Before my kids came along my wife and I used to travel, a lot. She worked as a Senior Business Travel Consultant which meant we had access to limitless opportunities. Free business class travel, car hire and 5 Star accommodation at ridiculously cheap rates meant we took to the skies often. It was a great life, enjoying the delights of the World’s most amazing cites, it’s ancient wonders and the most beautiful places on earth … we were, I guess, living most people’s “bucket list”.
And since I worked in adventure travel my network of contacts meant I got to “rough it” in places like the Sahara Desert, the jungles of the Congo and the Himalayan mountains. I learned first hand what it was like to live in a barn with livestock and (what felt like) a thousand bedbugs and experienced what it feels like to walk for days between water holes. The contrast between these different worlds was as stark as it was enlightening.
So I saw how the rich lived and I walked in their world with ease, once I got used to the rules they played by. But the world I witnessed the poor living in, made me aware of just how unusual that privileged life really was.
Yet even back then, a couple of decades ago, I saw things were changing. The world we see around us today, the one where we fly around the planet as if routine, use the internet to access any information we want and pop round to the Supermarket to buy “ready to cook meals” with food gathered from all over the planet ..
that is a recent one unknown to all those, however fabulously rich, born before the first half of the 20th Century. Which begs the question: Are we all really getting richer? And if that’s true … how is that possible? And maybe much more importantly: Why do so many people with so much, feel so poor?
In all my years of travel and the work I do, I’ve come to realise that most people only access the world about as far back in time as their parent’s birth. They don’t relate to anything before then nor anywhere further than where they’ve travelled themselves. If your journey hasn’t been very far, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see much further.
For many the world “out there” is scary and frightening, it’s filled with unknown threats, strangers and danger. For others though, the world “out there” represents something exciting and thrilling. It’s filled with possibility, adventure and perhaps even profit.
As my children grew up and set off on their own journeys into and around the world I found myself once again reflecting on the very different worlds and with some considerable surprise, I found I had become deeply unhappy. “Out there” was so much bigger and older than me, my life felt small, unimportant and unworthy. I seemed to be living a hollow, unrewarding and frankly, pointless existence.
It was obviously time to ask some really tough questions: “What have I really learned about life”? “How might I use that to create a more joyful, rewarding and fulfilling life for myself”, (I was already quite good at doing that for others). I knew how vitally important these questions had become: “As I entered my third age. Was this going to be the last chance to rediscover happy”?
There is a moment when everything stops, it doesn’t matter how fast you are going or how still you think you’ve been, there comes a moment when everything becomes still and all the veils separating you from reality simply dissolve to nothing. I can remember once looking at the sky and seeing instead – the universe. It helped,
I suppose, that I was climbing the World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain, in the middle of an underpopulated African plain with no light pollution and clear dry skies.
What I saw right there in front of me was achingly beautiful. There were Galaxies and Nebula and a Billion Billion Suns. To someone who had grown up in the era of the Race to the Moon, the first great leap off our planet, and who had read inspiring books about reaching out to explore distant galaxies, of “going where no man had gone before”, it felt like I was so close. Perhaps all I had to do was push off from the mountain and float through the sky, to be among the stars.
There were moments too when life felt so hopeless or so painful that it seemed that the only possibility was to just push off and fly away from this earth. A bridge or tower block might do, soar for a moment and then …. the void, oblivion, nothing. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “If you look long enough into the void the void begins to look back through you.”
When we consider the vastness of space, the age of our world, the number of people who live and have lived on it, we wouldn’t be mad to think “what’s the point” would we?
Oh, I’ve been there, collected the “special edition” teeshirt.
I believe our only hope when these thoughts strike us is to overcome our feeling of insignificance, to realise that whilst we are not special, we do have something unique to offer whatever or whoever is “out there”. We must pursue finding this completely. It gives us the hope we need and with it comes great joy and a deep and profound feeling of fulfilment. I discovered mine whilst on a new adventure: The search to find beauty. And I’m finding it, more and more, where ever I look, all the time and in the most unlikely of places.
I have come to understand my world so much better, lately – by being actively mindful of it. And as I work on this deeper understanding I’ve come to appreciate the absurd, paradoxical, ridiculously comical lives we lead. Anyone of us could die tomorrow and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Just as we cut down trees or whole forests, build our tallest building and our biggest cities, change the world around us to suit our tastes and our fashions, everything changes, everything that is will pass. Including our ridiculously short inconsequential lives.
So as much as we may be Kings and Queens of our own castles, in the grand scheme of things, if it is all one day destined to past, does any of it really matter? It may surprise you to know I believe it does. Here’s why – if you’ve ever seen something so beautiful you’ve wanted to cry, heard something so inspiring you thought your heart would burst. If you’re been in love, even if it was for a second you’ll know the answer. Nothing needs to last to feel significant. Something doesn’t need to last forever to feel worthwhile.
All that really matters is that for a moment, something was – is. And we feel it. We have been given awareness. That is the universes’ greatest gift to us and it is ours to share as we see fit. The universe is all of us, and all of it, creating something new every moment. It’s like a song or a symphony, we experience the beauty and pleasure of it, feeling it flow. A note or the space between notes informed by that which came before and informing what is yet to come.
A note or space, a melody or movement, they find their meaning in the flow between other things. These are the relationships, they represent something much bigger and more complex. In its unique simplicity, each individual thing realises the possibility of everything else.
For the last few years, I’ve been searching to understand that bigger story. I started where we are today and moved backwards through time and space. What is it, our story? Where do we come from and how did we get here?
In this search for answers, I found something wonderful. We are here to play a part in a Celestial Symphony as great and as grand as anything anyone could ever imagine. We will never own it nor control it. We may never fully grasp it nor comprehend it but in the complex, ancient, the enormity of it all, we have a unique role to play and we realise the potential of it all by playing that role. Our lives are the manifestation of the potential as it emerges into something new.
In the Harvard Business School textbook, “The Origin Of Wealth”, Eric D Beinhocker writes “business is one or more people that transform matter or energy into something else for a profit”. Well isn’t that what every organism on the planet does? Turns out we’re all in business. The business of transformation.
We all take the stuff that is around us and transform it into something so that we might profit and prosper, and in the process of changing it, it changes us. As we make our world, our world makes us.
Bees do it, sharks do it, we all do it. We, all of us, all things, we are the universe and we create the universe, we are all that is. So we get to decide. We can make it a brutal, dangerous and cruel place, and many do or we can make it more beautiful, rewarding, joyful and fulfilling for ourselves and for others. Because both these realities exist. I’ve witnessed them. And I know we get to choose which side we want to be a part of. Our choice: Do we become beauty or the beast?
For me, for too long I sought to understand the biggest picture and grew angry and frustrated at my ignorance. I grew frustrated by my limited access to the world’s manifest riches, “if only I had what they have, I’d be happy”. And I grew bitter that I was so limited in what I could do to help others when so many needed so much.
I felt hopeless.
Now? I rejoice that there is self evidently a bigger picture, even if I only have a tiny walk-on part. I appreciate what is right there in front of me .. and there is so much there to enjoy. And I know that I really can help those that require my help. I no longer worry about what I can’t do, what I don’t have, what I don’t understand. I celebrate and share what I have.
Therefore I choose to look for the beauty even in the deepest drama, to witness and share the good even in the terrible, to transform bad into something better. After all, all things yearn to be beautiful.
We live in a global village, on a beautiful and bountiful planet, we are creating the future together, built on the foundations of the past. We will face many challenges and many “tests” and it’s up to us, the future is what we chose to create .. together.
Brutal, dangerous and cruel? If that’s the world you choose. Me, I choose a different world, one where I (we) develop empathy, kindness and love. And just in case you think I might have gone soft, I’ll share my favourite quote from Martin Luther King.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at it’s best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at it’s best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
So there it is, now if you’ll excuse me, I have a world to explore, people to meet and stories to discover. I am off on an exciting new adventure, you’re welcome to join me.