The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Tenuous Coincidence?

Ralph Vaughan Williams
Walt Whitman

Paths That Cross

My first encounter with the works of Walt Whitman were through my love of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Of course, back then my young ears paid more attention to the music, the sounds, rather than the texts – however, as time passed by, I began to consider more about the “WHY Whitman” choice of the composer.
It would appear that Vaughan Williams’ own first encounter with Whitman’s works was when he was a student at Cambridge in the late 19th Century; and he was not alone (among composers) in being drawn to the poetry of one of the most famous literary figures of the time.

Certainly, when I first encountered Vaughan Williams’ first symphony – A Sea Symphony – I was bowled over by the opening bars of the movement entitled “A Song for all Seas, all Ships.” Nestled amidst the depths of Whitman’s poem Song of the Exposition is this somewhat unassuming and brief recitative:

Behold the Sea - Itself!

Once you have heard and got to know this great symphony, I am sure that, like me, you repeat, perhaps under your breath, that stirring acclamation - every time you see the sea, in the flesh so to speak. A picture is not enough and is never enough. You really do have to be standing face to face with any mighty body of sea or ocean to get a sense of awe at the sheer majesty of it.
If you listen to this short clip you can get an idea of what meaning I am trying to convey here … 

Towards the Unknown Region

En route to composing A Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams set another of Whitman’s poems “Darest thou now, O soul” into a work for chorus and orchestra.

Here Vaughan Williams took a complete poem of Walt Whitman’s and entitled the setting as “Towards the Unknown Region.” It was this musical work that was instrumental in my using Whitman’s poem as the inspirational quote for my book ‘Navigating The Ship of You.’

I’d known the music, text et al, for many years – long before I ever became a personal development and performance coach. Yet, once I’d set out to write the book in 2014, it did not take me long to consider using this poem as the inspiring opening frame of reference.

On his blog, Back to Being Gentlemen, Kenneth Baldwin writes about this particular short and insightful work:

"Darest Thou Now, O Soul, is a beautiful poem that I've found myself repeating during hard times. It is a dialogue from a man addressed to his inner self, his courage. There is something universally mysterious and daunting about the unknown paths in our lives. For a rising generation with college degrees and little work, I think this poem has inestimable value. It assesses the difficulty there is in being a pioneer, an explorer, and carving your own path. It calculates the risks and payoffs of blazing new trails.”

For me, in Navigating The Ship of You, the poem is also about courage and bravery – yet with the advantageous possibility of our being a good navigator – as we ply our way across life’s infinite oceans. For me, in this book, Life IS the Unknown Region – for every day is a new journey. And in the finality of life that is Death, it is – to the expert navigator – just another Unknown Region to be made known.

Far be it from me to presume there is anything more than a tenuous link between myself and the literary and musical giants of Walt Whitman and Ralph Vaughan Williams respectively.
If there is any link, however, it has to be about something more than coincidental influence.
My musical tastes are the strongest elements in the chain from my standpoint, for I would never had “found” Whitman had it not been for Vaughan Williams’ music.
As a young man, Vaughan Williams admired and was inspired by Whitman’s works, which set him on the pathway to blending his creativity with Whitman’s words for well over 30 years.

To get a real sense of that admiration and inspiration, here is an article – centred around the Vaughan Williams cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” - that reveals much about Whitman’s influence:

Finally, here, is Walt Whitman’s poem that set me alight for “Navigating The Ship of You”:

Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet
                                              nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes,
                                               are in that land.
I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream'd of in that region,
                                             that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense,
                                            nor any bounds bounding us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!)
                                            them to fulfil O soul.

Also, if you have a mind to, and would like to listen to how Ralph Vaughan Williams took Whitman’s words above,and blended them with his own creative genius, here is a You Tube link to a BBC Proms Concert performance of “Toward the Unknown Region” in 2013:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Just Another Day on Pen Y Ghent ... my Video Diary!

This is the filmed diary of my day on Pen Y Ghent!

It is a 20 minute film with spoken commentary at times and a musical soundtrack at times. There is video footage and stills, some with captions. You may get a sense of how much the wind featured through the walk/climb.

I do hope you enjoy it and also get something out of it for yourself.

Put the kettle on, make yourself a nice cup of coffee (or tea!) turn the sound up and watch - preferably on as big a screen as you can!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Is it just another day ... ?

The Watershed Experience

Earlier this year, 2017, my coach urged me to compile a “vision board” of all the things I would like to bring into my life - places, people, activities, experiences and so on. I have it in my little office at home and see it on a daily basis, and because of the regular attention it gets, I have a whole raft of visual anchors to keep me purposefully oriented towards a variety of motivational and pleasurable “to-do’s”. 
Needless to say, some of them have since become “have-done’s”as the year has progressed. That too is a good reminder, if I ever needed one, that life IS good - both through these landmark experiences as well as in the more day-to-day stuff in between. 
Now, part of the everyday plateaux, includes preparing for the more climactic things – and with my planned walk of the Yorkshire Peak Pen y Ghent, this certainly did involve quite a bit of multi-layered preparation.


It started with WHEN. It would have to be in September or October, after the schools had gone back, and yet before the onset of possible wintry conditions. I felt midweek would be better than weekends, given what other plans were in my diary – then choosing where to stay and for how long was the next set of variables. These considerations then telescoped out into travel plans; what to pack; whether I’d be going alone; costs, etc.

Next was getting information on everything I thought I might need to know about Pen Y Ghent itself. The summit is well over 2,000ft, so there is the en route temperature change to consider, plus if there’s any breeze blowing then it will be intensified past a certain height. This, and what routes to take, was all research with regards to the external considerations.

Finally, there was all the internal considerations – was I ready; was I fit for purpose, as they say? 

Physically, there was a lot I did by way of preparation in the weeks and days prior to going to Yorkshire. Although I am reasonably fit, especially for my age, I did some longer walks with steep inclines here at home on the SW Coast Path and on Exmoor. Also, just a few days before, I had taken a day trip to Lundy Island, which involved a sea trip, a 10km round the island plus the elevation on the walk from jetty to the island plateau of approx 400ft.

So, I was happy with the physical prep and the condition I was in … which just left the mental side of things!

OK, I’m a specialist mental performance coach – so, what could possibly happen in THAT area that might come along to bite me in the butt?

The Thinking Experience

Given that I’ve talked with many clients over the years, of all ages, about how we can prepare for any performance – this now was an instance where apply to self was going to be looming large! It’s a bit like watching teachers going to sit in the black chair on BBC TV’s Mastermind – “OK, Sir – now show us what you really know!”

The key, of course, to any pre-Performance is about our relationship with our Thinking.
If we have a good understanding of that relationship, AND actually do have a good level of grounded-ness, then we know we’ll be better placed to handle the “curveballs” that are going to come flying towards us through every real-time moment for the duration of the Performance. That is the innate and unquestioning trust we can rely upon in advance.

We’ll also know we’ll be better placed to handle the “gremlins” of unsure-ness and doubt that are going to dance around amongst our thoughts, in both the run-up to, and during, any Performance. Provided we are aroused for the Performance, then there will be gremlins – trust me. They come with the territory – for we are ONLY human after all, and our human frailties accompany us wherever we go.
On my Lundy Island trip, I had no arousal in terms of the outward sea journey – beforehand. However, in real-time some 10 mins into the sailing, I had a massive wake-up call, and I got curveballs AND gremlins coming at me all at once! The sea was quite rough, and the little flat-bottomed ship accentuated every wave we encountered.
Was I prepared? NO!
Was I aroused? YES – suddenly!
Yet my human frailties including everything I was feeling in the moment, driven by thought, were soon assuaged by my relationship with my Thinking. I was re-oriented to what I have recently come to describe as my Thought Horizon.

Through the night, before walking Pen y Ghent, I wouldn’t be truthful if I’d said I was not visited by the odd gremlin! Yet, I didn’t churn stuff over in mind; I wasn’t ploughing up endless fields of thoughts! Yes – I was aroused, of course. This was to be one of life’s special experiences after all – and I was caught up in the arousal generated by anticipation! Certainly, I wasn’t caught up in the arousal generated by stressful anxiety or worry, about what might - or might not – happen to me on the morrow, however.

The Ascent Begins!

The weather was, as per forecast – set fair and dry.
There was a breeze, so I knew what that would bring.

I drove to Horton in Ribblesdale and parked in the Yorkshire Dales National Park car park; togged up with my footwear; five layers of torso clothing; GoPro camera; mobile phone; stocked-up back pack; sunglasses; and Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

I could see Pen y Ghent almost beckoning me from some three miles away. From this moment forward it was only going to be all about
Right Here, Right Now.

As the ascent began to unfold I had two early “curveball” moments of awareness – one physical and one mental.
The physical one was a feeling of discomfort in the chest at the top left-hand side of the ribcage. Was it a tightness in breathing terms, heart-related, or merely the back-pack straps pulling hard due to five layers of clothing?
The mental one was when I got a first glimpse of the bigger picture of how I was approaching Pen y Ghent. From here there was still over 2 miles to go, and boy did it look high up in the sky! Suddenly the I that is me seemed very small and insignificant!

I’ve heard it said that for a human being to experience AWE is probably the most profound experience of all. This particular “curveball”, I surmise, was one of the by-products of AWE. 

Yet, don’t we readily, and regularly, trivialise and mis-use the real meaning of the word when we say “awesome”? 
I was, as it happened, to use that very same word repeatedly over the ensuing hours.


The relentless ascent continued, and, as the Pennine Way pathway snaked interminably into the distance in my field of vision, I passed many walkers coming down whilst at the same time becoming aware that I seemed to be the only one that was going up this “Blue” route.

When I’d been togging up in the car park there were a couple of fell runners also togging up. We started out almost together, and I guessed they had gone up the “Red” route; they said “Hello!” as they ran down past me looking very much like their mission was almost accomplished whereas mine was still at early doors!

My pauses to catch breath became more frequent, understandably – however I did notice that the tightness in the chest near the heart had melted away.

Finally, I arrived at the turning point – a sharp turn in the path that signified what I called “The Final Assault.” I took another pause, and did some filming here for about 5 minutes – for the prospect was stunningly awesome to behold!

Little did I know at this stage that much more AWE was waiting for me!


I finally made it to the top and here I am leaning on the Trig Point as proof!
The Ascent was, indeed, all about stamina – my own capacity of physical resilience and endurance. This was everything I had prepped for, and my prep had got me up here in good time, without any trials or tribulations.

I’d been saying to myself for the best part of a year that I would “GO UP” Pen y Ghent.
And now I had!!
The glow, the sense of achievement, was almost tangible – in spite of 30+mph winds and buffeting gusts!

I drank deep from my water bottle, and stuffed my mouth with dates, one after another. I must have footled around for the best part of half an hour, soaking up everything I could see, hear, eat and drink. When I finally got the feeling that this was all beginning to sink in, I put away my refreshments and got ready to start down.

There’d been a party of school children there when I arrived and they’d gone down the “Red” route. My original decision to take that route down was, therefore, endorsed by their actions – so, without further ado, I loaded up and set off, into the teeth of the strong and buffeting wind!

The Descent

There is a point, on this picture, where the flagstoned pathway meets the lip of the hill. It is a very unassuming piece of perspective, when taken from a distance. However, when I reached the “vanishing point” I have to say this was when the next “curveball” hit me.
For a moment, all the prepping seemed to melt to a mush; my resilience was blown away on the strong wind; and I called out to someone called "Kinnell!"

Here is a bit of script from the OS Walking Guide as to the last part of going UP the “Red” route.

“As you approach the ‘nose’ of Pen-y-ghent your route takes you over a stile to join the Pennine Way, heading north-west-ish and towards the summit via a fun and exhilarating scramble. On the steeper sections of the scramble, have three points of contact, take it steady and do not rush as it can be slippery.”

I had approached the “nose” from the other direction, and was heading DOWN the fun and exhilarating scramble – in strong and gusty winds. Yes, it was, as the guide said, slippery. What it didn’t say was that it was nigh on vertical at the top!

The Zone

“The Zone is one of those things in performance that elevates our activity from something we love, to something that brings us a level of profound and utter ecstasy.

To be able to go there when we choose, rather than stumble upon the experience just by chance or luck, is much more accessible than we realise. As we are buoyed along understanding the parts played by thought, equilibrium, love and devotion, we experience effortless action. Along the way we encounter an altered perception of Focus and Absorbed Attention, the dual constituents of Concentration.

And we intuitively know that none of this ever happens when we try too hard with the things that really matter to us. We really do have to let go of that trying.

Our every performance is vital to our quality of life – and enhancing the way we perform can transform our lives every step of the way.”

These words are written on the back cover of my book Gateways to the Zone – Pathways to Peak Performance. 

The book was published in 2013 and, because I’d written lots of books and articles since, and encountered many personal insights and light-bulb moments, I’d been rather foolishly dismissive of the book, its message, its purpose, and its usefulness - as a piece of work - in enabling people towards performing with effortless action. Fortunately, it was my own expressed wisdom and it came back to me in my hour of need!

The Ultimate Watershed Moment

I had been in The Zone when walking UP Pen y Ghent. Of that I was sure, especially as I had been at the summit some time before I came around to savouring the moment, and tasted the undiluted sense of success. It had been about stamina, both physical and mental, and my performance had delivered me up to that level of profound and utter ecstasy!

This, NOW, was very different.

After the initial “Oh Wow!” there were a number of thoughts and actions then that I now remember quite vividly.
Holding a good balance in the wind, I looked down and began to pick a pathway that had an entry AND an exit point – and by exit point I mean a point where I could pause and then take stock of the NEXT pathway. That was my strategy for the route down.
To be fair, the hardest part was choosing the very first pathway – for not only did it set the right way for the subsequent moves, it also involved finding a strong fingers and hand hold for a start to launch my feet, one by one over the top edge.

The other thing I remember was that I never looked back, or even 
considered going back.

That was never an option – neither was taking any photos or video footage! It was out of the question – due to the strength of the wind and the gusts. I was totally single minded, focussed and 100% absorbed in the moment.
By the time the descent had reached the stage when it became FUN as well as exhilarating, I was able to take some more pictures.


If my journey to the summit was all about stamina, then my journey down was all about nerve. Put quite simply, I held my nerve on the descent. There were consequences waiting to happen if had been anything other than totally 100% in the now, in the PRESENT moment.
I could have turned back, yet that would have sullied the achievement.
I could have slipped, and been brought down on a stretcher or worse!

For me, now, the world feels different and I feel different. And, to put it another way, this is how we ALL experience a change of perspective. In whatever way we saw the world before right here, right now, it was – quite simply – an illusion made up by our thinking. That is how a change in perspective brings about such instant change for us. It is OUR thinking that has changed.
As quantum physicist David Bohm said,
“Thought creates the world and then says, ‘I didn’t do it.”

And if there are some quotes that ring more truly for me right now then I’ll take these for starters …

“The only Zen to be found at the tops of mountains is that which we take up there with us”

“By Failing to Prepare you are Preparing to Fail.”

“Expect the Unexpected”

“What goes up must come down.”

Monday, October 9, 2017

Affect - Affected - Affection


Affect: ( verb)      To act upon; to influence; to move the feelings of
            (noun)      The emotion that lies behind action; an emotional state
Affected: (adjective)   Having power to move the emotions
Affection: (noun)    Love; attachment; influencing; emotion; disposition;

In reading Lisa Feldman Barrett’s excellent book “How Emotions Are Made” I encountered her use of the word Affect often, so I delved deeper into the somewhat ambiguous uses of the word Affect in terms of our verbal language.
“Scholars and Scientists confused affect and emotion for centuries.” She writes. “Affect is your basic sense of feeling, ranging from unpleasant to pleasant (valence) and from agitated to calm (arousal). Emotion is a much more complex mental construction.
Many scientists use the word “affect” when they really mean emotion … affect is not specific to emotion; it is a feature of consciousness.”

When I wrote about the “Iceberg of Language” in the book Navigating The Ship of You, I described the vehicle of language as being metaphorically akin to an iceberg floating on the surface. Above the surface (the visible part) is our verbal language and below the surface is the non-verbal language of our senses plus our internal language of Self.

The senses, as I put it, are the usual VAKOG group (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, gustatory) plus Balance, Time and Self (once we have a sense of Self, you understand.)
Now, with the codification facility of any learnt verbal language, we all have the means of conveying meaning to both others AND ourselves – with specific regard to the language of our Senses
We put the meaning we wish to convey INTO WORDS.
Yet we know that when we do this, that the words are often woefully inadequate to express what we really mean. If you’re not sure then consider expressing these instances:-
A sunset, a work of art.
A piece of music, the voice of a loved one.
The touch of a loved one, a burning flame.
Smelling salts, a damask rose.
A lemon, chocolate, curry.
Dizziness, Losing our footing.
Past, Present, Future.
Identity, Sentience.

A kiss, the holding of hands, a hug, an arm around the shoulder – these all carry so much more meaning than we could ever convey with words.
Dizziness or losing our footing usually causes us to give out nondescript cries such as "Woaaa" or "Aaaagh" before we either regain our balance or hit the ground.
Yet, with these two instances, let’s say, we can plug into meaning very well when we consider them from the perspective of understanding Affect.

A feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labelled.
An emotion is the projection/display of a feeling. Unlike feelings, the display of emotion can be either genuine or feigned.
An affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential.

Here, above, are some salient points that help with our understanding of where our thinking, our thought processes, our harnessing of the Power of Thought, has a relationship with our Senses, and in particular, our Sense of Self.
It illustrates clearly and points us towards realising how Emotions are constructed. And once we gain an understanding that our Emotions ARE constructed, then we can gain the ability to both not be prisoners of them, or at the mercy of them, in terms of Experience.
Similarly, we can gain the ability to not be ruled by, or at the mercy of, our Memories.
With immediate effect, our Relationship with our Thinking shifts to a new perspective – and we get a sense that something Transformative has happened.

I’ve always held the view that we use Emotion to vivify, to add more richness to, every experience. If the experience is good or bad (in terms of valence and arousal) we have the capacity to enhance it by adding Emotion in there, prior to committing it to Memory. Once committed to memory, any experience can be easily flagged up with the emotional tagging present.
If you’re not quite sure what I mean, then consider your memories of visits to the dentist. Similarly, the experience of a delicious meal at a particular restaurant in delightful or intimate company, will be flagged up for memory accordingly, with many varieties of vividly constructed emotion enhancements.
With all the unmemorable and bland experiences, we choose not to add in Emotion. There is no reason to do so, so we filter the dull and featureless out of committing to memory.
And when we might go out and get an induced high, or go on a bender – then at some point there will be oblivion, maybe even unconsciousness. Then we will only remember what it felt like prior to losing our sense of experience.

So now, having unpacked my understanding of Feelings, Emotions and Affect I’d like to mention some recent experiences where I felt decidedly different due to Affect.
I was not led into interpreting them as Feelings and then enhancing them with Emotion – rather I held the Affect Experience at an unconscious level … with the meaning maintained within my Self, held in place by the Language of Self.

I recently spent approximately four hours at sea in a small, shallow draught ship, travelling across rough seas. Every wave we encountered affected the stability of the ship relative to the horizon, and for the first 60-90 minutes of the journey that horizon was enclosed, indistinct and vaguely nebulous. This was caused by misty, fine rain driven by strong winds.
Some hours after returning to land, sat in a chair, I became aware of the sensation of still being on board ship with the rocking back and forth and side to side. When I went to bed and was laid horizontal, the sensation of that motion was still playing out through my Sense of Balance. This was Affect – it didn’t feel uncomfortable, it didn’t feel anything other than the Affect. There was no Emotional attachment to the experience. There’s no thoughts going around my head saying, “Well I don’t want to, or hope I don’t, feel that way again in a hurry! It wasn’t nice!” For those thoughts would have been me constructing Emotions.

Today, as I write, the Affect is not present. My Sense of Balance has returned to a more stable state of equilibrium.

Whilst the above Affective experience concerned Balance, the other concerns our Kinaesthetic sense.

You’ll have heard it said, “You never forget your first Kiss.” Well there’s a number of reasons of course – starting with Affect. This is your first, so the Feeling is entirely new. So, this starts out as a rich, raw Affective experience. There may be some other Feelings and Emotions playing out at the same time this first Kiss is going on – such as how you feel about the person you are Kissing, what has brought the two of you together in this moment, etc etc. Yet, a Kiss is a unique “in the NOW” experience – when it starts the moment begins and when it ends the moment is gone. Then all the assessments, the judgements, the describings and the Emotional painting, start to take place.
From then on, each Kiss will only ever be another – for the first one has BEEN. In our personal taxonomy of Kissing there will still be First ones with certain persons, which we might have a special place for in the grand scheme of things.

A Kiss, whatever the form, is for the perpetrators, an exchange of meaning without words using the language of the Kinaesthetic Sense. No more – no less.
All Kinaesthetic language is far more rich and varied than we might ever have words for.
When we give someone a hug, or take their hand, there is a considerable amount of non-verbal language going on – and within that language, using that particular vehicle, meaning is communicated and conveyed between people.

Now here’s the thing:-
In terms of kinaesthetic exchanges, like the above mentioned ones – given all the non-verbal communication, and the pre-presence of Feelings and Emotions – do we ever get the chance to have an Affective Experience?

Well I would have probably said “highly unlikely” as an answer, mainly because regularity and familiarity of can mask the possibility of our noticing any sensation at the level of Affect. 
Until, that is, I had some recent experience of holding hands with a good friend. Oddly enough, the only way I can describe it is as being “A non-conscious experience of intensity. A moment of unformed and unstructured potential.”
So, was this really Affect, or was it a one-way, directed Affection?
Well, for me it was the former mainly because I experienced it at THAT level. I would not presume to ask my friend either, since there was meaning exchanged between us that was beyond words – and why would I trivialise a profound experience by endeavouring to discover the meaning USING WORDS. I already got the meaning anyway!

The other interesting thing to note is that I cannot say how I Feel about the experience, mainly because I never added in any Emotion at the time, in order to vivify and flag up the Memory for re-presenting later. Because my Sense of Self holds the experience at an unconscious level, try as I may, I cannot recall what the various instances of mutual hand holding felt like. It is the same as with my distorted balance from sailing the rough seas, before regaining equilibrium.


Without my understanding of Affect, I would have described both of these experiences in a different way. And these descriptions would have been both incorrect and inadequate, laced with interpretive thought and coded into Memory with degrees of Emotional enhancement.

Affect is certainly a feature of consciousness – yet how can it be that a feature of consciousness is also described as being “a non-conscious experience of intensity”?
For me, this places such an experience as being “felt with the heart” - outside of intellectual awareness – rather than being noticed in our subjective consciousness.  

Food for thought, certainly – yet mainly for thought processes with our non-verbal language of the Senses
Transformative? Considerably!

My article “The Iceberg of Language", taken from the book, is here:

The Thought Horizon


At 9.15am last Saturday morning I made my way to Ilfracombe Harbour. I had booked a day trip to Lundy Island, travelling by the MS Oldenburg across 23.5 miles of first, the Bristol Channel and then, once beyond Morte Point, the Atlantic Ocean.
Having seen Lundy from our North Devon coast over the years since I first came here as a boy in 1955, I had never once set foot on the Island. This day would change all that, and I had had my ticket booked for about ten days and, as this Saturday approached, I had watched the local weather reports with anticipation, and monitored the daily sea state with as much vigilance.
The final forecast I appraised said that the day would start with rain, and a strong wind, but that these conditions would improve through the day and, by afternoon, there should be less breeze and sunny intervals. “Sounds pretty good,” I said to myself as I’d packed my backpack, charged the cameras, and got the waterproofs ready.
At the harbourside there was that somewhat familiar coastal wetness – a fine, misty rain, blowing through in horizontal waves.

 “I’ve dressed well for this,” I thought as, along with around 70 fellow passengers, I boarded the vessel. The journey is scheduled as approximately two hours long and, with us sailing into the westerly wind, I decided to stand by the port side but under cover – looking out at the rather more exposed seats that can be seen in the picture. It was raining, of course, so I was being prudent!

Outside – In

We sailed out of the calm waters of the harbour and very soon I began to experience a considerable challenge to my relationship with my thinking.

I have always been a good traveller by land, sea and air, from a very early age. I am reasonably blessed with resilience in that department – which is exactly why I had strolled to the harbour earlier without a thought for the state of the high seas on this day.
“If it is too bad,” I thought, “then the Captain just won’t sail.” This rational conclusion is an absolute given, when made with the certainty of good old terra firma beneath one’s feet.

A good friend had mentioned that with the Oldenburg, having just a 1.65m draught, I would notice every pitch, yaw and roll. A very detailed technical warning – which started to echo around my mind the further we got away from the shore.

Soon, due to the driving misty rain, we lost sight of the shore and – my friend was right – the little ship’s motion was a description of every wave that passed by.
“Blimey!” I thought. “What have I let myself in for?”
As the vessel pitched into the canyons between the waves and then climbed the peaks, I watched each wave disappear out of sight in our wake. Many of these were above my eyeline, so some of the troughs were deep. Occasionally we would also roll from side to side, which would throw the bow spray right along the length of the ship. The hood on my anorak went up straight after the first back-of-the-head wash!
“The sea condition today is moderate and occasionally rough,” came the announcement over the Tannoy. My internal dialogue’s reply was “Occasionally? You’ve gotta be joking, Mate!”
In fact, to be fair, the assault on the state of my inner dialogue – the condition of my relationship with my thinking – was metaphorically parallel with that of the sea. And the sea was unrelenting, especially once we were out in the Atlantic – the white horses were everywhere and just kept on coming.

And all the while the horizon was just a white, indeterminate wall, of driving, misty rain. There was no visible reference, except the waves we HAD encountered, retreating into the distance.

Inside Out and the Thought Horizon

One of the features of the Inside-Out nature of reality is what I would describe as the Thought Horizon. When we are overwhelmed by the incessant torrent of our thinking, then it is easy to experience everything coming at us as nothing but Outside-In. When this happens, we lose our Thought Horizon – we have no points of reference we can use to orient us. It is rather like snow-blindness – or, as I was experiencing this Saturday morning – being tossed and turned in rough seas in a cloak of misty rain, driven by a strong wind.
“The world outside is throwing stuff at me – and what I am feeling on the Inside is caused by what is happening on the Outside – and I cannot see the wood for the trees.”
The metaphors are endless – when we have no Thought Horizon.

Transforming my Thinking

I reminded myself that there was much to observe and take in here, and whilst my mind may seem to be racing, that I was not here on this deck, on this morning, without good reason. I looked at the faces and demeanour of the crew and the unaffected, intrepid travellers I was sharing this experience with. I certainly had more in common with them than with the poor souls whose heads, and stomachs, were really spinning! In those moments I noticed I had regained some reference points on my Thought Horizon. With almost reassuring speed, I felt grounded - and whilst the thoughts kept coming (because they do), my “ship” was now negotiating the metaphorical journey in a more familiar and much better way.

Interestingly, the return of my Thought Horizon coincided with an improvement in the weather – on the real Outside! The rain had stopped, the clouds were lifting, and I could now actually look towards the bow at the approaching waves and watch the infinite variety of the rise and fall of the sea as we passed by the peaks and troughs. The actual horizon was now more distant and had noticeable features too, plus the sea was far less intimidating.

We were soon rewarded as Lundy Island emerged from the receding and broadening horizon, and it was time to continue with the rest of our day.

For me, already, there had been exhilarating adventure, a challenge, some noticed insights, and a return to a state of grounded composure – plus the metaphor of The Thought Horizon had been revealed to my catalogue of experience!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Strangers On A Train

Being Reserved

“You have reserved window seat 21 in carriage D,” said my ticket – and as I boarded the train home to Devon on Monday evening there was a hint of anticipation in my step. For when we reserve a seat, ANY seat - whether at a concert or a flight or a train or a match – then we’ve done it for a reason. If I’d not been bothered about where I wanted to sit then I wouldn’t have gone through the online rigmarole of booking it – stands to reason.

There are two reasons why I book a window seat on a train – one, to look out of the window and two, to avoid the cuffing and buffeting by aisle walkers and their luggages.

“Oh dear,” I thought as I approached Seat 21, for it was occupied. The seat next to the occupier was empty, save for a handbag and scarf – presumably hers. She looked up at me as I leaned over to take the reserved ticket from the back of her seat.
“Is this YOUR seat?” I asked.
“No it isn’t,” was her reply. “That’s my seat,” she added, pointing to the adjacent aisle seat.
“I see,” I responded, “But you’re sat in the seat I’ve reserved – here is my ticket.”
“You don’t want me to move, do you?”

Rhetorical Questions

Now, there’s generally a normal response given when people are confronted by passengers who have reserved the seat that they are sat in – whether by mistake or by design.
And it is this:
It is a politeness that I was clearly not being afforded by this particular person.

Now it might be because I am a non-argumentative and socially submissive Englishman, who wouldn’t dream of crossing verbal swords with anyone on a train – let alone a lady – that led to what happened next.

I looked at her long and hard as the echoes of her rhetorical question bounced around the immediate vicinity of the carriage. And as I breathed deeply, fixing her with a very laser-like stare, I then sat down next to her – pulled the tray forward, put down my newspaper and pen and sighed - very long and very loud.

And then I was reminded of one of the lines in the 1971 Grammy Award winning song sung by Ray Stevens:-
“Everyone is beautiful – in their own way … “
and thus it was that I realised that all really was well with me and my world. I tackled the puzzle pages in my copy of The Times with gusto and aplomb, whilst my “fellow passenger” seemed mildly unnerved as she was unable to sit still with any comfort. She was very fidgety!

Tickets please

After quarter of an hour or so, the ticket inspector began working his way down the carriage. My “seat swapping” lady started to look for her ticket with some agitation with rather led me to think that perhaps not all was well in her world.
I showed him my ticket and then observed, with a degree of interested curiosity, as she presented him with her ticket.
“That’s not a ticket,” he said. “That’s a seat reservation.” I held my tongue as she handed him another ticket.
“That’s a seat reservation too,” said the inspector. By now I was choking back a chuckle – and I half entertained the thought that maybe she had lost her ticket, or perhaps had never had one in the first place.
“I’ll come back in a moment when you’ve found it,” said the ticket inspector, moving on down the carriage.

She then got in a right paddy with herself – checking her bag, her pockets, standing up and looking in the seat. I half thought she was going to ask me if I would help by standing, just in case it had fallen into where I was sitting, or on the floor. But the thought soon evaporated!

Oh Dear – Isn’t there so much that can go wrong when you’ve upset the Cosmic Applecart by insisting on sitting in someone else’s reserved seat and not your own?

Then the train stopped in a station, and some time passed and the ticket man hadn’t returned. The lady next to me seemed somewhat calmer now, so maybe she HAD found her ticket after all.

Parallel Lines

One of trademark features of Hitchcock thrillers is the apparent ordinariness of the environments he chooses – for his apparently ordinary characters to meet. Public transport throws together random people in very mundane and insignificant ways – on the face of it!
And here too, for me on this particular evening’s journey, it was all very run of the mill – apart from my unknown companion’s behaviour.
So why have I introduced a reference to some of Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre at this point, you may well ask.

It’s about Coincidence, really.

How do we feel about coincidence? Do things really by chance? Is happenstance just THAT?
Or is there much more going on than our imagination can ever imagine? Is truth really stranger than fiction?

I happen to consider that Coincidence is a bed-fellow of that other inexplicably tangible thing called Luck. Like thoughts and trains, they both tend to run along parallel lines.
When they happen to us, we might often wonder whether they were meant to be? And then we go away and delete, distort and generalise anything and everything that will support our beliefs surrounding Coincidence and Luck.

So - were I and my travelling companion this particular evening thrown together at random or were BIGGER forces at play in the direction of this drama?

If she had been sat in her OWN seat then all she would have been required to do was to stand aside and let me occupy my OWN reserved seat by the window.
Equally, if she had done the normally polite thing and vacated my window seat for her own, then what we both experienced would not have unfolded – and I would have not written about any of it.

It might be said that Cosmic Order placed us both in that carriage, at that time.
After that, the drama was played out by each of our behavioural choices.
And, probably because I acquiesced to her insistence to stay where she was, all proceeded without much more ado.

Our behavioural choices are essentially OURS, in spite of some of the compulsions we might feel at the mercy of. As I heard someone say recently,
“I wish I could drive a wedge between my brain and my mouth!” This bears out that illusory nature of our thinking and our self-control. “That way I’d be able to control what I say instead of just blurting out.” Well, all I will say is Good Luck with that!

My final consideration - if Hitchcock's creative skills are to be believed - is the parallel-ness of the characters in his 1951 film and the two of us "randomly" thrown together last Monday evening.
One of Hitchcock's characters was a psychopath