Accepting my Contradictions

I own a 4X4.

To some of you, I represent the worst kind of evil. To others, owning a 4X4 is a fantastic idea and many of you really won’t care either way.

I spent many years living as though I hated 4X4 drivers. These cars came to be a symbol of capitalist greed, excess and environmental destruction. Needless, massive engines, just for going to the shops. No need! Gas guzzlers. I would even judge the male drivers of these cars as small-penised status seekers, just showing off. And maybe they were. But the point is, I had a strong opinion about something I knew pretty much nothing about.

Now, I’m judging myself – I really am! It’s crazy. I have 4X4 guilt and it’s because I have an established neural connection which holds as fact that 4X4 = doing something wrong. Is that what I deserve? Maybe.

Truth is, I’m beginning to give less of a shit. When I picked the car up in Manchester recently I was a bit embarrassed to park it at Unicorn Grocery (where I worked for many years), in case I was judged. Thankfully it was getting dark at the time.

Driving a 4X4 is definitely fun. I’m not going to make an excuse as to why I own one I’m just saying that I do. And I’m saying that I, two years ago would have considered shoving a potato up my exhaust. Or maybe my not-so-gas-guzzling 4X4 doesn’t qualify for that kind of action, I’m not sure.

Either way, I am a walking contradiction. Anyone else feel like that? Do you feel guilty and blame others/the ones doing it wrong, or do you accept that you have contradictions? Are you an environmentally conscious person who eats meat or buys stuff with plastic packaging? A humanitarian who shops at H&M? Do you work at an ethical business and take flights on holiday? Might as well accept your contradictions because we don’t live in a world where you’ve got a choice about that one. Ouch!

We can’t judge, really, can we?

That sounds negative, I know. But it’s true. We can’t be squeaky clean. We are all frustrated, wannabe clean living people, trapped in a structurally wasteful, consumerist society.

I am slowly accepting that I am unclean.

 

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Accepting my Contradictions

What-everrrr

I’ve decided to free myself from self-imposed writing constraints for a while. It’s like I have put an expectation on myself to have to say something important and insightful. Oh no, hang on: I plan on continuing that, just in a different way, I spose.

It’s a big universe out there and I have loads of random insights I want to share with as many people as possible. For example, I’m an expert on makes and models of cars of the 1980s and 90s. That’s got to count for something and may be an important blog post one day. It’s really interesting.

For the coming while I’m going to turn my taps to writing about pretty much whatever I want. It will be full of contradictions, the metaphors will be misplaced, the facts, cloudy and the humour may well be utterly predictable and ultimately dad-like. Occasionally, these gems will be accompanied by an ambiguously appropriate photo.

I hope to write about all sorts of non-news related things. Things that actually matter, like being a parent, a husband; a family man. Having an overactive, underused brain, being sexually repressed, not wanting to clean up after myself, meditation, dreams, sci-fi, nature, bread making, mushroom chopping, car driving, caring too much, not caring enough, crazy human interactions, gender, writing, grammatical incorrectness, music, swimming in cold water, films, vegetables and meat, sitting on a mountain for days on end without food; important things, see! Basically, stuff I would otherwise be a bit scared of writing about. Or it might just remain the same as ever.

And the theme of this first piece: writing about writing about writing.

Goodnight

 

What-everrrr

Amusings

What are we here for? What am I for?

My wife sometimes laughs when I ask this question, which usually starts with something like “Isn’t it weird, though?” She rolls her eyes. “Who are we, though? What are we doing? What’s it all about?”

At that point she attempts to leave the conversation. And I wouldn’t blame her, as it usually happens when we’re driving or putting the shopping away or something. I just get stuck sometimes, staring at a packet of pasta, noticing the shiny plastic packaging and its refined text, made up of letters and other symbols, the straightness and uniformity of the product, the dietary advice written on the back and the complexity of events which led to me asking this, most tedious of questions. I do it just for a laugh sometimes, because I kind of enjoy my weirdo-ness. I like to attempt to contemplate all the evolutionary steps it took for that packet of pasta to be in my hand, or how a loom was designed, or when we first decided to tunnel through a mountain rather than going over it.

So what is the point of me?

I don’t actually think there is. I’m not sure anyway. When I say ‘sure’ I think I know what I’m talking about. I mean, I can attach myself to all sorts of stuff, but am I nothing without it?

Does this even matter?

I jumped into the sea the other day, on my own. The Atlantic, that is. It was cold, and windy and I got brainfreeze from putting my head under. I know that my body craved the experience of jumping in the sea, even though my mind was totally against it. Picture me, hurriedly taking off my clothes on a cold beach, the goosebumps immediately jumping to attention, an inner voice screaming at me “What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doooooiiiiiing?” And there I am, just ignoring it. Fear and excitement happen, both pushing me and holding me back.  Another voice is answering “I don’t know what I’m doing, this is ridiculous.” And then I run, in the full awareness that I am about to do something out of the ordinary, against my most own best advice. Still feeling a bit self-conscious, I splash in the shallows, wading in towards the deep. With the shock as I experience the pure feeling of cold water immersion, I am released into the moment and the voices fade away.

Of course, I felt great after that jump in the sea. It was a reminder that I am alive and connected in a deeper way to the world around me. I appreciated the privilege of getting into warm clothes and living the relatively luxurious life I live and at the same time I can do what I want and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I need to have this kind of experience.

“You’re crazy for jumping in the Atlantic in November.” How ridiculous is that statement? But I said it, and I am the voice of reason, the fear, the courage and the stupidity. All me.

So, next time I stop and stare at something, thinking what’s it all about, and not find an answer, I will feel grateful that I ask the question. Because I honestly don’t know which reality I live in, if not my own. I’m old enough to deal with that, now. I am my own worst judge, but that judge needs locking up sometimes, for his own good so the creative can come out to play.

 

 

Amusings

Between Chaos and Rigidity

 

When I worked in organic food I believed in the produce I was selling. I knew that it had come from a good place. I knew that the people who grew it had integrity and really cared about what they were doing. I still believe that to be true.

Somewhere in there, though, I put my trust in a set of ideals and deep down I felt like that choice would somehow be enough to make me happy. Like I wouldn’t need to worry about anything after that. I realised after many years that it wasn’t working for me. It didn’t change how I was feeling, even after 12 years of doing ‘good work’. I was surrounded by great people who were (and still are) driven to change things and work for the benefit of the world.

But there I was, burning out. I went from job to job within the same world, gained expertise in local food and really knew my stuff. I believed wholeheartedly in what I was doing, but couldn’t escape the misery I was feeling. The work was easy to believe in, because it ticked all the boxes for me: community, people working together, spreading the message of healthy, chemical free food; taking responsibility for the state of the planet.

So, how could that have been bad?

It wasn’t bad, of course, but there was something missing. What went wrong for me was that I put too much trust in the system I was part of. I thought it was all I needed. I felt that people would look after me and I would leave suffering behind. I ended up feeling hurt and resentful, unworthy, yet somehow superior.  Messed up, eh?

I have fallen in and out of love with trust over the years. I have been hurt and even abused – as I believe everyone has to some extent – but I always regain my trust of others. I don’t like to hide my feelings from people; I speak about what hurts and also about what is beautiful. I have suffered greatly from an overactive imagination, which has helped talk me out of countless opportunities and possibilities. I also judge myself and others, but I am slowly learning to live with that and see that it’s not OK to judge. When I am judging, I will never meet that person in openness. I have a lot to lose when I am Judge.

Being over-reliant on others and my ideals, I lost sight of my responsibility for myself. I hadn’t grown up – and without knowing it I allowed the responsibility of my actions and decisions to rest on others’ shoulders. I blamed others when things went wrong for me, because I put too high an expectation on friendships, work relationships and the outcomes of my work.

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Now, almost 2 years after making a conscious decision to take responsibility for my existence, and experiencing both the tough challenges and the bliss of what that’s like (more details in future blog posts), I have changed the source from where I act in the world. I am slowly learning to trust my Nature, by spending time in open, wild surroundings and connecting with the landscape, just as I did as a child. This helps ground my trust, helps take me out of judgment and into unity. How does that happen?

It’s simple.

I see that the very land and planet which supports me has no judgment, allows me to be who I want, whilst all the time being its own full potential. This helps take doubt away. This may sound facile, but it makes much sense. Ideals and beliefs are a lot less tangible than the world around me. To me, this openness is Nature’s most powerful resource, not timber or diamonds, oil or even food. My arguments, my opinions, which I consider so important, fade away when I spend time in Nature. My problems, including blame and long held pain, feel insignificant when I spend time alone in Nature. The Earth, without which I would not exist, is completely supportive of me. Like a parent, I suppose, and I know I can rely on that support. The rest is up to me. I am solely responsible. That perspective blew my mind. I learned to create space, to slow down and stop, actually seeing where I was at, for once. Just watching my life, as if from outside myself.

Of course, I still have purpose and drive to change things and to contribute, but knowing I am entirely responsible for my own well being, including what has happened to me and what will happen to me, I know that I can now approach family life, the work I do and my creativity using my own inner resources, rather than relying on others’. About time.

If you’re feeling disconnected, like the world is broken, and people are messed up and we’re not going to make it (and that may very well be the case), then talk to someone about it. Make yourself vulnerable. Don’t hide behind your long held beliefs. They will not support you in growth.

When I ask ‘how are you?’ and I receive an automatic ‘yes, I’m fine, thanks’, accompanied by a deflective smile, I want to ask ‘what are your biggest fears?’ or ‘what is it you hate?’ or ‘what is it you really love?’

 

I want to get past the pleasantries. Tell me how you really are, not some preprogrammed answer. Tell me what you think stops you from enjoying life. Then we can get to the truth, those emotions which lie underneath, protecting some long held, painful hurt. Tell me why you think you hate other people. It’s not the truth but it’s a way in. The truth lies under that. We can do this for each other.

I spent about three decades there. Lying to myself, getting pissed off with other people and situations, when all the time I was just building defensive structures, in the form of judgments and accusations to protect my hurts. “They did this because they are like that.” “They are inferior to me because they don’t have the great insights I have.” Feeling inferior. Afraid. Alone with my negative thoughts. I was like a child, trying to protect myself, operating from survival mode.

To me, this is the core of disconnection; from ourselves, others and the planet.

How can we get past the outrage, past the surface, that armoury, trained to fight back at the hint of ‘attack’?

Let’s talk. Let’s go deeper.

 

 

 

Between Chaos and Rigidity

Is a Cricket ever not a Cricket?

I was happy with myself for swapping my Way of Nature UK training in Scotland (meaning lots of travel and flying, which I wrote about here) to doing the training here with Way of Nature Tuscany with John Milton, who started Way of Nature in the US in the 1980’s. That’s a lot of ‘Way of Nature’, there, I apologise.  As usual, I felt a little cynical about the whole thing as I wasn’t sure what was in it for me in the long run.

I have to admit I quickly and unexpectedly felt a camaraderie with John, especially as he has Irish roots and identifies strongly with them. We talked a lot about farming and growing at dinner and what it took to grow organically and sustainably. As he was part Native American, his family grew using the ‘Three Sisters’ method; corn, beans and squash. The corn grew up, the beans climbed the corn, bringing nitrogen to the soil for the squash growing at ground level. Great to learn about this. “Neat”, as an American might say.

Over the course of the weekend we talked about activism, environmentalism and then need for grounding within all that. His story was fascinating and definitely shone a light on what I felt could be possible for myself, having experienced what I can only describe as burnout working in the organic food sector and volunteering in other sorts of food/sustainability-centred activism. John Milton is an extraordinary, ordinary man who is down to earth and practical yet at the same time totally cosmic – an really great combo, I have to say.

So I found myself in this field as part of this course, doing some ‘solo time’. It was a beautiful field, with a hawthorn (or whitethorn, as we used to call it) and blackthorn hedge, with long grass and bramble coating the bottom, very similar to what I grew up with. It was almost impassable, but a great habitat for wild creatures. This ‘solo’ is a time set out for each participant to explore ideas and concepts and come back with some perspective. I experienced my first guided solo time (which I wrote about here) in April and it had a profound effect on me. This time was no different.

We’re all aware of weird things happening, the sort of stuff that’s difficult to explain or not ‘normal’. Anyway, at one point during my solo time I found myself on a blanket my hands and knees. Nothing unusual there, you might think. Well, as I knelt there, in a wild bristly, dry stubbly field, at 1000m above sea level in the 25 degree heat, I heard a cricket call. “Cheep cheep” it said, catching my attention. Somewhere inside I said “I can do that!”, answering the cricket with my best “cheep cheep.” After a bit I felt like I was chatting to the cricket – still pretty normal behaviour, I know. Then I saw it, making its way across the grass towards me. I was surprised and a bit excited that it might actually be coming to ‘say hello’. We continued the dialogue until the cricket clambered on to my blanket and up on to a piece of paper I had. Then I noticed it was missing a back leg. “Wow, weird!” I thought, marvelling at this freak of nature which had come to hang out with me. I noticed its bright orange abdomen and could clearly see the vibration of its one back leg as it called to me. It was definitely at a disadvantage, I mused, but it seemed to be doing ok, but that didn’t stop me from feeling some kind of sympathy for it. Then it tried to climb onto my leg and kind of fell off. I felt sorry for it and tried to help it up, at which point it took off and flew away into the long grass growing into the hawthorn hedge about 15 feet away. I was blown away. Not only because this cricket had apparently taken a fancy to me but also in my fascination I forgot that crickets could fly and got a bit of a shock when it just took off. I realised in that moment that I didn’t need to feel sorry for that cricket because it could fly; its secret weapon.

I then stood up, still a little bewildered and turned to the sky. Just as I was about to put it all behind me and get on with my life, I heard it again. “Cheep cheep” the cheeky cricket chappie chimed, once again. This time I felt pretty certain it was him again so I resumed my grounded position and called out again. Sure enough, the one legged cricket was making his way back to me. Now I started feeling a bit weird. I also kind of felt like I knew what to do, so, a couple of minutes later, when it got near I put my hand down and it hobbled straight on to it and sat in my palm. I gently lifted my hand until the cricket was level with my eyes. We observed each other for about ten seconds, but this ten seconds was like an hour and this moment felt like something out of a sci-fi movie, all surreal and super-real – the moment when the insects started telling us how shit were were and it was time to be nice to the world. THAT kind of moment, when one has an unexplainable (yet supremely describable) intimate moment with an invertebrate which could easily count as one of the most interesting interactions I had ever had with another being, amongst the countless hundreds of thousands of interactions I had had in my life previous to that moment.

“Even a one legged cricket can fly”, I reflected to myself, still totally absorbed in its inexplicable magic. I felt overwhelmed by how I sometimes diminish my own capabilities and possibilities by thinking I’m not good enough or I’m a bit broken or something, but that one crickety moment gave me something which really helped me see that we may all think we have something wrong with us, buy why should that stop us from flying? You can hobble along if you like, with your injured life, but taking off is also always an option. Wow!

I came back from my 2 hour solo absolutely buzzing about my cricket interaction and feeling that through connecting with nature in an open and grounded way, being in the moment, I can get these kind of lessons, I can grow and progress through learning from my environment, as it reflects my way of being, just like I reflect its state too. That was just ONE mindblowing experience in a weekend of deep learning and seeing this ever changing world a little differently once more. I didn’t feel quite so cynical after that.

We are nothing if not a part of nature. Go out and connect, it’s there for you.

 

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Making Meaning Less Mean – An Autobiography

I have been a terrible reader all my life.

I was rubbish at school and, after the age of about thirteen, was about as interested in it as I was in listening to my parents go on. I had no drive, no interest in the subjects, many of the teachers taught by rote and were unimaginative and disciplinarian, which I automatically rebelled against. It’s probably the same everywhere.

When I was about 14, my parents went to a parent-teacher meeting where they met with Mr Carroll, my English teacher. Mr Carroll informed them that it was obvious I read a lot because I had a good command of the English language. I have never forgotten that compliment, partly because I felt proud to have received such kind words from Mr Carroll, one of my favourite teachers and partly because it was so inaccurate. I rarely read a book and didn’t even read most of my reading list for English at school. I’m not writing this to show off but to illustrate something; maybe I thought I was too cool for school.

Having said that, my maths teacher, Tommy Dowd, in what I consider a shrewd assessment of my general character, summarised “He’s looking for problems where there are none.” That phrase has always both fascinated and perplexed me. It’s a kind of ‘wood for the trees’ thing for me. I understand the phrase ‘looking for problems where there are none’ but I could never see when I was doing it.

This is why I chose to opt out.

In the past, it was always easier for me to not get involved. If something seemed difficult I immediately gave up, finding it really hard to keep going with it. Unless I had someone overseeing me, ‘holding my hand’ in a certain situation, it was likely that I would sack it off altogether. Hence the lack of interest in school and study and not being bothered with reading.

Through this neglect I decided that I ‘knew better’ and was somehow superior to others. Occasionally bolstered by misplaced compliments such as ‘it’s obvious that he reads a lot’, it felt like a no-brainer.

I spent many years avoiding knowing about what was really going on in the world and focusing only on my own subjective take on things. This led me to become more interested in nature, dreams and intuition. It distracted from the cerebral world which I did not wish to be part of. I felt close to people emotionally but intellectually inferior which cased me to create a gulf. I worked hard physically but not mentally. I put up a wall between myself anf the ‘real world’.

So what did that cost me?

I grew up somewhere rural where it was easy to be away from people and despite living in the city for 20 years, surrounded by people at all times and being married and having a child, ( I often marevelled at how regularly I was within grabbing distance of my next door neighbour) I still managed to live mostly in my own head and most of my theories about how the world really worked were in my own imagination. Throughout this I managed to hold down some good jobs, be part of some amazing and groundbreaking sustainable food projects, start, run and sell my own business and play in bands and tour Europe. Outwardly, I could have appeared to be ‘an achiever’.

Gradually, in these past 4 years or so, since my beautiful daughter was born, I began to put a stop to my old, isolating, judgmental ways, mainly through challenging myself in new ways, so I could look at things differently. I learned to swim, began to emerge from my anxiety of walking down the street. I used to react with extreme discomfort and self consciousness in the most mundane situations, like going to the shops. Instead, I began to enjoy little interactions with people in shops and in regular, everyday moments. I even began smiling at people in the street for no other reason than just to smile. I was becoming a happy person. I read about 25 books last year. I even went on a great adventure/walk/challenge, talked publicly in front of audiences about it many times afterwards and then packed up and left the UK after 20 years to live a new life in the mountains.

It is only since arriving here that I have seen a clearer picture of who I am.

Arriving here and trying to get straight into a new life without a job or speaking the language hit me like a train. Stopped in my tracks of having spent the previous couple of years progressing steadily with the ‘job’ of growing into what I considered my true self, I sought the nearest rock and attempted to crawl under it. I approached going out in public with anxiety in a situation where I might have to talk to someone. Even simple, everyday, meaningless interactions I took for granted, and even learned to enjoy in the UK became instead, stressful awkward and frustrating moments here in Italy. This lasted for many weeks and I made myself ill for a month with stomach cramps, nausea and other digestive issues. The realness of the pain and not being able to ease it left me feeling anxious and perpetuated the uncertainty. I had no idea that this was going to happen, and I was shocked, as I had never suffered from stomach problems before. In fact, I prided myself, in some secretly superior way of having a particularly strong stomach, handling lots of booze and whatever else I would decide to indulge in.

Thankfully this appears to be passing, and the track I fell off when arriving here is again beginning to catch up with me.

There is nothing worse than that sense of uncertainty about one’s place and future. I carried that uncertainty with me for decades and just when I thought I had cured myself of it and was moving to a new level, it came back. Call it depression, opting out, anxiety, mistrust; it takes many forms. I spent much of my life feeling alone, feeling like I knew better, but at the same time I was desperate to belong. I trusted few and feared many. I put myself in destructive situations and friendships where I only hurt myself more and got more isolation. I am so immensely lucky to have an incomparably amazing wife, lover and life partner and fantastic sisters whom I know I can always rely on. Not everyone is so lucky.

Since returning to the ‘real world’, the world I shunned back in the early 1990’s, I know it’s not about finding my place in society, being part of the gang or even having intense, short lived friendships and relationships which end in ‘necessary hurt’ that matters. What counts is that I am ok with who I am and I am ok with the way the world is. If I’m not ok I have to express it. Writing helps me do that, along with physical work and now, more intellectual pursuits, such as reading books, having to learn a new language from scratch and getting more into what we as a species have done in the past and how we can do things better in the future. To do that I have to overcome the greatest barrier I put in front of myself and admit that I really don’t know better, but if I stay open to new possibilities, I can better myself and feel better about myself and my place in this world.

I love the fact that I am a people person, that I feel I can relate to peoples’ pain and am not afraid to express my own, despite having ‘hidden myself away’ for a long time. I still love dreams and the cosmic, otherworldly possibilities of the imagination; those intangible, but undeniably personal experiences available to us all.

From now on, my ultimate goal is to stop looking for problems where there are none and to actually read and learn a lot, thus gaining a better command of both the English (and Italian) language and of my place in this world. I owe that to myself.

Grazie

Making Meaning Less Mean – An Autobiography

Flying or Dying?

At the moment I’m undergoing training with Way of Nature UK which I’m enjoying very much. The training is subtle yet powerful. I find myself not thinking about it for a while but then thrown completely into its path.

I decided to take on the training before moving to Italy. It felt like the right thing to do. I also had the niggling knowledge that I would probably have to fly back to the UK for the two training modules, which were UK based. And I have a problem with flying.

I’m not scared of flying, I just have this extreme discomfort every time I think about this most polluting form of travel. I’ve tried the ‘fingers in ears’ method, i.e. try not to think about it but that doesn’t work. I’ve also tried justifying it to myself by saying that because I worked in environmentally friendly organic food for 12 years and am doing a nature based, low impact training which may lead to me teaching others to be more responsible about jumping on a plane for a weekend break.

No matter how I put this to myself I still come out with the same answer; “I should not be doing this.”

I believe that change begins with the individual. Having said that, how do I stop myself from booking flights to the UK for my next lot of training? Do I go by train, leaving my family for 2 days longer than the week I’ll be away for, and be out of pocket a further couple of hundred pounds or euros? I feel hamstrung by the situation. But I only have myself to blame.

Recently, I read a good article by the great, modern adventurer Alastair Humphreys, where he writes about the environmental cost of adventure and how we may be judged by future generations, who may see the abandon with which we pollute the world in search of adventure and new outdoor experiences as the greatest irony imaginable. I tend to agree and I’m really glad that the adventure industry has a spokesperson like him who asks these important questions.

I’m a reflector and I hate like being judged but I also don’t wish to hide my thoughts and feelings from the people around me, so I am writing what might be an unpopular piece of writing about air travel.

We can’t say it’s not polluting. We can’t say that we need to do it. We use it because it’s convenient and makes the world ‘smaller’. It also makes the world more dead.

I fly.

I am responsible for the impact I have on the world. We all are. Living in the world at this time, there is very little we do which doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment. That’s a fact. Even organic food in the supermarket is wrapped in plastic and to make that food accessible to environmentally conscious people often requires hundreds, or even thousands of miles of transportation. Is this a joke? Nope.

So as I mull over the easyjet website looking at cheap flights in order to conveniently complete my training in a place about 2000km from where I live, I still have the question “what am I responsible for?” in my head. Can I use the excuse that I’ll use said training for the good of humanity, thus offsetting my carbon footprint? This is immeasurable for me, because it requires I justify it by something I have not, or may not even do. Or maybe I could use the work I’ve already done to justify it. Well, I might as well go one better and save the world from my bum on the seat of that plane right now.

I still haven’t decided.

 

Flying or Dying?