Leo Tolstoy scribed a novella in 1859 entitled Family Happiness, which is, in short, a story of a polarised married couple, polarised in that the older man likes to be still and quiet, longing for a peaceful existence in the country, and his younger wife who seeks the hustle and bustle of city living and a want to explore and discover more and more about life.
I have not yet read the book as it is still on its way here from a second hand bookshop, but it’s existence was revealed to me a few weeks back whilst rewatching my favourite film “Into The Wild”, an amazing dramatisation of the adventure segment of the life of Christopher McCandless.
I have been thinking far too much of late on the potentiality of an early retirement from the corporate treadmill, even going to the lengths of installing a countdown clock on my iPhone, which reads out how many seconds I have left in one of the worlds biggest companies.
So after dusting off several dusty tomes from the philosophy shelf on my even dustier bookcase, it was the sage advice of Alan Watts who convinced to live more in the moment, the present, the now.
After fully contemplating this for a few days, I decided to stop thinking about my end of days scenario in work and focus on the here and now. I stopped projecting my financial position in the long term future. I stopped counting down the years, weeks, months, days and hours until my release date (sounds like a prison sentence, and some days it feels like one). Almost instantly I felt better, I felt like I wasn’t wishing the next few years away so I could get to the end quicker and enjoy the last and final chapter of my life.
I have always enjoyed travelling and after reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig several decades ago, I had it in mind that I’d do Route 66 upon retirement, albeit in an open-caged Jeep rather than a motorbike. Although I may still do that one day, future plans have been put in mothballs, as what happens in the present has immediate importance, significance and attention.
So it was the older man in me from the Tolstoy novella wanting a “peaceful rural existence” and the “live in the now” wiser man in me from the many Watts postulates that encouraged me to buy a van, a caravan to be more precise, and to buy one in the present moment and not in the future.
Last year I sold the boat that I lived on in London for a while, and with the proceeds I paid off a sizeable chunk of the mortgage on the family home, leaving behind a rainy day fund I would purposely drain every August going forward to pay off an extra ten percent of the mortgage each year, until at the ripe old age of fifty five, I was debt free, free from the bondage of the banking system.
So with my new found wanting to live more in the moment, I decided that paying off a multi-national financial institution early was perhaps neither the best fiscal nor most satisfying decision to make.
Instead, I would start looking around for a touring caravan, one small enough for me and the wife to travel and explore the length and breadth of the UK and Northern Europe / Scandinavia, all without the company of our three children, who are all pretty much grown up now and have their own ideas about life, the universe and vacations.
The looking lasted all of thirty six minutes. We went to a local caravan dealership near to our home and saw a fifteen year old, two berth caravan with full bathroom in mint condition. The fund I had in my account was the exact amount the dealer was asking for, so after a brief moment to think (during which time I received a posthumous and rather esoteric nudge from Messrs Tolstoy and Watts), I told the dealer that he had a deal. So thirty seven minutes into our hunt for a home on wheels, we were the proud owners of a Swift Challenger 480.
I have never towed anything in my life so the first weekend away was a little scary. Thankfully the site we went to was just a few miles up the road and I only had to navigate my way around four roundabouts which I did with relative ease (beads of sweat a plenty though), and settle down for the weekend we did.
We tested everything, everything worked a treat at the first time of asking. We invited the kids over for a barbecue which was also nice, and perhaps even nicer were the words “this ain’t for us, Dad”, confirming the right choice we made in getting a two berth and not something bigger.
It didn’t feel like a holiday though and we never expected it to be, just a planned user acceptance test for the weekends cutover and go-live, using work parlance.
This weekend saw our second trip out, this time with our bricks-and-mortar neighbours back home, a beautiful site in Wales just outside of Wrexham, and a mere stones throw from the picturesque town of Llangollen, where we spent most of Saturday.
Sadly, it turned out that our neighbours saw this opportunity to carry on their alcohol-fuelled urban living on a quiet campsite, ignoring rules and etiquette by partying until the early hours, completely missing the point of a weekend on a rural retreat.
Needless to say it made me re-evaluate the reason why I bought the van in the first place, the type of trips I wanted to do and who I wanted to share them with.
Corporate life is chaotic, energetic, loud, urban and surrounding by technology.
Van life should, and has to be for me at least, the polar opposite of that, for if it is more of the same, then one may as well just stay at home.
And it is for that exact reason that I booked a solo trip in a few weeks to a secluded rural idyll in the Welsh Clwydian hills, with only books, an Aeropress and a fly fishing rod for company.
There is a passage from Tolstoy’s Family Happiness which goes:
“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness.
A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour, such is my idea of happiness.
What more can the heart of man desire?”
I have felt that these words were (and perhaps are) the prologue for the final chapter of my life, but I’m also mindful of the last written words of McCandless too:
“Happiness is only real when shared”.
If I have another twenty to thirty years left after I retire, I can’t do it in total isolation, as not sharing wisdom, experiences and laughter with my family and friends during those twilight years would be a missed opportunity…
Either I’m going slightly senile or I’m not well read (probably both), but in good faith I believed that it was Wainwright who wrote “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, a poem penned centuries ago amongst the rolling fells of the Lake District in Cumbria, arguably the most majestic of all landscapes in England.
It was during a review of Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” last time out that revealed that it was in fact Wordsworth and not (Alfred) Wainwright that surfed the stratosphere between Coniston and Keswick.
Then the recall kicked in, one of my friends had turned sixty in July and informed me (in our semi-inebriated state), that a friend of his had bought him a set of seven Wainwright books, and gentleman who I had never heard of before, so clearly my ageing brain had mixed up the two.
To the uninitiated, myself included, Alfred Wainwright was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven volume “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells” was published between 1955 and 1966 and consisted entirely of reproductions from his manuscript and associated etchings, an output that went on to become the bible on how to navigate and bimble over the not-so insignificant amount of two hundred and fourteen fells of Cumbria’s Lake District.
At sixty and having no walking experience, my friend’s mid-life crisis (sixty is the new forty!) was to attempt to cross off all Wainwrights by the time he meets our maker.
He started that journey in June with just a few chalked off, and as part of his birthday celebrations (he had six different events!), he suggested that I accompany him and his friends on a mission to bag several more this weekend.
Never willing to let a friend down or refuse a physical challenge, I willingly accepted his invitation to join his bimbling ensemble (after securing the mandatory pass out from the significant other) and subsequently did the needful by booking a small cottage in Witherslack, not too far from our challenging walk known as The Greater Kentmere Horseshoe, a hike that would attempt to reduce his remaining tally by nine.
We safely arrived at the old and rustic cottage, decanted the car and packed in the twenty bottles of real ale at the epicentre and coldest part of the fridge. I was delighted to see a secluded garden with a natural seating area where I would take my morning yoga and Wim Hof practices whilst we were there.
As is customary, once everything was in it’s right place (to quote Thom Yorke), we took to the tracks and found the local pub, The Derby Arms, and loaded up on carbs, fats and a little beer to ready us for our journey into Wainwright County.
Leaving early so that we could guarantee a car parking space due to the limited availability in the hamlet of Kentmere, we took a light breakfast and arrived at seven, loading up our backpacks with sandwiches, coffee, jelly snakes and blister patches and headed for the hills.
The last serious walk I had taken was the Wirral Way, a thirteen mile hike up an old disused railway line several years ago, and I went into the weekend with no training as such, just a dogged British spirit of stubbornness and arrogance.
It was clear from the outset that the arrogance was going to dissipate quicker than a fart in a jacuzzi as we started our first incline, with most if not all of the group struggling for a steady pace, with weak legs and a puffing chest, but we made it to the top of the first ridge successfully and then started for the first of the nine peaks.
As we did, a few things happened. Firstly, I realised that the Wim Hof breathing techniques I have semi-mastered over the last twelve months have more benefits, out on the hills inclines are easier if the mind is set to calm and the belly, chest and head are synchronised with leg movement.
Secondly, I realised that the significant effort I had put in over the last three weeks in mind, body and soul control had paid off, as I found the walk relatively easy.
Lastly, it was clear why Alfred Wainwright was compelled to travel from Leeds to the Lake District every weekend to document and catalog each crag, nook and vale, and why Wordsworth felt compelled to scribe poetry and palatable prose.
With the exception of Scafell Pike which I climbed in the twilight, fog and drizzle back in 2010, I had only ever seen the Lake District from terra firma, mostly around the tourist honey pots of Bowness and Windermere. Whilst I knew it was an area of outstanding natural beauty, the view of Cumbria from the ridge and the horseshoe of fells around Kentmere gave me an insight to inside the heads of Messrs Wainwright and Wordsworth. Here we had vivid vistas and luscious landscapes, inspiring writers and artists alike to put pen and pencil to paper to share with those less fortunate to not experience the sights first hand, and what sights they were.
We took the route in our stride and no one fell behind or took ill, quite remarkable really with no real preparation and two hundred and sixteen years of age spread across just four ageing/aged bodies.
We took our lunch and I was glad to fire up my trust Coleman stove which had not been used for several years, it’s beauty personified in the roar of its flame in abject silence atop peak number four.
What was more disappointing was the fact that I had left the freshly ground coffee beans in the cottage, so the inaugural cup of “Aeropress at Altitude” would have to wait another twenty four hours.
With lunch safely tucked away inside of us rather than outside of us, we headed over the connecting ridge to bag peaks five to nine, a tremendous achievement for our new rambling posse, clocking up thirty seven thousand steps over twenty five kilometres and spinning the Apple health circles faster than a Catherine Wheel on bonfire night.
It is, apparently, customary to document evidence of the successful bagging of a Wainwright, so we decided to do that via the medium of selfies and fingers:
Technology does have a tendency to kick you in the nuts from time to time and it did that at the end of day one. The OS map decided to give up the ghost and there were no markers to get us through what is now known as “Bracken Jungle”, chest high foliage at the end of a nine-hour hike. We found the exit point (eventually) and the sight of a Mazda CX-5 never was so good as we collapsed and drifted back to the cottage and the Derby Arms for beers and a well earned pizza.
Needless to say the gang started to flag around eight thirty so we took ourselves back to the cottage, finished off the remaining ale and took in a late showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day two started off with a bang(ers), with me knocking out the mother of all Full English breakfasts for the gang, and after packing up and waving a fond farewell to the cottage, we took to the road and Troutbeck for a quick three hour trek, to bag our final Wainwright of the weekend, Wansfell.
With the disappointment on the lack of Aeropress Altitude weighing heavily on my mind still from the previous day, I quickly set up my tropospheric barista to try and regain some respect from party members and I did not disappoint, the Smoking Hot Java coffee oozing through the press with an air of aristocracy about it, with the end product fit for kings and queens.
And with that, our journey was over, a whirlwind tour of the Far Eastern Fells was done and we had bagged ten Wainwrights in the first weekend.
So there we have it, first weekend, which roughly translates as “I’m going to bag all two hundred and fourteen Wainwrights, only two hundred and three to go”…
In 1954, Aldous Huxley wrote an autobiographical piece entitled The Doors of Perception, which was (and still is of course) a memoir into the human experience whilst under the influence of psychedelics, in his case mescalin.
It was during this four-hour journey, that he experienced both minor aesthetic distortions to the dimensions of our consensual reality and major sacramental revelations thereof.
As my one of my older posts revealed (Instrumental Communication), our main senses of sight and sound are mapped to frequencies on the electro magnetic spectrum. Within certain ranges, we can see things with our eyes (shapes, forms, colours) and hear things emitted at certain frequencies.
In essence, anything beyond the boundaries of these two critical senses may well be there (for example the sonar capabilities of bats), but the limitations of our biological design restrict what we perceive.
In his book, Huxley introduced his readers to the concept of the reducing valve, a premise that there is a certain brain function that blocks out information in order for the mind to create an external reality and one that allows us to navigate the physical realm as we know it, safely. For if it was not in place, then we would have complete sensory overload, and we would not be able to function properly.
Under the influence of psychedelics, however, it appears on face value that the manipulation of the reducing value allows us to perceive things very differently, perhaps extending the range of the electro magnetic spectrum to see things in a much greater level of detail.
Using mescalin, Huxley saw mundane objects in a totally different way, from chair legs, to the creases in his checked trousers to the inner light/energy flow generated from three flowers in a vase. Imagine if you will a world where you could see not only the flower, but see the life force that flowed through it, what he was seeing was the source of everything, the divine, energy in its purest form and the interconnectivity of everything in the cosmos.
I have waxed lyrical over the year on this blog, but once again the relevance and importance of The Matrix comes up again. Whilst one could concede that only the first movie in the franchise is worth watching, there are snippets from some of the other films that give evidence to the case.
Films are very much like books, poems, song lyrics, art and life itself. We all have a subjective experience of reality, so what a film means to me could radically differ to you, for example, and that is the beauty and the beast right there.
There are many references (I believe) to Huxley’s 1954 missive across The Matrix, one of the opening lines (“Mescalin, the only way to fly”), the many “Doors on the Wall” which lead to a completely different part of reality and of course the end scene in the third movie where Neo who no longer has eyes to see, sees reality for what it is, pure energy.
For Huxley, his internal reality was somewhat of a disappointment, with eyes closed he didn’t fly through the Milky Way on the back of a dragon or astral travel to Carcosa to meet with the King In Yellow, he only witnessed minor distortions to colours and shapes.
I struggle myself with visualisations, much in the same way Huxley did (except for my “trip” to Light Eye Mind in London, whose light salon now sadly extinguished). I can read a poem, a novel, a lyric yet cannot seem to daydream myself a visual representation of what the piece means to me. I wish I could close my eyes and transport myself to the realms of Wordsworth or Rael just to “see” what it is like to “wander lonely as a cloud”. When I have been on mystical retreats over the years (a lot of them), what I experience at times is pure energy, regressions in thought only, but with a blank screen of closed eyelids.
There are occasions (for some) that the reducing valve opens without the use of psychedelics or mystical practices, sometimes the brilliance of nature shines through, very well described in the passage below (from Huxley’s follow up essay Heaven and Hell):
Huxley’s external reality (what we term consensual reality) changed dramatically on mescalin, both living and non-living objects changed, more radiant and energetic than before, more vivid and significant, confirming what Bill Hick’s would later cite, in that “all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather”. OK, maybe not the last bit.
Whilst still under the influence, space and time and everything in it no longer held any real significance for Huxley, any interest in materialism was replaced by the wanting for being in the moment (a perpetual present that exists outside of time as we know it), and the search for meaning in everything.
Simply put, during those four hours he could perceive, and was part of, the very fabric of the universe, the ether that binds and penetrates all things, and it is this very concept that gave him the notion of connectivity with the divine beauty, so far away from the chaos and entropic state of the material world we live in.
And perhaps that is what the reducing valve is, it is a brain function which blocks out the divine so that it is not overloaded with information, information it could not process without errors occurring.
Huxley also found that material world didn’t hold too much of his attention whilst under the influence, it was the inner workings of the mystical world that consumed his attention.
The Tale of Two Amazons…
Amazon (Jeff Bezos): Jeff Bezos, chief capitalist and head of the 1%ers. Jeff in all likelihood cares not a jot for spirituality and the inner workings of cosmos (even though he wants to explore more of it using an extension of his penis), Jeff only cares about materialism, the self and the power and the glory he can acquire to the misery of others. For Jeff, the reducing value is permanently set to off, he only exists in the physical realm and is driven by the needs of the self and the ego.
Amazon (Asháninka Tribe): Take the mystics and shamans of Peru. They, in all likelihood, care not too much for the physical realm (or when they do, it is in complete symbiosis with it), they care for the community and the inner workings of the cosmos. For them, the reality valve is set to on (especially so when using psychedelics for healing, cleansing and channelling), they see things how they really are and are not driven by the needs of the self and the ego.
So, just where did humanity go wrong? One could argue that it was the dawn of the agricultural revolution when the concepts of power, greed, control, religion and warfare first took hold. One could also argue that it is only through the inauguration of language and concepts that power, greed, control, religion and warfare took hold (and we could look to blame the likes of Plato and Socrates for introspection – as before that, modern consciousness as we know it did not exist, and was that spark from the ergot cups found recently from ancient times, ergot being the source material for LSD). Things were much simpler in the good old days…
I guess if there is a point to this post, it is this. The more we open the reducing valve and experience the cosmos for what it is, by letting in realms currently closed in, the less likely it would be that we threaten our own existence on this planet.
We do not have to take psychedelics to understand the true nature of reality (although no doubt it helps). We just need to understand the root cause of where things are going wrong and get back to nature and tribes, much in the same way the Asháninka tribe of Peru do every single day. So why not experiment and to paraphrase the godfather of LSD Timothy Leary; turn off (the TV), tune in (to inner reality) and drop out (of external reality)…
ADDENDUM: You may be interested in a brand-new series to hit Netflix called “How To Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan (yes, I’m aware I’m consuming products from capitalist organisation and the hypocrisy therein), which is a four-part miniseries exploring the origins of psychedelics and how their use in clinical environments is helping some to combat mental disorders.
Depending on your cosmic-view, there is either one Universe or infinite. The concept of the multiverse is not a new one developed by Stan Lee and those at Marvel Studios, it dates back to 1954 Hugh Everett and his MWI (Many World Interpretation) which postulates that quantum effects constantly cause the Universe to split or branch.
Therefore, every decision we make creates a new universe, so that all possible outcomes are played out, somewhere and somewhen.
If the MWI theory view is correct, then our actions in this Universe, our consensual reality, shapes that of our cosmic doppelgängers in parallel universes, then linking this to the Newtonian thought that every action has a positive and negative reaction, would mean that the inversion of our actions materialise somewhere else.
So the question could be, if we do bad things in this Universe, does that mean good things happen to our counterparts in other universes, and does that effectively mean that there is an evil serial killer version of Mother Theresa?
Clearly we’ll likely never know the answer to that question as our abilities (for the vast majority of us) are confined to three dimensional time and space, but the reason I call this out (very early on a Saturday morning) is that I watched a film twice at the cinema this week, “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once”, which had a profound impact on me (why else would I see I twice in two days).
Whilst I have a rudimentary understanding of scientific concepts, is quite often through the arts that messaging truly resonates with me. A film, a song lyric, a play, a book, a poem, an artwork, all have the ability to poke around inside my head and turn on light bulbs in a way that complicated cosmic or consciousness theory cannot. For me, it’s so important that we keep funding media and arts for the young, failure to do so really would result in a boring and meaningless Universe.
“Everything Everywhere…” could be likened to watching The Matrix on LSD, and director Dan Kwan has said as much.
Without giving too much away for those who have not seen it (yet, a must-see in my opinion), it centres around a character who appears at first glance to be living her worst life possible, a laundromat worker with failed ambitions filing her taxes, totally disconnected from her husband and daughter.
The next two hours is a visual and hilarious journey through time, space and the multiverse, giving insights into the other versions of herself that dwell in parallel universes, one’s that on the face of it are clearly more successful than her. The end scene still makes me tear-up just thinking about it, such a profound message to those who really have been paying attention.
And so to branch theory (if that is a thing). After the second sitting of the movie, I took it upon myself to walk back to my hotel through the magnificent parks of London, and it was during that two hour sun and shirt drenched bimble that I reflected on my own branch theory up until now.
It’s fair to say that we wouldn’t really influence the multiverse (should it exist) at an early age, as most of our decisions are made for us by our elders, whether it be parents, siblings, extended family members or teachers. When choice really kicks in is arguably around puberty where we become the ones that choose what to do, which paths to follow, and for me, that is when we become independent and our actions or inactions are on us (unless we are in very difficult circumstances, being controlled or abused etc).
Clearly most of us have done both good and bad things in our lives, things that we are proud of and things that we regret. Without having the benefit of a time machine to put right the wrongs, I’d argue that we should not, on the basis those inactions and things we should not have done inform who we are today and how we become more worldly and wiser as a consequence, passing these tenets and messages down to our children and comrades, eradicating that type of behaviour or poor decision making.
After cataloguing all of the positives and negatives that have come out of each branch decision that led me up until this morning, I came to the same conclusion that Michelle Yeoh came to in the film, that although nothing is perfect, in this very moment I can safely say that I am happy with the outcome of the first fifty years of my life, and go a step further by saying I’m living life like the best version of me.
Do I have the very best of things, a sports car, a super yacht, a supermodel wife, a rock star status, billions in the bank or a huge schlong, absolutely not (except perhaps for maybe for the last one!).
What I do have is an amazing wife, three incredible children, a small set of great friends and neighbours, a nice house, a modest mode of transport and enough money in the bank not to worry about where my next meal is coming from.
As a result, I can safely say I am happy and that happiness turns into kindness for others, and will do so even more after I retire and can spend more time on community projects.
I would also go on to say that I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt or offended in the past, immaturity doesn’t excuse poor choices.
And to all those other “me’s” out there beyond the barriers of my Universe, in the immortal words of Elvis Costello, I send you “peace, love and understanding”…
As mentioned in my previous post, having access to our biological data is one thing, understanding it and tracking it is another.
With the advent of wearables (Apple Watch), bio-lab start ups like Forth (no not those bio-labs!) and the continued National Health Service checks (free upon request), accurate data on how our body is performing is available and relatively inexpensive.
It must also be said that once we have baselined our biology, we should not of course concern ourselves to often once any plans to remediate ailments are initiated, unless of course we are elite athletes or personal trainers, as too much attention may lead to a little paranoia and anxiety, certainly possible in my case!
To that end, I spend some time reviewing my Apple Watch data yesterday and also the results that came in from my NHS MOT the week before last, and went a step further to do a full body scan of the things that pain this man of five decades.
By and large the Apple Watch data is very useful:
Given my state of advancement in years, I’m quite happy with the data.
Clearly only we (or medically trained professionals) can know what pains and grumbles are taking place within the body, and only some of the data from devices and tests can reveal those (physical maladies and manifestations based on cause and effect), so to get a true bio-hacking baseline, I took it upon myself (validated by the wife who is a holistic therapy professional) to engineer a full set of diagnostics and advisories (the car MOT analogy really fits well here), the output of which is below:
So once the results come back from Forth and the NHS scans, I should be able to baseline my biology and put in place (in true project management parlance) a “return to green” plan to fix all of the issues I have, and identify any risks that may occur so I can put in place mitigation plans to, as Wim Hof would say, live a happy, strong and health life.
We face many existential crises in our lifetime, the first as early as the day we appear from the womb, unless of course your father (or mother) allows his (or her) fetus to gestate in a box, in which case it’s a simple task of opening the lid. We face other risks as we proceed on with our life journey, from conflict situations to simply crossing the road, each a given set of variables and mortality probably factor, all of which are fed into the calculator of life and outcome decided.
Our cells replicate every seven years, during which process they carry with them any defects they pick up along the way, cycling and weakening. Imagine a scenario where you take a copy of a computer’s hard drive that already has bad data on it, and then take a copy of that, and a copy of that copy, and so on. Eventually some of the programs will stop working, eventually all of it will stop working. The hard drive is no more, it’s pushing up the daisies, it is an ex-computer.
And so it is with us, over time our bodies degenerate, our individual body parts start stopping and our overall system crashes as a result, resulting in the inevitable departure from our meat covered skeletons made of stardust and hair, to either oblivion or the never-after, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty.
Whilst death is inevitable, the way in which we pass over may not have to be a painful one. Enter the concept of bio-hacking.
I had a health scare a couple of weeks back, the true results of which will only be known in the coming weeks, and it was during that process of discovering what was wrong with my system that I came across bio-hacking. In a nutshell, it sets in motion certain mechanics that allows practitioners to positively impact their own biology to provide (painless) longevity. Going a step further, they obtain real-time data on what biological processes are working well and what are not, and as a result they put practices and procedures in place to optimize the human experience, especially as the biological clock ticks on, and on, and on.
I live in the UK where one can request all personal medical data, all of which can be made available via a secure log in, and that information is now available to me. It revealed many things that I already knew and some I didn’t (or had simply forgotten), but for the first time I obtained some real insights and trends on my personal health and subsequent deterioration over the last three decades. Full blood counts and liver, kidney, heart, thyroid, cholesterol test results are there to see in full and glorious technicolor, big data.
Now in my fiftieth year on this little blue dot, my cholesterol is slightly higher than it should be and my kidneys are starting to function less well, but everything else (including vitamin and mineral levels) is doing remarkable well. Clearly the data doesn’t cover the metaphysical aspects of mental well-being (oh how I wish it would!), but it goes some way to validate that the diet and practices I have adopted over the last four decades have resulted in a decent set of results as I approach my twilight years. I now have a real plan to live life in complete symbiosis with the energetic carcass I haul around each day, and bio-hacking will help.
I was totally convinced that there was real science behind the Wim Hof Method (in term of cold therapy and breath work which lowered inflammation levels), this validates that
Intermittent fasting (especially during certain times of the day – using circadian cycles) initiates ketosis and is another method not uncommon to me either, an essential part of my periodic detoxification periods,
No one can ever underestimate the power of sleep for recharging the internal battery that charges us up for another day of activities
Blue light I was aware of, and whilst I won’t purchase the $100 glasses and sit in the living room watching TV looking like Bono’s Scouse doppelgänger, I have turned on the orange filters on my devices for any late night reading and viewing
And then, the three gratitudes…
There is so much chaos and disarray in the world just now and although it may appear that we are surrounded by darkness at all times, there are slithers of light that illuminate the good things that happen too. The process is very simple, document three (or more!) good things that happen during the day, even the seemingly insignificant ones, and reflect on those little moments at the end of the day, thankful that they took place (go a step further to use this time to kick start some pre-sleep meditation). It is incredible that such a simple and minute thing can yield such a significant impact on mental well-being and sleep.
So as my fiftieth birthday approaches, I go into it knowing that I have the mechanics in place to live out the second half of my life in a healthy and informed way. And if ancestral DNA challenges that status quo, then at least I will be able to tune in to the biological process quickly and put things right, whether that be via surgery or homeopathy (preferably the latter).
Eating and drinking the right things, exercising in the right way and surrounding ourselves with the right people is a real formula for success, and with that we can live to one hundred, just like the Okinawans, the Sardinians and the Adventists:
Of course I can’t plan for being hit by a car, but I’ll be sure to use the pelican, toucan and zebra crossings going forward 😊
Who owns the world? Who runs the world? Is there really an agenda behind COVID? Are we heading towards a New World Order? Are these questions posed by a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy merchant?
I’d like to think your answer to the last question is no and like me, you are also truth seekers. And that’s the real hard part isn’t it, just what is real truth?
“There is truth and there is untruth”. The real truth lies somewhere in the middle of all of this chaos today, but the real real truth lies locked away, difficult, almost impossible to find.
I came across this documentary yesterday by Tim Gielen, which reveals how a small group of super rich individuals have been buying virtually everything on the planet, all from behind investment companies like Vanguard and Black Rock.
Whilst one could question the motives behind such documentaries and who publishes them (Zeitgeist – The Movies being another), what they provide is a window into an alternative view that you simply will not find in MSM (Main Stream Media). This visual missive suggests why that is. It also allows the viewer to look into who owns companies, who knew that Yahoo Finance website could uncover so much truth. Who knew that the Ofcom in the UK effectively owns the BBC and the not only is the head of Ofcom the Prime Minister, but the government install the board of BBC directors.
As Matrix Resurrections hits the silver screen in the UK, it’s time, like Neo, to follow the white rabbit…
As I left the M6 and meandered through the narrow country lanes of southern Cumbria, I saw that civilization was being left behind as bar after bar dropped from my mobile signal until the “No Service” sign revealed that a period of digital detoxification had commenced. The valley and hills of Longsleddale was to form a natural and protective barrier from the chaos of a world gone sour, for forty-eight hours at least.
And it was during those forty-eight hours that I found the true meaning of being human, hitherto forgotten by the vast majority of society.
I had been looking forward to my first Wim Hof Weekender for quite some time and for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I had already seen a self-transformation since starting the daily practices over the last few months, and wanted to take it to the next level, and to perhaps get an understanding on whether I wanted to eventually become an instructor. Secondly, I wanted a boost to get me over the hiatus I had experienced this month, due to work pressures and illness. Lastly, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, to hopefully deconstruct who I thought I was by plunging myself into freezing cold waterfalls and have the strength to put myself back together. As it transpired, I got all of those things and much more, more than I could ever have hoped for before setting off from suburbia.
As the valley approached, my GPS decided to quit on me as I reached a crossroads, giving me the opportunity to search deep down in my DNA for residual and ancient wayfaring skills, locked away for situations just as this. Somehow (not sure why) I felt I was going the wrong way so stopped the car, only to see a bloke coming down the road in the opposite direction with hair longer than mine, so taking a punt, I turned around and followed him, my intuition serving me well as we turned into the car park of the outward bounds centre.
Greeting and thanking my erstwhile navigator, we both marvelled at the scene that was painted in front of our eyes, with cloudless skies and a setting sun casting bursts of oranges and yellows on the hills behind us. It felt like something special was about to happen.
The barn house chimney was sending smoke signals our way to beckon us inside to meet with our comrades for the weekend, and over the course of the next couple of hours, our squadron was assembled, as far east as Greece, as far west as Brazil, as far north as Scotland and as far south as Australia, although the vast majority of us were from these green and sometimes pleasant lands.
Our instructor introduced the team for the weekend and shared that there was no structure to the events that were about to transpire, save that we would all get cold, wet, breathe well and eat well, and at the end of proceedings, we may just understand our real selves a little better than before.
One thing that was mentioned from the off was to have an open mind for the weekend, to leave all judgments at the door and try to eradicate the ego where we could, to have open and honest conversations with all participants and listen, truly listen to what was being said and to react where possible without conflict.
The mandatory “creeping death” took place as we all introduced ourselves and shared with the group why we were there and what we hoped to achieve. Brevity is key with these things, so I shared that I hoped to fine tune my practice to take it to the next level, to see whether the path of being a Wim Hof instructor was one I wanted to pursue, and how me and my hippy companions back home hope to build an eco-retreat / wellness centre in North Wales over the coming years, allowing me to leave behind the corporations once and for all.
As an introductory exercise, we each took a partner and sat opposite them, and were instructed to look deep into their eyes and say “Every time I see you I see…” several times over, based on each of our introductions and visual/energetic perceptions. The exercise was meant to put us out of our comfort zone, and clearly it did. I managed it OK but felt that I could have done more, but there would be other opportunities to get to know others more over the weekend.
Next up was to walk around the room staring only at the floor, using our feet to say hello and connect, not looking up. Then it was to move around the room and to look deeply into each other’s eyes and move on when it felt like the right time. The last, was to again look down not knowing who we were opposite, and just use our hands to greet, no touching.
What happened next was special, a true connection. A pair of hands were presented to me, and not knowing who they were attached to, we formed an invisible link, neither compelled to withdraw and move on. We stayed there for minutes, unable to move, the energy freely flowing between both of us. Clearly as one who has gone through rudimentary Reiki training, I understood what was going on, she never. As we raised our heads to see the other, the slight shock on her face turned to a smile, and I explained what had just taken place. Even though she was a yoga instructor, she hadn’t had Reiki before, and I guess she has now, and that special bond would stay with us throughout the weekend.
Our host for the weekend then gave the group some introductory information on the Wim Hof Method and humbly shared her “warts and all” backstory, in her words, from a highly successful corporate player to lowly café plate bearer and world’s worst Wim Hof participant.
We all have our backstory, and with her sharing hers, looking around the table it was clear that we were all thinking and reflecting on our own, in all likelihood sharing those with some or all of the group by the time the weekend was over.
It was already cold and dark outside and none of us expected to hear the words “get changed into your swimming costumes, we are going for a waterfall plunge”. Say what?! But get changed we did and with a plethora of head torches illuminating the hill, we ascended Stockdale Beck and saw the beautiful twilight waterfall, with semi-shallow pool of cold water, into which each of us immersed ourselves in for around two minutes, which was followed by warming exercises (the horse / warrior stance).
Back to the barn for an evening meal and a warm by the wood burning fire, the cuisine bar was set very high from the off and never dropped throughout the weekend. Simply put, it was some of the best food I have ever tasted, all vegan/vegetarian, fresh, various and made with love from a pair of beautiful souls from northern Italy and Antipodea respectively.
Feeling somewhat energized from the dip and the amazing food, we then took part in protocol / regular Wim Hof breath work as well as power breathing. One thing I noticed almost immediately, was that my practice wasn’t what it should be, but after several rounds of breathing I felt the wave and perfect flow for the first time, the rhythmical movement allowing me to be comfortable in practice. As we bid each other a good night’s sleep ahead, I felt already that the course was worth it.
As we went back to our respective tents, the constellations kept watch over head, the cloudless sky remained and the three-quarters full moon cast spectral shadows on the icy grass. Needless to say, it was the coldest night I’d ever spent in a tent and my sleep wasn’t the greatest, but sleep I did, albeit broken.
No rest for the wicked anyway as a seven-thirty start got us back into the barn to listen to the science behind the Wim Hof method (which I loved) and how nasal breathing allows the body to become more oxygenated, and how protocol breathing (anerobic) and retention allows for better meditation and calmness, whilst power breathing (aerobic) reduces body alkalinity and as a result super changes the cells and gives our bodies a natural immune boost.
I’m always mindful of not taking the body too far, it was to my detriment with ashtanga yoga several years ago when I managed to dislocate my trachea when my ego wanted to put its feet on the floor behind my head, so I’m mindful about the Wim Hof head squeeze with my tinnitus. The last round of power breathing in the morning made my left ear go numb, not deaf, but a dull sound lasting for a couple of minutes. Let the body do what the body can do, but don’t risk illness or injury in the process.
All of that said, the breathing flow was much improved as an individual, but for the first time the power of the group really came to the fore. I felt the draw to pulse my energy to the group and made hand gestures to push my healing energy out to others, and as a collective we all felt completed to do the same thing, which clearly had a profound impact on us all when we reflected on the session.
Clearly we had worked up quite an appetite as we demolished our breakfast, fresh fruits, yoghurts and sitting well in our stomachs, washed down by the most amazing mango lassi I’d ever tasted, better even than Mowgli, my favourite restaurant in Liverpool. I did say to our chef from heaven that I was going to kidnap her and take her home, I do hope she saw the funny side of my veiled yet humorous threat.
Next up was the ice bucket challenge, two minutes of hand plunge into a bucket of ice. New to this was an “om” or “aum” chant during the second minute. As a group, we chanted each other through the cold, which worked incredibly well as the time went superfast, so the same can be adopted at home with the five minute cold showers.
In an effort to breath more through the nose, we had our mouth taped up and walked / jogged up and down the beck, followed by a brief sprint, again our host gave us the science behind it and how she had run a marathon breathing only through her diaphragm / nose and as a result not needing any water.
After a lunch of homemade soup, salad and spiced beans, we took to the road and hiked up the valley to the source of the River Sprint, the scenery absolutely breathtaking. I took the opportunity to talk one-to-one with several other comrades, sharing my deeper backstory of alcoholism and bloated ego which almost lead to the destruction of my marriage ten years ago, the darkest days of my life.
Got some great insights into the reasons why other folks were there too, and that there was a trend going right across the group to leave behind the corporations and transition to being “wellness instructors” in some shape or form (hypnotherapists, psychologists, life coaches, physical trainers). Clearly I was mixing with the right people here.
The first waterfall dip at the “Buddha cave” was amazing, all of us spending a good few minutes immersing ourselves in the pool and under the waterfall, the group pulling together to keep ourselves connected and supported. The water in the shower at home is now 14.5c so at 6c (taking into account the effective flow) it was a lot colder. Feeling invigorated, we all warmed up with the horse stance manoeuvres and made our way back down the river to the second pool, the infinity pool.
After the second dip a little further down the stream, I was the last and only one in, and I casually glanced towards the end of the pool and saw that it was indeed an infinity pool, that waters edge a single line separating the pool from the valley horizon beyond.
I got out eventually and then took to a rock to do the horse stance, and all of a sudden I had realized that the manoeuvre I had emulated from Wim Hof didn’t really flow for me, and I looked down at what I was doing, and I was making the flow of an infinity sign, next to the infinity pool. Infinity, it seems, beckons…
The long walk back also served as a chance to get to know each other’s backstories a little more, and I was drawn back to my “Reiki partner” who shared her journey from equestrianism to flying solo to northern India to become a yoga instructor, a brave and courageous journey which paid off for both her and her new clients. I went deeper into my story too, sharing in more details the dark days when I was in London, working, partying, drinking heavily whilst my wife carried on up north. I still to this day recall that conversation with her, so vividly haunting and in glorious Technicolor, when she said that I was a great father but the world’s worst husband and that it was over between us. As this blog has uncovered ever since, things worked themselves out in the end.
Having an exposure to life outside the hedonistic paradigm most folks find themselves in these days via practices like Reiki, yoga and meditation and now the Wim Hof Method has kept my wheels from going out of kilter and kept me awake, truly awake to what reality is and how important connections to people are.
Back at base, we undertook some more breathing techniques (outside the Wim Hof Method) to add an extra dimension and perspective on how to breathe in a better way and again through the nose, which finally sank in with me as I could genuinely feel the difference.
Evening meal was another joyous feast, this time offering up the best food this side of Bangalore, with popadums, bhajis, butternut squash curry and rice with a lemon yoghurt pudding, teaching us all how that we could indeed eat a pudding in narrow jars from the arse end of a dessert spoon. Who knew…
I brought in the ukulele from the car boot with every intention of playing badly and embarrassing myself in front of everyone, but after an intense thirteen-hour day, I hit the wall and took to my slightly warmer tent.
I was awakened by the soothing sound of rain on the tent roof, a white noise to settle my ringing ears, and after gathering my thoughts on what was an epic day, got up with a can-do and will-do attitude ready for anything. As the ukulele was still in the barn, I did manage to pluck up the courage to knock out a rendition of All My Loving by The Beatles, my fingers managing to thaw out just enough.
As we all gathered, we were instantly instructed to go back and get our swimwear back on as we were off to the waterfall again (the beck close by) for a six-minute group submersion in the icy water. The look on the faces confirmed my thoughts exactly, “already?!”, but we were ready, very ready as it turned out. We took to the pool which had completely filled up overnight due to the rainfall and formed an aquatic circle, joining hands and using the breathing techniques we had fine turned over the course of the weekend to get us all into the zone.
Quickly we started the group “aum” which was very powerful, closely followed by a haka-type chant (similar to the one Wim adopts for the horse / warrior stance). After a while I felt a sudden drop in energy, so spontaneously broke into a second rendition of All My Loving, thankfully without the awful ukulele playing, so that brought a smile to a few faces and got us through another minute or so. After several wolf-type howls from the youngest member of the clan (which I felt compelled to join in with) the six minutes were over, and we all felt we could have stayed in for longer.
Breakfast never felt so good back at the barn, and soon after it was time for our final breathing session. Again we started with several fringe practices, balloon inflating, candle blow outs and yogic box breathing.
And then the magic happened…
We were instructed to use all the techniques shared to finish off with three protocol rounds of breathing and two rounds of power breathing. The waves I formed during the protocol rounds were executed with aplomb, perfect almost, putting me in a meditative state of consciousness, feeling peaceful and at one with everyone in the room. The final two round gave us all the opportunity to supercharge our bodies and the breathing did just that. To get more oxygen in, I held open my nostrils so that which was going in was fully charged. Whilst the power round is not meant to have a breath retention, I decided to break ranks and hold my breath at the end, and it was in that very moment, that something rather incredible happened.
Throughout my journey into esoterica and search for enlightenment, I have always tried very hard (too hard in fact) to “see” things, believing only that visions of alien landscapes, shapes and colours were the only way to validate that there was an “ever after” and that I was awake. Sometimes, one can look too hard for such things, and sometimes, letting go is the answer. So there I was, physically located in a climbers’ barn in Cumbria, but deep inside the physical form of a long-haired lover from Liverpool, a mystical experience was taking place.
All of a sudden, the outside world no longer existed, and I found myself having (what Antony Peake and David Bohm would call) a panoramic life review, but in reverse. I felt myself inside some sort of time vortex travelling back in time, replaying critical events of my life in reverse chronological order. I didn’t see anything, I just experienced it, almost like watching a film with eyes and ears closed, but you somehow knew what was going on upon the silver screen.
Firstly, the most recent reconnection with my mum who I hadn’t seen or spoken to for eight years, the second with my sister who I now have an incredible bond with considering that was abruptly terminated around the same time as my parents. The most profound was yet to come, when I felt myself plunging down a wormhole to my darkest days and the time that my life almost ended with my marriage, and it was at that point that I realized that actually, I had already found enlightenment all of those years ago, and that the old me had actually died back then and a new me was reborn, awakened.
Needless to say, the emotion of that revelation was too much to bear, the tears forced their way through closed eyelids and I began to sob, quietly to myself.
As we brought our attention back to the room and were asked to stand and raise our arms and turn to our left and hug the person to the left, and there was my Reiki partner ready to cradle a sobbing Scouser.
After we reseated ourselves at the table, we individually reflected on the whole weekend and our experiences, and whilst I shared that I felt that I had successfully fine-tuned my Wim Hof Method practice, the true message for me was connection and the power of community.
Notably, all the men found it a very emotional and perhaps cathartic process, with each of us shedding a tear or two as we shared our thoughts with the group. Ask me now what masculine strength is, and I’ll give you a different response. True strength is not how much weight can be lifted, nor how much of a stiff upper lip can be held during adversity, true strength is man’s ability to connect with males and females alike and break down to share their emotions with others, impervious to what society thinks a man should be. Show me an Eddie Hall or a Tyson Fury, and I’ll show you a Greek man training to be a Wim Hof Method instructor, shedding tears and true feelings with what was initially a group of participants who he could now call friends.
Every single one of us, not one person excluded, shed a tear for a lady who had just lost her husband, and such was the bond the group had formed together we grieved collectively for her loss and hopefully took on some of that burden, albeit briefly, to help her on her road to recovery, a sad but truly beautiful moment.
We all came to be taught new things, that was certain, but what we actually learnt was very different. I felt we all came away with the same feelings, that we were not the same people that went into that barn on Friday night, and were all the better for it.
As readers of this blog will know, I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe that the odd things that happen are breadcrumbs placed by invisible hands, giving us a nudge into recognition and action, so it was no surprise to see a butterfly flying around the barn as we left to go our separate ways. We had all gone through a metamorphosis during the weekend, and just like the butterfly, we had now come out of our cocoons (sleeping bags) to carry on with our life journey with a new set of skills to help.
Such was the bond between us all, I shared that I would love to keep in touch with folks and I sincerely hope that happens, I have a good feeling that it will.
Clearly, I’ve shed further tears since, and it’s not been easy writing this missive, but what was apparent, was that I will succeed in my mission to be a “wellness instructor” in whatever shape or form that takes, using whatever methods or practices I choose to adopt.
The cold water immersion gives us that opportunity to realize that anything is possible for the individual, but like the circle of power in the waterfall, if we all work together, we are gestalt, we are greater than the sum of our parts…
Well last weeks Wim Hof training didn’t go quite to plan. The first three weeks on the fundamentals course went really well, but I stuttered and stumbled my way into week four, and decided after three stop-start days to take a week off and restart next week. And I’m glad I did, as on day four, all hell broke loose.
Once again, my workplace let me down, once again my mind let me down. Once again it is very clear that I cannot continue on in this job, it really is causing so much negativity, that trying to function normally, let alone train, is such a Herculean task.
It came to a head this week where I flipped out, tired of the same old patterns of being pushed too many things to do. I’ve always said “success is a huge burden to carry” and that’s none more apparent than right now.
Several things glued together tipped me over the edge, to the point where I could not sleep, could not focus, could not eat the right things, could not exercise, all of which resulted in me having my stress first migraine for four months (accompanied by a fifteen-hour sleep) and me having to rely on Big Pharma to get me through (as an ice pack and cold shower didn’t even touch the sides), sorry Wim!
It came to a resolution though on Friday, and after successfully brokering a deal to leave the team by the end of the year, so a positive outcome was reached, but with a real drain on my mental state and energy levels.
This week was a costly one all round. I comfort ate and could actually see and feel my body was becoming more inflamed as each day passed. I saw my spare tire gradually inflating as the week went on. I stopped off with the wife at the local pub after walking the dog one evening and for the first time since giving up the booze four months ago, I felt tempted to hit the bottle, and hit it hard. Thankfully, I chose the soft drink option and remain clean.
Mental health, stress and anxiety strips away all of life’s privileges in an instant. A billionaire and a destitute can feel exactly the same way in the moment, that moment of despair, the moment where surroundings and circumstances do not apply, only the blackness, the void, the abyss, the nihilism of existence.
It is not easy to climb out of the ravine alone, and more often than not, escape is via others casting down ropes to offer their assistance. Thankfully that happened three times this week, two colleagues and the wife, all talking me through things, pulling me back up into the light from the darkness below, and for that I am truly grateful and blessed, I know others are not so fortunate.
I silently crept up on the scales this morning in an attempt to quietly reveal the truth, but the damned machine screamed at me to reveal that I had put on two kilos in a week.
I also looked into the “deep dark truthful mirror” to tell myself that I ought stop thinking too much, to be positive and see the beauty in the moment as Messrs Watts and Tolle, and not to waste what precious little time I have left on this rock.
But as Messrs Nietzsche and Carney advocate, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, I’m stronger now than I was before. There are so many people in the world that would give their right arm to be in my position, in fact there’s so many people in the world without a right arm, so what am I complaining about, really.
So here we are, the dawn of a new week, a week that was supposed to be focused on inflammation and how to combat it, and this coming week I am in need of that, maybe last week was a reminder that the power of the mind (or lack of) impacts our body more than we can know, so detox week, inner fire and determination is required to get me back on track.