To see a world in a grain of sand

Yesterday as I was filling my truck with diesel at the end of the day I looked down at the ground and started noticing the concrete surface of the petrol station forecourt. It wasn't just concrete, there were tiny flecks of stone in it. Differently shaped bits, varying in colour and likely origin.

It was raining heavily so the surface was wet. It was glistening under the bright lights of the canopy above me. I was crouching down and the stretch of my thighs must have triggered a recollection of climbing. The hard surface, the rain, the stretch - I suddenly got the same feeling of physical connection to the world that I get through being on mountains. The same rush of excitement that has more to do with being real and physical than with adrenaline.

This feeling of connectedness is there all the time, but we hide it. We hide in our heads, we get lost in our thoughts, we label the world around us and divide it all up into pleasant and unpleasant, right and wrong, good and bad.

But the world doesn't care about our labelling. It is just as it is, still there, waiting patiently.

Zen and the art of truck driving.

"I am lost, I am useless, I will never be able to do this."

Sound familiar? This is what goes round and round in my head every time I fail to find a building site that I am meant to be delivering to. The locations are not always obvious, even with a sat nav, and they are often in busy and crowded parts of towns. So the pressure builds, the feeling of incompetence increases, you get tired, you get frightened. The feeling of failure and the overwhelming urge to give up becomes irresistible. You want to call it a day, to run away.

But this is all a story. The reality is that I am in a truck. I know where I am. I can solve this puzzle. It's a game. I am getting good at it. One move at a time. Micro moves. Well executed gear changes, deftly handled turns. The feel of the wheel in my hands, the height, the weight, the intense physicality of it all. This helps to ground me. The stories stop, the chattering monkey eventually shuts up.

We all get bent out of shape by all sorts of things all of the time. Learning to notice this, accept it, step back from it, and piece by piece reconnect with the world around us is so important. It's worth practicing.

Happiness is...

I know it is not everyone's cup of tea but as I negotiated my fully laden 32 tonne truck along the Chelsea embankment, into the centre of London and south to Elephant and Castle, negotiating tight narrow lanes, cyclists, pedestrians, everything London could throw at me, listening to my particularly good collection of bangin' house music on the truck's half decent speakers, I could not have been happier.

As the world turns

Doing a night shift on New Years' Eve at the World Service was always fun as you got to celebrate on the hour each hour as the various time zones passed into the new year.

Having as many friends as I do around the world these days means that birthday wishes on social media afford the same pleasure. First Australia, then Europe, then the US.

Thanks everyone for your kind wishes.

Perception is reality

Fake news is good news. It is making us question truth. It is making us less lazy.

We are learning that we need to take responsibility for our perceptions. They are the only reality we will ever know.

All you need is...

Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege to be amongst Chinese families, indigenous Australian families, even half a village worth of Turkish families on the flight from Melbourne to Doha. All bantering amongst themselves, telling jokes, smiling at each other. Pretty much the same behaviours the world over.

We have so much more in common with each other than we are led to believe and it is a tragedy that we are currently electing leaders who emphasise difference and antagonism over shared experience and love.

Mutual aid

The main focus of my workshops over the last couple of weeks for Jobs Australia has been helping people to catch up with the impact of technology on how we live and work. In our conversations I was reminded yet again how people have varying levels of comfort and ability in even the most basic use of technology. There is a very real risk of an emerging digital "underclass" if we don't do something about it.

But we don't need big, expensive, government or workplace training initiatives to deal with this. We could do so much more to help each other than we do.

Instead of making someone feel stupid because they don't know how to use a piece of technology, instead of sneering at them, be kind. Take the time to show them, answer their questions, and do so in a respectful way.

We could do so much more to help each other to keep up than we do.

Being brave

Most of the organisations I work with have clearly defined groups whose needs they are intended to serve. Increasingly these days there is a desire reach out online to foster a real connection with those people, but most staff in most organisations find it ridiculously difficult to do so.

As a participant in a workshop once said "How do you find your authentic voice while working in a stifling bureaucratic environment?".

Saying what you really mean, in plain, accessible language, is obviously the answer, but this is hard, it feels dangerous. It is easier to give up, to retire behind corporate speak, to miss the opportunity for real connection.

Even after all these years genuine connection between individuals inside organisations and the people they are set up to help is still unusual. But for those brave enough to reach out there is an amazing opportunity for greater influence waiting to be discovered.

Civilisation?

It is interesting to be back again in remote Australia where the incoming population exists pretty much in parallel with the indigenous one. These "first people" struggle to fit in with our modern world and are often disparaged for their lack of ambition and success. There is also a lot of alcoholism and drug use in their communities.

Yet in their own past they were clearly deeply in tune with their environment and respectful of it in a way that we are only now beginning to learn. Especially as our impact on the planet is becoming apparent, and our realisation that material wealth doesn't make us happy, I often wonder how things might have been different...

Muddling along

Over dinner last night someone used the phrase "muddling along" to express optimism about the future. It seems a particularly British, or to be more precise English, phrase and attitude. It goes with the landscape. It goes with the weather. It goes with the "nation of shopkeepers" image.

I have often thought that one of the greatest strengths of The Church of England is it's non-dogmatic, village fete, muddling along attitude. We don't tend to take our "big thinkers" seriously. If they get ideas above their station we take the piss.

In contrast to the grand ideologies of the past, or oversold techno utopianism about the future, maybe, just maybe, muddling along is our best option?

Celebrating sameness

I used to worry about the homogenising effect of modern culture - the fact that every shopping malI the world over is selling the same brand dominated tat - and I would still bemoan the loss of diverse and fascinatingly different cultures.

And yet...

...here I am, sitting on the harbour front in Hong Kong, watching Chinese girls wearing ripped jeans taking selfies, and wondering if this will make it harder to start wars with countries whose daughters also wear ripped jeans...

Wherever you go, there you are.

It feels odd that I will set off for Hong Kong tomorrow. That I will think it sensible to sit in a metal tube, speeding through the air, thousands of feet off the ground.

And then I will be there, somewhere else. Or will I? more than likely I will be stuck in my head - just like I am here.

The odd truth of this always strikes me in the context of mountains. I spend a lot of my life wishing I was climbing a mountain. On the way up I wish it would end because it hurts so much. On the top I wish I could hold onto the experience and prevent the wonderful feeling from ending. And then on the way down I wish the pain in my thighs would stop. All this wishing and thinking getting in the way of just being.

It is remarkable the amount of vigilance it takes to be here, now.

It's worth the effort though.

A Sufi Story worth remembering in our polarised times...

“Upon entering a new country a traveler noticed an old man sitting under a tree. He approached him and asked about the people in his land. The old man answered by asking, ‘How are the people in your country?’

‘Oh’ said the traveler, ‘they are friendly, hospitable, and cheerful.’ ‘Well,’ the old man said, ‘you’ll find them to be the same in my country.’

A few days later another traveler came up to the man under the tree with the same question, and again the old man responded by asking how the people in the traveler’s country were.

‘They are always in a rush, they have very little time for each other, and their main concern in life is how much money they can make.’

The old man shrugged and said, ‘You’ll find them to be the same in my country.’”

Zen and the art of HGV driving

The other day I was headed to a location I hadn't visited before. The postcode that I was given wasn't recognised by the SatNav (it was a building site so the postcode was new) so I entered a nearby location and set off. On top of this imprecision I reckon there had also been an incident blocking a more obvious route because I and a couple of other HGVs ended up down this relatively small road and faced with a bridge with a 7.5 Tonne limit which our SatNavs appeared not to know about!

Given that my truck's gross weight was 32 Tonnes there was no way I was going to "take a chance" on crossing the bridge so there I am having to turn around in a small road with rush hour traffic in both directions. I managed to make it in about a six point turn, which I'm pretty chuffed with, but nonetheless I had to remain calm in the face of an increasingly irate audience.

The knack, as passed on by more experience drivers, is to see situations like this as a puzzle that you can enjoy solving, a professional challenge that hones your skills. Hanging on to this idea isn't easy!

No news is good news

I haven't watched or listened to news broadcasts for years. I became tired of being presented with a litany of things to be frightened about, that I could do nothing to prevent, and that had minimal direct impact on my life.

I also lost confidence in journalists. With a few very rare exceptions they barely understand the subjects they write about, always have an agenda, and certainly in the case of podcasts get between me and the people I want to learn from.

The media more generally have a massive impact on our lives. Would Brexit or Trump have happened without the media providing oxygen and fanning the flames? Would we be destroying the planet without marketing creating the sense of lack that drives us to buy more stuff than we need and then packaging shit in seductive plastic?

Would the world fall apart if everyone protected themselves from the power of the media? Or would we find out from each other about the things that directly affect us and be able to do something about them?

Lag time

It is disconcerting how often ideas that I have been banging on about, for years in some cases, are only now beginning to emerge in mainstream media and podcasts.

I list them here for handy reference:

We all have a volume control on mob rule.

The future is too important to leave to technologists.

The ideology of algorithms is an inescapable challenge that we all have to address.

We can all change our worlds, one conversation at a time.

And of course, Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do!

Moments

I don't get many breaks in my driving days. Although I enjoy having time to myself while driving my time is usually pretty tightly scheduled. Today though I had to wait for a client to arrive at a very pleasant business unit in rural Hampshire.

It was a real delight to be on the phone making arrangements for my upcoming business trip to Hong Kong and Australia while enjoying the spring sunshine and watching horses grazing in lush green fields.

Beginner’s mind

I have a driving job coming up soon that, frankly, terrifies me. It pushes me way beyond my comfort zone. I already have a knot in my stomach and the work is days away.

But what am I afraid of? If I am honest I'm afraid of looking a fool, of being incompetent, of being seen to have screwed up.

The title of Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, has always meant to me something about aspiring to return to an open mind, to being a blank slate, being chilled and relaxed.

But now I realise it is as much about grappling with the ego, our inflated self importance, our sense of separation from the world around us, our need for control and our constant battle against a perceived risk of annihilation.

I have long suspected that our current technological, social, and political upheaval masks an underlying existential crisis. Our narratives are broken, our sense of being in control is challenged. In response we are fighting to reassert ourselves, fighting each other, fighting the world.

What if we got curious instead - just as I am with my driving? Not beating myself up about being afraid. Not pretending that I'm not. Not protecting my ego by getting angry. Just being interested. Just noticing. Just being present to whatever is happening now, and now, and now.

We can't control the world around us but we can control our response to it. Doing so from a place of calm curiosity, instead of frantic self interest, surely makes us more likely to respond appropriately?

Gentleness

I have always been impressed by the unflappability of my friends who work as paramedics or in mountain rescue. If you are going to be able to help people in distress and facing extreme challenges you can't get bent out of shape by life yourself. Getting all macho and controlling because of your own fears would just make things worse. Paradoxically real strength exhibits itself as gentleness.

While I wouldn't want to compare the responsibilities of driving large trucks with saving people's lives there are similarities. You are responsible for a very large and very dangerous lump of technology, very often in public spaces. Allowing your fears to get on top of you makes you more dangerous. Precision calls for a gentleness and concern for your immediate environment. Throwing your weight around, literally, makes you a liability.

I have been struck by the consistent kindness of the drivers I have met and been helped by. They share the unflappability of my friends in the emergency services. Their gentleness is something I aspire to. I want to be like them when I grow up.

Keeping up standards

It fascinates me how often people rant at me about the rubbish on Twitter or Facebook, invariably delivered in a tone intended to convey their intellectual superiority, but apparently unaware that what they are describing is their network and that managing that network is their responsibility!

It's up to us who we follow and pay attention to and this takes work, either finding interesting people to connect to in the first place, or having the confidence to mute them or disconnect from them if they add more noise than signal.

Sometimes this feels uncomfortable and socially awkward to do but, as in real life as Jim Rohn once said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.