Floundering Intelligently

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So it’s been a fair old time since I last wrote anything. Amongst other things, this blog will hopefully go some way towards explaining why.

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a terrific event called the Festival of Education at Wellington College. The most memorable session for me was run by an education innovator called Guy Claxton. Everything about the talk resonated with me, most of all his vision and work on progressing towards a 21st century education system – one that exists to prepare young people for the working world. He was talking about the role of teachers in schools, particularly in relation to the value held in education that it is all about being right, rather than experimenting, potentially being wrong and learning from that. He rightly pointed out that in the adult world we are often confronted with situations in which there is no clear right or wrong, and in which we don’t have a bloody clue what we’re doing. He remarked that schools should be safe spaces for teachers and students both to work through unknown, complex situations where we don’t know what is right – safe spaces to flounder intelligently.

That phrase ‘flounder intelligently’ struck a chord with me, and has rattled around my head since. To be honest, I’ve been floundering ever since the beginning of 2013. The title of the blog is somewhat ironic because although at times I’ve felt very much as though I am learning and progressing, at other times the floundering has not felt intelligent in any way, shape or form. It’s just been floundering.

What I haven’t done, is be particularly open about it. I’m writing now partly because it’s cathartic, partly because I feel the learning is important, and partly because I don’t feel we as a society are anywhere near open enough about our struggles in life – in education or as adults. Be the change you want to see and all that – smart man that Ghandi fellow. I have some inspiring friends who have been transparent about difficulties they are having (much more significant than mine), and I thought I’d follow their lead.

2013 was the first year I didn’t set goals at the beginning of. My single intention was to carry on in the direction I was headed in, which was exactly where I wanted to go. The first six months in Sydney were mind-boggingly amazing and my life was just where I wanted it to be. No more than a week in to 2013, this all started to change. A combination of internal and external changes completely caught me off guard and de-railed me.

I was dependent on the university I was working at for both my visa and living wage going forward, and that went from looking likely to very uncertain and at the least not being available for a while. Significantly, I was aware that had I been in the UK where I’m a citizen then it wouldn’t have been an issue. A lot of promising work leads then started to fall through, almost comically so in some instances. In addition to this were two very unexpected changes in me; a strong desire to lay down roots and no longer be travelling from place to place, and a loss of motivation towards most of my current work. I realised that I wanted to move back to the UK and settle in London, and that I wanted to move away from mental health work towards environment/sustainability – a field I had no experience in.

So I find myself back in Swindon (which remains as dull as ever) living with my parents and struggling away to find paying work in London. To an extent, the novelty of being back in the country with so many of my friends and my family is still strong and it’s wonderful to now know that I want to stay here indefinitely. On the other hand, I’m still quite uncertain as to the work direction I want to go in and am finding it far more difficult to create work opportunities than at any point over the last few years. A lot of things fell in to place for me from my final year at university onwards – I thought I was very much in control of where my life was headed, turns out it was more that I was very lucky; a tough realisation to absorb.

It’s what’s been going on inside though that’s been really testing. My ideas, motivation, sense of purpose, intuition…things I had held very dear and had in riches in Australia all began to fade. I had come to rely increasingly on intuition over the years as my compass and it became stronger and stronger, but then at the turn of the year it went silent and would only pop up in glimpses. It’s still fairly quiet. I went from feeling like I was on a clear course and thriving to the absolute opposite. I had become increasingly calm and balanced (a few friends in Australia joked about me being ‘zen’), but this changed too – I grew easily rattled and cycled through feeling lost, confused, desperate and useless.

That last word was probably the toughest to acknowledge. It was very frustrating feeling like I was not of much use to anyone, especially compared to Australia where I held a number of leadership roles, I could influence change, was giving talks, and had connections. It has made me reflect on how special that time in Aus was. How lucky I was.

And I realised how very little I actually know! My goodness. That’s been humbling. One of the most profound realisations I think we can have is just how remarkably little we actually know. I know next to nothing about the world and how to change it. But I do now know that I have huge amounts of learning to do.

I don’t think you can overstate the importance of acceptance – especially of that which we find hard. I should have been more open earlier, as I’m writing this now from a space where I’m starting to find clarity and move through it. I’m not sure whether it’s healthy to flounder, but it is what it is and I can’t deny that’s what I’ve been doing. We shouldn’t pretend to know all the answers or get caught up in the illusion that we are in control – life and people are unpredictable. But if we’re going to flounder – do it intelligently, reflect on the lessons, speak to others. So for now, I’m going to flounder a little more…

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Past and future reflections

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It’s been some time since my last blog. There’s good reason for that. But it didn’t feel right to end 2012 without writing at least once more, and there a few things I must acknowledge before the year is out.

 

There’s an analogy I like to use to explain how our energy levels work – indulge me. It involves a cup of water. When we are truly refreshed, we wake up and the water is right at the top of the glass. Our days are busy, and by the end of it the water level has dropped somewhat. How demanding it is, and how well we look after ourselves during the day determines how much that level drops. By taking time to relax in the evenings and getting a good sleep, by the next morning that water level has risen near the top again. We start off with a good baseline energy level.

 

What can happen over time, is that if the demands we put on ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally outweigh the activities that allow us to recover, is that each day we start with less and less water in our glass. Our baseline energy is lower. When we get near the bottom, then we must be careful, as if use the same energy as when the water is near the top, then we could hit the bottom of the glass. And then bad things happen – we get ill, over-stressed, feel exhausted and overwhelmed. We don’t have enough in the tank to deal with the challenges that come our way.

 

The last couple of months I’ve felt like I’ve been getting worrying close to the bottom of the glass. But I can’t just walk away from my commitments – the commitments which demand energy. So I’ve been trying to gradually wind things down; to make life less demanding. It’s taken a while to get there. There are times when I have hit the bottom of the glass and that’s been hard. I’ve gotten unwell, felt emotionally fragile and wanted some space from big responsibilities for a while.

 

This week many of those commitments have been finally tied up, and packed away ready for a later date when I have the energy they deserve. And this week marks the first time in months, that I’ve felt the water in my glass getting a little higher every day. Each day I have bit more spark, perspective, energy. It’s tempting to use it all up in excitement, but I’m staying patient and letting it fill all the way up to the top. The lesson here, of course, is to learn a better balance that enables the water to stay near the top longer, and not get so easily depleted. That’s one of my reflections heading in to 2013.

 

And 2013 is very much open us now. The Christmas break has always seemed an ideal time to reflect on the past year and how far we’ve come, as well as look ahead to where we want to go next in the forthcoming year. It’s always a time of year I find especially insightful, because it lends itself to that quiet time needed to pause and consider.

 

2012 has been a special year for me. I left home to live outside of the UK for the first time; left behind all I knew. I spent four months fulfilling a long-held dream to travel. Saw Angkor. Learned to dive. Started up a new project out here in Australia. Became a Rotarian. Started a life on the other side of the world.

 

But these individual snapshots do not paint a picture, they do not demonstrate the feelings and experiences of a year. I feel more certain now in the path I’m taking, and in my capabilities to pursue it. Feel more excited by the projects I am involved in, and more able to have a positive impact through them. The learning has been huge. And I’ve met, and worked with, some astonishing people. I’d like to acknowledge them. All those who have welcomed me to a new country; you have my thanks. All those who I know are trying to make the world a little bit better; you have my respect and admiration. I hope you realise what a wonderful thing you’ve done over the past 12 months.

 

And what’s next? It’s not a question I can answer. But maybe you already know for yourself. If not, then this is a good to think on it, and to discuss with others. I know that’s what I will be doing. This time over the break I will use to recover, to make up my days as I go along, and chart out the course for the next year. It’s not often we have that opportunity.

 

Have a great Christmas, and make next year the best one yet.

A fear of the path well-trodden

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On occasion, I feel there’s value in pausing on the path we’re taking through life, turning around and taking a good look at how far we’ve come. It can be quite surprising.

Over the last few days a number of events and conversations have triggered off the realisation in me that I’m further along in my own development than I thought – in terms of my abilities, skills, assuredness –  and in my crazy mission to make the world we live in better.

When I turn around on that path and look at where I was going through school, it’s a very different person I see. I was shy, unconfident and didn’t like groups of people. My self-worth wasn’t great. This is probably true for many teenagers, but there was little evidence of how much that would all change.

During the end of school, through college and early university this changed a little and my fear of judgement receded a little, but I was still terrified of criticism or of appearing foolish. I grew more comfortable in groups, and valued myself more, but remained very cautious. This impacted upon my view of the future. I didn’t see a great deal of adventure or excitement, and didn’t trust in my own ability to engineer these as core components of my life. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I was sure that the ones I could see – working for the sake of earning money in an office somewhere, living for the weekends, being stuck in a lab doing science – were not ones that appealed to me. In fact, I found them quite depressing.

Oddly though, I appeared to be less worried about my future than many of my classmates. Despite what I’ve written above, my glass was always half-full and I the hope that something extraordinary would emerge remained ever-present. That attitude helped me a lot in getting through depression. And though I wasn’t sure how I wanted Nathaniel’s future to look, I did have some idea of how I wanted future Nathaniel to look. I could see traits in other people that I admired, and could see the amazing things that those traits enabled them to do. Writing, public speaking, enterprise….I wanted to be good at these things.

I was aware that to develop these areas, I needed to just throw myself in with the knowledge that I would be no where near as good as other people or as I wanted to be – and other people would judge me for it. For a long time, that fear of what others might think of me held me back though. Instead of just jumping straight in, it was easier to bask in the envy and make excuses why I was actually better than them or why some other circumstance outside of my control meant that I couldn’t do these things. That it was down to talent perhaps.

And then something happened one Christmas. My sister and her husband bought me a book by Alastair Humphreys. I was hooked not so much by the astonishing fact that he CYCLED AROUND THE ENTIRE WORLD, but more by the huge personal doubt he overcame to do so. That he was just an ordinary guy, with an extraordinary dream. What set him apart was not physical excellence or unshakeable self-belief, but attitude. He dared do something extraordinary, and that made him extraordinary.

And with it my attitude changed. I was inspired beyond belief and decided I would dare do what terrified me. Those areas that I wanted to get better at – that scared me – I started doing them and giving them a go. Put simply, it came down to this: my fear of being judged by others was outweighed by my fear of leaving an ordinary life – of judgement by myself. Living with the knowledge that I didn’t take risks and hadn’t been bold terrified me more than anything else – than getting up in front of 50 people and talking, of jumping out of a crane, of starting something original and letting others judge it.

So I did things like run student groups, start new ones, go bungee jumping, write for the uni paper, take every opportunity to speak in front of people that I could. Risk being wrong. Risk making a mistake. Risk being judged. I recall how I would feel speaking in front of a group, or when I was writing for the paper – I would try to overcome my fear of what others would think of me. All that attention, all those opinions at one time. It wasn’t natural to me.

But those things have turned out pretty well. It’s hard to explain how rewarding it is to see my improvement in those areas; I enjoy talking in front of people and now even have people coming up to me telling me how good I am at it! I write very transparently in my blog and elsewhere. I’ve started up a number of community organisations. And I don’t worry about what people think of me, in fact I tend to belief they will think well of me. And I’m always open to constructive criticism and areas of improvement. The emotion of envy pops along infrequently , and when it does, I pay close attention to its lesson. It means that somebody is able to do something that I can’t and would like to. So I listen, and then get on with changing that. The envy very quickly disappears.

And now I reflect that this turning point in terms of my attitude to self-improvement, is one of the biggest of my life. Because now I’m on this bike, I can’t get off it. Whenever I see something I want to get better at – no matter how ambitious it seems or how far off I am – I immediately work out how to improve and get straight on it. I think this will serve me well for the rest of my life.

The sad thing is, I see is this same fear in many others – held back by a fear of what others may think of them. And yet, if we had that fear when we were toddlers, we would never learn to walk. We look pretty stupid falling over all the time before we finally succeed. I believe that to some extent it is natural that as we become self-conscious, we do develop some fear of judgement.

However, I am firmly of the view that this fear of judgement – of being wrong – is more often than not facilitated by current public education. It’s an education system based on right and wrong, of assessment, of being compared to others. We’re given little numbers that tell us – and everyone else – how good we are and we’re judged on them. We’re pushed to fit in to a system. And yet, there is an opportunity, through education, to encourage people to flourish, to build their self-belief and self-worth. To help young people realise their strengths and improve their weekends. Except in some unconventional schools, this is an opportunity that is wasted.

And here’s a question I won’t waste much time trying to answer, but that is thought-provoking. If I had learned this attitude to self-improvement earlier, and this self-worth at 5 years old, instead of 20 years old, where would I be now?

Fatigue…why are you bothering me?

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These past two days I spent bushwalking at the Royal National Park. I took the famous and popular Coastal Track from Bundeena down to Otford. Prior to beginning on Sunday, I had a feeling that I really needed to do this walk and had been feeling pretty fatigued in the lead up to it. Now a day and a half later, having gotten up at 5:20am on Sunday to begin the 4 hour journey (cycle, train, ferry) to the walk’s start point, and having covered the better part of 30km on foot (over some tough terrain) and 20km on bike whilst spending last night sleeping uncomfortably in a tent, I now find myself feeling distinctly refreshed. I feel incredibly relaxed, my mind is not jumping from one task or decision to the next and I keep laughing at the most unlikely things.

Otford (the walk’s end point) found itself one of the main objects of my amusement. Having seen signposts to it from the beginning, starting at 26km and gradually getting whittled down by our relentless walking, it held this magical allure as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (the Coastal Walk, of course, being the rainbow in this tenuous analogy). I had rather hoped to find a pub when we reached it, or at the very least a cafe where I could grab the hot chocolate I had been daydreaming of when we set out on pouring rain and harsh winds that morning. To find that it contained little more than three roads, three houses (one was in construction), some signposts (mainly containing the names of Otford’s roads, in case you couldn’t find one of the other two) and a railway station stimulated feelings of disappointment outweighed by feelings of amusement. I found it all very funny, which made me rather happy.

However, this piece of writing is not dedicated to Otford’s charms or lack thereof. In fact, no piece of writing ever should be dedicated to Otford. If it was, I wouldn’t read it (I might out of curiosity when no one was looking).

It’s about Fatigue.

So.

Naturally upon acknowledging my feelings of refreshment upon finishing the walk, the next thought to enter my head was ‘why?’. Indeed. And then I asked myself why we ever feel tired. What causes this?

Our first instinct often is that we need more sleep. Or a holiday. Somehow we summse the lack of sleep and/or holiday is at the root of our feeling worn out. I don’t doubt this can be the case, but I would venture that the roots of fatigue can be complex, and often cumulative. I believe that doing one kind of activity for too long can wear us out, whether it be the same job, the same routine, the same lifestyle. If you don’t change it up, those areas of our brain being utilised by these activities don’t get a break in which to recover.

For instance at the end of my time travelling I was exhausted. It wasn’t a hard lifestyle; I was able to make up each day as I felt, never worried about somewhere to sleep or food to eat. But I felt so fatigued by that lifestyle. Travelling has great variety true, but although the places change and the people too, the conversations you have and the type of things you do in each place become quite repetitive. I was shattered, and yet raring to get in to my new work and new life in Sydney. On the face of it, that sounds more exhausting, but I had so much energy for this different challenge – much more than for travelling.

Reading is a great love of mine as a means of winding down, but in recent times that’s not always helped. If I’ve had a brain-bending day that challenges me to work through problems, then reading a non-fiction book that engages me in a similar way does not help – it just wears me out further. However, reading a novel does help.

The realisation that I think I’m coming to from this rather anecdotal blog, is that when we look at how much energy we are using, we should not look just at the activities we’re doing, but how they work our brains. My long walk refreshed me, because the parts of my brain usually utilised by the work I do were able to go on holiday. In fact, trying to access them actually required a lot of effort. Instead I had been thinking about my environment, watching for the terrain, taking in the sounds, picturing Otford…

In recent weeks I’ve not been bouncing out of bed in the usual energetic manner, ideas and connections weren’t flowing like I’m used to and physically I hadn’t been feeling too well. Yet, I had changed little in my lifestyle (if anything getting more sleep and downtime) and this presented physically. I find it fascinating that this can be so; that mental fatigue presents in a physical way. I feel that mental health and physical health are so intricately connected, and as society begins to accept and discuss mental health, the depth and extent of this connection will only increase in our consciousness.

It also demonstrates the value of building in to our lifestyles activities that work different parts of our brain. Activities that require such focus that you don’t reflect on work. Perhaps sport or creative hobbies.

I’m certainly going to take that lesson on board, and reflect a little more in this subject in the mean time.

And next time I feel tired, I might just take another long walk. To Otford.

P.S. One more thing. If there’s one takeaway action, it’s this: spend a day without turning on and using your phone or computer (or tablet). Acknowledge how uncomfortable feels, and how remarkable it is that this was probably the norm a few decades ago. What I found, is that it is also very relaxing. Your stress levels noticeably drop.

Why is global compassion on the rise?

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This article really resonated with me. Yes, like all ‘science journalism’ its scientific credibility is somewhat dubious, but this exploration of mankind’s compassion and the wider picture of why it might be growing has had me hooked for a while.

A couple of years back I came across some research demonstrating that we’re growing more inclined to admire those who have strong compassion, empathy and kindness rather than traits of ruthlessness and manipulation that have worked well for many leaders – both past and present.. And it was Darwin who claimed that sympathy is our strongest instinct.

Science aside, you observe trends in the world. Now more than ever I hear the word ‘collaboration’ come up. This was evident both in the UK and now here in Australia. This is particularly amongst the younger generation and younger organisations, but those that are a bit older are also warming to it. Charitable, altruistic work is on the rise. I meet so many more people choosing to set up or get involved with organisations that set out to solve problems faced by people in the world that they have no obvious connection to, and devote their lives to this. That’s pretty remarkable isn’t it?

There’s no denying that our lives are becoming more global and technology means that we can connect globally, instantly and at any time. I’m able to speak to and see my friends and family over on the other side of the world instantaneously, which still astounds me.

What this also means, as the article rightly says, is that the issues we face are more global than before, and it will require more global collaboration in order to solve them. Working within our local communities is hardly likely to solve the lack of renewable energy, overpopulation or food shortages, which are all global issues on the rise. Yet all of these are big challenges of the 21st century and will all spill over to affect every single one of us in time if they are not addressed.

Unless we work together, and have compassion for those with whom all we share is our humanity, rather than nationality, religion, politics…then the great challenges of the 21st century may be too complex overwhelming. Attention must be given to similarities, not differences. Our reasons for cooperation, not conflict. Conflict within species is a part of nature, but for no other species in the planet’s history (to our knowledge) has come close to having such a profound impact in such a short space of time.

When I look at this whole picture, I can’t help but wonder whether we are indeed evolving to be more compassionate, more altruistic and more connected on a global scale. Humans have fought one another for millennia, but now we’ve reached the stage where any large-scale conflict would have potentially devastating consequences. Cooperation must be the first option. And some of the challenges we face are so vast and complex that it needs people coming together from all over the world to tackle them.

I see growing movements of people actively seeking out more fulfilling and altruistic lives, challenging our money and consumption obsessed values, prioritizing the positive impact they have in the world over the money they earn. It’s a slow trend, but it’s there, and I can’t help but wonder why. Perhaps evolution – our own fundamental drive for survival as a species – is the answer?

But hey, I’m only speculating…

Why does sunshine make us so happy?

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Well it does, doesn’t? We all know that beautiful feeling of waking up, looking out of the window and seeing blue skies with sunshine streaming in. It puts us in a great mood straight away. Conversely, when up above you is a blanket of grey clouds, we feel pretty fed up. A funny little observation I’ve made since being in Sydney is that people here, broadly speaking, are a little more friendly and cheery than in the UK. And it really is a noticeable enough trend to be obvious. And yet much of the population shares the same ancestry, so how did that happen? The UK’s not that bad is it?

But I’m not going to spend this blog convincing you that sunshine makes us feel happy. Most of us have already had this insight and if you haven’t…well you should probably stop reading here as the rest of the blog is based on this assumption. And you’re probably living somewhere without much sunlight – like Antarctica maybe. Go and take a holiday in the Caribbean and then read it again.

Neuroscientists have identified the physiological basis of this improvement in mood that occurs when we receive more sunlight. Depending on what you read, you will hear about increases in certain chemicals called endorphins and serotonin. Both have been frequently linked to mood, and indeed the main form of drug treatment for depression is a series of drugs called SSRIs, which artificially raise our levels of serotonin. I touched on the subject in an earlier blog (linked to brain changes blog).

For most Neuroscientists, they think that this increase in chemicals is a splendid answer to the question of the title. But not for me. You see, mood is an adaptive mechanism that has evolved over time to give us a biological advantage. We have reward pathways in the brain, which exist to give us a positive feeling when we do something that is good for us i.e. anything that helps us to survive or create more mini people. Likewise they give us a negative feeling when we do the opposite. Of course there are plenty of examples where this can go horribly wrong – such as with some recreational drugs, which act very powerfully on these reward mechanisms and confuse the hell out of our bodies.

So emotion isn’t just there because it’s nice to feel happy. It has a more adaptive purpose. With that in mind, why does the sun lift our mood? Or rather, why does our reward mechanism in the brain tell us that being in the sun is AWESOME? When I connect up the dots I’m left with the conclusion that sunlight obviously has an impact on our bodies that is important for us physiologically – important for our survival and health.

The best answer I can come up with is Vitamin D. Sunlight is well known to increase Vitamin D in our bodies, a vitamin that is quite tricky to get from any other source in the same quantity as from the sun. It’s good for our teeth, bones AND does truly marvellous things for our immune system. Well that’s pretty awesome. I guess with that in mind, it would make some sense that our brain is telling us to go and soak up more of it.

The bizarre lead on then from this then, is that those of us living in countries without much sunlight and feeling miserable (typically associated with higher levels of mental illness, especially seasonal affective disorder and even higher suicide rates) are actually receiving feedback from our brains telling us to LEAVE. It’s basically saying to you, “Look, you can stay in this country with its rubbish weather where I’m not going to get any of that delicious Vitamin D I like, but I’m going to make you feel bloody miserable if you do.” If this was the most powerful driving force for humans, we would probably see a very different population density across the globe, with hoards of people moving to Latin America and the Caribbean, and no one left in Scandinavia or the UK. I don’t know what would happen to Eskimos.

So those are my two cents on the matter. Hopefully I’ll uncover more reasons why our brains have adapted to encourage us to get outside in the lovely sunshine.

And in the mean time go and listen to ‘Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone’ by Bill Withers. It’s been in my head the whole time I’ve been writing this blog…

Meditation: Why bother?

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Following on from my writing about the importance of psychological awareness; acknowledging our feelings, understanding what triggered them and ultimately using that to drive our decisions, I realized I had to tie in the role an activity that facilitates this entire process. Meditation.

Although I had been doing guided meditation for a few months before leaving the UK, it was only when I got to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand that I really understand the benefits of it. I had generally understood the objective of meditation to simply be calmness – very useful in itself for those caught up in the fast-paced western world.

The retreat I stayed at practiced a technique called Vipassana meditation, also understood as ‘insight meditation’. The aim is much greater awareness and understanding of all sensations that your body perceives; especially touch, sound and sight. You develop the ability to observe each of these sensations, and in time, even to observe your thoughts in the same way – observing all these different sensations at once you are practiced enough.

The whole experience was so tremendously….well, insightful, but I’m going to keep the focus on emotional awareness. As you improve and develop (which does happen when you’re practicing 8 hours a day), you notice the way that your attention is immediately drawn to any new sensation. It could be a bird singing, or an ant crawling up your leg (we were in the middle of forest, so this happen almost constantly). And as this new stimulus arrives, there’s an almost immediate emotional reaction in your body. If it’s a sound you find soothing, you feel a calmness in your body. If it’s a sound that could be dangerous, you feel an edginess. I couldn’t help tying this back to my studies and the neurological underpinnings of the flight or flight response.

This in itself isn’t especially surprising. It’s fascinating to be able to experience this with such focus, but it’s the next stage of learning where the insight starts to come. As I said, in time you can observe your thoughts in a similar way to sounds or sights. And much the same, thoughts can be quite random. I was amazed at how disconnected and jumpy they would be. At one moment a memory a conversation would jump in, ten seconds later I’d think of family, and then it would be breakfast. You wonder just how much processing is going on without your being consciously aware at any one time, and how the brain chooses what to make you aware of and what not.

By adding thoughts to the mix, you can observe their emotional effect on the body in much the same way. So as the thought of my parents came along, I would feel strong warmth. A memory of a break up, and I’d feel tense. Food…well that would be terribly exciting. The response is instantaneous and completely natural. There’s no time for logic or analysis to interfere.

The few examples I’ve just listed seem obvious, but when you’re unsure of a decision, then this process becomes very valuable. At this point in my travels I had grown pretty weary, and wanted something less superficial than brief friendships with other travelers and spending no more than a week in each place. I had no idea what an alternative might be though. When the thoughts of more travel came along, my body instantly felt heavy. Instead, when I thought of settling in one place for a few weeks, of trying to look at a place through the eyes of a local and not a tourist, I immediately experienced excitement. This was counter to my own logic and the advice I was getting from nearly everyone I spoke to about. Logic told me I should be seeing as many countries as possible, and sticking to my original well-thought out plan. I followed my instincts, spent a few weeks working in Singapore almost entirely in the company of locals and it stands out as one of the highlights of my trip.

I began paying attention to all sorts. What I felt when I thought of certain people, places, activities and came away with a very clear vision of how I would like my life to look once I settled down in Sydney. I was able to project in to the future, and predict very accurately how these different features would make me feel.

A lot of people I speak seem to be very disconnected from how they’re feeling; unable to understand what causes them to feel sad or happy. They keep repeating the same actions that produce a negative response in them, and then producing logic to justify it. Often their body language will be in contradiction to what they’re saying, but we’ve learned to pay more attention to words and reasoning than to these signs. We’ve forced experiential wisdom in to the backseat.

I don’t dispute the value of reason and logic, but I don’t doubt that we’ve come to lean on it too much at the expense of our intuition. For me, this certainly contributes to the high levels of mental illness we see in western cultures, and the staggering number of people who admit to feeling dissatisfied with their lives.

The rise of eastern philosophy and spirituality suggests that I’m not alone in feeling that perhaps it’s time to redress this imbalance.