Long, Hot Summer Nights, Books on Buddhism, Modern Ills and General Ranting

Look, I know it’s been a while, I’ve bumped into a few people lately who have expressed their disappointment at not having the chance to delve into my personal life for a few weeks.  In response, I decided to splurge some stuff down on the page, partly for me, partly to appease you.

I think the fact it’s summer down here in Sydney, and it’s scorching hot, probably has something to do with my laziness.  Sydney is renowned for coming alive in summer; the social scene picks up and people tend to be doing something most of the time, usually outdoors.  The evenings are long and warm, and quite frankly, I haven’t felt like sitting behind a laptop screen when there are stars to be gazed at.  By the same reasoning my trips to the gym have  been dramatically reduced of late.  I’m struggling to get enthused about a trip to the gym before or after work, or during my lunch break when there’s a beach to be walked on, an ocean to be swum in, or a park tree to be laid under.  They say beach bodies are made in winter anyway, so what’s the point in fighting it?

There’s definitely some truth in all this; two nights ago I walked most of the 8km from the city to home, the sun was still hot, but the UV thankfully low.  By the time I got home there was a text message on my phone advising me of a game of beach volleyball kicking off in 20 mins, so I changed into boardies and headed back out again.  We played until the full moon was providing more light on the cooling sand than the last remnants of sun lingering in the dark sky.  It reminded me of my youth, playing tennis and football in the local South London parks until you could barely see the ball.  I may now be 35, but I was still bouncing around that sand with the same borderline intolerable competitive streak that I had in my teens.  Repeatedly throwing myself face-first into the sand in an attempt to save the point, sprinting after wayward balls, or barking words of encouragement and made-up tactics to my baffled looking teammates.  My damaged ankle did not thank me yesterday.  I occasionally wonder if I am a ‘bit much’.  But we won, and I’ll choose to dwell on that instead.

Back to my excuses; it’s hot.  Some people thrive on a sub-tropical climate, but at the peak of its powers I find it saps a lot of my energy.  Mostly I want to be kicking back on my balcony, going for slow strolls, laying on the beach, reading a book, having a nap, or quenching my thirst with a couple of cold ones.  On Sunday night I had the fortune to see Xavier Rudd doing his thing in a small folkie gig at Taronga Zoo, which was an absolute treat. He sang his smash hit ‘Follow the Sun’, and in retrospect that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I love summer here, who wouldn’t, but I have to admit by the time mid-March rolls around I’m usually ready for it to end. 

Twilight at Taronga

I’ve been asked whether I’ve lost my enthusiasm for writing this blog.  The truth is I hadn’t really thought about it until the question was raised.  I was aware that I hadn’t been writing as much, but it wasn’t bothering me that I hadn’t.  Having given it some thought over the past few days, I’m of the impression that my enthusiasm remains, but some negative feedback I received after publishing my last post probably succeeded in dampening it somewhat.  I’d openly admit that ‘Homesickness, Hunger and Honey Bees’ wasn’t my best piece, but after hearing that it “wasn’t very good“, it has made it a lot easier to justify prioritising my enjoyment of the gorgeous summer weather over sitting in front of a laptop.  Invariably I spend much of my working day sat in front of a computer screen, the last thing I want to do when I get home is spend another few hours sat in front of another screen, especially if people aren’t particularly enjoying what I’m coming up with.

That’s not a slight on those people or their feedback, but there is clearly a lesson for me to take there.  If I don’t feel like writing, but force it out anyway, then it tends to shine through like a sparkly turd in the writing.  I was listening to the Desert Island Discs podcast (link here) with the fiction author Ann Cleeves last night, and she happened to talk about this concept, which in turn spurred me on to write this piece today.  For the better part of a decade, before Mrs Cleeves had any commercial success, writing was something of a hobby, something fun to do, she only wrote when she wanted to write.  To this day she does not plan her novels, she writes them as they come to her, and she enjoys that process immensely.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing myself to an established, award-winning, crime-writing novelist, but I think the best posts I’ve written are the ones where I’m feeling passionate about the content (or hungover and reflecting back on misfortune and misdemeanours).

In retrospect, I think it’s pretty obvious that I was not feeling particularly passionate about meditation after that painful, food-less struggle of a weekend in the mountains… and if I’m honest with myself, I wrote that second piece out of a sense of duty rather than love.  I haven’t written the third (and final) instalment for that very reason.  It’s scribbled in the notepad that I had sat next to me all through that retreat weekend, ready to be typed up, it could be gold, but I’ve agreed with myself that I’ll write it up when it feels right.  That may be never.

Content I currently dig….

For the past fortnight I’ve been reading a book on ‘Buddhism for Busy People‘, which I’ve already recommended to my Mother, who gave it the thumbs up, so am now recommending it to all of you.  I’m not suggesting we all become shaved-headed Buddhist monks, but I’m in little doubt that we could all learn something good, something beneficial from its teachings.  This book is written by a former stressed out, London-based PR executive, who was, for years, also a failed writer.  It is an easy, enjoyable read; it tells his own personal story of how he came to Buddhism, but also introduces the reader to the basic concepts of the religion with anecdotes and analogies to prevent any overly troublesome mind-boggling.  If nothing else it’s forced me to look at elements of my own life in a different light.  It’s also been nice to see that some of conclusions I’ve come to, as part of my own self exploration in this blog, have been aligned with ancient Eastern wisdom.  But, no, I’m not shaving my head and moving to Tibet.

I’ve also been listening to the rambling and somewhat lunatic-sounding teachings of an American neurosurgeon called Jack Kruse.  He’s well worth a listen on this podcast (link here) as he rails against 5G phone networks, artificial lighting, modern medicine, electromagnetic saturation of our environment, and just about anything else in the modern world that could be remotely damaging to our physiology.  As Western (and now Eastern nations) become fatter, sicker and blind-er, I sense we need to start listening to the renegade outliers.  For too long we have heeded the advice of the vested-interest scientists and researchers, big pharma-funded doctors, and political spin doctors who have told us to eat according to the bullshit food pyramid, to take our pills, to sit on the sofa, do as we’re told, don’t worry, don’t ask questions, be good little obedient citizens.  Fuck that, I’m with Jack on this.

My insatiable appetite for information on how to live well shows no sign of slowing, I’ve been chomping down content for well over two years now.  However I do appear to gradually be focusing in on three particular areas:

1) Human biology, and its intertwined connection to the environment in which it finds itself.  We have not evolved over millions of years in urban cities, our norm is in nature, and yet today half the world’s population is city-based.  I think this is slowly killing a lot of us.  The search for cures for cancers, heart disease, autism, diabetes and other autoimmune conditions remains largely fruitless.  Can we fix these growing health issues when we are so far removed from the environment we were designed to thrive in?

2) The human mind, and it ability to completely screw itself over if it is not trained in the right way.  Mobile phones, overrun parents, content overload, dating apps, the complete inability of most of us to sit with nothing but our own thoughts.  Stress, depression, anxiety, suicide, and general unhappiness rates are on the up.  Do we have any hope of chilling out and managing our minds in the 21st century?  Intriguingly some schools are now teaching children mindfulness, is this enough in the face of social media’s crushing dominance over our concentration?

3) Community – we as humans evolved in tribes and clans.  We are lost without them, but our society increases places emphasis on the individual – I see evidence of the damage this is causing everywhere I look.  Is societal collapse inevitable, or will we see the error of our ways and take drastic steps to resolve.

Lots of questions….I’m not going to go racing into these in any detail now, but I figured if I set myself up with something to focus in on next time, I might find my writing mojo returning sooner rather than later.

Until next time.  Keep reading.  C