Self-reflection

Why a wandering possession-free life is a natural way of living for humans

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Sometimes life just gets too cluttered.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring some new places. Travelling around has made me realise how much things weigh me down and how little I really need. It’s also made me realise how unnatural it is to coop ourselves up in a house with lots of possessions. I had too much stuff and I needed to cut down. 

Looking back at our ancestors, humans lived for tens of thousands of years as hunter gatherers and moved around all the time. Living a nomadic life meant that people had few, if any possessions. They just had what they needed and could carry, essential provisions such as water, vegetables, spears, bows and arrows. They didn’t need much else. The idea of owning things was alien to them and they shared when they could because it meant less to carry. They didn’t need to store things and no one owned any property.
 
They hunted when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and when food was scarce they moved on elsewhere.
 
Hunter gatherers also had a deep regard for nature. To them woods, for example, were full of magic and provided warmth and shelter.
 
Then, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture brought stable food supplies and hunter gatherers began to settle and build permanent dwellings that eventually morphed into the complex communities we know today. Prior to this there were few, if any, permanent homes or villages. The Agricultural Revolution allowed them to settle but it was a demanding way of life, much as it is for many people today. The Agricultural Revolution paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and jobs that trapped people into living in close proximity.
 
In some ways having a permanent house and possessions can make us feel stable and secure - we know where we will sleep at night and where our next meal will come from. But it can also make us disconnected from our natural way of living - the way of life enjoyed by over 90% of our ancestors.
 
In a way the internet is allowing us to become nomads again. It gives us the opportunity to take our work with us and work from anywhere in the world. We can easily find places to stay in faraway communities where we can embrace local life and broaden our minds. It allows us to buy whatever we need from wherever we are.
 
Bloggers often share their experiences of travelling and living where they choose without the tie of a permanent home. The internet also helps us to spread the word about the benefits of minimalism and mindfulness. So, as advanced as the technology may seem today, is it actually taking us full circle and back to our roots and nomadic past?
 
We are stopping on a campsite for a few days and I’m sitting here in the doorway of my tent, feeling the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on my face, listening to the flow of the river, my dogs at my feet. And, as I type this on my iPad I think about how the internet gives us freedom, and how it can allow me to work from wherever I choose.
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A fear of the unknown

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I’ve always felt afraid of the sea. It is a fear of the unknown, of the hidden depths shrouded in mystery. More is known about Mars than our oceans (did you know that 95% of our oceans have never been explored?)

In the past, for me, the best therapists in nature have always been the woods and the mountains, the woods offering the wisdom and stability of the trees, and the mountains offering a sense of awe and belonging.

Yet now, as I am facing great turbulence in my life, it is in the ocean that I am finding solace.

My instinct took me to the sea. As I write this at 4 am, I am on the stony beach, and the sound of the gentle ebb and flow of the tide is calming my senses and helping me adjust and take stock of my life.

I watch the sun rise and marvel at the colours. I look at the stones on the rocky beach. The rocks remind me that life goes on. These rocks are all so much older than me. I pick up a stone and feel it’s smoothness and weight. This small rock may once have formed part of a great mountain, but it became displaced, and now finds itself on the beach under the protection of the great ocean, just as I am. As I look across the water at the flickering lights on the mainland, I appreciate the solitude this place offers, and also realise that I have a new therapist to whom I want to return.

Alongside the vastness of the ocean I spend a few minutes practising pebble meditation and cultivate spaciousness both inside and outside of myself

The sea is strong, survives turbulent weather and soon returns to its calm natural self. Just as the turbulence in my life will pass, and calmness and tranquility will come once more.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer.

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What we see in others is a reflection of ourselves

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Sitting in A&E with an unwell relative and the prospect of a four-hour wait gave me time for thinking and reflection.

In the packed waiting room my eyes came to rest on a lady who appeared to be drunk but most of the time she sat with her head on her knees not bothering anyone. She was obviously known to the staff and I felt annoyed that she was rudely spoken to by both the hospital and ambulance staff. They made it clear that they felt she was wasting their time.

A man positioned himself by the intercom button. He was probably in his 50s, overweight, and he walked with a stick. He pressed the button. He wanted to know how much longer he had to wait. Told he had at least another two hours to wait he launched into a tirade, “I’m diabetic, I need to be seen quickly. I hope she…” he pointed to the inebriated lady in front of him “...isn’t in front of me. Her condition is self-inflicted”.

I mused on the fact that he obviously didn’t see his own condition as self-inflicted. Overweight and unfit he was fairly typical of someone prone to diabetes.

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism,” said Carl Jung. We could also add food, or sugar to this quote.

I went to the vending machine and got a coffee and handed it to the lady with a few kind words of support. When the man aggressively said, “I don’t know why you’re helping that drunk – she’s wasting everyone’s time!” I calmly pointed out to him that whilst some people self-harm with alcohol, others self-harm with food, cigarettes, or lack of exercise. “We are all equally wise - and equally foolish - and we must all wait our turn,” I said.

Lost for words he sat down and didn’t utter another word until his name was called to go through.

Carl Jung also said that what annoys us about others is telling us something about ourselves. Perhaps he was annoyed with her because she reminded him of some of his own shortcomings and weaknesses. But then I became aware that I felt annoyed at him for being annoyed with her.

I realised it was time for a little self-reflection. What could I, like the Jung quote says, learn about myself here?

The first thing I realised was that someone who used anger as a way of intimidating people annoyed me. But when I looked deeper I saw that beneath the anger, fuelling it was a fear of being powerless.

I felt empathy for the woman because she was vulnerable and I had felt that way myself before (minus the alcohol) and people like this man had taken advantage because they thought I was weak. I realised that he was someone I would be afraid to stand up to, and, initially, he probably thought that I was weak because I wasn’t calling him out about his behaviour, or maybe, and this worried me more, he thought I agreed with him.

In essence, I was playing out a storyline in my head that didn’t have much to do with the reality of the situation.

The truth was he was probably worried about his blood sugars. Or maybe he was just an aggressive bully. Either way, his behaviour wasn’t a statement about me.

I realised that in all situations we find ourselves in we should try and view what is happening from a less personal place. I decided that from now on I will ask myself, “What is really going on here?” I will check in with my values and decide whether it is a time I should stand up for either myself or for someone else, or whether I should just quietly mind my own business.

My hope is that I can get to a place where if I decide I need to speak up again, I can approach the situation from a calm but firm place, minus any indignation or aggression. If I feel I have a reason not to speak up, I hope I can let the incident go, and move on.

The action I take is less important than the emotional place I am coming from. Either way, I want to remain calm and centred.

Through this process of reflection, seeing what is happening in myself, and letting old storylines drop, I am allowing a triggering situation to be an opportunity for growth.

It can be hard facing up to our own internal demons and we can’t heal overnight. But the benefits are great. I am learning the skill of staying calm in the storm of my emotions.

Image: Fotolia.com