Learning how to welcome transition, and discovering boredom is essential
It’s been some time since I updated the blog thanks to a series of events and developments. As some of you may have noticed we’re back in the UK now, and I’m off Facebook. We’ve had people ask us what’s happening and my apologies if we haven’t been forthcoming with an answer.
The main reason is there is nothing to tell right now. Or more accurately, there’s too much to tell and we don’t have a quick answer to the question of what next. We have been in the grip of transition, and we wanted to do it justice. To meet it mindfully and with open hearts to allow it to serve us and grow the life we want out of it as best we could.
For me, there has been a lot of internal conflict. I’m still trying to shake off the shackles of old expectations of myself, along with the urge to cling to what’s familiar in order to forge a path that serves me as I am now. I always knew that this would be hardest once we returned to the place that these shackles were forged. And that proved to be the case, at first. But the world helped me out with a healthy bout of food poisoning to slow me down and force me to reset. And so I retreated into myself and away from the world. At first, I was forced to by illness and exhaustion and then, as I realised the value of it, I sank into the stillness with relish and waited for a path to resolve.
Expectations and plans
There are so many expectations that we place on ourselves to have a plan, a clear idea of where we’re going that can be articulated. And in many life scenarios, we’re judged by whether we have this plan or not. If someone has a plan, they know how to get there, is the assumption. And those without plans are clearly drifting, unmotivated goes conventional thinking.
Now, I’m not saying that plans aren’t useful. But what if you form a plan prematurely, just for the sake of having one? What if you form it without proper consideration of what you need and how best to get it? Sometimes, expectations from within ourselves and from those around us can cause us to feel ill-prepared and inadequate, driving you to action – any action, even ill-considered action – just to be to be rid of those feelings.
The value of being stuck without a plan
In Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Pirsig writes something which resonates with me deeply. He describes a scenario in which a screw on a cover plate of your motorcycle is discovered, unexpectedly, to be stuck fast:
Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn’t just irritating and minor. You’re stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It’s absolutely stopped you from fixing the motorcycle.
This isn’t a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all. Just plain stuck. In traditional maintenance this is the worst of all moments, so bad that you have avoided even thinking about it before you come to it.
The book’s no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don’t need any scientific experiments to find out what’s wrong. It’s obvious what’s wrong. What you need is a hypothesis for how you’re going to get that slotless screw out of there and scientific method doesn’t provide any of these hypotheses. It operates only after they’re around.
The brilliance of Pirsig’s book is that his insights into motorcycle maintenance can readily be applied, with just a little imagination to many other situations in life. Situations like the one I found myself in on our return. Stuck with a goal in mind but no plan and no idea how to go forward.
This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It’s a miserable experience emotionally. You’re losing time. You’re incompetent. You don’t know what you’re doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.
For some of us, this helplessness, this inadequacy and the sheer discomfort of facing it all is so unpleasantly uncomfortable to experience that it must be avoided at all costs. And so perpetual motion is better than sitting and facing that inadequacy and waiting for a plan to appear.
But, there is another way to view this discomfort of being stuck and it only takes a subtle shift in perspective:
Let’s consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn’t the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it’s exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty, you have a “hollow-flexible” attitude of “beginner’s mind”. You’re right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas.
Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors.”
An egoless acceptance of stuckness. Because it is only our inner sense of worth that judges us against others and deems us worthy or inadequate. This conflict-based, hierarchical view of where we stand in relation to others keeps us competing and drives us to keep moving. But if we can quiet this way of thinking in these moments, then we can connect to something else. A faith in ourselves and our place in the world.
I was at precisely this point on our return. Depleted physically thanks to the physical ordeal of travel and illness and as stuck as I’ve ever felt, I was filled with all of the inadequacy, frustration and despair that being stuck on a grand scale can bring. What was I to do? I knew I didn’t want my old life back, but nor could we continue travelling. How could we move our barely formed plans forward with little to no idea of how to make them reality? As the problem occupied my thoughts more and more, it grew in magnitude and I measured up to the task less and less.
And then a surprising thing happened. I suddenly found that I could hold my nerve in the face of those expectations. From somewhere, the faith I’d developed whilst travelling surfaced. Faith in myself, faith in the pair of us to make dreams reality and faith in the world to bring us the insight and experience we needed with time. And with that faith came understanding that we needed time to decide our next move, time to see what opportunities the world would offer, time for events to unfold. I only needed to stand still a while and abide with my fear, frustration and inadequacy whilst keeping my faith alive.
I will be eternally grateful to mum and dad for allowing us this time and providing us a place to stay. I know my choices in life have often mystified and baffled them but they support me in them nonetheless. Without this, the world may well have pressed us into action sooner, for better or for worse.
The revelations of boredom: moving step by step
And so, I’ve been allowed the luxury of waiting, and when the frustration turned to boredom, I tuned in to it and let it move me to action. Because, much as stuckness allows thinking unfettered by assumptions, boredom can allow action that is unfettered by expectations. When bored and listless, I act with a purity based on what motivates me alone, instead of what’s familiar, easy or what I’m accustomed to doing or ‘ought’ to be doing. And almost magically, once I’d given myself over to this process, small opportunities did indeed begin to reveal themselves. I was able to crystallise what was truly important to me amid all the noise in my life and I was able to search out ways to increase these things in my life. From there, I met people who had the expertise or information to shed light on the next step and at that step I again found illumination for the next. And so on it went and goes still, snowballing.
I wanted to share this process with you because I feel it has great value. Our world tends ever more towards bigger, better, faster, continual motion is viewed as a desirable trait and hyper-active overachievers are held up as role-models. Each day we undergo an information onslaught about the perfect lives of others, being all we can be, and motivational titbits empowering us to pursue each and every interest. It can cause a kind of aspirational attention deficit, where we flit from one thing to the next, driven by what we don’t know and left simultaneously with the perfect life on paper, crammed full of plans, achievements, interests and social engagements but too busy to be anything but numb or, worse, hollow and unfulfilled on the inside.
And this world, with all its stories of success and soundbite presentation gives the impression to the mind trying to find its way that it is a simple A to B journey. Not so. It is a journey of infinite steps, each step a journey in itself, each step a new beginning with a multitude of possibilities lying ahead of it that is simultaneously the end of the last multitude. Old wisdom, that is so often lost amid the chaos of living.
I think I’m not alone in my fear of stuckness. And so I share my experience in the hope that it speaks to you to spark a little illumination over the realisation that a small time-out, getting bored and gaining perspective is not a bad thing. Actually, I see it now as an essential thing. Just because you have the education and ability to move at 100 miles per hour doesn’t mean you should. In that direction goes the road to burnout and bad decisions.
So, after all that preamble, for those of you still reading here’s a brief account of what’s been happening and what you can expect in the next few months.
We returned to the UK at the end of April after seeing out our visa in India and moving to Sri Lanka for one month. I suffered horrible food poisoning for the duration of the flight back home, starting 2 hours before setting off from our friend’s house and continuing right until making it back to Yorkshire and my parents 24 h later. The illness and the dehydration I suffered as a result knocked me for six and changed all of our plans to hit the ground running when we arrived back. In light of everything I’ve written above, this is probably no bad thing. Though I did feel slightly aggrieved that the world needed to veer me off course quite so violently, surely a gentle push would have done!
I’m currently collaborating with an amazing school in Leeds to try and develop my ContainedBrain.com initiative. For those of you that don’t know about this, after our fantastic experiences in India, I’m hoping to start a business consulting with teachers and pupils on science engagement and developing activity-based curricula. I’m building the website to give a clearer idea of what it is but again this is a creative process that goes one step at a time. Each time I engage with someone about it, I learn a little more about what it is and what it isn’t. I’m also looking into gaining a teaching qualification to extend my school experience and develop my ideas further. In the meantime, I’m hoping to earn by tutoring. More on all that in later posts.
We’ve also decided to try and engineer the life we want by identifying the things that are important to us and going after strategies to actively include them in our life. Right now, that amounts to: living simply, more in harmony with nature, more in keeping with the gift and sharing economies, travelling.
To this end I’m volunteering with the Girl Guides and also the Yorkshire Dales Young Rangers program to get connected to the countryside and the community, get outdoors, give back and understand more about conservation. They’re a lovely bunch of people and I’m having a ball of time with them as well as meeting inspiring people each time. We’re also considering undertaking some WWOOF positions, volunteering on small farms and holdings for food and accommodation to get the hands-on experience we need to one day set –up our own sustainable life.
The journey, travelling and Garden Trails
Whilst New Zealand still remains a goal in our sights, our journey has taken yet another twist which, for now, sets it further away from us. But as Ted Simon so wisely said:
The interruptions are the journey.
Whilst we’re here we’ve decided to keep the motivation for travel high with a new experiment. We both realised, as we travelled foreign lands, how little we’d seen of our own countries. When asked by a young boy in India what was in England, I stumbled and stalled, appalled that I couldn’t reel of a dozen things of which I’m fond.
From there was born our idea for “Garden Trails”. We hope to travel each and every county making up the Home Nations of the British Isles, discovering cost-effective and positive impact activities to recommend each one and draw other visitors to it. How quickly we’ll do it and whether we’ll finish it, we’ve learnt by now not to predict. But we do know that this little project will stay forefront in our minds and help us to undertake each and every journey within our homelands with that same wide-eyed curiosity that we travelled Europe and the subcontinent with.
The mode of transport will of course be bike, as often as possible, though probably not exclusively. We’re in the process of getting ourselves mobile again and, as with everything else, this will happen all in good time. We do know that we won’t be on the same bikes as we were however as we have decided to part ways permanently with those. That is a longer and more difficult story that we don’t wish to dwell on, so suffice it to say that it is a decision that is for the best all round.
As for the blog, this isn’t the end! I can’t promise to post as often as when we started travelling, as you’ve probably noticed we have a fair few things on the boil right now. But I do hope the blog will go from strength to strength. There are so many exciting ideas and initiatives out there and sometimes it’s nice to be able to think them through with you all so I don’t feel like bursting!
The blog will also continue, as it always has done, to relate our travels, our discoveries and the lessons learned and I hope it brings a measure of interest, understanding, inspiration or insight to your coffee break. I will also be including more informative posts on the places we discover and I hope this will serve as a resource for people when visiting these places.
First things first though, I’ll be finishing off our Indian and Sri Lankan travels with a few blogs that I lost thanks to a portable hard drive corruption. Luckily, I have a fantastic brother who has recovered most, if not all of them and they’ll be posted soon.
So, this is all for now, I promise not to leave it so long until next time. Until then, I’ll sign off with these two thoughts, which are particularly resonating with me right now, both from Gandhi.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”