“Contentedly Munching On Everything Life Has, Peoples”
So I still can’t say the four-letter C word.
It’s just so… crass. To be able to say it, someone needs to put it into some sort of meme like “That shit cray” and “Da fuck?”. THEN maybe I’d say it.
There’s another four letter C-word, though, that is coming up a lot lately and I’m nearly as hesitant to say it as the other one.
Let’s do an experiment and see if you can guess what it is. It describes a group where:
1. The people in it show lots of zeal for the group’s cause and leader
2. There’s lots of attention on one charismatic leader
3. There is an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality with people outside the group
4. Despite this, there is a preoccupation with bringing new people into the group
5. There is also a preoccupation with making money
6. Submission to authority is encouraged
7. Questioning and doubting is discouraged.
8. There’s a lot of talk about guilt around certain behaviours
9. There is a fear of leaving the group/belief system
10. Being a part of the group often means you need to cut ties with friends and family OR leaving the groups means you need to cut ties with friends and family
11. The group claims an exalted status for itself over other similar groups
12. Emotions and thoughts of individuals are not as valid as the beliefs of the group
13. The leader is not directly accountable to any other authority except God
14. The people in the group are expected to devote lots of time to the groups activities.
15. Mind deadening activities like meditation, chanting or speaking in tongues are practiced regularly.
I remember sitting with a friend on a hill who was telling me how someone told her she was in a c*#t. We laughed ourselves silly!!
“Yeah, and Ps Phil drives a red ferrari!!! Hahahahahaha!!”
It was an Audi 6 he drove, by the way.
It’s not the beam that’s freaking me out. I once walked the entire way across a slackline – kind of like a thin seatbelt – slung across a jetty in front of a beach full of people and some mischievous teenage boys. This beam is solid metal and nearly as wide as my foot. Pretty sure I could walk across it backwards with my eyes closed.
It’s the what-feels-like a kilometre drop down the sheer side of a mountain to a rocky river below that’s giving my tummy the heeby-jeebies.
The Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Walk), also known as the Most Dangerous Walkway In The World, was built 100 years ago as a method for transportion.
They literally stuck poles into the flat side of a rock and hammered a walkway on top of it. Technically it’s closed. That’s the great thing about Spain though, too much sea and sangria to bother with enforcing the law. The only complete part of it is the thick wire cable bolted into the rock for safety harnesses to click onto. It looks right now like a railway from a Crash Bandicoot game; giant holes – big enough for a child – drop away into nothing, huge sections of the track are completely missing and it careens around corners without safety rails before running along next to abandoned transport tunnels into the middle of nowhere.
Between two parts of the walkway, it was just Andy and I walking along a path between trees, small hills surrounding us and the overgrown track to our left. No one had approved our entrance onto this land and no-one was around to witness it. I had one of those moments I’ve read on other people’s travel experiences…
This earth is mine. If you’re a human, (which I hope you are) you have rights to the entire planet, not just those bits your house sits on or your car drives over. It was like a black and white picture just inverted; previously I’d been thinking “I’m only allowed to go on certain bits of the planet.”. In that instant I was thinking, “I’m allowed to go on most bits of the planet.”
It was a small realisation, a single layer peeling off the onion my formative experiences created around the freedom I, and all humans, are born with.
You probably have these layers too; ‘being respectable’, ‘the right way to do things’, ‘the smart way to do things’, ‘our family’s way of doing things’. All cultures and upbringings create these layers as part of forming an organized society. Problem is, they limit our true expression and enjoyment of everything life has to offer.
It made me think about the other layers that have peeled off over the years…
I’m Okay With Me
If you don’t like yourself other people won’t like you. This truth forced me to change my default thinking patterns to one of self-acceptance. Mostly.
God’s Okay With Me
Despite two decades of listening to preachers say ‘Jesus loves you’ and ‘His Grace has set you free from guilt’, it wasn’t until I was a Bible College student that I really felt grace. The feeling that God was constantly disappointed me with broke in the middle of my chest during one of Phil Pringle’s bible college classes.
Some People Don’t Like Me. That’s Okay Too.
Teenage social interaction issues (okay, okay, being a Loser in Highschool) meant I developed a fierce skill for cataloguing people’s opinion of everything I said and did in my late teens. By my early 20′s I was exhausted and had hit a ceiling of social acceptance that could only be broken by moving into a space where I stopped giving a fuck about making everyone like me. Ironically it’s this very attitude that means most people do. Or they’re just too scared to behave otherwise.
Life doesn’t fall apart if I don’t pray and read the bible
My very first Experiment With Truth; I honestly thought that in six months of not praying or reading my bible I’d be on my knees begging God’s forgiveness and to bring me back into ‘close fellowship’ with him. My life didn’t fall apart. It got better actually.
I experienced first-hand that the only difference between a life with a relationship with God and a life without a relationship with God was a lack of guilt. And guess which of the two lifestyles that particular freedom fell into!
God Doesn’t Exist
This one brought so many freeing possibilities I could write all day about it. I sort of do. With the death of God came the realisations that:
There is no such thing as Sin
I am not a sinful person, inherently bad, made of black stuff from the inside. I am at worst a neutral being with DNA and experiences dictating instinctual responses but with the intelligence to overcome them if I felt so inclined. At best I was a good being working towards some form of enlightenment.
I Don’t Need To Save People From Hell
It doesn’t matter how good the Cheesels are, any party is ruined by someone trying to evangelise you. It’s sort of hard to avoid the topic though when your job is a Pastor. Once you know someone’s not a Christian you’re sort of obligated to give them the gospel message; so that, you know, when they go to hell they know they deserved it. I was avoiding talking to new people because of it and literally clapped my hands in glee on realising I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
I Can Do Whatever I Want With My Life
The woooorrrllllddd is your oyster baby! There is no blueprint for your life that you have to discover through hours of prayer or listening to your leaders or following the holy spirits prompting in the little moments blah blah blah. Life is what YOU make it and it’s a totally blank space! This is wholly exhilarating and terrifying all in the same moment.
Sometimes Bad Things Are The Best Things
The social stigma around divorce, in and out of the church, kept my marriage going for at least two years longer than it would have, had we just been in a normal relationship. It was terrifying to make such a permanent blot on my life history and I was sure I’d be crying on the floor of my bedroom for at least six months after it happened.
Cept I wasn’t. There were at least 9.7 times more moments of complete joy at my new found freedom than despair. In fact, I can only really remember a couple of moments of loneliness. Too busy partying with all my new friends maybe.
It made me question what we define as ‘bad’ and why. Why do we define marriage as good and divorce as bad? Surely if it didn’t end well, it’s actually the marriage that was the bad idea and the divorce that was the good one?
I Can Make My Own Decisions About What Is Good For Me
There’s a hundred-thousand different ways to live a life; focus on friends, create a business, build a family, stay single, get rich, work with the poor, have one relationship, have five relationships… after chucking away the Christian idea of an ‘ideal life’ I wondered why we’re so hung up on certain social ideas of an ‘ideal life’.
Good education, lifelong relationship, a job with lots of money… maybe those things are good for you but maybe they’re not. Society changes its mind all the time on the best way to live; so don’t listen to anyone and focus on finding out what works for you.
Thanks to a book titled ‘Mindsets’ my good friend Johann insisted I read, my perfectionist, result-based focus is slowly dissipating into creativity, enjoyment of the moment and pride simply in learning. A hunger to challenge myself is replacing the desperation to simply win.
The Planet Is My Playground
The more I explore it, the more I realise that as a human I inherited the planet. The entire thing. Every part of it, mountains, valleys, streams is available for me to explore and use as the playground for my life. Here is my letter to you:
The planet – your experiences, your beliefs, your time, your self – is a giant Playground…
So Go Play!
The sign says Free Cocktail. Heck Yes.
Manouvering my shoulder bag around the shelves of bottles glistening seductively in the Duty Free Zone of one of London’s airports, I wander nonchalantly over to the white, round bar containing an assortment of whisky and mixing utensils. As with all freebies I’m attempting to look rich, knowledgable and interested enough to give the promotional person the impression I’ll probably actually buy the product behind it.
A sprightly, older man pops over and begins a chat as he cheerily mixes a cocktail of whisky, cranberries and some other liquid I can’t recognise. There’s plenty of minutes before I need to be at the gate so I sip it slowly, cherishing the opportunity to talk to someone outside of my usual chat-range.
Clive is 63 and has retired twice already before being so bored he took over a pub and began working at the airport. He speaks energetically in a rounded british accent, reminding me of my grandpa, although I know instantly he would take offence to this reference, clearly young at heart as he is. He’s got a friendly, comfortable way about him that I instantly warm to. In between explanations of cocktail ingredients, I discover he has a 35 year old girlfriend living in Spain who he visits once a month or so. Coincidentally, I’m thinking about moving there so we swap email addresses and decide to explore the martinis of Malaga on his next fly through.
Do we have opportunities to meet people like this in our home country or just when we travel? Being a stranger in a new place maybe makes you more open to other strangers, especially those who don’t fit your usual profile. I’m thinking of the hippy-looking busker I met on the streets of Copenhagen who, over a coffee and salmon sandwich, told the sad tale of a cheater from a cheater’s perspective, ending in an empty house and empty achievements. I like to hear about life from the middle of living it, feeling, as I do, that I’m just at the beginning of it.
Clive is no disappointment. Having failed my end of the agreement to find good cocktails somewhere in Malaga we park ourselves at Papa y Pepe’s, a tapas bar well-known for no other reason than it’s in a central location and has a name easy to remember. What I like about my story, unavoidable as it is in anything longer than a 20 minute conversation, is the way it takes a discussion straight to the meaning of life and gives others room to share their own life experiences.
I explain to Clive that I’m at the stage where I’m trying to work out what’s important. What should I go after; career, love, friends, travel, challenge, beauty, knowledge, peace, a cause, a passion? As we walk the streets in the afternoon sun, he recounts a turning point, in a lonely house three doors down from his ex-wife, at the end of a career built from a daily decision to focus primarily on himself.
In his own words, ‘I was in nobody’s world. I was in nobody’s world but my own.’
This must be a similar feeling to that philosophical question ‘If a tree falls down in the middle of the forest where no one can hear it, does it still make a sound?’ Except that your life is now the tree that no one hears.
I add a little piece to my puzzle; to hear and to be heard provides meaning. Reverberations of ourselves are found in others and these echos are affirmations of our own worth and existence. One of the top 5 regrets of the dying is not keeping in touch with their friends more. We all know the value of connection but rarely invest in it as a factor of life success.
Clive rebuilt his world, interconnected with others’ worlds this time, at the age of 50 and has enjoyed an entire one of my lifetimes over since then. He exudes what I’m fast coming to believe is the secret to happy life, cheerfulness. As Pamela Barr said;
“Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing.”
May I be like Clive and never grow old.
And have a lover half my age.
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We’d stopped at the petrol station about 8pm. When Andy went to get his wallet, he commented that the top case on the back of the motorbike was filthy and, spotting a bin two metres away, I thought I’d be productive and get rid of some of the gunk inside.
It wasn’t until we had driven the half hour home, parked the bike, took all the stuff out and were walking just half a street away from my apartment that I asked, ‘Hey… where’s my phone?’
Just in case you’re wondering, the chances of finding the phone number of a petrol station we couldn’t remember the name of somewhere along the coast of Southern Spain and convincing them in a language I can’t really speak to search through one of their trash cans to tell me honestly that they found an iPhone are…
Two hours later Andy came padding out of the bedroom, his hulk squeezed into four layers of jumpers and two layers of pants. Once the sun went down, the wind on the highway had made our return trip so damn cold even his, er, manhood, had tried to hide from it. Well, for Andy at least. He was my windshield. When your nuts are freezing, any straight stretch of road looks like an Autobahn and we’d zipped by Spanish cars at 160km/hour.
We hurtled back across the highway, barrelling into the gas station, now closed and dark, at exactly midnight before realising we had the wrong one. The only choice was to work our way up the highway taking each exit in the hope of finding the right one.
‘The good news is,’ said Andy pulling out back to the highway, ’they haven’t changed the bins here so maybe at your station we’ll have the same luck.’
My petrol station. Somewhere, out there in the twinkling lights, it sat, unknowingly nursing a shiny, black object containing two weeks of unbacked up photos (when will I leeearrrrn!?) and today’s unread whatsapp messages. Or not. I don’t remember putting the phone in the bin persay, it’s just the only logical conclusion I can draw between the blank that is me putting the phone into the top case and it not being there when we arrived back home.
Six disappointing exits later and I’d given up hope. Then Andy yelled that he remembered the sign he took to get off the highway having four symbols on it and five seconds later something that fit just that description loomed into view.
‘This one!’ I yelled into my visor.
His hand moved to flat and splayed out, tilting from side to side. Maybe. Yeah, don’t get your hopes up.
He was right though. I patted his shoulder excitedly as we pulled into the petrol station (still open!!!) and ran over to the white, triangular bin on the very far right island. They’d changed the bins.
The opening speech to the service station attendance behind the locked glass window began with my usual “Sorry, my Spanish is bad” after which I’m pretty sure I explained that about three hours before I had put my iphone in that rubbish bin over there.
‘Porque?’ he asked. Fair enough.
‘Soy loca’ I replied with some waving of the hands and a resigned look.
Accepting my plea of insanty as a good enough reason to search his work place’s rubbish bins, he told me that the worker before him had tipped all the cans into the main bin. I followed his finger to a dark corner on the other side of the lot where I could just make out the glow of a white dumpster overflowing with basura.
Fuck my life. Seriously.
I lifted the first bag off the top, dumping it on the tarmac and gingerly opened the yellow ties. There was the salami we didn’t eat that then got too hot for later-eating. There’s the cheese. I wondered if it was the salami or the cheese that had made all the other stuff in there a little greasy.
As Andy drove up with the motorcycle to shed light on my activities, it occurred to me that if the service guy individually tipped the ingredients of each bin into one big rubbish bag he probably would have seen the iPhone. If I was him I would have made off with it. Thing is, I wouldn’t know if it was that or if I’m just wrong about where I left my phone and it’s actually on the side of a Granda-ian mountain and all of this was for nothi… whaaa!!!!! The frabulous moment of spotting a shiny, hard black surface poking up from a corner.
‘I have it!’ I yelled, running over to my new friend the service station guy. He handed me some serviettes shaking his head and while I wiped the phone down, we had a discussion neither one of us really understood.
I dropped the used serviettes into the original bin just to make a point and ran back to where Andy was waiting on the bike. He used his only mistaken english phrase in making me feel better about the fact that we were freezing cold in the middle of nowhere at 1am in the morning, having just searched through rubbish for an oil covered iphone.
‘Babe, I always have much adventures with you. How big is my brain for remembering the pictures on the sign?’
‘Your brain is huge.’ I said, swinging up behind him as he started the engine. I couldn’t resist a joke. ‘At least, bigger than your penis.’
Andy took a deep breath.
‘Don’t. You. Say. Anything. About my penis right now. My penis hates the fuck out of you right now…’
Then we drove home. Again.
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Ken Ilgunas lived in a van while a graduate student at Duke University.
Naturally, he wrote a book about it. It’s titled ““Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road From Debt to Freedom,”
Which confused me, primarily because of this paragraph:
“My secret was making it impossible to make friends, I was sleeping in temperatures as low as 10 degrees, and as a bachelor living in tight quarters, I was constantly inhaling air riddled with strange odors. Worst of all, I felt a terrible loneliness settle deep into me. To compensate, I began to sing and talk to myself with unprecedented frequency. Walking back from the library one night, I spotted a few mangled slices of pizza lying in a box on the lawn. A savage hunger roared in my belly. Has it already come to this?”
When did freedom for the Western world become defined as being cold and lonely at night and only being able to eat rice and vegetables for dinner? Isn’t this the stuff we’re trying to rescue the third world from with our micro-lending programs and innovative recycling inventions?
Perhaps it was the retelling of this moment that pushed me over the edge.
“Knowing that my tax refund was coming, I slackened my Spartan standards: I bought a case of beer, I dined at a restaurant twice, and at the field station I slept in a heated room on a comfortable bed. But treating myself made me feel a strange sense of guilt, as if I’d cut some corner I promised myself I wouldn’t cut. During my third night at the station, beleaguered with self-reproach, I dragged my sleeping bag outside and slept on the pavement under the stars.”
He was too guilty to sleep in a bed he had already paid for.
It’s possible I’m just sensitive to the word ‘guilty’, with my religious history and all. If he had said, ‘I just preferred to be close to the ground and sensing the real world around me instead of a bed’, I wouldn’t have minded so much.
But he was too guilty to spend money to sleep comfortably and warm?
Other people sleep outside as well. Society tries to help them.
It’s like he has swapped the burden of consumerism and the need for stuff for the burden of asceticism and needless misery.
I’m all for anti-materialism. I feel as sick as the next person about the lines for the new iPhone 5 and people spending $500 on a pair of shoes.
But… have we gone so far in attempting to compensate for our ridiculous excesses that we now don’t even appreciate basic standards of living?
Surely what we aim for in a society is for every man and woman to meaningfully contribute, that is, to swap their labour in return for life-enhancing goods and services, with enough time and resources available to enjoy whatever their passions are; children, reading, philosophy, travel, adventure, the beach…
Every other website I come across these days is decrying this ‘awful regular life of 9-5′ work, stuck in a job with a mortgage, paying for stuff you don’t need.
All those people buying the books the websites sell are doing it with money they earned from a normal job. Same with the people paying to listen to the talk about some latest adventure climbing up a mountain. There are gymnasiums for this guy to shower in because someone started a business. People can only offer a room to crash in for the evening on bucket list trips around the world because they took on a mortgage.
What annoys me is the self-righteous rhetoric about how ‘free’ his life is compared to all these other normal people with a mortgage and stuff. These people made it possible for him to live that life. If everybody did as he did… well, not everybody could do as he did.
And that’s the point. I disagree with any philosophy on living that is not applicable in it’s entirety to all of humanity. I throw the same accusation against this ridiculous receipt which is at the other end of the spectrum.
Forsaking relationships to have $12million in the bank is as destructive and selfish a philosophy as forsaking having a girlfriend and your own shower to live debt free off other’s utilities out the back of a parking lot in a run down bus.
Society has come a long way and while we don’t need a new iPhone every year, for most people, coming home after a hard day’s work to cook a delicious tasting risotto before opening a good bottle of wine with a loved one is just the stuff life is made of. Maybe if you’re in India it’s a curry.
It’s not excessive. It’s just good living.
As a bonus, within limits, this can be done by the majority of the population without the economy collapsing. *thumbs up* Living in caravans isn’t the answer, thank the stars. Something like the below video maybe?
(If you can’t see the video, refresh the page…)