When life is stressful sometimes we can take refuge in a good, honest bit of hard work.
A half-hour window of time presented itself to me, so I began some calligraphy practice, which evolved into free writing. From this play with letters and words, a phrase evolved. It represents that our balance and security needs to come from within, and that once we have found this, we become immeasurably stronger in the face of the whirlwind of things that life lays before us, or throws at us.
Songkran is one of the three occasions that Thailand celebrates as New Year. And I had a plan. It was to be a legendary road trip. I had gotten a hammock with mosquito net and fly sheet, so that I could sleep anywhere where there are trees trees—which is everywhere in Thailand. I had my motorbike loaded up. I had weeks off work. The vision was big: ride as far south as I could, perhaps spending half of each day on the bike, and maybe even get as far as Malaysia.
Except it didn’t go according to plan. It was April, which is the hottest time of year here. It’s exhausting to spend even half a day on a motorbike, in the blazing sun, blasting down the roads which only get hotter as you move further south. So instead of finding some pristine spot of nature to pitch my hammock camp, I went looking for a cheap guesthouse. A cold water shower can sometimes feel like all the luxury you would ever need. After reading a novel on my Kindle, getting a good night’s sleep, and then breakfast, I got back on the road, and wondered where I would be sleeping the next night.
When I got near Cha-am, which is under 200 km from Bangkok, I headed for a small national park that I had already researched and marked on my GPS. It was almost deserted, but the few staff left said it was fine for me to stay there in my hammock. I dumped my stuff and went for a walk around this small park.
And that was it. No more! Sometimes we’ve got to toughen-up and be strong, but sometimes we have to go with the flow, which is always towards the sea, and find somewhere comfortable to lay low. I found another guesthouse, parked my bike inside and decided to stop trying to be a hardened woodsman and start enjoying things the Thai way.
When I first met the Quakers in 2006, one of the things I was drawn to was their value of simplicity. I guess this is because my life had got so full of stuff. Mental stuff, emotional stuff, and physical stuff. The value of simplicity seeks to strip away the non-essential to create space inside our hearts and houses, and this space brings clarity.
Spending a year as a backpacker, where all the things I needed were in my backpack, taught me that you really don’t need a lot of physical objects in order to be happy. But back in England there were draws, boxes and cupboards full of things, all waiting for my return.
I got rid of a lot. In the UK there are loads of charity shops where you can dump your stuff. It makes getting rid of things much easier when you know they’re going to be useful to someone else. In Thailand there is a similar service, but you just leave your stuff on the street outside your house. People drive around on improvised motorbike-sidecar-trailers at dawn and pick it up. They sort through it and then sell it on.
Sometimes it hurts. Getting rid of my guitar, which I had owned for many years and which held a lot of fond memories for me, was difficult. But I didn’t play it any more, and I had no plans to start again. So it’s gone.
And with each thing that’s gone, there’s a bit more space.
In a post last year I wrote about why I wasn’t going to pay for a streaming music subscription like Spotify. I made a list of reasons, which are still valid, but a lot of it hung on the fact that I wanted to own my music. I wanted to hold onto it for my whole life. And I didn’t want to pay money for this music if I couldn’t archive it on my computer and feel like it was truly mine. When you cancel a Spotify subscription you lose the music, and I didn’t like the thought of that.
Which is a bit funny really. I pay for mechanics to service my motorbike. I don’t own their service; I need to go back again in the future to keep it running nicely. I don’t own a haircut, but I’m happy to pay. So getting into streaming music required me to change my mindset.
Enter the 30-day free subscription, and it’s all been changed for me.
I love streaming music1. The reason I love it is because I can explore freely in a sea of music, experimenting, trying out a lot of new artists, and be free of the burden of having to download music, add it to my library, and then make a decision of whether I like it enough to buy. I can just enjoy it. And here’s the thing: I am enjoying music more now than ever before in my life.
So it’s a 180° turn for me. Subscription music is great. And it’s taken away another burden, the burden to download or buy a music collection, and to keep that collection organised. More space. More life.
- I don’t use Spotify, because they don’t offer the service in Thailand, but there’s something similar, Rdio, which does. ↩
The peace is always there—around you, inside you—the question is whether you connect to it.
It’s easy for someone who blogs about wellbeing (especially one who’s also a Reiki teacher) to fall into a trap. It’s the trap that says I’ve made it—I’ve found inner peace, health, and everything in my life has fallen into place. But inauthenticity is like a siren: a sign that something’s wrong, and a bloody obvious sign at that. So here’s my confession.
Since I became an adult, able to choose what I do and when I do it, I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with what I put into my body. I’ve used substances as an escape, a way to hide from myself.
The most obvious thing I put into my body that has caused me trouble is alcohol. I tell myself that I need to relax, that I work myself too hard anyway, and that having a drink will help. While there is some truth to this, I’ve got a weakness, which I think runs in my family, that means I quickly get dependent on alcohol. It’s not that I binge drink, just that I find myself wanting a drink (or two, or three) every day. This isn’t necessarily a problem, except for the fact that a feeling builds up in my body—the feeling that things aren’t really well for me. When I take a break from drinking, that feeling goes away.
Since I became a non-drinker on 20th July this year, I’ve felt clearer, healthier, and that I have more energy. The only times I’ve wanted a drink since then has been with friends who are drinking, but the desire quickly passes.
But I’ve been a bit like the monk who, following the Buddhist monastic rule of no food after mid-day, decides to take up soft drinks and cigarettes, which he enjoys each afternoon. (Yes, I really met a monk that did that. He lives in Koh Chang.) He hasn’t broken any formal rule, but he has missed the spirit of the rule: refraining from ingesting certain things in order to focus on the interior life.
And what did I do to replace the alcohol? Just like him, cigarettes!
This gave me another escape. Tobacco isn’t nearly as fun as alcohol, but it still changes your state of mind, so when you don’t want to face how you truly feel, it’s a quick and easy escape. On a par with alcohol, at least for me, is its negative health effects. The hot smoke would irritate my throat, and just one cigarette would make me feel different all day, a kind of messiness in my chest. It was also psychological: feeling that I had done one damaging thing to my body in the morning would make me feel less positive throughout the day; there would be a lingering negative feeling that accompanied the lingering physical effects.
I thought I’d just have the one pouch of tobacco and then stop, but I didn’t even last that long. The rewards of smoking were just so small compared to the negative effects. And after smoking for a few weeks it became clear what I really wanted: the ability to live my life, to face my real emotions, without relying on drugs.
I smoked my last cigarette on 21st October. The next day I took a bus to the seaside, and then a ferry boat to the beautiful island of Koh Samet, where I am now. I’ve been staying on a secluded little beach with just a few other guests. Most of them (it’s surprising how many) are drinking, or smoking, or both. The beach is about relaxing, right? So alcohol and tobacco should really help. That’s the logic I always took with me on previous beach holidays, anyway. But this time, without either of those crutches, I’ve had to appreciate what’s really going on. It’s a different attitude, where I can no-longer hide away from how I really feel, because I don’t have either of those buttons to press that can make me feel different.
The fact is, I’ve been feeling quite good (except this annoying cold I came down with yesterday). Seeing the other guests smoking and drinking has made me miss both a little, but really not much at all.
On previous beach holidays I always had the option to smoke or drink, if I felt like I wanted to change my state of mind. It was like a safety net: if I’m not enjoying myself enough, or I don’t feel relaxed enough, I have an option. And being without that option means I have to experience things with more courage, because I know that even if I don’t feel the way I want to, I’m going to stay with it.
This has transformed my experience. I’ve had clarity and mindfulness in a way I’ve not had in a really long time. And I’ve felt more centred in myself, and comfortable with who I am. In some ways it’s been tough, but in the opposite way to cigarettes: cigarettes are easy, provide a pathetically small boost, and have lasting negative effects. Being free from these substances has required strength, and has provided significant improvement in my wellbeing, without any negative effects.
I used these drugs in the past because I didn’t want to be the uber-disciplined, holier-than-thou guy who didn’t know how to have fun. I wanted to be relaxed and free. Getting really drunk certainly makes you relaxed and free, but the cost for me was just too high. So now that I step out in life (back to work tomorrow!) without these crutches, please wish me well.
I know a few people who are completely sold on streaming music services like Spotify. I tried Spotify, and enjoyed it, and would love to jump on board. I don’t have a big music collection, and the appeal of being able to listen to anything I want, legally, for a fee of just £10 a month is tempting. I almost signed-up, until I realised that I will be paying just £10 a month for the rest of my life.
I hope to live a healthy and strong life, which for me includes enjoying music, at least to the age of 80. I’m 30 now. At just £120 a year, that’s a total of just £6000.
And if during the next 50 years I decide to stop paying just £10 a month, all of that music is gone.
That’s as negative as I will get about streaming, because I can see how it’s a powerful service. If I was really into new music, it would be the right choice for me. It’s great how many record companies have got on board, and how easy it is to use. I could well be the future of the music industry, and in a couple of decades it might be what everyone is be doing.
But I’ve gone for a different approach. I’ve made a little spreadsheet which earmarks just £10 a month for what I’ve called my ‘music fund’. As you can see, I’ve been busy the last few months and haven’t had time to do my intial goal of buying one lossless1 album per month:
If I do this for 50 years, I’ll have 600 albums. I probably won’t, and that’s where we hit the crux of the matter: I can stop paying into my music fund at any time but still get to keep what I’ve already invested.
This system is simple, slow, and I don’t get instant access to everything I would like. It takes me time to track down a lossless format, and some record labels aren’t even selling them.2 But something about this feels more solid, and I’m taking pleasure tracking down these files, and supporting the label directly.
This post does not contain any affiliate links. I’m sharing these things because they’ve made a difference to my life, and they might help you too.
People complain that technology adds stress to their lives. This is true, but it’s not the whole of the story. In this post I’m going to describe three changes I’ve made to my life, with the help of technology, which mean that I’m feeling healthier today than ever before.
Andrew Johnson is a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist who has produced some great apps and mp3s. I’ve been a fan ever since I tried Relax Plus, and found myself in a deeply relaxed state after just a few minutes. The app I use most regularly, especially to turn my brain off before sleep, is Infinite Relaxation, but Andrew also offers a wide range of therapy topics. I tried one of these recently that has made a very big difference in my life.
I’ve often felt that I drink more alcohol than I would like, and so I decided to try the stop drinking mp3, which the description says will help you “stop drinking altogether or cut down and regain control”. I was hoping for the cut down option, but I got more than I bargained for.
I fell asleep as I was listening to the recording, but woke up towards the end. As I regained consciousness, I inexplicably felt that something powerful was taking place. I didn’t know exactly what, but it soon became clear: I was becoming a non-drinker. Andrew Johnson was planting the seed, which I accepted, first unconsciously and, later, consciously. Alcohol had been causing me needless stress, expense, and negative physical effects, and my whole being realised that enough is enough. No more alcohol.
My positive habit tracker, lift.do, tells me that I have been alcohol free for 34 days. I’ve never felt better, and thanks to the power of Andrew Johnson’s hypnotic suggestion, letting alcohol go from my life has actually been easy. It’s like a weight has been lifted from my mind and body, and I’m free to spend my evenings in more healthy ways.
The second change I’ve made to my life, which I started in June this year, is doing regular physical exercise. I always knew that physical exercise would help me feel better, but I also always found an excuse not to do it. What has made all the difference has been setting small, achievable goals: one seven minute workout, at least five times a week. Seven minutes is such a short amount of time that even if you’re feeling lazy, you can still do it. Go on, just seven minutes! And there are many high-quality, free apps if you search for ‘seven minute workout’1. I’ve been mixing that with bite-sized yoga sessions, 15 minutes long, with the beautiful Yoga Studio app.
Lift.do tells me that since I started in early June, I’ve done checked in to the physical exercise habit 70 times. That’s almost every day. And it’s not because I’m super-motivated, it’s because I’m using the right tools and have achievable goals.
The third change is unloading stuff from my mind. I posted before about how being more productive has given me more inner calm. The key has been making sure every job, no matter how small (remember to polish my shoes) or big (pass driving test), goes onto a list. The app I use to track my lists is great and it’s called Things2. When it’s out of my mind and onto a list, as long as I have a good system of checking the lists, my mind can let go of the tasks. So it’s emptier and freer to think about other things, or just to relax.
A few people have asked me how life has been different since leaving Facebook. Undoubtedly, when I closed my personal account, a huge amount of stuff—some good, some bad—was unloaded from my mind. And I haven’t regretted that for even one second.
Thank you to all the people who have devoted themselves to creating these amazing systems and apps. (I’m not talking about Mark Zuckerberg here, rather, Andrew Johnson, the team behind Lift.do and Yoga Studio, that really cool fitness trainer in my seven minute workout app and the developers that made it a reality, Cultured Code, and David Allen for Getting Things Done.). And thank you to the core of potential and strength within me—and you—that has taken hold of these tools and made my vision of health into a reality.
And now it’s your turn. How has technology helped you live a healthier life?
P.S. If you use the lift.do app, please follow me—accountability encourages successful habit forming. Just search for oldmankit within the app.
Even since I met Glen Allison in Laos, I’ve been developing my skills as a portrait photographer. It’s harder than you would think. Really. Lighting is a technical subject. I love to read everything I can about a technical subject, understand it thoroughly, and then execute it perfectly. But getting beautiful lighting has been much harder than I would have predicted, and I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. This is because, as I’ve come to realise, lighting is not just technical, it’s an art.
When Daniel came round, I had already got my studio set-up, loosened-up with a couple of whisky and sodas, and was ready to try once again. But as I fired some test shots, I stared in disbelief. I’m turning this up, which means the exposure should be going up, but actually it’s going down. Yet again, frustrated. Is even the technical side is beyond me?
Doing what anyone who understands technology does, I restarted my camera, my radios, my flashes. Ahh, that’s better.