Safely home

My elder daughter Mollie has been travelling through Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos for the past nearly 2 months. She and her boyfriend Theo set off when the coronavirus was in its very early stages. We knew it was around, but they had planned and paid for this trip ages ago and decided to go ahead.

Paradoxically they were probably safer where they have been than here in the UK. Regular testing, and mostly in remote less busy parts of the various countries, ideal.

But with things escalating we decided to get their return flights shifted to a week earlier than planned. Etihad were superb. Calm, efficient and helpful. It took more than ninety minutes of call centre hell to get through to them but they were great.

I picked Mollie up from Heathrow Airport yesterday and to say that I was relieved when I saw she and Theo coming through the arrivals gate is a HUGE understatement.

If you are in a similar position, unsure whether travel restrictions will prevent your family from getting together, I most sincerely wish you luck and hope that your travel challenges are resolved soon.

Selflessness

Usually doing the dishes is a bone of considerable contention in our house. I end up getting grumpy because I feel that no one else does them as often as I do, and if they do do them they certainly don’t do them the right way like I do. I end up muttering away to myself as I put stuff in the dishwasher, feeling self righteous and hard done by. Poor me. Inconsiderate them.

We are brought up to see ourselves as a separate self, cut off from the world around us, needing to protect ourselves or curry favour in order to avoid pain or hold onto pleasure.

Our economies and modern society are based on this narrative.

But in reality we are part of life. Our boundaries are imagined (if Covid 19 teaches us anything it is surely this). Our sense of separation is fuelled by made up narratives based on a made up past. We desperately try to protect the little me that sits on our shoulders yelling shit in our ears all day long, and in doing so simply make it stronger.

But when things fall apart there is just this, and we deal with it.

I am currently getting a great deal of pleasure out of doing the dishes and doing so uncomplainingly…

Big reset?

People are talking about a big reset being brought about by the corona virus. But it’s not just that. Some of us have been saying for a while that we are in a transition from an old way of looking at the world to a new. Whether political, social, scientific, or spiritual, clearly change is happening.

But any “big reset” is only ever a result of lots of little ones. It is not being done to us, it is done by us.

How are you going to see things differently today? What are you going to do differently today?

Staying calm under pressure.

Some of you have said that my stories about truck driving have been useful. It occurred to me that this story might be of some little help in our current challenging situation.

What follows is a description of one of my most testing days as a lorry driver.

Firstly I was on my own, heading in to London, totally responsible for a 32 tonne mortar mix tanker. This isn’t ready made concrete but a mixture of sand and cement that gets blasted under pressure into large silos that are located on building sites.

The second thing is that not only do I have the responsibility for a large vehicle heading in to one of the busiest cities in the world, but I also have a knot in my stomach because I know that at the end of my drive I have a risky and stressful delivery process to carry out when I get there. Coupling up large pipes between the truck and the silo, firing up the noisy compressor, and trying not to blow the whole lot up was testing!

Lastly I am aware that the expectation is that I will do at least two, ideally three, such drops in the day, each time returning to the plant west of the city and repeating the whole process, so I feel under time pressure too.

The truck is fantastic. Relatively new and state of the art in terms of monitoring and cameras etc. But because of its weighty load, and the muddy locations I am delivering to, it has a manual gearbox to give more precise control over traction. Not only that but it has a split range gear box, with a high and a low range, that I have to switch between using an extra lever on the gearstick. Not a big problem except that the change from the upper range to the lower coincides with the speed change as you go into a roundabout. Add to this the fact that the truck really doesn’t like going down into third gear and you can imagine desperately trying to push the bloody thing down through the box without inadvertently ploughing straight over the roundabout!

Stressful!

But it gets worse. I hadn’t been to the site that I was delivering to before, it was on a bit of land which had confusing postcodes, and was on a road on which there are currently about half a dozen major building sites. It was far from clear which of these was the one I was aiming for. Add to this the fact that the road I was on didn’t have anywhere to turn except for a roundabout at the far end and then the one-way system at the other end forced me to go back onto the A40 and a couple of miles back up to the road to the notoriously difficult Hanger Lane Roundabout.

Each time I turned up at the wrong site I had to navigate my way out of the traffic, get close enough to the traffic marshall to speak to him, extricate myself from the entrance once I had realised it was the wrong site, and then head back up yet again to Hanger Lane.

By the time I was on my third attempt I was knackered and I was scared. I was close to packing it in and was fantasising about calling my agency, saying the keys are in the ignition, and walking away.

But then I started to slow things down. Applying what I have learned about meditation and mindfulness, noticing my breath, noticing the feel of the gear stick and the steering wheel in my hands. Enjoying each smooth gear change and precise turn. I slowly began to return to the moment. The feeling of being a failure brought on by what had recently happened began to diminish. The terror of getting it wrong again also began to reduce. I began to really enjoy the immediacy of my current actions, what was happening around me, sights, sensations, feelings as the whirling in my mind began to slow down.

This was obviously an unusual circumstance, and one that most of you won’t ever experience (except for the drivers who I know might be reading this and have to do it every day). But these practices apply generally in life.

What we think of as our past, even our very recent past, is a made up story, it’s not real, its filtered recollection of already filtered perceptions. My “story” was that I was a complete failure and utterly useless. When I got back to the yard I discovered that other drivers had also found the site difficult to find and faced similar challenges navigating their various attempts. My story was made up.

Again, in normal life, the future is most definitely a made up story. As current events are showing us our ability to reliably predict our futures are much more shaky than we like to think they are. In reality we have no idea what is going to happen in the next moment. In one respect that can feel terrifying, but in another sense, if we can hold onto this idea, it means that the future is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t exist yet. It is nothing.

All of this may sound like mumbo-jumbo but from experience it has helped me to keep the lid on when I felt like it was about to blow off. You still make decisions, often better decisions as you are calmer and more aware of what is happening around you, and you don’t disappear into a hippy daze either!

Hopefully this story might help some of you a little as you face your own challenges in the coming days.

Just a thought

Our lives are biologically determined by dopamine rush which is steered by culture built up over millennia. Our chattering monkey brain then tries to convince us that a fictitious “we” are in control and the resulting tension between this fiction and reality drives us mad. Literally.

P.S I will bear in mind that any of you who choose to comment on this post telling me that I’m mad had no choice but to do so.

P.P.S Who would have guessed what a large can of worms I opened when I failed to observe myself deciding to get out of the bath.

When the shit hits the fan

When the shit hits the fan you want your inside information flow to be at least as fast as what is happening outside. In most organisations this is not the case.

Conventional hierarchical communications systems are too rigid and there are too many obstacles to information flow.

Internal social networks are noisy and messy but so is life. If you have a big enough, mature enough, fast enough set of internal conversations taking place then you will be better able to work out what is happening and what to do about it.

Yes it may be too late for this current set of challenges, and it is still counterintuitive for many in positions of authority, but we can all do better than resorting to WhatsApp the next time the shit hits the fan.

Collaboration

Collaboration is more about willingness than about process or technology.

The curiosity to notice what others are doing around you, and the inclination to share what you know or offer your effort, count for more than all the “how to articles” you can read or fancy “collaboration” software you can buy.

If people in your organisation appear unwilling to collaborate start having some honest conversations about why.