There’s so much to write I don’t know where to start. My own journey is weaving together with what’s going on in the world, of course how could it not! How to convey my thoughts and feeling about both – the small, individual picture and the big picture of our planet and its many tribulations.
I left my home and previous life behind, in Hebden Bridge, in April, with just a car full of ‘stuff’, some of which has been left in various places that I’ve visited since then – even a car of stuff has proved too heavy a load for me on this nomadic journey. I’ve left ‘stuff’ all over the country in boxes in other people’s homes. I am very lucky to have kind friends and family who have offered space in their garages, under their beds, in sheds and cupboards and I’ve not got much idea of which bits are where!
I started this journey in the East, with my first stop being Norwich, for a gathering of Embodied Relational Therapists, (one of the courses I’m co facilitating this year), and then headed North, to Scotland. Since then I’ve been making my way up and down the UK, as far West as West Wales, as far South as Lands End, with many stops in between, in Staffordshire, Lancashire, Stroud, Bristol, Devon, Westbury on Severn, Derbyshire, before heading North again to my home town of Tottington, then Hebden Bridge, Derbyshire, returning to Scotland, where I’m writing this.
It is a lot of travelling in just 5 months, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like it. One of the main things I’ve found throughout this journey is that time has slowed down, to such an extent that days feel like weeks, weeks feel like months and months feel like years. It feels like 5 years not just 5 months since I left my old life in Hebden Bridge.
Steve Taylor has written about the phenomenon of time in his book ‘Making Time’. He says,” Why does time seem to speed up as we get older? Why does it seem to drag when we’re bored or in pain, or to go slowly when we’re in unfamiliar environments? Why does it slow down dramatically in accidents and emergency situations, when sportspeople are ‘in the zone’, or in higher states of consciousness?” In the book, he uses evidence from modern physics and unusual states of consciousness to suggest that our normal sense of time is an illusion, created by our minds. In the final chapter, Steve Taylor uses insights from Buddhism – investigating the practices of mindfulness and meditation – to show how we can actually transcend linear time and learn to live fully in the present moment.
This has certainly been my experience, and I’ve become absorbed much more in my present moment surroundings. With no daily routines, nowhere to go, and nothing to do for weeks on end, I can surrender to just being exactly where I am. It feels like I’ve been ‘practising’ this kind mindfulness over and over again, as I’ve gone along, without ever intending to.
I find my body relaxing, especially around people, and find myself flowing into and out of places, people, lands, experiences, as I become more spacious, real, alive and moving. Some people search for this present moment awareness, as Steve Taylor suggests, through Buddhist and spiritual practices of meditation, mindfulness, and breath work. I seem to be have found some of this at least, through moving around – coming and going – meeting, connecting, then leaving. It has the feeling of impermanence, of nothing being forever, of being fully myself, with who and where I am, but somehow not becoming attached to any of it. These do sound like spiritual experiences as I speak of them, but I certainly haven’t put effort into trying to achieve this. I hadn’t even thought this might be something I would find – it never crossed my mind and has seemed to turn up as I went along. For me it’s been a side effect, rather than the point, of taking to the road, and of climbing out of the confines of some societal structures.
The concept of soft fascination, by Kaplan’s and Kaplan (1989; also Kaplan, 1995), might go some way to explaining my experience. “Soft fascination occurs when involuntary attention – the opposite of stressful, directed attention – is engaged. Clouds, sunsets, and moving river water capture attention but do not require directed attention, allowing room for cognitive reflection. Because demands upon directed attention are diminished, psychological restoration becomes possible. Kaplan and Kaplan argue that these types of natural phenomenon – clouds sunsets, etc. – are prime types of stimuli to induce cognitive rest. Attention is captured by an interesting and aesthetically pleasing environment that does not necessitate a high degree of cognitive processing. Thus, soft fascination allows for release from stressors that cause mental fatigue, easing away from cognitive strain and relaxing”. This is an excerpt taken from an article written by Nick Totton called ‘The Practice of Wild Therapy’, which is a training that I’m continuing to co facilitate this year. I’m really sure my own soft fascination will contribute a lot to this training.
I’ve spent most of the last 5 months amongst friends and family, with tribes of like-minded people who have all impacted me in different ways. I’ve found my heart opening to more love of life, more love of humans particularly, and also of other than human; of land and environments, and places. I’ve sat in fields chatting, looking out to sea; I’ve sat round kitchen tables chatting and drinking cups of tea and wine; I’ve sat in circles, round fires, under gazebos, in woodlands, swum in seas and lakes; I’ve watched the stars light up the night sky and been thrilled to see many of them shooting through the universe to who knows where; I’ve danced with so many different people in so many different places, bodies meeting without words, intimate connections made in seconds and then gone forever. I’ve sang on my journeys in the car and, with others in groups until I’ve cried with open hearted joy and connection. I’ve walked barefoot on hot sand and swum naked in turquoise seas. I’ve felt the different textures of the many different lands under my bare feet. I vowed not to wear socks again until October, and whilst the sun was so hot day after day I really thought this was possible, so I left my socks in Wales!
It’s now September and the Summer sun is kissing the Autumn dampness of the ground and as they embrace in a beautiful melding of seasons, the handing over to the Autumn colours and temperatures has begun. One minute the sun is still hot, and I lie naked soaking up the last rays of the Summer, whilst a few minutes later a chill wind arrives, and I can smell the dampness of the Autumn leaves already changing from green to yellow, orange and red, and slowly dropping to the ground. Next week I’ll need to wear my walking boots for trekking through wooded undergrowth for Wild Therapy, and so I reluctantly bought some socks! I haven’t worn them yet, and I’m still walking the cliff tops in my sandals and shorts and going barefooted as much as possible. I have some slippers, but I don’t know where they are – probably in Wales with the socks!
This transition time between Summer and Autumn feels even more defined this year after one of the most amazingly hot and prolonged Summer’s we’ve had in the UK for a long time. If ever I was going to pick a year to be nomadic it seems like this year was the best, unbeknown to me when I made my move, and little did I know that I’d be sleeping so many nights in my small tent, cooking outside, and spending most of my life outdoors.
Weaving this into the bigger picture reminds me that in so many places I’ve been, people have talked about making huge changes in their own lives, like selling houses, changing jobs, leaving or committing to relationships; finding new and different ways to move away from the old beliefs and stories we’ve been told about working hard, earning money to spend more on stuff to keep the capitalist system going. We have been destroying our planet, our home, by believing the story that financial growth is the only thing that matters.
What is it that really needs to die? Is it us as humans, the planet, both? Or do we need the death of a system which works only for a small minority? I could go into a political rant now, but something I’ve been learning is that if I speak for myself about the risks I’ve taken, the trust I’ve put in not knowing, the faith I have in the humans I know and have met along the way, rather than what I think might be wrong about a system, then it keeps it real and alive for me, and hopefully for others too. I think many other people are taking risks of their own and following their dreams, which then impacts the system as a whole, it has to – we are not separate isolated beings – we all have an impact on each other whether we like it or not, and things change because we ourselves make changes.
I do believe it’s too late to save us humans as a species, and I’ve been dealing with my own feelings about this for many years, from denial, grief, anger, through to acceptance about the death of humans on planet Earth. As Joanna Macy said in a recent article: “Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure”. What if we could really experience life fully right now and open our hearts to each other, drop our defences and armouring against further hurt and pain, embrace each other in our combined sorrow and anger, and dance together in joy and celebration of life? As Joanna said in the same article“This may be the last gasp of life on Earth, and what a great last gasp, if we realize we have fallen in love with each other”.
Another side effect of this journey has been to not only feel softened in heart but also in my whole body: in muscles, blood, bones and cells. The relief my body feels at not having to carry so much, literally, emotionally, and metaphorically, is huge. I am more vulnerable by relying on others’ kindness and this journey would be impossible without receiving and acknowledging both my own vulnerability and the kindness of others!
Because of the life style I now have, I’m much more in touch with others who have taken to the road, built small communities off-grid, and left the consumer lifestyle well and truly behind. It’s a bit like looking over a fence and seeing loads of familiar faces you didn’t know were there. There are a lot of people doing what I’m doing! We may be a small tribe in comparison to the whole general public, but I am grateful that I’m not alone and that most of them are saying similar things to me; “This life choice is not easy, but I wouldn’t change it for anything”.
I’m a member of a Facebook group called, ‘The Alternative Living Group’, which has 53,000 members worldwide. Recently someone posted the idea for people in this group to put £1 a week into a pot to buy land together. There were over 1000 comments in 24 hours, mostly from people saying ‘yes’! The energy created from this post alone is phenomenal! I’m not sure how it would all work in practice and some people are trying to figure this out, still for me it’s the start of connections between relatively large numbers of people who are really desperate for a different way to live!
It seems that having less, at least for some people, means greater life participation, meaningfulness, and happiness. I’m at an age where I can really follow my inherent values, where I can have a level of freedom, not felt since being a teenager, and let go of the responsibilities that I have willingly carried at other times. I don’t regret having been married and having a family of my own. My kids are grown up and I love seeing them strive and thrive in their own lives, but they have their own lives and I can now follow my own dreams. I feel that life has been forever guiding me in this direction, taking away roots and foundations that I tried to build and cling to, continually showing me that the things I relied on and thought were safe were really stepping stones on a winding journey towards liberation, freedom, and learning how to become healthily detached.
I’m trying to think of things to say that won’t make this all sound just wonderful and jolly. There are some things which are challenging: living out of a suitcase, trying to find things at the bottom tips the whole lot upside down, and I love it when I’m in a place for long enough that I can put things away in cupboards, but in the scheme of things it’s really not such a big deal!
I’ve learnt that it’s almost impossible to not have an address – the system cannot cope with this! Unless, I guess, I was to register as homeless, which I am, but as yet not registered as such. A ‘care of’ address solved this one for me, which a friend has kindly let me use. Think about it; if whole swathes of people didn’t have permanent addresses how would any corporation/government be able to keep track of you; what you spend, on what, and where! The lack of control around this is just too frightening for the mainstream to contemplate!
Learning new kitchens can be a challenge – where people keep their pots and pans and cutlery, and the idiosyncrasies of cookers, fridges, and work surfaces, all have to be encountered every time I want to cook a meal for my lovely hosts. Learning unspoken ‘ways of doing things’, special crockery which must not be used and finding out by using them – argh! I’ve become adaptable, especially in other people’s kitchens! It’s like a brain training exercise. Every drawer and tap has different pulls and pushes and tweaks and turns, that only the people who use them every day know about. I have to learn very quickly, and it keeps me on my toes. I’m really glad to have learnt the skill of just opening drawers and cupboards, seeing what’s there and being at home in someone else’s home. The feedback I’ve received about this is that it really helps if I explore for myself rather than be tentative and keep asking.
This also feels similar to being with people too. If I can just be myself and explore, then someone will tell me if I’ve gone in an emotional drawer they would rather keep closed! This doesn’t stop me exploring – it just means I trust people to let me know where their boundaries are. I think I’m ‘an explorer’ by nature, and I’m being true to this part of me now in many ways.
I am privileged to have an amazing family and wonderful friends, so I can rely on the fact I won’t be sleeping on the streets. Some people are not in such a position. I don’t want to idealise something that others have no choice about. I want to share my thoughts and feelings but am aware that what I experience is not the case for everyone who doesn’t have a home. I feel empowered by the choices I’ve made because I’ve made them, rather than someone else making those choices for me. There’s a world of difference between these two places.
In writing this piece I want to honour the homeless, the travellers, the gypsies, the nomadic tribes, everywhere in the world. There are many challenges, extreme difficulties for some, and also gifts in this way of life. It’s not for everyone, but for me right now it really works! And of course, after all this, how could I even think of putting myself back into the box I’ve emerged from? So, next year my plan is to try to manifest a campervan. I’m not sure how this will happen, but I trust in my own and other people’s abundance. I believe in kindness to myself and others, and if a small campervan comes across my path then I will hold it lightly and treasure being a snail with my home on my back, for as long as it lasts!