, like all social media platforms, worrying too much about what other people thought. But I do want to record my reading and will do so here. I will even mention books that I have given up on, which is many!
So that then got me thinking that some people might want to see my book reviews together so I thought “I’ll tag them”. I have come and gone with tagging in all sorts of contexts over the years but never managed to sustain it for very long. But from now on I will at least attempt to tag my book reviews and, who knows, maybe posts about walks, oh, and maybe about technology, oh, and…
Like I said, I’ll try, but don’t hold your breath.
No matter how much I walk, or how fit I am, there is always a point on a steep upward section where I end up wanting it to stop. Muscles aching, lungs heaving, wondering why on earth I am doing this again – all I want is for it to be over.
But then I remember that this is part of the whole experience. Digging in and keeping going that makes the challenge worthwhile. The point is to experience the reality of the situation, even if it is unpleasant. It is the detail of the moment, the particular muscles that are stretching, the rhythm of my breath, the textures of the ground beneath my feet that make me feel alive.
The situation is not the problem, it is what it is. It is the wanting it to stop that causes the suffering.
This is true of everything. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Whether it is feeling frustrated at the COVID restrictions, feeling frightened driving a big truck, or even feeling grief at the loss of a loved one, wanting it to stop is the problem. Accepting that it is happening, and that this too will pass, offers a blessed relief from suffering.
Longer walk today. Ten miles from home via Little Missenden, Old Amersham, Chesham Bois, Chesham, and Blind Lane (map here).
At both ends of the walk though I found myself thinking of violence triggered by ideas. Near the beginning I passed through Mantle’s Wood. This wood has remained pretty much unchanged for the 27 years we have lived here but in the past few weeks Forestry England have been thinning it out and it looks like a scene from the Battle Of The Bulge episodes of Band Of Brothers.
This got me thinking, yet again, of what a grim, grinding, battle that was and how those fighting on both sides were there, in part, there as a result of ideas expressed by Nietzsche and misunderstanding of Darwin’s ideas about evolution. Without those ideas Hitler would probably not have gained so much traction and we wouldn’t have ended up with WWII and the holocaust.
Towards the end of the walk I encountered the sad sign in the photo above. Thomas Harding was a local martyr burned at the stake because of his dissenting religious views. Again someone subject to violence on the basis of ideas.
Ideas are just thoughts, thoughts that originally appear unbidden, thoughts that can lead to millions of deaths. It would be great if we all learned to take our thoughts less seriously.
While on my daily walks I encounter other people walking, running or cycling. They are usually on their own or in small groups. We can see each other coming from a way off. And yet some choose to pass me without looking at me or responding in any way when I greet them with a friendly “hello”.
Are they so lost in thought that they haven’t even noticed my existence? Are they so afraid of meeting someone without other people around that they don’t want to provoke me? Or have we got so used to living in our own little islands that we just can’t be bothered connecting?
The word holy has the same roots as the word whole. We forget that we are part of nature, part of the world around us, part of the whole, holy. We see ourselves as separate, as fractured, split off.
Our unhappiness stems from our inclination to divide the world up with labels. Our vocabulary and grammar keep us apart from the world around us. This is the sour fruit of the tree of knowledge, the story of the fall.
My daily walks are more about recovering a feeling of wholeness than they are about fitness. An attempt to reconnect with the world around me, to mend the splits in a fractured world.
This is why I love walking in the rain. It is harder to pretend that I am separate from the world , that there is a space between me and the apparent objects around me that my brain has made up and labelled. The rain clings to me and envelops me. It becomes part of me and me of it. We become whole.
Setting aside the differences between extroverts and introverts, and those who are confident online and those who are not, my biggest worry is the number of people I encounter in business who are still playing safe.
Whether it is not speaking up on Zoom calls, saying what you think on work forums, or chipping in in meetings, all too often I see people sitting on their hands and keeping their heads down.
Clearly this is as a result of long and deeply held fears. Fear of being criticised, fear of being found out, fear of conflict.
But the perceived risks that lie behind these fears pale into insignificance in comparison to the ever increasing risk of not being seen, of your contribution never being recognised, and increasingly, in the not too distant future, the risk of being replaced by a bot.
The safest thing you can do these days is to feel risky.
I was reading a book the other day where the author was talking about her “orange” period in the seventies when everything from carpets to wallpaper had to be orange. As she said “what was I thinking!?”
It took me back to our front room at home in that decade which had an orange shag pile carpet and purple walls. “What were my parents thinking?!”
It also made me ponder the idea of the “front room”. Like so many families at that time, despite not having lots of rooms, we had one which was kept for special occasions or for when guests were visiting. As kids we spent most of our time in the living room at the back of the house and the front room was clearly different. In fact as I write this I can smell the sweet sherry that was consumed in the front room on said special occasions.
It is fun to occasionally look back on the conventions of your youth and to think what different things we aspire to and how differently we view symbols of status these days.
When walking at the side of our normally busy road there are still occasionally cars who will pass me very fast and too close. I step onto the verge but nonetheless my body still reacts to the proximity of danger. I can’t stop this immediate response, it is involuntary.
What I can stop though is the habit of spinning off into a reaction, getting angry and often gesticulating or yelling. In many ways our usual responses to emotional situations are distractions. They mask the underlying feelings and allow us to run away from them.
Just being with strong feelings is hard. Harder than reacting. Noticing where in our body we feel them, noticing our hearts racing faster, feeling the rush of adrenalin. Turning to face our emotions allows them to exist, acknowledges them, recognises them, and in doing so allows them to dissipate naturally, to run out of steam, to enable us to return to calm rather than getting caught up in the drama of reaction.
It takes courage to do this, to truly experience our feelings. It is easier to fly off the handle, to vent, to indulge. But in the long run letting them flow through us is better for us – and for those around us.
As we drive down through some woods to reach the A413, and if we look to our right, we are greeted with a beautiful view along the Misbourne Valley. In winter, in the mornings, this valley is often filled with a low fog which creates an otherworldly feel to the view especially if the ground is white with frost. This view has remained unchanged for centuries.
Sadly I will never see this view again. The foreground is now filled with a mountain of earth and teams of earth movers which are carving a massive gouge through the countryside for HS2. All along the valley similar acts of violence are being carried out every day with open wounds spoiling other long enjoyed favourite views.
To the very few of you who are not only inclined to travel after the experience of working remotely through lockdown, but who can also afford what I gather are going to be the steep fares to get to Birmingham quicker, I hope that you make good use of the few minutes that are going to be shaved off your journey.
We are very lucky where we live to have 360 degrees of choice of walks from the house. I am currently doing a walk every day and to avoid the muddiest paths I am sticking mostly to tracks and single track roads. This means that most days I walk along a choice of about four routes ranging from 3 miles to nearly 8.
Doing the same four walks could so easily feel repetitive but they are not. Each day the weather is different, my mood is different, I see different things and see them differently each day. From the road surface passing below my feet, to the light catching the rain on the road, to the trees that I pass, to the birds and the animals, each day is so different and, if I choose to see it this way, fascinating and delightful.
Notice the tension, usually somewhere in your gut, when you can’t face making your bed, when your spell checker takes on a mind of its own, when you keep putting off filling in that form that you know is really important.
Notice your ego kicking and screaming and putting up a fight against life. Notice it with the little things.
Then, when you are tempted to go berserk at someone in traffic, when you are about to allow your boss to make you feel small and frightened, when a loved one disappears… notice the tension.
If you can notice it with the small things, you can notice it with the big ones, and if you can notice it – it’s not you, it’s not real, it’s a story. You made it up.