Category: Time Out

Back to First Principles

Back to First Principles

Winter on the coast was tough. Coming into spring I find myself re-evaluating. Today I went back to the beginning to remind myself why I continue to choose hardship.

I love my life right now. I really do. I have two jobs that make me feel I am making my little corner of the world better. I have become brave enough to explore performing in front of others. Brave enough to try the things that resonate with me. Brave enough to risk failure because the chance to succeed carries more weight.

But there are always those aspects we don’t desire. There is always the flip side. My flip side is mostly condensation. This may seem like a relatively minor thing to you. Granted, it could be much worse. But I have been living in a 2m x 4m pop-top caravan with my two little dog friends since I returned to NZ in January, 2016. There was the notable exception of when we all down-sized to a 2m x 1m crawlspace to optimise mobility but condensation remained.

A micro living space is challenging in its own ways, but when the ceiling is coated with dangling raindrops, waiting to rain down on you through the evening, night and dawn, the complications mount up. It’s not the cold as such, that bothers me. Although, it is worth noting that the mountain range that forms a background directly behind us, is not coated in snow for half the year because of our tropical climate. I have two warm (canine) bodies and a hot water bottle contributing to heating my sleep space. But constant humidity and damp bring about mould, mildew, annoying droplets disturbing sleep. Holes between the walls of my pop-top caravan mean there is a draught and temperatures akin to those outdoors. Having to collect my own solar energy and drinking water directly from rain have required management. But believe it or not, that’s part of the appeal. That is to be more connected and conscious of the processes of life.

The reason is savings. The thought that reduced expenses might lower the obstacles to owning my own real estate. The chance to be responsible for significant capital investment does not really appeal. But the ability to contribute to my own equity in lieu of padding someone else’s retirement does. The house, the obligatory job, the fixed location… I could leave those too. At least the location I have chosen suits my needs.

“I’d known for a long while now that I really wanted out of cities and out of the cycle of working for the ability to pay off someone else’s mortgage and barely being able to get ahead. I have no real estate of my own, no desire to sell my life to a high paying job and its soul-sapping demands, no money to speak of, and no prospect of inheritance or a beneficent sponsor. The chances of procuring a lovely country home on a rural block, on which I could work towards a quiet, self-sustaining lifestyle were remote to say the least. And the problem of how to financially support myself once I got there always lingered in the back of my mind.” – part of my first post in this blog.

c2a9fairfax-brassett06.jpgBut the goal has always been freedom. All else was detail. I have saved a bit by living this frugal life. It means I can splash out if I want to as well. With the goal of true freedom, I find myself revisiting books on entrepreneurship and even writing ambitious beginnings to business plans. Visions of floating away on the tide to explore the open seas swim about in my mind.

Perhaps the permaculture goals I am living for are not ambitious enough. Perhaps they would become my new prison. Or perhaps they are really just another stepping stone to economic freedom and the pathway to absolute freedom. Either way, I can be sure that this process so far, has led to my mind being more free than it has ever been. Freer to truly believe in possibility.

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Emotional Self-Care

Emotional Self-Care

Emotions have been the single most difficult thing about my journey recently. At the risk of sounding a little to “Dear Diary”, I decided to share a few thoughts in the hopes it may serve someone else.

Coming into The Longest Walk NZ, it was the emotional ride to finally deciding to commit that was the biggest challenge. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I knew it was important to me. I knew I had faced similar crossroads… made the other choice… and regretted it. Yet still, I found it incredibly hard to take that leap into the unknown. There was no security. There was no ‘how to’ guide. I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Now that I’ve been on the road for over six months, I’ve found peace with the unknown elements and I actually enjoy the creative aspect of not having a blueprint. Not only that, but I have found security of sorts in history of supportive interactions with a vast number of people in every single place we have travelled to. The freedom I’ve found through making that commitment is unparalleled by any other experience of my life so far.

There are different emotional challenges now though. It took me a while to accept the hospitality and charity of others too. Having dealt with that, I am now often reminded of a very important lesson: to be aware of emotional vampirism.

The beast that is animal welfare draws forth strong emotions in many people. With that, comes a strange kind of attraction for emotional vampires. I refer to those who choose to dwell on drama or focus on painful loops and problems outside their sphere of influence. They thrive on ‘venting’ and constantly seek empathy for their perceived struggles. Black and white thinking tends to dominate their world view and everything seems to be hopeless or unfair. They leech others’ energy to feed their own insatiable hunger for high emotion and they flock to causes such as animal welfare.

Over the years and through my travels, I have become pretty skilled at conversing with people of varied backgrounds. It’s fair to say that I can have a reasonable conversation quite comfortably with most people I am meeting for the first time. Just because I CAN talk to most people, doesn’t mean I ENJOY talking to them all.

My psychic defences are poor. I feel other people’s emotions quite strongly and I have a very hard time not taking them on-board. The flip side of this is that I am also very aware of my own emotions and these days, I have learned to understand when they signal the need for action or change. That hasn’t always been the case and my inability to manage emotions as guiding signals has led to deep pain and suffering at times.

When these emotional vampires come into my life, I feel myself being drained and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain logic. They pull me into their pain and wear down my ability to resist. I can suffer their need for a sympathetic ear for a time but I reach a limit and have to physically remove myself from their presence in order to regroup. These encounters are dangerous for me because I often find myself close to the brink of re-joining them in their habits of unhealthy thoughts: the negative spiral of tainted/skewed logic.

To be honest, the thought scares me. It scares me because I know that pain. It scares me because I know how slippery the slope is and how hard it is to change. I have to be careful not to let empathy for their pain draw me in because I know THEY are ultimately the only person in the whole world that can help them. THEY have to choose to be ready and THEY have to commit to changing that pattern. Some aren’t ready yet (and I’m not qualified or able to help get them there) and others probably never will be. Either way, I have to consciously avoid letting it be my problem.

I want to be clear that these are not necessarily malevolent or nasty people. The ones I am coming across are generally killing themselves with kindness. They care so much that they too struggle to disconnect. Nevertheless, the cause is irrelevant. I still need to care for myself. The freedom I have fostered in my life right now balances on the knife edge of my beliefs and emotions. My freedom hinges maintaining healthy, useful thinking habits.

The other major challenge for me is dealing with being so publicly available. At first, the kind of minor celebrity that this venture has brought was novel and a bit fun. Now, while it is mostly just neutral, it has a definite down-side. I am always “on show” when I am around my trailer. I am almost always around my camper. Often, I am staying at kind people’s homes and that comes with an unspoken understanding that I chat about the journey and cause. I am happy to oblige and I am grateful for their hospitality, but it also means time to myself can be severely limited.

To put this in perspective, I prefer to be alone most of the time. I don’t mean that in an unfriendly way. I am also a very personable person. That might seem a contradiction and maybe it is. All I know is that I feel at my best when I have time alone to recharge and it allows me to enjoy time with others.

In combination with New Zealand’s ridiculous “freedom” camping regulations, it unfortunately means that the only time I can truly withdraw and recharge (legally) is inside my camper in a fairly public place like a campground. With this new-found “celebrity” comes a breakdown in normal etiquette. If people see the camper, they “have to see what it’s about”. If they’ve also been following the campaign, some feel they have earned the right to access me any time they might happen on me.

At this stage, I must add that usually, I am fine with that and I enjoy meeting people who have been following the journey. It’s nice to talk to new people and even nicer if I don’t have to start by explaining what is going on. In fairness, even I have trouble defining the limits of when it feels alright to be approached and when I’d prefer to be left alone. But II am starting to get a better appreciation for how it must feel to be a REAL celebrity. If I am trying to do some banking, I feel like common courtesy (at least in NZ culture) says to give me space. If I am sitting inside my camper with the door closed, it’s akin to someone in a zipped up tent. Personally, I would leave them alone unless it was someone I already knew.

Overall, I must say that it has been a great journey and I haven’t regretted the choice to undertake it. These little gripes are small in the grand scheme of things. My hope in airing them so publicly is that it might help someone else. If it does help you, I would love to hear it if you’d like to share it.

The Personal Power of Batman

The Personal Power of Batman

I have been a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins since it first came out in 2005. In watching it again last night I was reminded of a number of important life lessons that apply to us all. Batman is the crime fighter but what Bruce Wayne learns on his journey there teaches us how to achieve everything we have ever hoped for… whatever that may be.

There have been several reincarnations of Batman. The thing that makes Christopher Nolan’s Batman a little different is the depth he gives his protagonist. I always struggled with the unrealistic fighting skill that Batman, the alter ego of a billionaire business man, displays against hardened criminals living every day in their violent street reality. Fittingly, this thought is voiced by the crime boss Falcone when Bruce Wayne confronts him in a restaurant. He tells Bruce that he could never understand their world or the way that power works within it because of his wholesome background,

This is where we begin to see Bruce choosing to understand. The moment he steps into the alley and swaps all his cash and his expensive coat for a homeless man’s beaten up jacket, he decides to learn what it is to live hard. Unbeknownst to him, he takes his first steps to learning the truth in his sweetheart Rachel’s words “There’s a difference between justice and revenge”.

This is where we stray from Batman’s path. Unless of course, you too desire to defend the weak, fight crime and bring justice to a lawless society. In which case, I suppose this movie is like a ‘how to’ manual. (You may also enjoy Super (2010) which offers a more down-to-earth version for the non-billionaires among us). For the rest of us, we turn to a ninjitsu master wielding a plethora of clichés and a rare blue flower.

Ra’s Al Ghul not only refines Bruce’s fighting skill, but takes Bruce on a journey through his psyche which we all must take if we are ever to meet our potential. In fact, I believe we must take this journey several times over. Me ol’ mate Raz challenges Bruce to face his fears. Too many of us let our fears dominate our decision-making. We may justify those decisions in a number of far more empowering ways, but if we are brave enough to really confront our truths, we know it to be so.

He tells Bruce that he fears his own potential for greatness. His own potential to be powerful. His sentiments echo those of the oft-quoted Marianne Williamson, who says in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Take or leave the bits about God and the message still stands firm. It is fear of failing that prevents us reaching for that which is really important (to us). You could argue that it is Bruce’s fear of what he may truly be capable of achieving with all his money, power and influence that leads him into the shadows to begin with. Equally, it is his “playing small” which finds him fighting petty criminals in prison before Raz gives him a path to liberation from his own fear and we see his presence automatically liberating others throughout the movie.

I’ve been living this reality this year and last. Last year, I chose to really confront my wishes for life. I chose to pursue freedom by acting. That choice brought about this blog and everything that has followed. This year has been a continuation of that choice, with many more choices that needed to be made and followed up on. The Longest Walk NZ is the culmination of many hard choices and the confrontation of many fears. I suspect there are many fears yet to come. I hope to have the courage to confront them and to act.

You may not have a hallucinogenic blue flower to reveal your deepest fears, but if you choose to confront uncomfortable truths, you unlock a power beyond measure. Your fears are there to guide you. They reveal that to which is most important to attend. The choice to understand fear is the choice to be free. In understanding what prevents action, we take the most important step in overcoming the obstacle. Define the barrier. It is the first step to learning how to bring down the wall. Where it cannot be brought down, it is the first step to scaling it.

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Source: wikimedia.org
Depends What You Look At

Depends What You Look At

March 27th

I recently posted a picture of strawberries on Instagram which had been filtered in a specific way to produce a visual illusion. My friend Nick who is pretty savvy with pictures and Photoshop was quick to debunk the claim that it contained no red pixels. I have been thinking a lot since then about how much our beliefs colour our perception and experience of the world.

You can link through to the Twitter feed of Akiyoshi Kitaoka here. He regularly posts pictures which offer various optical illusions. I don’t know enough of the requisite skills to test his claims. Nor do I care to learn them. But even if I did, would I test them? Or is there something operating in me that encourages me to believe in wondrous things? Whether I would check or not is moot really. Although it is important to catch myself in this reaction of blind belief. The answer to the latter is: yes. I will default to the wondrous over the ordinary even if it is accompanied with a healthy scepticism.

A movie I watched recently, Now You See Me, briefly explores this idea in various theatrical ways. (Actually I watched both this and the sequel, which both play on this same theme and I can’t recall in which it was said specifically). The gist was that the allure of magicians is that people have a need to believe that anything is possible.

I can identify with this. Not only that, but I have specifically and deliberately tried to train my thoughts to tend in this direction. A while back now, I struggled with depression. I recognised my habit of seeing obstacles and unchangeable truths. I also recognised the absurdity of these claims and the changing nature of everything. One practice that resulted was that whenever I noticed any negative statement I might tell myself, I would counter it with three things I was grateful for. Slowly but surely, I began to associate negative feelings with an opportunity to find things to be grateful for.

Step by step, I was able to change my world view from one of insurmountable obstacles to one of possibilities. The world changed from a place where every struggle was ultimately pointless to a place where amazing things happen every day and challenges are an opportunity for growth. More directed learning helped consolidate and strengthen these ideas as well as understanding just how important those default beliefs are to my perception and ultimately to the outcome.

This extended eventually to realising how important it is to be aware who I spend time around. I like doers. I like dreamers. I like people who choose to see obstacles as problems to be solved. I like people who tell me how great it is that they got sick because it reminds them that they are neglecting their diet or lifestyle. I like people who take personal responsibility for the things they don’t enjoy in their lives.

This week, I have seen two more examples which have troubled me. I wasn’t sure how to write about them but I felt it was important to discuss them… at least with myself if not with others. The first was something posted by a teacher of mine at university. An exercise physiologist, he was posting an article about the dangers of the developing acceptance of obesity as the norm. When something which is harming us becomes our standard for normal, we are creating a toxic cycle in our reality. There are other examples in our everyday lives that we could all identify if we cared to and each will affect us in different ways to varying degrees.

The second is that of resistance to change. Several smaller organisations I have come across recently have been led by people who seem oblivious to the changing world around them. Convinced that their experience of 20 years, 30 years, or more of doing the same things makes them an expert in doing what is best. Yet they fail to see their failure to improve their operations in this time. They fail to see their failure to generate income to improve the resources they have to work with rather than suffer due to lack of funds. They struggle to recognise that their opportunities to flourish have increased while they were busy proclaiming their martyrdom. Their song is the same: “We’ve always done it this way. It’s worked for … years. These people don’t understand”. Yet the facts and examples happening all over the world around them speak to the falsehood of their claims.

I will suffer brief conversations with people who tell me how hard their life is. I will tolerate those who insist on swinging conversation to complaints about spouses. I will sympathise with the person who insists they have no choices or is stuck in a rut. But I will never choose to be around that person for any more than the bare minimum time I can manage. These are the emotional vampires who will suck you into their world of inevitability and self-pity. These are the people who will infect my psyche with their poisonous world views lest I fail to recognise it. It’s never worth trying to convince this person they have choice. It’s not worth it to make change my job. People have to be ready to choose a different way and it’s likely to harm me if I try to help them on the way. Yet my default is often to try.

I think the most important thing we can do in life is to notice and reconsider our beliefs. They are our most important tool to shape our lives. People interact and events happen around us but the only thing we have control over is the way we react to them.

Wave Power and How Country Folk Prove Einstein Right

Wave Power and How Country Folk Prove Einstein Right

January 9th

A couple of days in to The Longest Walk (read an update here) and I have noticed a few things while on the road. With nothing to do but walk, one has a lot of time to observe and think… and physics is getting a beating by my brain. To follow: Proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity and why waves have the power to change the world.

The first thing I notice is actually nothing to do with physics: people throw way too much stuff out their car windows on New Zealand roads man. Not cool. Chief among them are beverage containers. And it alarms me what a high percentage of those are beer bottles. Are there that many people drinking and driving? Seriously?! Other than the other general wrapper type of thing, which I’m not really surprised by, CDs rate pretty highly too. Why? In fairness, they have all been pretty rubbish CDs that I have seen. But are they all just too scratched? Passengers throwing perfectly good CDs out the windows out of disgust at the driver’s disgraceful taste in music? And then Christmas decorations! I mean, I know Christmas has just finished but what is wrong with storing it ‘til next year? Moral of the story: don’t be so lazy and disrespectful, people. If you must throw it out, there are perfectly good bins not too far away. Or if there’s not, take it home.

Second: Gale force winds can come from all directions at the same time. Someone please explain how this is so… or stop it.

Third on my observational list is proof of what Einstein said about space and time only being true in relative terms. You know the spiel: E=mc2 and how time is not absolute but relative to the observer. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that but in the country, you see all too clearly that it is true beyond a doubt. I’m gonna dub it ‘rural relativity’. It is the phenomenon of how everything in the country seems to be 5km down the road and/or 10 minutes away (by car). If you ask the local rural folk anyway. It makes not a lick of difference if the map and the speedo say 50km, nor if the clock suggests that it takes twice that. So the only logical explanation is that these guys are modifying tractors to go really fast. Like fast enough to warp the passage of time… Q.E.D.

Fourth is the power of a wave. Now you probably thought I meant an energy wave or something. Maybe an electromagnetic thing or even a wave in the sea. But no. Sadly I have deliberately misled you. The wave of which I speak is the humble greeting expressed with a jolly flutter of the phalanges. All along the route so far, I’ve made a point of waving to passers-by. It makes me happy. You know what? It makes the recipient happy too sometimes. Whatever happened to people just greeting everyone? Not for any specific reason. Just because. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that if we each made a point of just waving and maybe slipping in a sly little smile, the world would be a much happier place. Give it a whirl if you think I’m wrong. Prove me wrong.

This post is hardly going to stretch the ol’ brain pan, but I hope it was entertaining to someone 🙂 I hope you enjoy noticing stuff during your own day today.

A Timely Reminder

A Timely Reminder

December 22nd

In this prelude to the Trumpian era, we find ourselves unsure. What does it all mean? And what will it mean in the years to come? Perhaps it is nothing more than the usual US election hype and drama playing out. Or perhaps we are witnessing a turning point: something a little more important than it may at first seem.

This evening I watched Pleasantville for the first time. To be honest, I was ignorant to what it was even about. For those who don’t know, I recommend you give it a look before you read this. I’ll do my best not to kill the movie, but I can’t really give the monologue I’m planning without a few spoilers.

It struck me as a particularly poignant film to be watching at this time of transition. The people of America have spoken and have opted for making “America great again”. We are left wondering what greatness it is exactly that they seek. I’ll leave you to ponder your own thoughts on that for a moment because when I went to write my own, I realised just how many variants there may be.

It could be that this assumption is in itself flawed and that Americans actually just voted for change. A switch from a classical politician to someone who might do things differently. Maybe they voted for someone who they could relate to as having come from a corporate rather than political background. In reality, it must be assumed that there are several permutations of many different reasons. Each existing on its own continuum.

I suspect though, that when it boils down to it, some sort of variation on Pleasantville is exactly what is being sought. The specifics can be fiddled and changed, but the core emotions remain. The Trump line seems to be about making a secure, safe, predictable comfort zone… if only for the select few that the vision may comprise.

For it takes no genius to see that this is the state of modern democracy: It is an institution that relies on the strength of emotion to override fact or logic. The fruition of a lifetime of priming by marketing agencies and a top-down approach to social order.

The parallels in Pleasantville are not exactly hidden and while the emphasis is clearly a reminder of America’s past racial issues and segregation, it casts a net over greater social attitudes: the importance of free thought and emotional expression.

It is the warning tone of the film that stayed with me most though. Those whose endeavours tended toward ‘pleasantness’ were the seen as the agents of oppression and violence. Those whose resistance to flexibility held them contained in ignorance found themselves as puppets to the whims of he who would restore the balance of ‘normal’. Those who strove to evolve and grow according to their inner drive became victims.

It is not a new idea that humans seem to react to the unknown with violence. History shows us time and again. History also reminds us that there are certain signs which must be heeded. That there are certain threshold which, once passed, give a terrible momentum and may lead to horrible events. At the risk of adding to the fear-mongering that has been rife in recent times, I leave you with my recommendation to watch Pleasantville (with a thinking mind) and to remember that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke).

In this case, it seems it is not men but women who are leading the charge on this one… and they seem to be doing it in the buff…
Esquire- This is What Happened When 100 Women Got Naked at the Republican National Convention (NSFW)

Huffington Post- Haunting Photos Feature Trump’s Sexist Comments Drawn on Women’s Bodies (NSFW)

Still, the lads aren’t absent in their warnings. Charlie even had something to say. When was the last time you saw him saying anything useful? ;0)

Then there are those offering tips for self-care and local action:
Mashable- 4 Positive Ways to Take Action After Trump’s Victory

To keep things in perspective, this is what is happening in other parts of the world that have brought in ‘hard-line’ leaders… Not saying it’s the same thing, but is it?
The New York Times- They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals

And by the way, since I’m posting this on Christmas…
MERRY CHRISTMAS :0)