September 7, 2015

Be Brave & Curious.

Flickr/Ian D. Keating

The morning started bad, and it got worse.

Small irritations led up to my eventual eruption of anger when my chainsaw refused to start.

My partner and I live on seven acres of land, and each year before winter, we cut firewood from old, dry fallen trees on the property.

But today the damn chainsaw wouldn’t start, and my lid blew.

Josh carefully suggested we leave the woodcutting, for now, and go for a walk somewhere to calm down. We’re lucky enough to live quite close to a forest that has a small potion that’s never been logged—a rarity around here—so we headed for that area.

We’d been walking for a bit when Josh asked me whether I ever get scared or nervous when I’m in the forest. I remembered a couple of times when I have actually been quite afraid, particularly when I’ve gone in by myself, despite the fact I had willingly taken myself there to experience the beauty and solitude.

But why should I feel afraid, or even uncomfortable?

It got me thinking—maybe on one level, when we enter a forest, we simply leave familiar things behind. Like the trappings of modern life—roads, buildings, computers, television. And perhaps because we’re in a place that has none of these things, we simply feel uncomfortable at the absence of familiarity.

But then I thought of another possibility—maybe it’s because the forest doesn’t care who we are, or who I am. It doesn’t care for the labels I’ve placed upon myself. The labels that define me—like partner, brother, uncle, poet, award winner, man, devilishly handsome and so on.

And as my subconscious starts to feel the erosion of my so-called “identity”—I become increasingly worried at the possibility of getting closer to who I really am.

It’s deep, I know, but that then begs the question—why would any of us want to hide from or cover up our real selves?

For me, there can only be two answers to this question. One, we’re afraid of what might be uncovered. And two, we’re afraid there won’t be anything to find at all. Personally, I think it’s a mix of both.

On that day I had gone from totally pissed off, and ready to throw a chainsaw into the valley, to quiet and reflective and just a bit philosophical.

I even learned something about myself. All of this from one trip into a forest—another reason to preserve them.

You might ask yourself—why bother trying to find the real me?

What’s wrong with going on with my everyday life? As long as I have a home, job, friends, the newest iPhone, Facebook and someone to share all that with, what more do I need?

But it only takes a little scratch on the surface, of this otherwise perfect life, to reveal a hint of dissatisfaction.

That maybe the perfect life is, in some way, just that little bit hollow—without meaning, not quite whole. So what do we do? Plug in the iPod? Watch breakfast television? Have another glass of wine?

We are essentially putting our hands over our ears and shouting, “I can’t hear it, I can’t hear it, I can’t hear it”—until we actually can’t.

We cringe away from the thought that maybe, just maybe, what we have is not quite enough—will never be enough. And heaven forbid that we should ever consider the inescapable fact that we’re going to grow old (if we’re lucky) and die. No, no. We plug ourselves into the iPod, turn up the volume and head off to work every day. Shut off from the sounds of life around us, shut off from even acknowledging our fellow humans, and shutting ourselves off from—ourselves.

This modern life is so full of these distractions that we think it’s the normal way to be.

It isn’t—and it doesn’t have to be this way.

When we look inside ourselves—clear out the rubbish and basically lighten the load—we open ourselves up to a more fulfilling, authentic and happy life. All it takes is a little curiosity and courage.

Don’t be afraid to scratch the surface of your life. I found that when I started scratching, I couldn’t stop, and I have never been as happy as I am now.

It hasn’t been easy—in fact, it’s been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. But like most hard work, it brought me the best reward. Sure, I can’t claim enlightenment, but I can claim to be happier than I’ve ever been in my life—and isn’t that what it’s all about? Enjoying our life?

No one knows what happens after we die—if anything. We are here to live and to live well. I’m positive my enjoyment of life is due to my willingness to explore myself. To go inside and start poking around all my uncomfortable bits to get to know them and become familiar with them.

And when you become familiar with someone, or something, that otherwise caused you problems—they lose their power. You can face them, challenge them and ultimately discard them, so they’re never to bother you again.  One by one, the work is done and as you progress—life becomes lighter as you drop away the things that have been weighing you down.

So where do we start?

It’s easy. Start right here and now. Start where you are, because there’s no other place to start.
Start with little steps and take it at your own pace.

For example, when you get up in the morning on a workday, don’t turn on the television. Just sit quietly in a spot you like, with your coffee or tea or whatever. You don’t need to do anything other than sit. Let your thoughts wander where they want to go. Maybe go for a walk. If you do, don’t take the iPod. Listen to the sounds around you—whether it’s traffic or birds, it doesn’t matter. And again let your thoughts travel where they will. Daydream, hum to yourself, and enjoy the fact that you have started the day on your terms and not with the horrors of the world.

Move at your own pace, and as you do, think about other unhelpful distractions you might have. I’m not saying give up everything that gives you pleasure, but I am saying there needs to be balance.

Josh and I sold our television and went without one for five years. Why? Well one evening I realized—while Josh was in the kitchen cooking dinner, I was in the lounge room watching cooking shows. In those five years we became closer. We talked about life, the universe and—everything. We planned, we listened to all types of music, we read and we cooked fantastic meals. We have a television again now, but only turn it on when there’s something of interest to watch—something to challenge the intellect. We’re not a slave to it, and sometimes find that days have passed without it being turned on.

It’s fine to have hobbies and interests, but if you’re obsessive about them—or they take up all your time—question whether it’s a cover or distraction from something you don’t want to approach or deal with.

As Joseph Campbell once said (and it’s one of my favourite quotes):

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

It’s now time to enter the cave—be brave and be curious.



Cultivating Mindfulness in an Age of Distraction.


Author: Andy Macleod

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Ian D. Keating

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