Let’s pretend you’re an airplane. Not one of the Boeing Max’s with the problems, or a missing Malaysia Airlines one, just a modest little plane carrying a few passengers. Each morning you get yourself prepared, inject some fuel (coffee for 90% of the universe) and you’re ready to fly! You work throughout the day taking care of all the passengers - partners, family, friends, work colleagues – but on the whole you soar though the sky, hit a little turbulence here and there, adjust for changes in the weather, but you make it back to base safely every day and land in the comfort of your own bed (or someone else’s, depends on how good your day went!). Tomorrow you’ll do it all again. Ad infinitum. Well, ad infinitum until you fall out of the sky.
Aeroplanes, like people (link!!!), need maintenance, they need care and attention, not just for your passengers but for yourself. There’s no point in exemplary upholstery and an opulent interior if outside a wing fell off. Equally, there’s little merit in a shiny exterior if the inside is like a chicken coup . . . unless you really want a business delivering high-flying chicks! Am here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitress! <Ed – we need to talk>
Essentially you need to take care of yourself: you cannot take off; mind passengers; soar all day through a cobalt sky; land safely; then rinse and repeat, without giving yourself some love. Take a break, take even ten minutes in your day to look after yourself. For those that cannot afford ten minutes, you have 1440 in a day, I’m talking about less than 1%. For those that struggle with that, try ten minutes a week . . . in the grand scheme its nothing, and yet that ten minutes may help you decide whether you’re flying in the right skies to being with. It may also end up saving your life.
To improve your mental health there are numerous sources available to help, beyondblue.org here in Australia, Mind and the NHS in the UK, and a US friend recommended mentalhealthusa.org. If you’re struggling, always reach out to your local GP, but most importantly reach out to someone. I’d also recommend headspace and buddhify apps, the latter offering excellent walking meditations, and I’m yet to walk into a lamppost this week – win!
“No role is (so) well suited to philosophy”, writes Marcus Aurelius, “as the one you happen to be in right now
I’ve always been intrigued by philosophy, it’s the fundamental ‘why do we do the things we do?’ part of me that tugs at my mind. There is always another point of view, another angle to survey the situation. Often you don’t need someone to say anything at all to understand their feelings. All you have to do is look: the slumped shoulders; the weary eyes; the fidgeting hands; the sweating brow. If they scream suddenly ‘fuuuuucckkkkk you alllll!!!’ that’s also a good indicator maybe not everything in the world is right.
Once someone begins to talk, I like to see if their eyes mirror what they’re saying: do they actually believe the words coming out of their mouth? Are they rambling, considered, patient, thoughtful, filling the void with nonsense? Despite being told constantly that I like to talk, watching others is fascinating, in a non-stalking, steamy windows kind of way, by the way.
In other news, I’ve come up with a novel idea to solve America’s endless gun-massacres without breaching the heaven-sent constitution. Everyone has a right to bear arms, still, but bullets will cost $5000 a pop (literally). However, this does mean that Bill Gates could possibly kill 20 million people before his money runs out. The plan is a work in progress, I’ll admit.
Occasionally I surprise myself: having barely even run for a bus in three years, I ran 4km this morning. Without stopping. Or being sick. Or crying. This is quite an achievement! Yes, ok, old women threatened me with violence if I continued to dawdle in their path, and my shadow almost overtook me, but other than that, it was fine.
Having a similar lung capacity to a packet of crisps (no coincidence) I have eschewed even light cardiovascular exercise since giving up playing football/soccer five years ago. Well, apart from swimming and walking: the first as I’m mostly lying down; the second as I can talk whilst I walk. I can try to natter whilst I run, yet the heavy breathing may attract the wrong type of clientele. “What you wearing?” “Well . . huff . . . puff . . . runners! Oh . . . my . . . huff . . . heart!”
Somewhere amongst the travelling, photographs and trains of the weeks I’d spent in Japan and Norway, I must have crossed a mirror or two and marvelled at how badly I’d treated my body. With my mind being nourished plentifully in the last two years, it was time I’d treated the rest of me. Attending the gym again it has made me wonder why I’d ever stopped. And then I remembered why: age. Having been athletic in my youth running a pretty decent six-minute mile for a marathon, I’m now at a six-minute kilometre. That isn’t brilliant, is it? And it takes my man-boobs a week to recover from a chest-press. A week!!!
My body and time-constraints don’t allow me to train every day, but neither do I need to: flexing on Venice Beach isn’t my destination, just walking past a mirror without mild repulsion. I intend to dedicate two half-hours a week to vigorous exercise: so that’s one gym session, or performing bedroom gymnastics thirty times. Hedging my bets, I think the gym sessions may be more likely. And to those that don’t believe they have an hour a week to dedicate to exercising your body you need for the rest of your days, count how many hours you watch television a week and then get back to me.
Other things I liked this week:
Oddly, I never knew I had insomnia. For as long as I can remember, broken sleep was simply normal. I just assumed that everyone was the same. I felt like Richard Pryor’s blind character in Hear No Evil, See No Evil, dumbfounded by some startling news that everyone else knew, “you mean, I’m not white? . . . does Dad know?
Upon my girlfriend’s insistence that I should see someone about it (seeing her apparently didn’t count) over a week of extreme stress where I’d self-medicated to get some solid nights sleep, I ventured to my doctor to relay my symptoms: I can get to sleep just fine; after three or four hours I generally wake up; and will continue to wake-up intermittently for the rest of the night, and will be fully conscious when doing so. Not even five seconds went by until she said ‘yup, terminal insomnia.’ Other than airports and power-sockets, no good can come from anything labelled ‘terminal’.
In this case it simply means that the last few hours of my sleep are disturbed. Not wanting any pills or medication, which my doctor assured me she would wouldn’t provide anyway, she recommended this site, espousing the imperative nature of sleep in our lives. Quite simply, sleep deprivation is pretty serious business. Every idiot knows it’s important, but the effects are staggering. Here are the things I’ve changed to improve my sleep:
I can’t say all of the above is ameliorative, but it’s an on-going experiment. Any suggestions of course would be more than welcome! Oh, and I’ve also started Marcus Aurelias’ Meditations, which has my mind dozing off after barely a paragraph. Maybe he’s the secret!
Image references: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/12/why-insomnia-happens-and-what-you-can-do-to-get-better-sleep/
From the very first years of real sentience and cogent thought, about mid-teenage years, the meaning of life / ultimate reason you’re here question starts looming in the shadows like a 500lb gorilla. It’s such a gargantuan and daunting task when you’ve barely learnt any adult life skills, like making an omelette and trying to kiss a girl. Christ, I’d just got the hang of my Velcro shoes! The question of life’s purpose becomes all consuming, the gorilla whopping bananas at the back of your head constantly. It’s no surprise to see 60% rises in youth depression and 56% in suicides in the last twelve years, let alone the increase in number of gorilla attacks. How do you define your object of dedication for your entire life when you don’t even know what you’re actually passionate about in the first place? Well, the answer is simpler than you think: you don’t.
There are some humans that will know what they want from the off, and they are the exception. Bastards, I must add, but the exception. However, I only half envy them – the search is the fun bit! Your curiosity must lead you to dead-ends as well as paradisiacal waterholes, and may take years or decades or end up fruitless. Ultimately, this is the search to find things not that will change the world, but that makes you happy, and that you derive purpose and enjoyment from.
Holocaust-survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl believed that it was the search for the meaning of your life that was the meaning of life. Not only that, it was changeable depending on the period of your life. Why be wed to some ideal for the rest of your days when you change and evolve as a human being? Better to identify the meaning of your current time in your life, and adapt.
Socrates said ‘know thyself’, which is a simpler version of learning about you: what you enjoy; what you dislike; but accepting them both. Whilst being compassionate to others is important, being compassionate to yourself is imperative. To expand on Socrates, once you know thyself you need to also love thyself. You are not perfect and never will be, but this is what defines you: a unique, never seen before, never to be repeated, 13.8 billion years in the making, human being. You’re a pretty special individual. So, start today by loving yourself like your life depends on it. Then make some tea, relax, and enjoy the search to finding out what makes you happy, what gives you purpose, knowing that it’s the journey that counts, not the ending.
It’s not often that I’ve been asked to get naked in the woods with two men I’ve just met. But as the saying goes: when in Japan, get naked.
Having met Matt, a fellow Brit, in the hostel in Kyoto, we shared an easy rapport debating the hopeful soundproof qualities of the net curtain between our two shikibutons – the rollout mattresses of our single beds. As it was, we didn’t need to worry about potential snoring as the traffic noise exceeded that alarmingly. Win! Together with Matt and his friend, Maurice, a German with a mild manner that belied his No Country for Old Men haircut, we set out on the train north to the countryside. Both turned out to be excellent company, and certainly I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather get nude with than these two chaps. Well, apart from every woman in the world. Then them.
After boarding the train about mid-morning, we arrived at the Kitayama Mountains for a half-day hike. We’d need to walk thirty minutes to the nearest village, Kibune, to start our adventure into the forest, packed with twittering birds on a hot and sultry day. We initially climbed steeply, but settled finally into easy-going slopes and meandering paths, running into shrines ensconced within the mountains. We came out behind and above the main temple, clambering down to see a sign cautioning us against the walk we’d already taken! The warning told of a typhoon had swept through the area months previously, destroying some of the smaller shrines and causing dangerous walking conditions. It’s always good to be on the front foot with these things!
The view from the main hall over the adjacent verdant mountains was beautiful, and the climb down far easier than up. In all honesty, once you’ve seen twenty shrines, you’ve seen a million, so I was eager for some nudity. With legs aching after a few hours walking (I'm out of shape, I tells ya!), the path led us back into the village and into the bosom of an open-air onsen, the famous Japanese hot springs, one of the few positives of being on an active volcanic country. With views of the mountains, it was a serene and peaceful spot to view the world.
Men and women are separated at the entrance, so bathing is single sex. We undressed, placed our belongings into lockers and then took to showering and scrubbing oneself to avoid sullying the waters. You effectively shower whilst sitting down next to your fellow bathing mates, and once clean, amble over to the pool to gently lower yourself into the hot bath. It was wonderful to soak the muscles and relax. We chatted a little but did our best to be respectful (the Japanese are exceptionally quiet and peaceful people), letting the hot water soothe the mind as well as the soles – my feet appreciated the indulgence. I can withstand heat better than your average penguin, but missed the contrasting cold-water plunge-pools that shock the body after the heat which I'd experienced elsewhere. The glacial waters high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan was one in particular, the water acting as a bracing yet welcome balm to the heat. Admittedly I took some convincing to even try those freezing waters a few years back, but that was the one missing ingredient with this new calming bathing experience: the contrast.
Japan as a whole has been wonderful: the fast-paced, neon-glitz and razzmatazz of the cities, technology, gaming and anime culture, seem a complete imbalance to that of the onsen, countless Buddhist temples and calm state of mind of the people. It's an odd, cognitive dissonance: want to calm the mind? Come to one of the busiest, densely populated countries on the planet. An incredible place to be.
As I board a train in Norway, I realise my little twelve-day jaunt to the Asian economic powerhouse has ruined me: we’re six minutes late in departing from Oslo to Bergen, and I audibly tut. At least in Japan I would be safe in the knowledge that would someone would have the decency to die for this tardiness. Additionally, Japan ran so effectively and so calmly, that when I now take public transport, I’m aghast at people having the temerity to converse with one another. Out loud and everything. Even children are heard. Heard! Can you bloody believe it?!
After all these years I can finally claim to understand the fascination and love tourists have for the country. Every western civilisation should have a Shinkansen/bullet train. Every nation should ban smoking almost everywhere. And all should have a door to a cavernous temple housing 1001 golden life-sized Buddhas for no other reason than just looking astounding. Despite not being a foodie in the slightest, I quickly became accustomed to small, authentic two-man restaurants (chef and waiter) that served only a few dishes but did so swiftly and with aplomb. Whether tokoyaki, katsudon or some beautiful juicy steak (and rice, naturally) the food is always high-quality, albeit a little pricy. Then again, Norway makes my soul shudder: a can of coke costs £3.50. I almost rioted. No wonder why Norway champions the peace-prize, they’re teetering on the edge!
In my last few days in Tokyo, amongst visits to the myriad of world-class gardens, there were two stand-out experiences. The first was whizzing around the streets in a real-life Mario Kart. Hitting 80km/h on the Rainbow Bridge was a definite highlight, which doesn’t sound quick until you understand there is only about six inches separating your arse from tarmac. Incidentally, lorries seem like tower blocks at that height! And the second incredible experience was teamlabs, a sensory and technological artsy-marvel, akin to waltzing through the mind of Kubrick whilst watching Interstellar and taking a trip on mushrooms. If you’re in Tokyo, go for it!
For all the bustle and millions of bodies in Japanese cities, I already miss it: the quiet efficiency; the engineering excellence; the quality of the food; the calmness of the people; the peace. And this coming from Norway of all places, which itself embodies all of those things. I may well be broken.
There are few great Levellers in this world (Mark Chadwick maybe?) but a benchmark that cuts through race, religion or gender are nominally death and taxes. After a week in Japan, I’d probably add to that how you eat a bowl of udon noodles in broth. I’m a delicate petal of an eater, tiptoeing around the fact I may hurt the food’s feelings as I eat it, but even when the most-lovely of lovelies arrives at a bowl of udon noodles things become quickly unstuck. Add a dash of chile and some kind of mystical root, and then its on! Slurps, noodle-sucking, sniffles, deep breaths, loud exhales, sweat beading on the brow, the occasional burp, the dish has it all! Empress or cobbler are undone by noodle soup!
Less class-uniting is the okonomiyaki, a sensational crepe/noodle extravaganza formed on a hot plate. They even give you a little trowel to plough into it. Last night I used said trowel, neatly quartering the round mess and halving again once I’d transported it onto my plate. I then tuck into it using chopsticks, munching bitesize. I’m not bad with chopsticks, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Getting distracted with some baseball, I carried out my little process, and got to the last morsel to notice some instructions on eating okonomiyaki in what passes as a guide for gaijin. Turns out you’re supposed to use the trowel for shovel the food into you, and what made it worse was the chef had handed me this bloody thing at the start of the meal, at which I simply tossed it aside and became engrossed in a game in which I don’t understand. Useless, bloody useless!
I’ve had a wonderful few days though, enjoying Tokyo, the shrines of Kyoto and seeing a man get arrested for flying his drone (not me, hasten to add). I’ve trundled down the coast to the quite incredible Hiroshima, and am still staggered at the number and ages of schoolchildren that diligently ploughed through hours-worth of extremely graphic and tear-jerking testimonials. What I didn’t see though was any acknowledgement of how it got to that stage i.e. why were a-bombs dropped at all? Far less political though, and about one million percent enjoyable, was the retreat of Miyajima. An island about half an hour south of Hiroshima, the village was a lovely break from the hustle of the big cities. Well it was at about 11pm and 5am when I was out taking photos and being attacked by mosquitoes anyway.
What has bowled me over though this week is not only the dedication and inventiveness of the engineering of the country (I listed on a bullet-train ride – that’s another marvel! – all the well-known Japanese technology or engineering companies – its ridiculous!) but the sheer calmness of the people. Whether squeezing onto a train in Tokyo, caught in traffic with some idiot has parked across the road, the Japanese are unflappable. No tooting of horns, no ‘oiii, wanker!’ when shoved on the underground: they are immensely respectful, quiet, gracious, friendly and calm. And why not when your toilet seats are electronically warmed and with a touch of a button you have a gentle spray of warm water cleaning your bum. It’s the future, I tell you, especially if you’ve just had a spicy udon soup.
Japanese Tech and Engineering Companies - Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Mazda, Hino, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Nissan, Daihatsu, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Matsui, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Kodak for gods sake, Hitachi, Fuji, Fujitsu ... all from this country of 140m people? Don’t forget Nintendo, Sega, Bridgestone and Yokohama Tyres!
Family holidays are wonderful: the warm glow of beaming faces, eyes full of love and unbridled affection for your long-missed kindred. Those golden moments blessed in a tight embrace. This is your family; this is where you belong. The seemingly endless travelling in trains, planes and cars have been worth every hour, every minute and every dollar to reach them. At long last, you are home. Your soul is at peace. This euphoria lasts about twenty minutes.
Then comes the pep-talk that you, now an elder, need to have with the rest of your family, usually amidst doing something inane like shopping where you can send soldiers off for supplies to get one-on-one time. This holiday shall be different, you declare. Not like the time you were 'lost' in a department store and not like the time there was a screaming match culminating in wishes of death and abandonment of homes because someone was a particularly mouthy six-year-old. Oh no, you insist, this time it will be fine. Absolutely fine. Fine. You reiterate the mantra to yourself at the check-out. It’ll be fine. 'I'll grab those mentos and some coke though' you inner self asserts, 'they could take my head clean off' . But it’ll be fine.
The country of my upbringing is a place made of pure solace: the very trees and grass are hewn from it. And yet it’s from these very homes in this verdant paradise that we huddle in sitting rooms, looking out onto a vast world through the television, a distant land of natural disasters and another American gun-violence day – a constant fixture in a broken society. Cameras pan to strewn bullets on boulevards cordoned off by police tape. Neighbours gush to the journalists of ‘often quiet man with access to an arsenal of weapons.’ Your family exchange horrified gasps, again, where gun violence has, again, extinguished the lives of innocent people. Again. The same questions arise – ‘Why?’. ‘Why would someone do this? How could it get so bad?’ And there you sit on the corner, munching on your muller-rice, thinking, ‘I wonder if it was the 11th or 12th time he was asked that morning, why he don’t you kids yet?’
A Reed family holiday looms.
A book titled ‘Regrets of the Dying’ doesn’t immediately lend itself to rib-busting tummy tickles. Actively hunting down such a book in fact tends to elicit some concern amongst friends. It is though not only uplifting, but if anything, its life-affirming. I’m on the right path. During a turbulent week at work, this is always a welcome sign indeed.
As with every large corporate, the company I work for are going through a sizeable re-structure, probably their biggest in their history. After years of build-build-build, they’re digitising and automating, cutting the number of services on offer, and therefore cutting the staff that support those services. It’s a large-scale process improvement initiative effectively, one that most would agree is overdue. There is always though a ‘however . . .’, as most restructures are like radical weight-loss schemes: “I shall shed ten kilos this week by cutting off this leg that I barely use!”
Although the upper-tiers of management are endeavouring to approach it the best they can, the business analyst in me looks at why we have arrived at such drastic measures in the first place. Process improvement is part of every business. When you neglect it for a long time, then drastic course directs are necessary. Whilst we may focus that the current captains of the ship are trying to steer us in the right direction, where was the stewardship when we were sailing down crapshoot creek in the first place? Didn’t anyone see that we were developing product after product with little gain, with some platforms costings hundreds of thousands of dollars per month with literally no revenue. I mean, none. Zip. For years. And so how much trust do you put in the people that steered you into a warzone to then clamber out of it, sacrificing a few to save weight?
The other side of this is the demise of the collective. We all know that over the two years, up to eight thousand people will lose their jobs. In the days of unions, announcements like this would lead to forty thousand people telling the bosses to shove their jobs up their arse, and seeing the share price tank as no one turns up for work. In the days of individualism and the demise of unions, we watch on, hoping that personally we’ll be safe, whilst friends are walked out of the building.
Whilst I may reflect on the regrets of the dying over the coming week, it’s sometimes easy to forget the regrets of the living. If redundancies are instead viewed as opportunities to try something new, it opens up the world for you to find something that truly inspires. Having ‘the end of life' a guide can help. To quote from Bonnie Ware’s lovely book on palliative care, her patient John declares, ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard . . . what a stupid fool I was . . . the chase for more, and the need to be recognised by our achievements and belongings, can hinder us from the real things, like time with those we love, time doing things we love ourselves.’
Writing and writing...