Sunday, 29 December 2013

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

That's the question that has come to my mind over the last few days.  What have I gotten myself into?  Now I think about it, and I was thinking about it on my walk over here to the cafe, perhaps the question is not so much what, but rather why?  Why have I gotten myself into this situation?  I guess before we could begin to answer the question, it is necessary to define the subject matter.

It's Sunday 29 December.  This means that I am now less than two weeks away from my embarkation on my next adventure.  Thirteen days more and I will once again leave England after yet another short stay, a stay that is either too long or too short - I can never quite decide which - and I'll head off to New Zealand to begin my cycle tour adventure.  In less than three weeks, I should be on the road, spinning those pedals that turn the cranks that turn the wheels, that will speed me along the roads.  Exciting isn't it?  A dream realised.  Surely this is the epitome of what life is all about.  Throwing oneself into the unknown and the challenge of never being sure of what each day will bring.  It does not matter how many times I have done this now, each time the departure date approaches, and for some reason that tick to thirteen days seems to be the event trigger more than any other, I begin to grow concerned, I start to fret about what it is that I am doing, and why I am going to do it.

I believe it is the same for everyone.  No matter what they will tell you, no matter how gung-ho and cock sure they appear to be, I have little doubt that underneath there lies a swirling, tumultuous flow of worry, a constant and raging stream of concerns, that are held in check only by the dam of outer calmness.  Columbus, Cook, Scott, Shackleton, Earhart, Hilary, Armstrong (of the Neil variety), Yeager, Baumgartner and any one else you may wish to include in such exulted company, I can guarantee that although they may have appeared to be the perfect picture of composed, mill pond surface calmness, below that exterior lurked the questions, the fears, the doubts, and the constant nagging of why am I doing this and what have I gotten myself into?

It's only natural.  I know that.  I also know that it is going to be okay.  My own adventure is nothing compared to some, but it is my own adventure, my own decision to step outside of my comfort zone, to go off in exploration and in search, to confront my fears, to extend myself, to find out who I am, to know what mettle lurks under my flesh.  No matter how seemingly small and insignificant your own adventure may appear to some, to the person at the centre of that story, it is the greatest undertaking in the history of humanity.  Imagine for a moment a person who suffers from acute agoraphobia.  To this person, even opening the front door of their house can seem the most daunting decision to take, let alone stepping across the threshold and leaving the secure confines of their home.

Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads has just begun to play on the sound system of cafe.  Is it coincidence that I happen to love this song?  Doesn't road to nowhere sum up my journey, all of our journeys?  We're walking our paths, thinking that we are headed some place special, striving to get to a certain point, mulling over decisions that we believe to be of the utmost importance, but in reality, we're all headed to exactly the same place, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try.  That may lead you to ask, well then, why bother at all?  And the answer to that my friend is that it is the journey that is the making, it is the space between two places and the manner in which we cross that space that counts.  It is that crossing between points that generates experiences and memories and those are the very things that define us, that change us, that allow us to discover who we are, who we were truly meant to be.  It is the crossing of this distance, no matter how great, no matter how small, that reveals our inner truth and shows us the true path.

Oddly enough, the thought generated by that song has answered the questions hasn't it?  What did I get myself into and why have I gotten myself into it?  Answer: because if I do not, then I will never know my answer.  If I do not, I will never grow my soul.  If I do not, I will never experience the magic that is created when a person goes off in search of adventure and daring.  If I do not, I will reach the end of my days and I will wonder what could have been.  If I do not, I will be left with a regret, knowing full well that I had the means necessary to achieve my dreams and I chose an early death instead.  And why would anyone chose an early death when there is so much life out there, within your grasp, when all you have to do is to stretch out an arm, reach out with your finger tips and grab a hold?  I choose to grasp onto life.  I choose to see the miracles and the magic of a life lived.  And just as Renton said at the end of Trainspotting, "Choose life." Amen Renton, amen.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Boxing Day Miracles

There are some days which are almost too perfect to be true.  These are the days when every element combines to create magical moment after magical moment.  A day when it feels as though miracles are occurring all around and the air is full of hope, happiness and expectation.  Today it seems, was destined to be one such day.

I cannot say why such days occur.  All I can tell you is that they do.  It was as though my inner feelings were reflected in perfect symmetry by the material world that surrounded me.  The day started well.  The winter sun was shining in a sky bereft of a single cloud, and although that sun is only a few days past its most distant from the Northern Hemisphere, there was a warmth in those rays, that hurtled towards the Earth at the speed of light, to strike at this particular spot on the planet, basking my parents home town in all of its radiant glory.  That is enough to make me feel a deep and profound sense of happiness well up from within.  That is enough to make me smile on the inside.  That is enough to know that there is goodness in the universe.

My parents home town of Bognor Regis is fortunate enough to benefit from some great feats of Victorian ingenuity and foresight.  The best of these is the promenade that runs parallel to the sea, and stretches for a distance of some 2.5 miles, from the western end of the town's reaches at Aldwick, to its eastern most at Felpham.  This is where Victorians would flock to the coast to take in the medicinal air of the sea.  Today, it was no different.  People of all types, all shapes, all sizes, all nationalities, all religions flocked to the promenade, to walk alongside the ocean, to enjoy the rays of sun, and to take in some fresh sea air.  Perhaps it was the time of year, it was the day after Christmas after all (the day known as Boxing Day in England), or perhaps it was just that for three days before today, England had been suffering from continual bouts of strong winds and rain and very little glimpses of  the sun, but whatever it was, there was something magical that hung in the air, that swirled in and around the people.

Bognor Regis Promenade circa 1934

It was this something magical that created a common bond between everyone.  Whether they were as aware of it as I was, I could not tell, but one thing was certain, each one of us who walked along the promenade did so with souls that were joined together with one single purpose.  We combined the energy of our hearts and we became one people.  I felt it.  To me, it was palpable.  I could discern the mystical lines of energy and I am sure that if I wished it, I could have reached out my hand and grasped at individual strands.  These were the fibres of an ancient, primeval energy, that joined together in unison to create a force whose whole was far greater than the sum of each individual strand.  As I walked along the promenade on this day, I knew that I was witnessing a miracle, I was part of the magic, I was contributor and witness both.  I could not help but to smile and to laugh and to engage with those that I saw.  I wanted everyone to know that I was there, that I was with them and that I too was part of the miracle that was taking place all around.

Later in the day, I walked with my parents and my sister across the South Downs of southern England, across the fields clogged with mud and puddles, footprints and hoof prints mixed in an almost indistinguishable mess.  We were walking in the hills, near to the village of Slindon, West Sussex.  It was one of those afternoons.  Did I know that further magic was in the air as I spoke with my father and mentioned how amazing it would be to see some wild deer running free across the fields?  How could I have known?  I am not, as far as I am aware, gifted (cursed?) with foresight.  However, this area of the South Downs is populated by deer and although it is not exactly rare to see deer, it is not a particularly common occurrence either.  Wild deer tend to shy away from humans.

At the top of one particular hill sits Nore Folly, an odd looking structure built in the mid eighteenth century.  A folly is an oddity of its time.  It was a non-functional structure, often built in the Gothic style by the land owners of the day as a show of wealth.  Our path today took us to the top of this hill and up to the folly itself. At the sight of the folly, we were afforded glorious views out across the flat lands of the flood plains, that stretch from the base of the hills, all the way to the line of the coast, some five miles as the crow flies.  The waters of the English Channel appeared to be in flame and were almost too bright to look upon, as they reflected the late afternoon sun.

Nore Folly at Slindon

Looking down the hill to our left, across the furrows of the ploughed winter fields bare of crop, down to the dell below, there was a movement.  Bounding from the cover of trees came a deer, then another, leaping across the fields, moving ever further away, until they abruptly changed direction and swung around to head up the field and straight towards our position.  This would have been enough to confirm the magic of the day, but there was to be more.  Two deer became three, became four, then five, six, seven, eight!  The first two deer, perhaps braver than the rest, had been followed a few bounds behind by a further six deers, all of whom were now bounding their way up the hill and straight towards us!  Eight wild deer raced past us, cold air vapourising from their nostrils, leaving us standing silently in spellbound rapture.

This had truly been a day when magic was created.  Or perhaps that magic continues to exist all around us every single moment of every single day.  Only our cluttered lives, our rushing from one place to another, our cocooned lifestyles, that have become ever more disconnected from the natural world, perhaps it is these things that prevent us from experiencing this magic on a daily basis.  When we unplug, when we allow ourselves the time to experience and to enjoy nature, then the possibilities for magic are created.  Step outside of your door, take a walk, open your heart and your soul, and allow yourself to breathe in the magic.  Let your eyes see the world as it truly is, a world that is full of miracles, just waiting for you.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The End Is Only The Beginning

The end is really only the beginning.  That's certainly one way to look at it.  As one moment ends, we find ourselves already in the midst of another.  Countless millions of moments that together make up a life story.  One moment is all it takes to change the world, to alter the path of destiny.  One moment, one opportunity, one life.  It always comes down to that one single moment, a point at which your future is being decided, even if you are not aware of the consequences that surround you, of the swirling mass of possibilities that are lining up, taking order, falling into place.  And on we go, oblivious, until with hindsight, we look back down the road, and there, basking in all its glory, finally revealed to even the most blinkered of eyes, is that one pivotal moment that shook your world, that altered the course of your destiny and that brought you to the point at which you are now.  Sitting in a cafe in a seaside town in England, on a cold, wet, and dreary December day, staring out of the window at all of the activity in the street outside.

My time in Costa Rica has ended.  In fact, it was over on 5 December, as the plane hurtled down the runway of San Jose airport, as the wings lifted with the air velocity and pressure differential, and the wheels touched Costa Rican tarmac for the last time that day.  Airborne and with it, my future changed, it shifted.  Plans that had been made started to become a reality, thoughts, electronic pulses stored in my brain, turned into tangible occurrences.  This journey across the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans represented both an ending and a beginning.  This is life.

In death comes life.  Perhaps, with it being the day before Christmas, my thoughts turn to Jesus, which makes me think of the Resurrection.  "In death, I become life." (I just Googled that phrase in the belief that someone must have said it before, but my search brings forth no such findings.  So, I am taking it as my own creation.)  In other words, I must die before life comes again.  That is the way of our dreams.  We realise one dream and that dream must end before another can come to fruition. 

I have died many times in my life, I have experienced many endings.  With each cycle, I have changed, perhaps imperceptibly so, but I know that the person who began this odyssey into the unknown is not the same person who sits here in this cafe today.  How could I be?  I have seen and experienced too much.  I have opened myself up, I have given myself over to life, to the possibilities of something more, I have witnessed miracles, known people and cultures, suffered, cried, loved, and laughed.  Every thing and every person I have ever had contact with is some how now inside of me.  Maybe this is how we grow as people?  We internalise everything with which we come into contact and every emotion with which we experience.  We take a part of it all, a part of life and we bring that within.  At the same time, we are imparting something of ourselves to each person, to each experience.  Our soul is nourished and in turn nourishes those who we meet.  With each experience, we leave behind a trace of our soul, a signature that lasts an eternity, intrinsically linked to the time, to the place and to the participants.

Maybe what I am talking about today is the soul of life.  What if all of life shared a single soul?  One elemental force that linked every thing to every thing else.  People, animals, birds, fish, trees, shrubs, grasses, oceans, rivers, rocks, mountains, sand, clouds, rain, sun, moon, stars, air, Earth.  It's all of life in perfect balance, the soul is one, it is whole.  It leads me to something I have written before, "I am in everything and everything is in me."  I am in no doubt that when Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), what he was referring to was that every single one of us has the power within us.  In the heart lies the truth.  In the heart lies the way.  In the heart lies the life.  It is in our hearts that the power to become all that we were born to be is to be found.

Well, as always, I begin to write, unsure of where I will go and something always comes.  The flow of the mind is often a surprise to me and that is why I love to sit in a cafe and write.  This will probably be my last post of 2013 and I look forward to continuing the journey in 2014.  I hope that you will stay with me as we each travel down our own unique path.  It all begins again on 1 January. A turning of the page. A new chapter to be written.  An ending and a beginning.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all.