I love you. I loathe you. I am disgusted by you. I adore you. We can do this. We don’t have a hope. It’s all over. Don’t give up.
Read those words again. Can you feel a tiny bit of emotion with every one? Like a long shadow cast by a feeling, just a sample of how it would feel to have those words whispered into our ears. From a close friend, from an enemy, from a stranger. You can feel their impact even without them being said to you. Because they are just as powerful if said by you to yourself.
All these are just letters, rearranged in different orders and yet, just like a tune, in certain orders they can make us recoil, make our hair stand on end or make us the happiest, most motivated person on the planet. And yet they are just letters, rearranged so that in our understanding they actually convey so much more. They link us to the past, the present and the future. I’ve often thought that without words and language we never could have created a story about the future, or made up a reason for the past being as it was. So before language, were we all much happier? I suspect we were, just like a dog doesn’t dwell on the past and lives in the moment. The animal doesn’t have the choice to have regrets or despair over lost opportunities, it just lives for today.
Of course, language has a purpose for without it we could not communicate our dreams or our goals, we could not describe a future and share in its unfolding. We could not plan and we could not learn any more than basic cause and effect outcomes. But like any tool it can be used for good or bad and, like any power tool, you really ought to be careful how you use it. At the very least, notice that the thing is on, red hot and working! But, the simple truth is, it’s always on and working inside our heads. So much so, we forget it’s there and that’s when we ought to be most wary. For when words run amok in our skull and create scenarios they can be positive or negative, right or wrong. Often they get stuck and on a single setting, such as ‘fear’. That then generates more words and more ‘what if’ scenario painting and sometimes the picture bears no resemblance to reality and yet by then we’re in the middle of a physiological response and all manner of hormones are circling in our bodies lending us to believe that there really is a huge danger and we ought to be running somewhere or raising our fists.
Meditation or mindfulness is one way to notch the tool down a setting. And you don’t have to sit in a room quietly, you can be mindful in an occupation like riding your motorbike or cycle, or while reading. Anything that requires focussed attention so that your misbehaving, random mind words don’t choose their own path in your head and come up with dragons or zombies or other people’s motives for whatever just happened. But by far I’ve found the best way to deal with your own instant word generator is to realise it’s there. Realise it doesn’t always tell you the facts or give you the whole picture. Confirmation bias or negativity bias subjects us to a corralling of our thoughts. Like barriers up at a bowling alley that thought is destined for one place only - the end of the lane. But simply knowing this, opens up a doorway and at least gives us a chance to step outside and look back at ourselves, if only for a minute at first, and see we were ignoring other facts or not putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.
The words in your head define your moment right now
Can cause a tear or a smile
Can motivate you or silence you
Can make you sick or well
Can change others
Can be a beginning or an end
The words you speak to yourself make you who you are.
And yes, you can choose them.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! And may 2022 be full of good choices by you.
Existentialism is about choosing life, above all knowing you have a choice over your destiny. Not allowing others to direct you, but finding your own path. I realised this later in life, but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter when you get there, because a day or a year or ten years as your authentic self is better than nothing.
The only true freedom any of us have is in our thoughts
I've often mentioned in my talks and in my blogs how everything can change in a single moment. A lapse in concentration, a telephone call with bad news, a job offer, a baby is born. All life events that many are familiar with and, in the main, affecting quite a localised set of people in your circle.
And then there's this. A pandemic. This is what's commonly referred to as a Black Swan event, a total game changer that comes completely out of the blue. It's a course correction for humanity and with it brings massive change for everyone. But the human race has been here before.
As far back as you can look, disease outbreaks have ravaged homo sapiens, sometimes changing the course of history and, at times, signalling the end of entire civilizations. But they eventually ran their course and disappeared and so will this. All things pass, change is the only reliable constant. Of course the context is different each time. Never before have the mechanisms existed whereby we can mobilise billions of people to change the way they behave during a pandemic. Whether or not our actions helped or hindered the virus’ eventual extinction will be a matter for huge future debate.
The current situation has meant that we are being forced to adapt to a new environment quickly. But we are creatures of adaptation, if our environment changes so do we, it's part of what makes our species so successful. Some change is being imposed upon us, directed and regulated by government through legislation. It's the quickest and bluntest tool to alter societal habits - just asking people nicely to be sensible wouldn't incur the wholesale behaviour changes we're seeing. Some will argue this is an imposition on our freedoms. Some want more limitations imposed, there will always be more than one side to an argument. Other changes though are within our own purview, we can choose to stay in or go out. To meet people, to exercise, to hug, to use public services or to go get on our bikes and travel.
As touring motorcyclists with a passion for cross border travel many of us had to scrap our plans for last season and some for this too, although things are now coming back on line as I write. The company I tour guide for, Magellan Motorcycle Tours, had to take the bold decision last year to pretty much write the year off, although of course it was possible to self-guide. It's tough when the situation is so fluid and subject to various governmental and regional rules across multiple countries that could change on a daily basis. And of course all the businesses you rely on, the hotels and the cafe's and restaurants have their own battles they're fighting too. Yes, one thing is for sure, the landscape as we knew it has changed and perhaps for much longer than we ever could have imagined.
But wait a moment. What's really the issue here? Travel has always had an element of risk attached to it, there's the obvious risk of our chosen mode of transport, dodgy food, the weather, road accidents, unscrupulous people and the like. So it must boil down to what is an acceptable level of risk for you, and that is purely personal choice. While there are some things we still cannot do at the time of writing, there are a whole mountain more we can. We can adapt to our new environment, we can put in more back ups, make sure we follow safe practices, we can alter the original destinations, implement work-arounds. It's what our species does - we're born problem solvers.
The only true freedom any of us have is the freedom to choose our reaction to events. Covid-19 hasn't changed that one truism. The virus is a game changer, for sure, but we can choose whether it's game over or not. We can choose the extent of the impact to our lives. Often the most incredible things happen to us when we relax the reins a little and improvise. Take that passport out and give it a long hard look. Then spray it with some anti-bac and put it in your pocket. Whatever you decide, know that you can decide and that this day, like every day, you do have a choice. Sometimes you just need to throw in a dash of creativity and flexibility to get where you’re going. But, you know, you are free to do that :-).
Perspectives have power. How you see the world will shape your opinion and galvanise you into action or subdue you into apathy. How you see the world will depend on your family, friends, your culture, your diet, your upbringing, your biology and especially what period in history you were born into. Two people can have entirely different perspectives and die for their beliefs. But which, if either, is right? And can they be wrong at the time but right when viewed from a new angle during another decade? Yes, of course they can. For a while anyway.
At the moment we have a few large shocks rippling through our planet. The Covid-19 pandemic can be seen by some as a global cleansing. By others, a divine retribution, by yet others as the worst thing to have ever happened to the human race. To some we need to do more, to some much less. It's just humans being human. Having and sharing their individual perspectives on the world. We're just being us.
In general, when we have formed a strong opinion we stick with it, no matter what. We are subject to 'confirmation bias' - we look for others who agree with us and for facts that fit our views. Being brave enough to look at something from another viewpoint and to weight a counter argument on its merits is quite rare. That's because we often become identified with our opinions and changing them would mean admitting we were wrong or distancing ourselves from people we care about or the group we find affinity with. Ultimately we risk undermining our sense of self. But it is possible to change your opinion, if you cultivate an open mind and challenge yourself and your thoughts.
It's odd to think that pearls of wisdom can be found next to pornography. But yes, it can happen. Admittedly it is less likely to happen now that the internet has become the go-to place for stills and videos of people getting together but when magazines used to be king for thrills they sometimes had more than just ladies to interest the men, they had thoughtful pieces too.
Playboy magazine, 1968 contains an extract from a very interesting interview with Stanley Kubrick, the director. I really liked his perspective, he's clearly an existentialist and talks lucidly about how it is each of us that creates our own meaning through the choices we make.
Playboy: “If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?”
Kubrick: “Yes, for those who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre (a keen enjoyment of living), their idealism - and their assumption of immortality.
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent;
As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong - and lucky - he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan (enthusiastic and assured vigour and liveliness).
Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.
The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
The full article is quite staggering, considering when it was written. It's definitely worth checking out, if nothing else to ponder the scale of what we don't know and to realise that what we do know is so infinitesimally small that to draw conclusions is futile. It's best just to wonder and smile and admire the vastness of possibilities and be glad that, in universal terms, everything is as it should be.
Full article can be found here.
The final part of the story behind how I got to ride on the Salt Flats during Speed Week 2019. Part 3 can be found here
Tired and emotional
We needed to move fast now, really fast. The Hayabusa had failed tech inspection because the tire valve stems had to be metal, not rubber. But the good news was, that was the only failure. So, we hastily rolled the bike back onto the trailer and quickly researched local tire and motorbike workshops. Although Wendover the town just off the speedway was not right next door, it wasn't a long drive away so 30 minutes later and we had managed to find what we needed. Next stop the tire fitting shop.
We pulled up to S&R Auto on Wendover Boulevard to find a hive of activity in the oily workshop. Eventually we tracked down the frazzled owner who scratched his head with a greasy finger and said it'd be a couple of hours before they could sort it. There must have been a horrified look on our faces because he quickly followed up apologetically telling us the reason - tbe fire chief's truck was being seen to and it was an emergency and nothing, just nothing and no-one, could jump the queue.
The continuation of the story behind how I got to ride on the Salt Flats during Speed Week. Part 1 can be found here
Back to Pendine Beach in Wales to meet up with some friends and try my luck at some landspeed records. As you do.
It all boiled down to a single moment, as so many things in my life have. I sat there cooking in leathers at the start line on the five mile long course on the Salt Flats at Bonneville, ready to pull back the throttle hand and put fear aside for just a minute or so. I was willing and ready to risk my life for this moment in a distant land, on unfamiliar ground. I would have done whatever it took to do what I had to do. I imagine a similar feeling of total conviction probably descends upon a mother or father when they see a car on fire and their child inside.
I would not let anything get in my way that day - so woe betide anything that tried to stop me! All the events that had led to this, the life changing moments, the pain, the doubt, the chance meetings, all the people I'd met, all the twists and turns of my recent life meant me to be at that start line. At that point in time. It was a certainty I still feel in my very core.