So… I was thinking about Love this morning.
Sitting on the floor of my apartment by the balcony in a square of sunshine,
Your religion would hack someone to death in the street.
This goes for some of you Atheists too by the way, although I know you’re all frothing at the mouth at having your belief system compared to a religion (said in the same manner one would say ‘gobba of snot’).
Hear me out though…Read More
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
Walking the Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Walk) I realised something.
I own the planet.
Technically, the ‘Most Dangerous Walkway In the World’ is closed. For good reason.
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.
Walking through a path, just Andy and I and land we’re technically not allowed to be on, gave me an epiphany.
This earth is mine.
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. The bits authorities say I’m allowed to go on”. 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 away.
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 understanding of who we are and what life has to offer us.
So now that I own the planet, I thought I’d share the steps I went through to getting there. Here’s the 9 realisations, or layers peeling off, I’ve had over the past 10 years.
1. 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 ingrained from years as an awkward control-freak, zealous teenager to ones of self-acceptance. Mostly. 😀
2. 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 during one of Phil Pringle’s bible college classes.
3. 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?
4. 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!
5. 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 am 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.
6. 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?
7. 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.
Who knew life was so much more enjoyable this way!
9. 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.
As an owner of The Earth, I have written a letter to all of it’s inhabitants:
The planet – your experiences, your beliefs, your time, your self – is a giant Playground… experiment, make mistakes, learn, ask questions and most of all explore.
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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