This one is for you!
So you’re questioning your way. Fantastic! Congratulations! Let me give you a big fat (air) hug — noticing is the first step to changing and huge chunks of the population don’t even get this far. Phew! Sit back, kick back, job done…?
One reason there’s a multi-million-dollar industry of self-help books is because we’re all looking for someone to guide us in the right direction, but there are as many ways to help self as there are selves. We already know there’s only one person who can figure things out. The good news is, it’s comparatively easier than not acting because the worry, dissatisfaction, and blocks you feel today will only compound until you either do something about it or ignore it into submission and live the rest of your days in a daze.
STOP! Health and safety regulations!
Before going any further, let’s check in. How are you feeling today? Have you eaten appropriately? Are you drunk?! Have you had enough sleep?
SLEEP DEPRIVATION IS NOT AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS!!!
If you are feeling physically not awesome for any reason, STOP RIGHT NOW! DO NOT CONTINUE! DO NOT PASS GO!
Unfortunately, it’s often only when we are sick that we are forced to do absolutely nothing at all and are left in the company of our minds.
Soul-diving is hard labour — it does not count as rest.
Fine, you continued to read anyway. Of course you would. But when you actually start to soul-dive– don’t do it when you’re feeling sick, OK?
School Didn’t Teach Us How to Live Well
The first 25 years is the period of learning, when the foundation for the rest of life is laid. The second 25 years is for practicing the skills and ideas you have acquired. The third period of 25 years is for committing yourself to the service of the community and society. And the fourth and final stage is for living your inner truth through meditation, reflection, renunciation, and letting go of all attachments to material and emotional possessions. Satish Kumar — Elegant Simplicity
I’m increasingly frustrated with education for the lack of foundations it built within my first 25-years. Neither school nor two rounds of university equipped me with the practical skills for living a good life — how about you? For all those years spent sitting in classrooms at high school, what do you remember? What do you use in your life today? I’m sure this A* student would fail most high school exams if I took them tomorrow. Though I thought my schooling gave me a ticket to jobs and places I thought I couldn’t get to otherwise, I now question this. You don’t need a degree to travel the world and as for earnings — you who chose not to go to university and worked your way up the ranks have more practical experiences (and money) than I who launched my post-Cambridge career cleaning French toilets. It took me 13 years to pay off my student debts and I’m not even American. In school I learnt the social component of working together with people from different backgrounds. I also demonstrated endurance through endless shit to get things done when I didn’t know why. I graduated from Cambridge University then wrote:
28th June 2005: I move back to Ipswich on Thursday and that’s it. Life. I’m here and I’ve got to find my goals and achieve them. Otherwise they’ll be lost in the mundanity of everyday living. And I can’t let that happen. Having gone through all of this I owe it to myself to keep going.
Finding my goals aged 21 after all these studies? Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t they have helped me out with that a little earlier in those formative 25 years? I define learning as “conscious evolution” — driven by curiosity, when we meet unknowns we strive to make them more known. We practice and play to see what happens, we learn. We explore, we find things we didn’t know about — some of which interest us and some of which don’t. Shouldn’t our education systems be facilitating such exploration?
Wayfinding Academy in Portland, Oregon, works to address this backwardness in education. They promise to cultivate humans who are empowered to thrive (1) throughout the rest of their lives. They embrace curiosity (2), are willing to stretch (3), understand the importance of conscientiousness (4), know how to create community (5), and live life on purpose (6). They help their students achieve these six objectives through a curriculum which combines core classes with workshops led by community experts on specific topics that pique curiosity, internships and self-directed projects, and “Learn and Explore trips” such as walking the Camino di Santiago pilgrimage. Students create a living portfolio of work to show their best selves. Whereas Ipswich High School, Cambridge University and Sophia University taught me to work for extrinsic validation (an A*), Wayfinding Academy helps people develop intrinsic motivations — what are your passions? How do you best like to express yourself? How can you find (or re-find) your purpose? We have to learn to challenge ourselves and design our lives intentionally — only you can create your weekly timetables, objectives and internal gold stars. Why weren’t we equipped with these skills?
Evaluating the Value Your Work Brings To Your Life
I don’t have an end or long-term goal so find it hard to evaluate the value my job is adding to my life.
The value of your job can be assessed with reference to the environments of life. My job enabled me to broaden my network of change-makers in higher education by visiting Wayfinding Academy — a professional dream come true. In 2020, I signed up for Co-creating the Emerging Future at Schumacher College. My salary enabled me to save $24,000 and donate around $5000 to scholarships supporting meaningful learning opportunities for hard-working people. The context enables/enabled(?) me to swim for about 50-days a year in the world’s most incredible ocean with manta rays, anemones, needle-nose fish and curious divers. On the other hand, my location severely limited my potential for dating and makes going to see family an epic journey! What does your work enable and prevent you from doing in the following environments of life? Body (health), Nature (being in), Physical (places you inhabit — your home, your car etc.), Financial, Network (including online), Relationships, Spiritual, Memetic (the information you consume), and your overall Self.
How do we find our way?
By consciously and consistently looking for it. By regularly checking in and rebalancing. By accepting uncertainty with gratitude. By jumping in the river of life. By reading, exploring, trying and failing and laughing — repeat.
Clear out space. Clear out time. Clear out the bedroom. Clear out your head. Self-isolation gave you an unwanted gift of time — how was that space for you?
Health reminder: being sick is NOT the best time to deeply contemplate life, which uses up tremendous energy.
Do nothing. I mean NOTHING. Write NOTHING into your schedule. Be in a clear space with NOTHING. See what happens. I found myself dancing, writing, reading, eating vegetables, laughing out loud and crying. These activities naturally bubbled up to fill the space I’d created. I am drawn to the ocean — there I finally let go of the mental muddle and just am. No thoughts of purpose or why or how or anything — finally I am free.
Go on a strict information diet. In the same way you know you should take care of what food you put in your body — and are not perfect — think about the kinds of information you are ok to put in your mind. Check Simon Sinek’s TED Talk or book, “Start With Why” or if you don’t fancy reading, try Audible’s trial and get your first (and last?) audiobook for free. Sinek also offers a $150 online course “Find Your Why” — you tell me if it’s worth the investment?! Why do you want to be on social media or see the news? Is that the best way for you to consume a well-balanced information diet? I started my audio updates because it’s my best way to stay in touch meaningfully with people who care. It drastically cut my inbox of social media and people sometimes respond with their writings, poems, audio and videos.
Ask the $500 million question a few times a year: if you had $500,000,000 — what would you do? Quit your job? Go travelling? Take a holiday? Set up your family so they don’t have to worry either? Pay off an organic farming network to feed you and your family for the next few years? Buy your own secret nuclear bunker in a publicly disclosed location in Manningtree?! How do you actually want to live your life? Regularly visualising the details of your ideal life with $500 million could well add more value to your life than that money itself — especially in this highly uncertain world it’s now so clear we live in. I regularly repeat the $500 million question because if, over an extended time period, there are drastic differences between the answer and what I am doing today then I know it’s time to make changes now.
Design or Goals?
Consider design instead of goals. So much talk about goals but what if you die tomorrow? An amazing life is a series of amazing days. When I did an online session to “find my purpose”, my answer to the $500m question was “I’d go buy vegetables”. The session leader laughed at my response and tried to push me further — “now that you have all the vegetables you could possibly want, what are you gonna do?” I didn’t have the heart to say “cook them”. I tried to find something more meaningful to say but ultimately I’m a simple one — it doesn’t matter how financially wealthy I am, I still want delicious nutritious vegetables and well-balanced food for my next meal. Today I find myself trying to live my designed life of hula hoop, meditation, stretching, writing, healthy eating, while trying to travel across the planet to be closer to loved ones. Whatever obstacles appear along the way, I attempt to keep the design of my day consistent and if I don’t reach my chosen destination, it’s ok because I know I made every effort possible. We can’t measure today’s value tomorrow.
Transformational Learning Experiences
1) Meditation retreat: 12 days completely removed from everyday existence. I signed a contract agreeing to follow the prescribed daily routine and rules. Funny how difficult it is to sit and breathe all day every day, punctuated only by eating, washing and sleeping.
2) My first trip to Micronesia: 30 days — a rough time of my life. Recently separated, homeless, and uncertain of the status of my marriage. Not much planned. I’d never been to a place like this before. I took one month of life and lived it somewhere else where I knew no one and no one knew me, trying to learn about environmental education.
3) Arriving in Japan: I arrived in Japan for the first time on April 30th 2010. I wrote:
27th May 2010: The LAND of the RISING SUN Part 1
I never gave myself the credit
For doing what I did
Too fearful to admit
So I hid
Hide my pride
Hide my warmth
Hide my inner strength
Hide my beauty
I didn’t want to believe in me
Just 10,000 kilometres
A month alone
In fascinating territory
I can’t read
I can’t write
I can’t do more
Stripped to bare necessities
Purged of constructed realities
Free from view
From judgement by you
Who knows me?
So very few.
Does it matter?
To such a few.
I’m finally me.
I remind myself
The end could be so near
So little has changed now I’m over here.
Is it escape? Is it fear?
Is it just a change of gear?
Is it real? Is it old?
Is it just another fold
In the crumples of life
So delicate. So fragile. So…
So all I did was take a step,
Just one of many more
All I did was
So much for myself, and you
To be yours, forever, or, forever together
With you forever more
What these three transformational learning experiences have in common is taking a chunk of time (minimum 12 days for meditation retreat) and being somewhere completely different in which no one knew me. Can you think of a time when you devoted a chunk of time for nothing but YOURSELF? When were you submersed in total unfamiliarity? What did you learn from those experiences? So easy to ask these questions — for all my preaching, I recently realised that the last time I really stopped for any time longer than 6 weeks was……
I have constantly been moving from full time education to work, so careful I am to be independent, to be secure. We are under such pressure to work, to be responsible, to bring in money, to do this and that and what we think society tells us. Current world events may well be forcing many of us to take some much needed time to just BE.
When it comes to making change in life, start small.
1st August 2010: I haven’t practiced my Japanese alphabets for many weeks, so I will be mortified by all those I’ve forgotten! Back to practice!
17th February 2019: I was reminded that I CAN conduct myself in Japanese and I HAVE A JAPANESE IDENTITY.
You never know which seeds you sow today might take root and grow — I find that both frustrating and amazing. Frustrating because I’m impatient and want to know the outcome already! And amazing because when I actually step back and look at the orchard of fruit trees I’m cultivating, the potential is infinite, inspiring, exhilarating and wonderful! It is a delight to strive for better because being our best selves prepares us best serve the world. There are no right answers just keep-on-goings. Do more of what you love and less of what you loathe. Try to strike a balance between benefiting today-me’s world and tomorrow’s. Make best efforts and then rest easy however the leaves will fall.
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