You get what you get and don’t get upset.
My young granddaughter was singing these words today on the way to school. “You get what you get and don’t get upset” “Where did you hear those words”? l asked her. Apparently it was the latest jingle her friends were singing. I discovered later that it came from a book ‘Pinkaliousious’ by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. A story about a girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and turns pink. Obviously, referring to her greediness and I would assume, the feeling of sickness she would have experienced after. It occured to me, that this was the opposite to my parents favourite warning. “If you don’t eat everything on your plate, you can go to bed hungry” although, it wouldn’t have been pink cupcakes that I was being bribed to eat.
It might have been something to do with the school sports carnival she was going to later. Maybe all the young kids who thought they weren’t going to win anything, had adopted the words as some type of mantra. That’s hardly likely of course, as losing is almost a taboo word now. I was visiting a friend of mine who has two daughters, I was admiring all the trophies they had won at school in his display cabinet. I remarked “bloody hell mate, your girls must have been super stars” “It would seem that way” he remarked. “ The truth is, they get a trophy for just turning up nowadays”
You get what you get.
I’m not suggesting that we should go back to the so called, ‘good old days’. But I’m not sure, that allowing kids not to lose, is a good idea either. Talking to my granddaughter confirmed, that young kids still want to win, but they can also accept losing. After all, it’s the adults who decide that their kids need to be protected from disappointment. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” a proverb taken from the bible, seems harsh by today’s standards. If taken literally, it could be used as justification for punishing children unnecessarily. They were “tougher” in those days of course, so consequently, there were fewer sensitive “new age” guys around.
I don’t believe the physical punishment that often happened, was ever justified. But knowing, that it could happen, enforced a mental toughness that seems to be missing now. I can remember my mother, telling me to “wait till your father gets home, he can deal with you” which was common, among many mothers in those days. Now that really was something to look forward to, especially if it happened in the morning and you had to wait all day for the inevitable punishment. “You get what you get” It was a good idea to get upset as well, as any act of defiance didn’t go down very well.
You get what you get at school.
Punishment at school was given quite liberally. There wasn’t much political correctness happening. I often imagined meeting those teachers in a dark alleyway, but those feelings are long gone now. How could l forget the teacher, who stood on a chair and jumped down with the cane in his hand to get more traction. Or a size nine plimsoll, on our wet backside, after getting out of the shower, at the end of a gym session. Being naked, certainly added to the vulnerability we all felt. Were these teachers sadistic? I’m not sure, probably it was seen as normal practice, in the toughening up process. It remained unspoken, as going home and saying anything only ensured more punishment. “You must have deserved it, so here’s some more to go with it”
Thankfully my grandchildren have been “spared the rod” but it goes without saying, that this isn’t the case in many countries around the world. I can’t remember either of my parents ever turning up to one of my sports days. In fact, it wasn’t encouraged, so I’m not sure, if it was a good or a bad idea. Although l believe it was easier to accept losing, when parents expectations and hopes weren’t on display. It’s great that parents do get more involved with their children now. But they can’t all win, if your child has a great voice in the shower, it doesn’t mean that their a certainty to win a talent show. Encourage, but don’t bring your own expectations into play. Then it will be a lot easier for them “to get what they get and not get upset”
On the upper floor of a city building, l am gazing quietly out of the window at the daily activities happening below me. The vastness of the view feels wonderful, as if I’m seeing everything for the first time. Tears begin to form, as the truth of being able to live within this personal moment start to overwhelm me. Over the last few days, my emotions have been very close to the surface. Any thought, or encounter, with anything that I value personally, has brought me to tears. I am surrounded by people who are looking after my welfare, they are doing everything they can to make me comfortable. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the care and patience they show me, but my usual patience seems to have disappeared, as I try to deal with these raw emotions.
I have never felt this alone or vulnerable before, this is my personal encounter that no one can share. A TV programme the other day, sent five moderately famous people onto the streets of Melbourne, to live as homeless people for ten days. They went with nothing, which meant, they had to quickly become street wise. They all seemed genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the homeless people they interacted with. Plenty of tears were shed by all of them, but after ten days, they would of course, return to their normal existence. I’m not saying that it wasn’t carried out with the best of intentions. But they couldn’t have possibly experienced the true feelings, of someone’s personal life, that has possibly exsisted for years.
Beginning my personal encounter.
I’m sure you remember the time, when someone tried to tell you how they felt, while going through a personal crisis. Like me, you probably nodded your head and said the usual words, “I know how you feel” without really having a clue how they felt. I have an older friend, who has had heart problems for a number of years. Up until a few days ago I said those very words often, “I know how you feel” now, I really do have a proper understanding of how he feels. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m pretty fit, look after myself and don’t smoke, I have the occasional drink and have what I would consider, to be a healthy diet.
I have said a number of times though, that as fit as I feel, something can hit me from left field, that can sit me on my arse. Well it did exactly that, the pain in my chest was without question, the worst pain I have ever felt. Very shallow breathing was the best I could manage, but luckily, good enough to get me to the hospital. Straight into the emergency ward, I was hooked up to various machines and given pain killers. As the pain started to subside, I felt like an imposter. All these machines and I only have a bad case of indigestion, what a relief. Then the words came, “your blood tests confirm, your having a heart attack.”
Personal encounter with the unknown
There is very little, if any awareness of what’s going on within our body. It’s a complex system, that has millions of processes happening at any given moment. The lungs absorb the oxygen, the blood leaves the lungs and is carried to our heart. The heart then pumps it throughout our body, to provide the cells in our tissues and organs. As the cells use the oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced and absorbed into the blood. The kidneys and liver are doing their job as well and if your like me, you probably don’t even know where they are located, let alone what they do. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. These processes are happening constantly, but we are unaware of it.
Once, during the early stages of meditation, I was following one particular practice, amongst many others, of counting my breath in and out. After a short while, I became acutely aware of my breathing. As if I came off auto pilot for a short while and had to take the controls in my own hands. It almost took me to a crash landing, as in became out and out became in. “Don’t worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live” (W. C. Fields) Obviously the person that put this quote up on one of the notice boards in the hospital corridor, had a sense of humour. There is no doubt, helping people to have a glimmer of humour within a very stressful situation, is very beneficial.
Personal heart encounter.
Well it looks like a fennel root to me, something l would buy at the local supermarket. I suppose romance, flower arrangements, balloons and the people I have seen holding their fingers up in the shape of a so called heart, require it to be more user friendly. Follow your heart, lead with your heart, have a heart, to name a few, adds to the central role it plays. My heart is certainly playing a central role, looking at it on the large screen, to the side of the operating table. Seeing the wire pass up through my groin towards my heart and being able to watch it, feels surreal. The plastic bin that’s filling up with bloody cloths and the blood hanging next to my shoulder ready for a blood transfusion, make everything very emotional.
What were those complications again? A blood clot could break off and cause a stroke. I could need bypass surgery and if things turn bad, ‘death.’ The bloody clock on the wall said the procedure took 55 minutes, but to me, it felt like hours.
An encounter with reality again.
When I returned to the ward, my fellow inmate put everything into perspective. “How you going mate, how many did you have then?” “one I answered” “bloody hell, I’ve had twelve stents over the last few years. Sometimes I need a pull through to clean the tubes out. I still have a beer and a smoke though, can’t stop living can yer” This reminded me of the neighbours dog ‘Skamp’ many years ago in England, he used to spend his whole life chasing cars, running in and out trying to grab their tyres. He ended up old and grey and couldn’t run anymore. Our other neighbours dog managed to get out once and got knocked over by a car, there must be an irony there somewhere. When l get out of here, I’m going to have a few beers, smoke a joint and relax.
Malcolm leaves a legacy.
When I first met Malcolm, I was about fourteen years old and he would of been about sixteen, the precise details escape me now, as this took place over fifty years ago. The impression he left on me though, is as powerful now as it was back then. I remember that he was not very well co-ordinated and when we played soccer, he was just as likely to kick us, as he was to kick the ball. I can’t remember how he came to be in our neighbourhood gang, as he lived on the other side of town. His father rode a vintage motor bike, which turned out to be significant.
Malcolm was different to anyone I had ever met at the time, I was drawn to him, because he stood apart from us, he had an air of quiet confidence which I didn’t have. When the gang passed around the quart bottle of cider he refused to drink. He just smiled, as if he knew something that we didn’t and quite possibly he did. Everyone laughed, including me, but I may as well have been laughing at myself, because I realised, I didn’t want to drink either. Malcolm was economical with words, he spoke quietly and thoughtfully as if he wanted to make every word count. He was the outsider and I felt that way too, I wasn’t particularly brave, but I had a compulsion to push everything to the limit. The best way to get me to do something, was to tell me not to do it.
The differences we both felt as individuals, drew us together, he had two contrasting sides to his character and I identified with them both. Like me, he was willing to go to extremes, but unlike me, he either didn’t see any danger or if he did, he was comfortable with it. This was juxtaposed with gentleness, a love of nature and infinite patience. We would spend hours looking for a particular wild flower he had read about, but it wasn’t to pick them, or dig them out, as I was inclined to do.
I remember looking for a Lapwings nest with him, they were notoriously hard to find, they hardly built a nest site, often just in a small hollow in the earth. We spent hours and hours looking in a field that we had seen them flying over. Eventually, more by luck than judgment we found a nest with eggs, which neither of us had ever seen before. Great, at last a Lapwings egg for my collection. I can’t remember now exactly how he explained it to me, but it was something like, “Let’s just take the memory away with us, we don’t need anything else” I don’t know how he convinced me to do as he asked, but l did. I would have preferred to put an egg in my collection and boast to who ever I could, about my find.
Malcolm gets a Motorbike
Malcolm turned up one day on a motorbike, this was typical of him. I would have announced to everyone, that I was getting a motor bike. I would have given them a countdown to the very moment it actually happened. It wasn’t a very powerful machine, but it allowed us to go farther afield than our pushbikes. It didn’t change our friendship, I thought it might, as I would have wanted to join a motor bike gang. In fact, on the bike, I became part of him, because he taught me to be his shadow. I was always to be directly behind him and anticipate everything he did as the bike pulled around the corners.
The things we enjoyed doing together were the same, but the intensity changed. The rooks nested high up in the trees and their nests could often be seen from miles around. Any thought of taking an egg was gone, we were just there to look. The strangeness of our surroundings and the distance from home confirmed that we were going to climb the trees, so we did. I was thinking, if I fall, I won’t be going home on the bike and if he falls, what the hell am l going to do. As it turned out, we were both thinking the same thing.
High up in the canopy of the tree, the branches moved erratically with our weight and the strength of the wind didn’t help. We weren’t on the same branch though, as there were dozens of nests all around us. We both laughed uncontrollably when we got back on the ground. A promise was made, that we would climb again soon, but we both knew we never would.
Malcolm’s parents house.
I only went to Malcolm’s home once and I don’t think he ever came to mine. There wasn’t a reason to be inside in those days, as there was very little technology to keep us there. Nature was preserved everywhere in his house, dried flowers from the fields and hedgerows mounted in picture frames. Examples of taxidermy were everywhere, which both he and his father had done. A large Barn owl, looked down from one of the display cases. “All the animals have died of natural causes” he explained. “What do you think?” he asked, I said, “everything is fantastic, but somehow, I don’t think my parents will like the idea of having them in our house.” This seemed to please him, as we both laughed.
I learned later, that he had never taken anyone to his parents house before. I asked him if he wanted to see my house, but luckily he didn’t. I’m sure he would have been disappointed, it would have been boring, after living in the menagerie that surrounded him. By now school was in the past for me as well and like Malcolm, I was working, but we still went into the countryside together as much as we could. We still enjoyed nature, but there was a realisation, that it wasn’t enough now. Our new found responsibility of growing up, was starting to tarnish the simple pleasures that it provided.
Malcolm’s big red motorbike.
We started to hang around the local coffee shops and pubs for the first time, pretending to have a good time, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny and buying drinks that neither of us wanted. Plans were starting to formulate in my head about traveling overseas as soon as l could. Malcolm had other ideas, he asked me to meet him on the weekend, at the usual place.
This time he turned up on the biggest red motorbike, l had ever seen. I can still see it now, a Norton 750 Atlas, a British bike that I’m sure would have met with his fathers approval. The British part, but possibly, not the size and power. The kick start pedal needed the pressure of full body weight downwards to have any chance of starting it. He threw me a crash helmet, “let’s go.” I was going to mention that we had never worn crash helmets before, but this time, it felt appropriate that we did. The very first corner we went around, he leaned the bike over farther than he ever had before, the kick start pedal hit the road with a shower of sparks. We came to an upright position before we should have and were lucky to stay on, that’s the only part l remember distinctly.
Malcolm’s plans for the future
“I know you plan to travel overseas eventually, but I could never leave this place, everything l need is here. l can’t imagine living anywhere else” That’s how l would have liked to have felt, but I resented, what I imagined, was an ordinary future ahead of me. My plan was to be an adventurer, but the thought scared me even more than Malcom’s bike. I told him how uncomfortable I felt for him, but l didn’t mention how I felt. Already, I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t get on the bike again. But this wasn’t something I wanted to say to him, as I knew it would hurt his feelings.
I never had to tell him, because on the following weekend, he crashed the bike and was killed. I cried my heart out for the first time ever, over the loss of a close friend. He was mature beyond his young years, a deep thinker, who was in my opinion, a genuinely good person. I think of him often, I am grateful to have known him and grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow old and experience many of the things that he was unable to experience. As I grow older, I notice his influence in my actions and my thoughts. How could It have taken me this long to think the way he did back then? I think he felt as calm then, as I am now, that’s why I realize, he was such a special person.
Meeting our future self and being happy or unhappy with what we find.
We all have a tendency to become stuck in the past, which potentially doesn’t help our future self. There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past, analyzing our mistakes and trying our hardest to learn from them. As long as these past experiences, don’t prevent us from growing into our potential future self. It’s obvious, that we would not want to be a lesser person than we are now. Would there be any point in striving for anything, if we thought that might be the case? We can create a “virtual embodiment” now, which enables us to experience the person who we desire ourselves to be in the future. It’s creating a push pull effect, we push ourselves now and in doing that, we also have a pull effect from the future self, we imagine and desire to be.
The flip side of meeting our future self, can be a picture of us sitting in a nursing home, reflecting on the opportunities we didn’t take. Living with the regret of a life only partially lived, being angry and disappointed with the outcome. Which ever way we imagine our future to be, we have to use that vision to fuel our current desire to either be, or not to be that person.
Taking a realistic look at our future self.
Taking a realistic look at our future, can be painful and it’s not something we generally like to do. No one wants to see a future for themselves that isn’t at least as bright, or brighter than it currently is. The goal isn’t to imagine an apocalyptic scenario, although that could happen with bad choices. But to envision what will happen to us, if we continue with our current choices. Almost always, we are going to find, that if we think realistically, we won’t like some aspects of ourselves. The question is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret? I think we are grooming ourselves to become the person we want to be. But through each step of change and experience, our pre-conceived idea of who we want to be, also changes. In fact, the only change that is constant, is change itself.
Our modern world has also become a lot more certain over time, we almost take it for granted, that living to an old age is a birth right. In the pre-agricultural era, when foraging and hunting was all we knew, the future was far from certain, with hardly a thought of reaching old age. The scarcity and uncertainty then, would have led to a short term view of the future. Eating, drinking and indulging in the moment, with no regard to long term health, or personal growth would have been normal. That thought process is still with us but there are even more opportunities available to us now, making it easier, to live a soft unfulfilled life, consuming and indulging more than we need to. Fast food, watching TV instead of going to the gym, spending money rather than saving it, to name a few.
Helping our future self
Our future self would be grateful if we saved for our retirement, looked after our health, bringing long term benefits, we will appreciate in the future. Our aim should be to seek a balance, but not to the point, where we only think about the future. We could end up comfortable but sad, lacking memories of our spontaneous self. I’m sixty six now, so I am already meeting a version of my complete future self, but I have come to realise, that change is the only constant thing we have.
Whether I want change or not, it’s inevitable I can’t stop it, even if I wanted too. I have found investing in activities that cause some discomfort in the short term, can act as a springboard to higher phycological growth. I walk every day very early in the morning, but lately, the cold winter mornings, have been a real struggle. When I hike, I like to take everything I need on my back and camp every night, usually solo. This has improved my patience and organisation skills, also my capacity to spend long periods of time on my own. These small inconveniences, have allowed me to obtain more resolve and a better capacity to tackle larger problems that will always arise. I believe, that I’m trying as much as I can to help my future self, whilst enjoying more contentment than I’ve ever felt before.
What happens when we change direction slightly?
A few Sunday’s back it was Mother’s day here in Australia. My morning walk around the local streets and park was much the same as any other day. It’s my routine, it’s convenient and comfortable. A circular walk lasting one hour and thirty five minutes, give or take a few seconds. I never change my route, my walks are always in an anticlockwise direction. I’m on an invisible railway track. I think back to the time when as a kid, l believed the train driver had to steer the train down the track and how much concentration that must take. I haven’t been concentrating at all I’ve been sleep walking on my track.
Not today though, I remembered the house at the start of my walk with the flower van parked outside. I walk past there everyday and l have noticed the lady filling her van with flowers. Will she be selling flowers from her van ouside her house being as it’s Mothers day. I am nearing the end of my walk, so I will have to change direction and find a short cut back to the only source I know of, that may sell flowers, this early in the morning. I start doubling back on my usual route, even this brings a different perspective as l see things from a different angle. Soon I am in completely new surroundings passing the time of day with other early morning walkers that I haven’t seen before.
A change of direction brings new possibilities.
The lady was selling flowers from the front of her house. Coming from a different direction it seemed odd, not as I remembered it from the start of my walk. The lady recognised me, “I see you walking by every day, it’s nice to talk to you” While I was chatting to her, a thought came to me of something l read once. A train driver was on the same route for many years, his train passed through a village where a lady would wave to him every day from her house and he would wave back. The train driver looked forward to this every day, imagining the woman to be warm and friendly. He even felt an emotional connection after all this time. As he was now retired he decided to walk to the house and finally talk to the lady in person.
The house seemed different to him now, he wasn’t sure that this was a good idea anymore. To late, he introduced himself, “I’m the train driver who you waved to every morning” “I wasn’t waving at you I was waving at the train.” This seemed sad to me, not that this lady waved at me every day. I wouldn’t have noticed anyway, sleep walking on my invisible track. Even the thought I had about the train driver came about because of a change in my direction.
According to google most of us move around in a very limited area, often visiting the same places again and again. I expect you go about your daily life more or less as I do, clamped to an imaginary length of rail track. It’s unrealistic and passive to expect a different experience or to meet someone different, who shares not only your interests and sensibilities, whilst moving within your exact daily routine.
If change seems to much then just stretch your borders a little more.
Go to places you have never been and order food you have never ordered. Also stand in lines you have never stood in before. A directional change can also happen by looking at long held beliefs. “I can’t do that, or l never eat that.” Things that we have not examined for ages, having held them as limiting assumptions for long periods of time, sometimes years. Also things that we have never tried that we automatically assume, are beyond our capacity. I have never snow skied, jumped out of a plane or painted a picture. Sung a song in public, or played a musical instrument. It wouldn’t cost me very much to try, a bruised ego maybe, if l discovered l wasn’t any good. But if I enjoyed the experience it would be worth the change.
I discovered hiking and camping in nature only about three years ago. This simple change of direction has led me down a path that has changed my whole perspective on life. It’s also altered the thoughts that l considered were important to me. The change we may be seeking, must ultimately come from within us. It’s how we interact with the changes we do make, that make the difference. I understand now, when l first read that “some people travel the world and see nothing. While other people never travel and see everything” Observation, curiosity and a slight change of direction is a good place to start. “Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures” (Lovell Drachman.)
The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive.
Finding the man inside who you may of never met before.
It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again. Because their is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed. Who knows the great enthusiasum, the great devotion. Who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. (Theodore Roosevelt)
Solo hiking over longer distances involves being self sufficient. It involves being confident that you can handle any circumstance that may happen to you or fellow hikers that you may meet. Solo hiking is completely different, there’s nobody to ask “What do you think, what direction do you think we should go now?” You ask yourself the question and you need to take the time to contemplate the answers. There is definitely a need for careful planning, which means there’s a better chance of success. But the best plans can unravel very quickly on the trail, when you are reliant on your mental and physical health to achieve your goals. I met the man inside me whom I had never met before on my latest hike and he was more confident than I thought.
The Credit belongs to the man in the arena.
Credit always belongs to the person who tries their hardest in any situation. I try my hardest, but I am not obsessed with outcomes anymore, my mental ability plays a greater role as a grey hiker. As a younger hiker, it was only a question of turning up on the trail, with hardly a thought that anything could possibly go wrong. It’s not that I can’t achieve exactly the same outcomes now, but it generally takes more time, effort and preparation. I’m a purist on the trail, in the sense that I like to carry everything I need on my back. Which makes for a heavier pack and an obsession with the weight of every piece of equipment.
Nearly every effort I made in the beginning contained error and shortcomings. It begs the question, how do you become proficient at hiking long distances, or anything else for that matter. The simple answer is, to hike as much as you can, in as many diverse environments and weather conditions that you can find. That doesn’t mean to say you have to like every type of weather or environment. You could be a warm weather person, or a cold weather person, but it never hurts to experience both, as you can experience sub-zero temperatures in the desert too. I have experienced the disappointment of not finishing a hike that I hoped to complete. But I gave it my all and failed while daring greatly and even though it was disappointing, my mental fortitude remained intact.
Don’t be a cold and timid sole.
Be open and honest in every situation you find yourself in. There is so much to learn from every hiker you encounter, because the most insignificant insight can be the one that saves the day. Don’t be timid, it’s often the things you fear the most that turn out fine and vice versa. On my first solo hike I was very apprehensive that I might be lonely and it filled most of my thoughts. But it turned out I was very comfortable with my own company. I thought very little about the hiking components, traversing steep and slippery gradients and the more difficult part in descending them. In a group situation, it never entered my consciousness, but alone it was more significant. Going down a steep gradient with a heavy pack on, one slip and the momentum of the weight on my back could cause me to land very awkwardly.
I was aware of this situation all the time, but my hiking poles and intense concentration prevented any mishaps. As I said, this situation never entered my thoughts, but it certainly should have instead, loneliness was my primary concern before I started to hike solo. I don’t think you can ever know, when you first start hiking what part will be the most problematical. So it’s best to strive valiantly and take everything as it comes. Don’t worry about everything, worry about nothing until it actually happens. The brown snake that was at the water tank, when I needed water. My guard was down, dressed in shorts and open sandals at the end of the day, it passed quickly between my feet before I had time to react. I learned a valuable lesson, luckily I have the chance to implement it in the future.