writing

A Collection of Words on Why We Wander

I read this blog post today – We Are Overdoing This Travel Thing – and found it a very refreshing take on the way Gen-Y portray and perceive travelling . Some of us wander to escape, to bum out not burn out, to see new countries and chase new horizons, to blog or be a “traveller” or a “travel blogger”, or to simply be. These are good reasons to travel. But some of us wander to seek, to find our next steps, to walk enough until we eventually figure out how to walk this new path with purpose.

Some words of others I have collected on what it is to wander and go walkabout.

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depth. This blue is the light that gets lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperse among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colourless… The blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.
The colour of distance is the colour of an emotion: the colour of solitude and desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go. For the blue is not in that place, those miles away from the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.”
A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit

“All the great teachers have preached that 'Man, originally, was a wanderer in the scorching and barren wilderness of this world' – the words are those of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor – and that to rediscover his humanity, he must slough off attachments and take to the road.
If this were so, then it is easier to understand why greener pastures pall on us; why possessions exhaust us, and why Pascal’s imaginary man found his comfortable lodgings in a prison.”
Songlines, Bruce Chatwin

“The heavens themselves run continually round, the sun rises and sets, the moon increaseth, stars and planets keep their constant motions, the air is still tossed by the winds, the waters ebb and flow… to teach us that we should ever be in motion.”
The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton

Our nature lies in movement. Complete calm is death.” Pensées, Pascal

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: everyday I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from… The more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill… Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be alright.” 
Kierkegaard

 

But know that you can keep walking in the place where you rest.  Because, wherever we go, we carry ourselves with us. So whatever the reason is that we wander, we better learn to like what we had back home, as there’s no way we’ll avoid it wherever we end up wandering to.

A Collection of Words on Seeking & Purpose

If I were a collector of anything, I would be a collector of words. Other people's and my own. Cataloguing them neatly by category, or the moment in time I read them, or the reason I was so drawn to them. Well, this is something that is already done, of course: dictionaries hold all meanings but lack emotion, thesauruses expand and introduce new words like a play park of potential, books of quotations hold inspiration, anthologies expanding greater horizons containing whole narratives.

In my mind's eye, however, it is a more organic, living, breathing collection. Recording the words on first reading, my impressions and thoughts, the mark they make on me; only to be revisited later and a new meaning deciphered. A body of work.

Here, then, are some words I have read recently that have inspired me, guided me, and grounded me in my wanderings.

" 'When someone is seeking,' said Siddhartha, 'it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal... What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.' "
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
 
"He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."
Nietzsche, quoted by Victor Frankl  in Man's Search for Meaning,
in reflecting upon his time in a Nazi Concentration Camp
 
"We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for the individual."
Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
 
"By declaring that man is responsible and must actualise the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic "the self-transcendence of human existence."... The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and he more he actualises himself. In other words, self-actualisation is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."
Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
 
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life
?
Mary Oliver, from "The Summer Day"

How Can I Serve?

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story my friend told me last April, in a New York cocktail bar. It’s the story of Hanuman, the monkey-headed God of Hinduism and Indian mythology. I’ll tell you the story the way my friend told it to me. It might not be a perfect retelling. And the version she told me was adapted and shortened a little for the scene and setting of sundown cocktails in a New York minute. But this is how it went, and how it goes.

Hanuman is the monkey-headed God, and devotee of the King Rama. He loves him like a brother, like literally, oh my I love you so much I would do anything for you please here have my heart. So one day, Rama’s wife is stolen by a demon from Sri Lanka. Hanuman tells Rama “dude, don’t worry, I’m going to get her back for you.” So he goes to the tip of India that’s closest to Sri Lanka and he jumps. He doesn't know if he's going to make it, but he jumps anyway. And he does makes it! So he’s there, and he finds Rama's wife and the demon and asks the demon for Rama’s wife, Sita, back. Then Hanuman basically loses it, there's a lot bloodshed, an ongoing saga of trying to get Sita back, and a battle. So towards the end of the battle, Rama's brother gets injured. Hanuman realises that if Rama's brother dies, Rama will probably give up himself. But there's this herb that can restore vitality and life, and it grows on a mountain in the Himalayas. So Hanuman is like, "ok, don't worry, I got this” and runs off to find the mountain, and find the herb on the mountain. The whole time his only thought rests in his heart: that he’s gotta get Sita back for Rama, and save Rama's brother, and basically he’s got to help Rama his best and most loved friend. I mean, Hanuman will literally do anything for Rama. So he’s searching and searching and he finally finds a whole bunch of herbs, but he doesn't know which herb it is that he needs!  So he goes back to the battlefield, and he's brought the whole frickin’ mountain him saying “look, I couldn’t find the  flower or herb you need so here: I brought you the mountain.”

I think the storytelling was diverted into excited chatter on India, Sri Lanka, and an upcoming wedding. But this story, and the way this story was told to me, really stuck. I went home and read more on it, discovering more intricacies (Hanuman is half-God as he’s the son of Vayu, the God of the wind; but he doesn't know he's the son of a God. And so when we jumps to Sri Lanka, he doesn't know if he'll be able to make it and so it's a leap of faith and love; but he does makes it as he has the power of the wind within him.)

Regardless of how the story is told, or even if some bits are missing or evolved, what pervades is this: Hanuman was so devoted to Rama that his love for him could literally move mountains.

For the last five years, I've had a yoga practice and journalling practice. Often, one informs the other. At their foundation, they are both a tool of self-reflection, development and growth. For three of these five years, I had largely been focussing on healing. An addiction to running, a hectic lifestyle, unresolved echoes of things gone wrong in the past had left me with some deep-rooted physical, emotional and mental wounds to heal. At that level of healing, a large amount of your attention is needed to focus on yourself.

After I heard the story of Hanuman, and whilst contemplating it in the days that followed, my thoughts went like this. No matter which way we spin it, human beings need love. A lot of our behaviour, activities and desires come down to this: the need to be loved, and to love. In the time of Tinder and the buffer of irony and sarcasm, romantic love is still seen as the main goal that we can either chase or laughingly reject. Hanuman is a figure that represents a fierce, pure kind of love, a love that isn't often considered: devotion and service. Not a self-seeking or full-circle "love me and I'll love you" love. Pure service, for the love of the other.  

For a long time, my thoughts had been on healing and loving myself (as I think everyone should spend some time doing.) But then I realised, I was caught in a cycle of self-help and self-service. My yoga practice was devoted to healing my overworked body and stressed mind. The time I'd manage to carve for myself each week out of a busy work and social schedule was dedicated preciously to me-time and alone-time. What was once a necessity was becoming a cycle that fed only itself and started to feel a little hollow. Apathy grew. The healing was done, but I hadn't thought to look where to go beyond it.

I realised then, that my focus had to shift. I had a new mantra, and a new metaphorical figure to guide me. Hanuman, the God of love and devotion, and these words: how can I serve?

The surge and popularity of yoga in the West as a largely asana-based practice, and the adoption and adaptation of Hindu deities, religious texts and spiritual doctrines has been something of a curiosity to me. As with all things in the West, if there's a money-making opportunity on something that is culturally popular, it will happen. And it has. There's endless discussion on this, and the sincerity of a yoga practice if it is steeped in, or contains, a large apparent focus on the image of the practice rather than the quiet, humble practice that can take place offline without the need to shout about it and Instagram it. That is not to say if you do promote or post about your practice it makes it insincere. But rather, we know that media leads the minds of many and if a largely visual-based practice is what is seen, on some subliminal or subconscious level the belief forms that our practice should be an external one done for the sake of the practice (improvement in asanas, nailing an arm balance, your new $70 leggings or cushy mat, a practice done on an idyllic beach or up a mountain).  Do we practice for the sake of the practice? Or do we practice with something beyond the one hour spent on the mat or in meditation? In my most extreme moments, I began to feel uncomfortably that spiritual seeking was portrayed and consumed as a luxury that only the middle-class West could afford. I continued my yoga practice, and continued to teach.

Now I am realising and understanding the value of a strong practice, if the focus of the practice is not wholly your own well-being and development. If you can practice, and iron out the mental kinks of anxiety and doubt, and build a strong foundation of good self-esteem and mental soundness, and a physically strong body that can carry a calm and focussed mind, it puts you in the best place to then turn your attention outwards to helping others. This process could take months or years. But we are past the stage, culturally and collectively, of needing to endlessly heal ourselves. Self-healing needs to take place. And it is an ongoing process. But we need to know what lies beyond it, to give us something to aim towards, and to know that we have purpose outside ourselves and our practice. And for some, that may be the need to help and heal others.

These are the colours of my mind both over the last year, and into the start of this one. All largely in reflection of my own past and present. Not in contemplation of any other one individual or even group, just the cultural trend I see at large. As I strengthen my voice and courage to speak my mind louder, and expand my knowledge and horizons of what there is in the world to be done, I hope to find my place in how I can serve and help and heal others.

I'm still wandering, and as I write this I'm in Bangkok. My writing has moved from what I've seen to what I'm thinking and feeling. Sometimes the external things I see intrigue me, and other times I seek a quiet corner to go inwards and make sense of the swirling impressions I've collected, to sort and sound them out before I can continue to wander with a clear mind.

"Wherever you go, there you are." And here I am.

January's Whereabouts

I'm in Bangalore right now. It's a cool city. It's a busy city, and traffic is a nightmare and reminds me of why I never moved to London, but it's cool. There's a craft microbrewery and a yoga café within a stone's throw from where I'm staying. There's the buzz and hum of an energised start-up scene, with tech and social change high on the agenda. People are friendly, you can show your shoulders and hold hands with a loved one in public and drink cocktails with real liquor, and in some ways it reminds me of home whilst in others it reminds me how far from home I am.

On Sunday, I went to a the most sweet yoga flow in Cubbon Park under tree 695 hosted by Yoga Matters and Kiki. On Sunday, a friend back home in Edinburgh gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. On Sunday, David Bowie died.   Today, on Tuesday, I'm considering my whereabouts and about where I am.

I'll admit, I am sometimes confused by mass outpourings of grief for a celebrity that often happens after someone well-known has passed away. Not because I don't believe they deserve to be mourned. But more because everyone deserves to be mourned and often I find one celebrity's passing overshadows the many births and deaths that occur on a daily basis. But also because often everyone jumps on the bandwagon of "I'm sad, a great loss" when until the moment of this person's passing, there was no apparent care or real attachment to said actor / musician / public figure. The advent of social media has made public mourning fashionable, which in turn can make it seem a little false or fabricated for the sake of fitting in. (Not to say that it is false, but this is the impression the mass mourning gives).

However I realised, after paying attention to the many outpourings of grief and bemoaning the passing of Bowie that he did really have an affect on a great many people's lives; the way in which music can be written and produced, the way in which an individual can express themselves both physically and in what they say about themselves. He served as a huge inspiration to generations of musicians, artists, and individuals trying to find their voice and self-expression. The overwhelming outpouring of grief at his death makes sense to me. A moment of 'what would the world have been like had David Bowie not been born' made me realise it would have been very different, and lacking a lot of sparkle.

And so, when I read this quote that was floating around the internet amongst the many posts showcasing the beauty of his life at the moment of his death, it made sense to me in my current whereabouts:

I don't know where I'm going but I promise it won't be boring.

That quote makes perfect sense in life, as well as in death. No one knows what lies beyond the veil, and no one knows what lies ahead in the next day, week or month. Not really. 

Leaving a much-loved job and a wonderful city I call home was very much an outward expression of embracing that unknown. Two months and twelve days in to these travels, and I can now say pretty confidently "I have no fucking idea what I'm doing." It feels good to say it out loud.

I had a job I loved, friends I still hold so dear, in a city I was quite enamoured with. It could be said at that point I did know what I was doing, and in one way I did. But I outgrew certain elements, had a relentless urge for going, and underneath the elements lining up nicely for a life lived with purpose, I didn't really know what I was doing. Case in point: take away the job, the friends, the city, and I don't know what I'm doing. And that's ok.

Accepting that, and even attempting to embrace it, is what's allowing me to be here and begin conversations with others and myself I probably wouldn't have otherwise. None of us can really know what's coming next. Even if we line up all the pieces nicely, something outwith our control can change it all in an instant. Like a birth, or a death. Or a flood. Or international politics, like border control and immigration laws. Life as it plays out is beyond our control, so make the most of what you can do and be prepared for anything.

I get the feeling I'm not the only person who has no idea what they're doing. Yet culturally we all feel the need to pretend that we do, to make-believe and live out that fairytale we've spun to fit in. If you’re open and vulnerable and speak out about not knowing, you invite in far more opportunities for growth and change than you would if you just said you had it together, everything was fine, and you’re not looking to change a single thing. How will things change if you act like you want nothing to change, when underneath you’re craving the new and unknown? So here I am, admitting that 10 years after a successful University education, a successful career in entrepreneurial education, working for a San Francisco start-up and starting-it-up in Edinburgh myself, after all those things that can be called success, and appearing to know what I was doing, I'm hitting reset and figuring it all out again. Except I'm not starting over, because I have those 10 years of work experience, life experience, friends and contacts behind me. I'm so grateful for them all.

So, I really don't know where I'm going next. I have an idea of what I don't want to do, and an idea about the things I would like to do. The fun part is figuring out how to fit them all together.

First on my list is seeking out inspiration. Travel brings new horizons and faces and people with their own stories everyday. The internet brings new blogs and articles and journals and TEDtalks. My kindle brings me new words and worlds to explore. And I've told myself if all I manage to do in January is read and write every day, get on my yoga mat and breathe and move, and keep in touch with the friends I hold dear, then I'll consider it a success for myself. I have no idea what February holds, but what's the use in worrying or planning until January has blossomed in the way I hope it might, but with the curiosity of not knowing what else might come up in the meantime.

It's January, I'm in Bangalore, and I'm in the process of discovering more things about myself and who I could be and who others are and what this world is and how I could fit into it in some meaningful way that can make a difference. That's my whereabouts, in the midst of my walkabout. Sending love from here to wherever you are x

Bits & Pieces // Inspiration

Alok Vaid-Menon's TED Talk We Are Nothing (And That Is Beautiful) which not only includes a sublime spoken word performance, but why it's ok to fail and why we should embrace failure in a system that defined success for us without giving us the choice to decide if that's what we want.

The key to changing the world is to find a way to fail to live up to its expectations.

Brené Brown's TED Talk The Power of Vunerability which reminded me that it's ok to admit I don't know what I'm doing and to open that conversation so that I can invite in more meaningful connection and communication, that might lead me closer to knowing (for a while, at least).

Mark Manson's blog on 10 Life Lessons to Excel in Your 30s which reassured me that no one has any idea what they're doing, and that's ok. The fun of life is figuring it out as you go, into every decade of your life.

“Unless you are already dead — mentally, emotionally, and socially — you cannot anticipate your life 5 years into the future. It will not develop as you expect. So just stop it. Stop assuming you can plan far ahead, stop obsessing about what is happening right now because it will change anyway, and get over the control issue about your life’s direction. Fortunately, because this is true, you can take even more chances and not lose anything; you cannot lose what you never had. Besides, most feelings of loss are in your mind anyway – few matter in the long term.”

Here's to failing and figuring out where you might be tomorrow.

India 5: Writing Leaves A Residue

Writing leaves a residue in you, an echo of the words you’ve just constructed and released. You need to let that echo sound itself out, dissolve and break up in the ether, and let the stillness and silence return before more words come. Let that liquid, sticky residue sink into your bones. Perhaps it’s the ego? It feels like the ego. You bask in the sweet feeling of words written, published, shared. You accomplished something! It feels good. Almost like the come down of climax. Isn’t it interesting that the French call an orgasm la petit mort, a little death? And how death and birth are so opposite and so similar. A natural death is peaceful, a natural birth is painful. Yet we fear death and rejoice in birth. Birthing is a process, to be born is a process that once done cannot be undone. Birth is change, is something new coming from something old. Death is a final exhale, a letting go, finding peace in a good bye. Every piece of writing is a life, is lived from birth to death. We are born on an inhale, we die on an exhale. A complete breath is the same as a life: a birth, an inhale, some stuff happens in the middle, an exhale, a death. It’s what happens in between that counts, and the quality of every single breath you take during. May your breathing remind you of your birth. May your breathing remind you of your death. May both be sweet. These words are half formed, still taking shape but ending. Britain is bombing Syria and some words are exhaled and die. I am done here.