Prose

Noughties Pop and Neuroscience

Today has been deeply healing in a most unexpected way.

Struggling for a soundtrack to my day, I hit a little cynically on a “00’s pop” (say noughties, it feels good) playlist and let it roll.

My God.

I wept, I danced, I travelled through time to the most tender and terrible places of my teens and twenties. Songs I didn’t even like at the time hit me straight in the heartsy-chords and vibrated through my being. Justing Timberlake? Really? Celine Dion??? Mortifying.

I was pretty taken aback but the waves were strong and I was soon taken under again – free diving through forgotten emotional backwaters. After each big release my heart felt warm and alive – pumping love and feeling so much more connected to – me.

It felt as if there were corners of my heart with dusted over debris waiting to be cleared, and this slightly cringey pop playlist was blasting through them like a jet wash.

I reckon most of you reading have been there, or somewhere quite like it. Maybe for you it was 80s glam rock or early 90s skate punk (reckon I’ve got some work to do there to) that hit the spot.

The reason I am sharing this is not that it is a unique or totally remarkable experience but as an excuse to tell you something I’ve learned about neuroscience.

You weren’t expecting that at all from the title right… Just bear with.

So those bubbles of random emotion, thoughts, images that surface when you hear a song – these are what is known as implicit memories. They are sensory and perceptual experiences in the moment that appear as if out of nowhere. These feel like live, here and now sensations – with no sense of coming from a specific past event.

As we stay with the feeling, following the crumb trail of thoughts, images and associations that unfolds as we do, we will come eventually to an explicit memory.

This is a tangible past event recollection which we can pinpoint to a time and place. An encounter, a holiday, an argument, a bereavement, a surprise.

As this explicit memory comes into focus, we are able to make conscious links with the implicit memories – the emotions, felt sensations, thought and images that were arising at random -and neurologically staple them together.

This is referred to in psychology and neuroscience as ‘integration’.

Integration means, in short, that next time you hear Eminem playing and your palms get sweaty etc you will be able to access that explicit memory of falling over at the high school disco while pulling your best moves. You will know that the rising shame and anxiety you are feeling in the moment, belongs to some moment in the past. Realising this you are able to pause, reflect, calm yourself in whatever way you need to and not be swept along in this unattributable emotion and ruin your day.

This is an actual physical process in your brain where new neuronal connections are being formed and coated in Myelin which is like super lube for brain activity and makes everything slicker and quicker. Your brain is building new bits that help you to be more balanced and chill.

So if you feel like doing some neurological fitness activities to get yo’ mind right – bouncing round your room to cheesy tunes and bawler ballads from your youth (or death metal or happy hardcore or whatever it was) comes recommended from me.

You’re welcome.

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Stories

Check In & Baggage Drop

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As I sat rocking on the bathroom floor, unable to stand from the agonising twists in my belly, sweating and pale and vomiting from pain, I knew that all I could do was sit with myself through the intense waves and know that they would pass and I would be OK. I couldn’t move from where I was, or do anything to stop the pain. At the points where I felt that I would pass out and perhaps I could not after all cope with the level of pain I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to cope. I was not in any danger just having intense sensation, and there was nothing I could do to change it in the moment so I just had to accept it and ride it out. Time was gone, the intense physical experience demanded my complete presence and filled the entirety of the moment. I just breathed and cried and surrendered.

September a month of much letting go – of old stories, traumas, delusions, dreams, attachments, plans, a home, a base, a lover. So much that comprised the little house of forms and ideas and assumptions and safety and comfort I had built around myself has gone this month. Much grief has been surfacing, rising in waves at inopportune moments, demanding my embodied presence. Perhaps predictably, I experienced the most intense bout of menstrual pain I think I have ever experienced as my womb released all it had been carrying. I could do nothing but bleed, cry, groan and allow the waves to pass through me, I could keep nothing down to numb the pain, my body gave me no choice but to feel it and let it be.

That night, after the physical pain had subsided, a wave of emotional pain passed through of similar magnitude. Grief, rage, fear, catastrophic aloneness, confusion and a sense of being totally at sea and disoriented took over my entire space. I wanted to do things to numb it. Play out patterns, reach out for reassurance to where I know I probably wouldn’t be met, chase delusions of intimacy, cling, adapt, try to make myself the right shape to fit into someone’s pocket, guess the right choices to be adored, surf social media, write angry poems, convince myself I don’t need anyone, find a valley to hide out in, do something else, anything else but feel it…

As I began to fear the feelings of desperation and loss would overtake me completely, feeling increasingly lost and disoriented and alone, I remembered my earlier experience and that all I had to do, was just to be there and feel my feelings, in all their overwhelming intensity, and know that they will pass and I will be ok. To know that they are releasing now because I am strong enough to allow myself to feel them. To know that my system is cleaning itself and nothing is amiss.

I can feel a deep swirling tide of emotion wanting to come through. It leaks over the breakwater every night. I have been busily lining up retreats for myself where I can get deep enough out into the countryside to let it rip, let it tear through. I feel a need to take myself deep into nature and solitude so I can roll around and roar it out like an injured animal hiding out to heal.

I remember this morning, vomiting from pain until there was nothing left in my stomach at all. In the end I was drawing up dark blue/green bile from the depths of my being, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I thought of the word bile, and of anger. I thought of how the liver holds repressed rage and grief. I knew this was coming from the deepest place in me, literally. I realised what was coming out of me, and why I had to let it go, and that I really needed to stop holding on. I remember saying to myself “ok I get it, I get what this is about….surely that is is it now, is that it ??” retching myself inside out as the biggest wave yet of pain racked my body…. And that was it. As abruptly as it had all started, the pain stopped. Just really stopped happening, the cramping stopped, the nausea stopped.

To end the month, we had a second new moon, known as the Black Moon, in Libra – the sign of balance and relationship. I decided to let go of the pain I was literally carrying around with me and continuing to relive again and again.

When I moved out of my home and bundled my belongings into storage, I decided on a whim to keep and carry with me some journals from a time in my life where I experienced major rejection, betrayal and a series of events which devastated my confidence and sense of self worth. To protect myself from this pain I had framed it for a long time as a series of valuable lessons in non-attachment and unconditional love. This is true, I learned alot about those things for which I am massively grateful, I also experienced a lot of trauma and pain. Which I could barely admit to myself let alone anyone else.

I felt attached to these journals and like they held so much that was of value and that it was important to hold onto these experiences. It felt so necessary to treasure all the pain as learning experiences. I felt like there was a story that held value and had to be told and never forgotten. Again, this is partially true. There has been much learning and there are stories to be told. I realised on this new moon, that I had brought these stories with me to release those that no longer serve. To let go of the pain, the anger, the self doubt. To keep only the gifts from those experiences and let the rest go.

So I sifted through them, page by page, feeling into each passage of writing for what it was carrying. Some carried hope, joy, a sense of expansion, enlightenment, love, clarity. They stayed. Some carried stories of my own smallness and the most magnificent giving away of all of my power. These went. Some carried raw pain, repeated on a loop, helpless, blinded, thrashing and frantic. These went too. Shredded by hand and gone from my space.

In a way these stories, and the anger and grief attached to them, were also forms of security. They were the structure around which I oriented my sense of self and the blueprint for relationship. They were not serving me well in either of these roles and it was a painful realisation.

With so much now gone, I face the void again. Knowing that the cave I fear to enter holds the treasure I seek, doesn’t make it any more enticing. Having been here before on such a precipice, wrestling with so much Unknown, surrendering so much to the flames, doesn’t make it feel any safer this time around.

“Our Descent starts with disillusion and ends with dissolution. There is no escaping the process, and it can be hard. The Descent is a time of helpless wandering, of grief, rage and alienation. There is no quick way through. But the destruction which takes hold of us is required to initiate us into the mysteries, to set in motion the long, difficult game of transformation. In staying with the dark, we gather the strength which we will need to find the way back to our path and to face the rest of the journey ahead of us. In that place of destruction, gestation and rebirth, we begin to learn the answer to the biggest question of all: if we strip away everything we are told we must be in the Wasteland, what is left? When everything we once valued is taken from us, what then do we become?” Sharon Blackie – If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of The Celtic Woman

Image: from a collection of photos by Jon Crispin of suitcases left behind by inmates of the Willard Asylum in New York

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Cute comedy clickbait: why you should Just Say No to puppies

Puppes are super cute, fact. Be aware, however, that this is just a biological ruse… The big eyes and inexplicably cute facial dimensions and soft sniffly sounds, damn even that delectable puppy fur aroma…. All designed to make any adult creature with a pulse fall hopelessly in love and adopt two or three of them on the spot.

Should you encounter a puppy pusher, on the street, in a bar, on gumtree, in one of those great big cute animal supermarkets with aisles of neon chew toys , gourmet ham hock terrines and tiny onesies…. Here is why, you should just say no.

Your ankles will not be your own for a long, long time…

Puppies love ankles, their little jaws are perfectly evolved to fit snugly around an Achilles’ tendon with the teeth positioned just so that they can cause maximum impact without disabling their major provider’s mobility entirely. Puppies are hard wired to seek the ankle as a first point of contact for communicating a range of needs from food to attention to just being more deeply involved in whatever you are doing.

For that matter, neither will your socks…

Oh the delicious delight of a sweaty, stinky, sock! A puppy can snuffle out a dirty sock like a pig with a truffle. You know all those years  and years pre-puppy when you wondered who was hiding one of each pair of socks  you brought into the house? Blamed it on the sock fairy? It was the puppy you didn’t have yet, travelling back in time, relentless in pursuit of your socks.

You will develop a “twitch” around soft furnishings….

This will reveal itself one night when you are lounging on the sofa at a friend’s house, immersed in relaxed post-prandial chatter, and she reaches over to grab a cushion from beside you… “NODONTCHEWTHEF#%KINGCUSHIONS!!!”

You come round from the red mist to find yourself eyeball to eyeball with your friend who is down on the rug on her back with legs in the air, your lip curled to a canine snarl… You cannot apologise enough, it’s just been months of patient corrections and deep breaths, having to spend the chilly evenings with your neck crunked against the too high armrest of the sofa while your lovely squishy cushions go musty in the attic, waiting out the teething.

You will become a potty mouth…

Literally. Instead of responding to “How ya doing?” with the classic “Yeah pretty good, you?” Out will tumble a full breakdown of recent toilet tales and triumphs like “Yeah I’m ok, I mean I started my morning picking up poops and bleaching the rug  but he’s getting almost through the night now and his poops are much more sausage-like since the new kibble so it’s getting easier HA HA HA. Hurr…”

I now totally understand how it happens with new parents. You become so desensitised to the piss and shit of another creature, that you adore unconditionally,  that it actually becomes a fascination and a full-time project for a short while, during which time your still socially sensitised companions will brace themselves slightly before asking that question.

You will get addicted!

The sleepy squeaks and snuffles, the goofy gallop, the nestling and burrowing, the velvety softness, the smell of their  fuzzy little head when you kiss it (biological ruse, keep focus), the total adoration and awe, the wild comedy antics, the hapless curiosity, the total relaxed abandon on your belly, the ‘just the once’ spoony snuggles of that first week… You will get addicted. They will get big and doggy, and delight you in other ways, but you will start to linger a little longer as you pass the animal shelter, listening to the heart rending little yelps and whimpers. “Well. Having two is not much different to having one. Barney would love the company. Dogs are pack animals after all.” And so it begins again….

Just Say No.

Look how cute this puppy is!!!! ( I’m helping you to be strong, watch these as many times as it takes until the urge passes away, then you will be ok)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Portrait: a digital nomad living outside the tribe

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Much discussion around the rise of digital nomad culture is focussed on the hubs and tribes, the clusters of nomads finding community wherever they find themselves, in co-working spaces and deeper connections through co-living projects scattered across the globe.

What of the nomad without a tribe?

The solitary wanderers and techno-hermits tucked away in all corners of the globe, creating vast online platforms that bring us all together. The paradox of digital work finds many nomads, by choice or by circumstance, alone in their hotel room, or tucked away in a cabin, bridging continents and creating virtual communities through their computer.

So what is it like to choose this path? I made a date with Ed Dowding, creator of Represent, a digital democracy platform which facilitates transparent, non-partisan, real time peer to peer polling and generates a clear and representative collective voice from scattered and distorted political debate in the UK.

Our interview begins with a classic digital nomad scene. After shifting times around a little we connect through skype, quick hello then robot sounds… Connection drops. Battling an intermittent wifi connection in a cafe and fielding calls to the mobile office take a little time and some creative problem solving. We shift channels, I am renting a UK local rate landline number which diverts to the landline of the retreat centre I am working from in Greece, which he can call from his mobile in Bristol. Ten minutes later with a clear line and a warm “hello” we dive into Ed’s story.

Ed made the shift to a nomadic life in 2002, four years into his career as a digital entrepreneur, arriving finally at a point where he felt confident that he could do his work entirely remotely.

“I realised that I was already effectively working remotely, so I might as well work remotely from the Alps! Technology makes it possible, so why not do it? I feel the same about paragliding. Our ancestors must have sat on mountains looking out and wanted to fly, now we can, so why would you not?”

His first step as a nomad was to move into a soft-top convertible he bought in Edinburgh!

“It was horrible, a colossal pain in the ass. I knew it wouldn’t work in winter and so I would have to leave before then. It served its main purpose, which was to get me out of there ”

Over a decade later and he now enjoys the relative luxury of a ski-in ski-out apartment in the Alps where he spends about three quarters of his time with the remaining quarter in the UK bouncing between meetings for his digital democracy platform Represent.

“A ratio of 30 days here in the Alps to about 10 days in the UK works well for me. Sometimes I cluster meetings more and it’s 60:20 but then the balance gets out of synch and a bit unmanageable with more activity and meetings and less time for follow up. It does depend I guess on how big a team you are working with.”

Ed also does occasional month-long house-sits in France and the UK for a bit of diversity, but makes clear that he is not one of the wealthy digital nomads with an easy residual income, rather one that lives outside the UK largely to save money, as well as  investing more time with fewer distractions in an online start-up.

As a solitary nomad nested in the midst of a transient crowd of holidaymakers and lots of snow, I was curious to know if he was at all drawn to the booming community of Digital Nomads in balmy locations across South East Asia:

“It’s sort of interesting, I know a few people who are there trying to work it out, but Asian Hoxton is not my style. Chances are that if a whole bunch of people are doing something and think it’s “cool”,I won’t.”

So what kinds of communities does this independent and deeply focussed entrepreneur identify with?

“As a wilful outsider I am quite ephemeral between communities – core friends, working relationships, interest groups, local connections – and at the same time I know very few people in France, it’s a resort not a village, most people who are there aren’t there the next week.”

Unlike many digital nomads who cluster in co-working spaces and co-living communities, hungry for collaboration and cross-pollination In Real Life, Ed seems to relish most of all the sense of connection he finds with nature:

“The giant mountain beckons you to the top of it without much resistance, walking through pine forest and nice mountain parks and gorgeous views. It is incredibly uplifting being at the top of a mountain for sunrise, watching the stars fade out and the colours come across the sky, it’s glorious.”

He speaks also of the challenges and quirks of these spells of solitary existence:

“If we exist largely in the eye of others, it’s other people’s reflection of us that help us work out who we are, so unless we consciously take time to think about who we are, then that doesn’t happen so much, to the extent I can sometimes look in the mirror and realise how very different I look, compared to how I feel.”

Most important to Ed, and the focus of the majority of his time and energy is his mission, the evolution and roll out of his digital democracy platform Represent:

“I’m pretty sure this one is my life’s purpose. If I can make this work, then it will be the most important thing I ever do.”

Spending most of his time at a distance from the UK, insulated from and not immersed in the daily reality and scale of the system he has tasked himself with transforming furnishes Ed with sufficient “delusion and belief” to support his mission focus. He seems to need only his own core belief in the value and importance of what he is doing to fuel his committed effort.

His philosophical reflection on purpose is sweetly representative of hours of undisturbed immersion in a a curated and theoretically dense cornucopia of podcasts and Sci-Fi audio books – the Utopias and dystopias of “social anthropology played out”:

“It’s incredible how many people believe that what they do is the most important thing they are doing, and from other people’s perspective it’s quite rubbish. Some people go to work because of the why, and some go despite it. It’s like the people who go to war not to fight for a noble cause, but because their friends are going and they want to help them. Perfectly mad.”

The flip-side and the challenge of such absolute mission focus, in Ed’s experience, is the ever-present risk of becoming “quite annoying, mono-thematic and single-minded”. Being relatively solitary he finds it easy to forget how people think and how to communicate ideas. This is especially hard when there is no shared understanding of the topic to begin from – so perhaps a like-minded community of digital nomads and entrepreneurs has its uses after all!

It is evident that there are many benefits and challenges to the solitary path of a digital nomad, just as there are in the close knit communities and cliques where we gather and grow together.

I personally find balance in moving between the two. For the last three years I have alternated  extended periods of solitary, simple, grounded living in remote valleys of Devon, Greece and Gran Canaria,  with creative whirlwind summers amongst my scattered global community, bouncing from couch to camper van and moving every few days to a new adventure. This summer however I’ll be renting a room for six months in the city as a base to put down my bag and move around from, as the “right  balance” for me changes and I move with it.

Each person’s balance will be different, and it just goes to show there are as many ways to make the nomadic life work for your as there are nomads doing it. Make the road your own! What’s your perfect balance?

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Live streams only – no more reruns

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My new blogging practise, fortuitously forced by techno gremlins, is to write free flow entries straight in to the box. No copying and pasting, no dredging up old stories. No drafts.

This comes hot on the heels of losing my entire website and all its content not too long ago.

Just before my website took a catastrophic dive into a fatal error, I had decided that what I probably needed to do was to take down most of the content and then start afresh, reposting only what still felt resonant. Perhaps I needed a nudge to see that none of it was truly resonant any longer!

Feeling at peace with this event, I decided to start anew with something really simple. My intention was to just blog my experiences in as direct and real a way as I could. Starting from now, eyes forward, no rehashing old poems or digging up past dramas. No safe, stale familiar favourites.

I head over to WordPress to set up a simple structure and discover I already have an account set up, and a blog template ready to go, and even a strap Line! A forgotten gift to my future self from my self three years ago!

I write my first post, all shiny nowness. Then I’m reminded of that one story… It’s so good, it’s time to share it with the world. So what if I wrote it three years ago, it’s better than anything I have to say now…

Computer says no! Thou shalt not copy and paste. Not anymore… Time to flow for real,speak straight from the heart in the moment, no more digging out my best bits and slotting my true presence in the moment behind a highlight of some other lifetime.

This right now is the moment,these are the words, this is the message. First draft,first cut, real raw deal. Action!