The Art Of Being Here

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Why bother leaving the house? by Ben Saunders at TEDSalon London Fall 2012

A TED Talk A Day, Day 9: Interestingly, today’s talk is related to yesterday’s, though delivered over a year earlier, after he crossed the Arctic Ocean to get to the North Pole, but before he set out on his South Pole expedition. He covers similar ground: a comic appreciation of the seeming pointlessness of his journey and the conditions he had to endure, combined with what feels to me like an inspiring belief in the power of exploration adventure.

  1. “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, and joy, after all, is the end of life. We don’t live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means, and that is what life is for.” – George Mallory (emphasis mine)
  2. Amazing experiences will always be unique to us, and no matter how we try words will always fall short in communicating the sheer richness of such an experience.
  3. There is something in the challenge that calls out to us — “And it seems to me, therefore, that the doing, you know, to try to experience, to engage, to endeavour,rather than to watch and to wonder, that’s where the real meat of life is to be found, the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days.”
  4. We can access so much information easily these days, but the juice of life is in actual experience — And yet, if I’ve learned anything in nearly 12 years now of dragging heavy things around cold places, it is that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge, from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown.”

Suggested action step: I will consciously step into the unknown to experience life.

To The South Pole And Back — The Hardest 105 Days Of My Life by Ben Saunders at TED 2014

A TED Talk A Day, Day 8: In hiking to the South Pole and back, Ben Saunders and his partner set a record for the longest human-powered polar journey, beating the previous mark by over 400 miles. None of the previous 9 people in history who had attempted a round-trip journey survived.

They dragged their supplies with them (over 200kg at the start), and after reaching the comforts of the South Pole, where there is an permanent outpost, they turned around, and worked their way back.

It’s an unusual TED talk in that it’s story shared rather than a pitch made, but all the same there is a wisdom in his experience that we can learn from.

  1. His talk might not be about sequencing genomes, but is about “giving everything we had to achieve something that hadn’t been done before.”
  2. Saunders wrote in sponsorship documents about “pushing the limits for human endurance”, but he admits it was a frightening place to be. On the journey back they faced headwinds and had to cut their rations to extend their supply, and as a result they were hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) most of the time, and had repeated bouts of hypothermia…and then they ran out of food 46 miles before one of the depots of food they laid.
  3. Journeys change us beyond words — “If I’m honest, Antarctica challenged me and humbled me so deeply that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put it into words. I’m still struggling to piece together my thoughts. That I’m standing here telling this story is proof that we all can accomplish great things, through ambition, through passion, through sheer stubbornness, by refusing to quit, that if you dream something hard enough, as Sting said, it does indeed come to pass. But I’m also standing here saying, you know what, that cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? There’s something in that. The closer I got to my finish line, that rubbly, rocky coast of Ross Island, the more I started to realise that the biggest lesson that this very long, very hard walk might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line, that for us humans, the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable, and that if we can’t feel content here, today, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving that we all inhabit, the open loops, the half-finished to-do lists, the could-do-better-next-times, then we might never feel it.” [emphasis mine]

Suggested action step: I will pursue difficult things as long as I believe in them (that’s actually happening right now). I will remember that the juice in life comes from the journey, the doing — so I will decide things less because of the result, but because of the places I will pass.

Life Is Easy by Jon Jandai at TEDxJoiSuthep

A TED Talk A Day Day 5: Found this talk slightly hard to summarise because he mostly talks about his experiences. His circumstances are also rather unique, but the mindset behind what he shares is food for thought if you feel like you’re caught on the hamster wheel of modern life.

  1. Life became harder when he worked harder. When he was a child in his village, life was easy. Later he went to Bangkok to work and study,  and life became hard. He felt that he produced a lot, but also could not get enough. Even the knowledge he encountered in university felt destructive to him He saw that in everything we do, we destroy things, and we make things hard.
  2. Time to ourselves is time to understand ourselves. In the village, people worked two months in the year: to plant rice, and to harvest it. The rest of the time they spend on leisure and festivals. This gives them time with themselves, and this allows them to understand themselves, and know what they want in their lives.
  3. It is easy to grow your own food: He found life easy in the village. For 2 months a year and 15 minutes a day, he could feed 6 people in his family with his rice, fish pond and garden. He even had extra to sell.
  4. It is easy to build your own house: For 2 hours a day over 3 months, he built his own house. He compares this to people who work all their lives in Bangkok just to buy a house. He has now built many houses.
  5. Clothes don’t change who you are. He spent a month saving up for a pair of jeans so he could look like others, but realised it didn’t change who he was. If you follow fashion you’ll never catch up.
  6. Sickness is a normal thing in life. We get sick because we do something wrong. It is a reminder to come back to ourselves.
  7. Taking care of his own food, housing, clothes and health made him feel free. Relying on himself made life feel easy. He also feels unique and feels no need to be like someone else.
  8. Life is easy (and fun) but we have made it complicated. We have begun to rely on money instead of each other. But we can learn how to reconnect with ourselves (mind and body) and each other.
  9. The four basic needs of food, housing, clothes and medicine must be easily accessible; that is what civilisation is about. But these are so hard to get now — this makes us uncivilised. This is not normal. People work hard, but who are they working for?

Suggested action step: Whenever I begin to think that something is hard… I will think it is easy instead, and think about how I can make it easy. I will ask if I am simply follow the hard way that everyone has been doing, and how I can do it more easily.

15 things I wish I knew when I was 25

Sometimes we forget what we know is good and true, and instead fall into the trap of habit. So sometimes we need reminding.

I did this exercise for day 64 of Claudia Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine (which called for only 10 things!), and realised this was not a list to my younger self; it’s really a list to myself right now, so I wanted to keep it handy.

15 things I wish I knew when I was 25

  1. Brush it off. Yes, things didn’t work out the way you wanted. Now get up, decide what the fuck you want to do next, and go do it.
  2. Stop expecting people to be perfect. Including yourself.
  3. Stop wasting time on what doesn’t matter.
  4. Stop waiting for things to fall in place.
  5. Take care of your body. It will take time, so start learning now.
  6. Keep in touch with your friends.
  7. Have random fun. It will make you happy.
  8. Try things that seem difficult or “unlike” you.
  9. Take care of the ones you love.
  10. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of what’s important.
  11. Meditate.
  12. Listen to your gut. Explore the things your instincts tell you to.
  13. Following what you think you “should” do or what’s “safe” will only lead to pain.
  14. The only limitations are your thinking and your habits. You can change them.
  15. There is enough time in life. Stop wasting time thinking there isn’t.

The Invitation: A call to live fully and courageously

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

So begins the poem The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, defiantly rejecting our common preoccupation in life and conversation. In its place she draws our attention immediately to the heart of life, and we are asked show our authentic and naked selves.

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