Tag Archives: freedom

Where do we stop?

Sometimes it is important to ask where something is going and where it will stop. Politicians tend to erode rights rather than taking them away in massive, easily spotted slashes. Selling off our assets bit by bit. Where will we stop when profit is more important than planet? Where will we stop with pollution? When there’s an obvious trajectory and a run of small moves along it, asking about when we stop is a very good idea.

However, where does this stop can also be a derailment tactic. I’ve seen it used repeatedly in this way. What happens is that the trajectory imagined is not a logical one – take Jeremy Irons’ bloody stupid suggestion that allowing gay marriage would mean fathers could marry their sons. This is ‘where will it end?’ logic. Pick a ridiculous outcome that will make people feel uncomfortable and pronounce it as the logical conclusion of letting the thing happen.

Then, rather than talking about the real issue, you have to deal with the derailment. You have to explain that this is not a logical progression. Further, these derailments often have a sting in them – note how the Irons unpleasantness creates a link between being gay, and incest. The derailer will often have a go at invalidating the centre of the argument by such associations. What next, giving the same rights to animals? (Because this lot are so close to animals that I see it as a logical progression…)

The other thing the derailer may do is to make some issue of theirs centre stage, or some imagined fear. This distracts from the actual issues. Take for example, the suggestion that we should be licensing acid to make it harder to buy. This is because throwing acid in the faces of people has happened a lot in London this year. Response: Where will it stop? Are we going to ban all dangerous chemicals? What about my drain cleaner? (I paraphrase). Now, to my mind, the right not to have acid thrown in your face should quite obviously be more important than the right to pour dangerous chemicals into the water system. The freedom of the person who is not directly affected by anything at this stage should not be more important than the wellbeing of people who have already been hurt, and the people who realistically will be hurt in the future. How much are we inconvenienced if buying chemicals for home use requires jumping through a hoop or two? Far less than we are by having those same chemicals used as weapons.

Of course what complicates things is that oppressive governments play with this in sinister ways. Fear of terrorism is a popular way of getting a population to accept monitoring, loss of privacy, restriction of rights and so forth. There’s never going to be a tidy answer here.

On the other hand, are we looking at a restriction of personal freedom that represents social progress? The loss of freedom to privately assault one’s spouse is a loss I think we should all feel good about. The loss of the right to keep our data private is an example in the other direction. Very little good can come from it, and in the wrong hands it can do considerable damage. I think the only answer is to look hard at what’s at truly stake, and pick your fights carefully.


Controlling the movement of people

For the mediaeval serf, movement wasn’t an option unless your Lord moved you. If you didn’t like how your feudal master behaved, you could not vote with your feet. You had to stay where you were put, and live and work there your whole life. You could be moved of course if you were marched into a war, but you wouldn’t get any say in that, either.

These days we don’t need permission from Barons and Counts to move around – at least not within the countries of our birth. We generally need permission to move country, and countries want to control who can move where. Young, qualified, able bodied people are more welcome than others. The rich are always welcome to move and the poor are discouraged. Unless we need them for something. Plenty of industrial projects have been built on the backs of very poor workers. From the Irish navvies digging the canals to the modern Eastern European fruit picker, those with power like to move those with less power about to work for them.

It’s not so very different to the mediaeval model. Companies replace baronies, and the scales are bigger, but the effects are much the same. Now if you want to change country it’s not a baron who needs to write a letter of consent, but a company that will employ you.

We’re told it’s for our own good, and our own safety – to make sure we don’t have too many, and that we have the ones who are needed, and to keep the dangerous ones out. Our mediaeval peasant friends were told that it was about eliminating vagrancy and crime, and it meant there wouldn’t be rough, unruly people from other places coming into their place and making it all worse. Nothing much changes.

Much of the terror we experience in the west is home grown. We’re encouraged to think it sneaks in across borders to attack us from outside – something other, that we could keep out if we tried hard enough. Americans are more likely to be killed by other Americans than by anyone from ‘away’. We’re more likely to die to air pollution, traffic accidents, heart attacks and our own lifestyle choices than we are to a terrorist.

Freedom of movement can really undermine exploitation. If workers can move, then screwing someone poorer becomes that bit harder. It can help people remove themselves from wars – which are generally harder to sustain when no one is there to fight. It can help people get out of toxic systems, and escape persecution. Freedom of movement has the potential to be a source of good for the vast majority of us. It’s never been popular with feudal overlords because it undermines their power.


Contact and Consent

To be able to give consent, in any context, we need to be making a choice freely, from a position of being properly informed about what we might or might not be consenting to. It needs to be as possible to say yes as it is to say no. I have a lot of issues around political consent, and the differences between what you’re told you’re voting for and what happens when people get into power. I think manifestoes should be legally binding.

For the last four years or so, learning to say ‘no’ when I want to has been a big part of my journey. I still have learning to do around how I manage other people’s needs, and learning to say ‘no’ when I’m exhausted and so forth – but  generally I’ve been getting better at all this. I avoid situations where I do not have the right to refuse, and I keep away from people who have dubious ideas about what consent even means. I am more well, and more at peace in myself as a direct consequence.

As I’ve commented before, I’m not a massively tactile person. Arty, folky, Pagan and Green communities can all be rather huggy places, and some days I manage that better than others. If it’s meant, and felt, then a hug is something I’m usually fine with. What I struggle with is hugging people I don’t really know, and faking what for me, would properly be a small emotional intimacy.

It occurs to me that I’m usually very passive around social gestures of affection. Even with the people I would be glad to hug, I wait to see what they do, more usually, and I don’t offer. The notable exceptions are the people with whom I have deep and well-established relationships anyway.

I could become someone who can comfortably offer and seek affection. It’s something I intend to explore a bit, picking people I trust and feel safe with, people who speak to my heart and with whom I would like to be more open. I will probably be painfully awkward and like a creature with far too many elbows, but I would like to be able to do this gracefully, and my only option is to learn.

The freedom to say ‘no’ is only a part of what consent means. Now I need to start working on the freedom to also say yes.


Practicing intolerance

It would seem more reasonable to assume that we should be practicing tolerance, with a hearty side-order of peace, love and goodwill. When it comes to recognising that something is merely different, tolerance is a great thing. However, I’ve tried being tolerant in all things, and what it got me was a lot of trouble. So I’m now studying the methods and mechanics of intolerance.

I’m not interested in drama, in upsetting people or causing offence (outside of politics!) so I am not going to manifest my intolerance in ways that will always start fights. That said, if there’s an important cause to stand up for, if I think a person needs arguing with, I’ll pile in. I’ll say what I think needs saying and then do my best to remove myself. I’m not offended by differences of opinion, but I am deeply offended by hypocrisy, flimsy arguments and people who have nothing with which to back up their assertions. “I imagine this and therefore it must be true” is not a line of argument I have any time for.

So far as I know, I only get this one lifetime. Beyond it, there are no certainties, only ideas and beliefs. I am therefore assuming this could be a one shot deal and trying to make the most of it. Time I give to being bored, irritated, upset and frustrated to no discernible purpose, is not time well spent. Every hour that I let someone else suck up with pointless melodrama is an hour I do not get back. Every day I have ruined by dealing with someone who is dependably shitty towards me, is a day I have lost. It is around these issues that I have been carefully and quietly practicing intolerance for some months now.
I’m finding it incredibly liberating. The power to say ‘I do not have to put up with this’ gives me a sense of autonomy. It is my life, and I do have some right to choose. In giving myself the power to discard that which does not suit me, does not please me, does not interest, engage or enrich me in some way, has increased the amount of joy in my life. It’s also freed up a lot of my time. One of the things that offends me is having my time wasted. If I boot out the time wasters, I have more time to deploy where I want it – time for the people who need me, for the people doing fabulous stuff I want to support, for the people I like and whose company I enjoy.

I’ve learned to shrug, walk away and say ‘not my problem’ and that’s such a lovely feeling. Not all problems are automatically my problem. I have the right not to engage. Asserting that protects me from all manner of miserable things. Most of the time I do not formally announce my intention not to participate in something. That can be a way of continuing the problem, not solving it. Time spent telling a person that they make you really unhappy and you don’t want to have to deal with this or that, is actually time spent engaging very specifically with them and inviting more attention from them. I’ve had rounds of people who wanted to spend a lot of time telling me how they can’t cope with me and are upset by me, and who wanted to hold me in a place of being the guilty, useless albatross around their necks. It wasn’t until I realised the power of walking away as a choice I could make, that I also recognised that sticking around to complain about how much of a problem I am (or anyone else), is also a choice. They do not have to stay and I would rather people feeling that way left. Staying specifically to have a problem with me is not a choice I have to respect.

Martyrdom, real or self-constructed, is not a healthy way for anyone to go. A good dose of well-considered intolerance seems to me to be the best antidote to this.


Walking the borderlands

Edges and margins are always productive places. In a field, it’s the hedge and strip to either side of it that hold the most life and diversity. In a woodland, the edges, and the margins of glades are where life thrives. In terms of humans, being out at the edges is often where we have most scope to grow and learn, but edges are also scary places.

We have our boundaries for reasons. Inside them, we feel safe and we know what we’re doing. There’s a lot to be said for being comfortable, and the more time you spend uncomfortable and out of your depth, the more you come to value the calm, safer waters. Or at least, that has been my experience. Growth happens when we push our boundaries, but we don’t always want to grow. Indeed, sometimes we find that we can’t. We are finite creatures, and when we get excited about pushing the limits and growing, we easily forget that.

A casual acquaintance from a few years back told me that no matter what she did, she could not run more than ten miles without making herself really ill. We speculated that her body just wouldn’t store enough glycogen to carry her beyond that point. We are limited beings, and as John Michael Greer points out in his Mystery Teachings book, this is a good thing. Without limits and boundaries, we would be little piles of squidge! It is our physical limitations that allow us to be who and what we are.

There are limits in all things. Earlier this week I hit a brain burn-out. In the space of a couple of weeks I had written four stories, each about 5k, each with different settings and setups. I’d studied changing thinking on airport emissions and Staverton airport, and put together a piece (It’ll be on http://www.ruscombegreen.blogspot.com in a week or so) and I studied Green policies on housing and land use with a view to writing a report. I also read most of Glennie Kindred’s Earth Alchemy book for review, and read and reviewed some of Jay Ramsay’s lovely poetry. All of that whilst trying to juggle family demands over the festive period, put up a daily blog, manage my online teaching work and deal with the rest of life. There is only so much you can do with a brain before it hurts, and I hit it. I could have pushed beyond those edges, I have before. What it gets me is tired, ill, depressed and ever less able to think clearly, process new information or make good judgements. As this is entirely counter-productive, I took a break.

I can run my mind harder and faster than I could ten or twenty years ago. This whole slowing down as you age thing is bollocks. It’s a matter of use and intent. I’ve had exactly the same experience with my awkward body – I am in better shape than I was ten or twenty years ago, even. Regularly pushing the edges with both things has allowed me to keep growing. However, pushing continually beyond my boundaries just makes me ill. There are balances to strike.

For me the hardest area in which to deal with the boundaries has always been around the darker emotions. Pain and shame, guilt, loss, grief, fear, anger… these are not things I like feeling, and when I get beyond what I can cope with, I tend to switch off, plunging into the safe, numb waters of depression until I don’t feel so overwhelmed. It leaves me with a lot of things I have not entirely faced, and edges I have not explored. Push too hard into those and my whole body shuts down defensively, so it’s got to be baby steps, taken when everything else is calm, and when I know I can retreat safely at need.

Boundaries are good things. They hold us together. Edges are places of vitality and possibility. I get very tired of New Age books that invite us to explore boundless, limitless freedom because that way lies the pile of squidge, the formless, incapable amoeba self. There may be people for whom being limitless squidge would feel like joyful liberation. On the whole, I find learning to manage the limits of my body and mind a good deal more interesting than that kind of amorphous freedom.


Intimacy and freedom

Depending on how you know me, I’m either quite a standoffish sort of person, or a very physically affectionate sort of person. I’m not keen on making any kind of bodily contact with people I don’t know well. This is partly because I don’t do much casually or lightly, and I don’t make gestures that are not meant.

I’ve commented before that I am uneasy about the culture of physical contact in the Pagan community. Being a fellow Pagan does not mean that I welcome your hands on my body, or your lips on any part of my face. We need to respect each other’s boundaries, not assume we’re all equally loved up and available, and not create a culture in which body contact becomes necessary social currency. There are few things I find more abhorrent around physical contact than people doing it because they feel like they have to, in order to fit in.

I’m not offended by physical contact, if it is meant. By this, I mean contact inspired by care, affection or desire. There is something very real and human about reaching out to someone from that sort of emotion. We don’t always judge perfectly how the other person will take it. I don’t measure people at all by the mistakes they make. I measure people by what they do when they find out they’ve got it wrong. The person who genuinely likes me, cares for me or finds me attractive, will respect my boundaries if I need to gently assert them. I’ve had rounds of that along the way. There may be some awkwardness, some embarrassment, but desire, affection and attraction are all underpinned by care, and that always wins through. I’m an odd and damaged person, the people who care about me care enough to work around that and to find out what I need.

Then there’s that other thing. People who put hands and lips on, not out of love or desire, but for some other reason. For power and control. To assert themselves over my body, space and mind. To demonstrate that they are flamboyant, exuberant types. Because they think the culture requires it of them. I am unsure, but these are my best guesses. That contact isn’t meant, and it feels very different.

A while ago, there was someone in my life in the habit of pouncing on me and kissing my cheeks. I don’t kiss unless I mean it and very few people kiss me, and I prefer it that way. I found this habit of cheek kissing unsettling, and I eventually found the confidence to say so. The response was to be told that it meant nothing, and said person kisses everyone. That was actually worse. Not just an invasion into my space, but a misuse of an intimacy. The person in question could not understand what was so unsettling to me, and I have come to realise what an impoverished emotional experience that represents.

Kissing is an intimacy. When you turn it into common currency, you devalue it. Like anything else, if you do it carelessly, meaninglessly, you make it that bit harder to have the depth when it is intended. If you say ‘I love’ over the slightest trivia that amuses you, what do you have left when you find your soul-mate?

Boundaries are not just about keeping people out. They are also about what you hold on the inside. The line between intimacy and casual acquaintance holds so much inside of it. Within the boundary, there is trust and openness, emotional honesty, there is meaningful affection. Your body, your kisses, your embraces are far more meaningful gifts if they are only given carefully and deliberately. That which is not given with care tends not to elicit care, either. The better I get at asserting my boundaries, the more able I am to see the treasures that can be kept on the inside of those lines. There is incredible power in deliberate limitation, in the consciousness that goes with choosing a limit. All too often we mistake freedom for being without boundaries, but I think increasingly that freedom is more readily found on the inside of the most carefully drawn lines.


A free mind

Guest blog by Tiziana Stupia

‘Often, the search for meaning does start with a sense of restlessness, which can carry us all over the world. But sooner or later every serious student of life sets aside passport and visas and settles down to look within.’ — Eknath Easwaran

This morning, I read a chapter by the great Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in which he talks about what having a free mind means. ‘The mind remains free whether you live amidst pleasure or pain, wealth or poverty, young people or old. The mind must not identify itself with the external circumstances and think, ‘I am poor’, ‘I am rich’, ‘I am in pain’ or ‘I am very unfortunate’. As sannyasins, we live a life of poverty by choice. Why? Because our minds must be free. Wealth, name, fame, passion, all these things hold down this great energy of man. We are trying to simplify our lives on the physical, mental and emotional planes so the mind will remain free. If we can keep the mind free, awakening will take place automatically, even without any sadhana.’

This is a subject close to my heart, especially now, having just returned from India. India is always transformational on many levels. In the last few months, I have been contemplating the real meaning of freedom.

Freedom, like most other things, is a journey. When I was younger, I thought that freedom meant financial independence and the freedom to do what I wanted. Doing only work I am passionate about. So I went forth and did just that – I founded a record label in my early twenties and became successful beyond my wildest dreams. I bought a beautiful house, a nice car, expensive clothes, flew business class, and I had a certain ‘name and fame’. I admit, it was a great time, being barely twenty-five. But slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, dissatisfaction crept in. A certain emptiness. Was this really freedom, to be able to buy what I wanted, to have ‘made it’? The uncomfortable feeling increased, and by the time I was twenty-seven, I was clear: this wasn’t it. I couldn’t live like this anymore. This wasn’t freedom: I felt imprisoned, in a golden cage of my own making. To the disbelief of many people, I closed down my company at the height of its success, took a year out and then enrolled at university to study psychology.

Fast forward seven years from there. I’d sold my house, downsized greatly, and was living a much more satisfying life. I wasn’t earning much, but felt fulfilled doing projects I loved. I worked part-time as a spiritual advisor in prisons, performed pagan rituals in the community, and worked on creative projects. Admittedly, this was facilitated by the money I made with the record label and which I had invested wisely. And yet, still, I did not feel free. I still had rent and bills to pay, shopping to do, a car to maintain, appointments to keep and so on. So though my life was more pleasant because I was actually doing what I loved, I felt shackled. So I decided to take it a step further. I sold my car, gave up my apartment, gave away most of my possessions and decided to travel the world by train. Perhaps this would give me the sense of freedom I craved.

At first, it really did. Sitting on the different trains crossing continents, I felt free as a bird. No appointments, no schedules, no bills. Just me, my backpack and the ever-changing landscapes of Siberia, China, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan and India. Being so high up in the Himalayas added to the freedom I felt in my heart.

This was five years ago. I have not settled down again since, living in different countries and still moving around a lot, though at a much slower pace. Lately, however, freedom has taken on a very different meaning for me. Yes, it’s great to have (relative) financial independence, to be able to travel, to do work that I like and not be answerable to a boss. It’s what many people aspire to, and I was blessed enough to experience all this early on in life. For this I will always be grateful. But what has come into the forefront for me now is something very different. Freedom of the mind, freedom of our conditioning, our likes and dislikes that really imprison us, whether we are aware of it or not. This has been inspired by my love and practice of yoga and meditation (a result of my travels to the East). I started to realize that actually, I am not free at all. As long as my mind does its own thing, as long as I am influenced by my early childhood conditioning, by anger, by things my society or parents or friends deem as ‘acceptable’, as long as I react in ways that are not fully autonomous, I am still a prisoner. Making autonomous choices is key: choices that comes from my inner being, my soul, choices that are not my mother’s or my father’s or my grandmother’s, or heck, my neighbour’s choices. As long as I am driven by anything, be that insecurity or hunger for recognition or ambition or an old chip on my shoulder, I am not free.

Seeing this so clearly has been a revelation. It has put everything else in the background. It doesn’t mean that I can’t travel or do what I enjoy. But it has made those things optional. What we have to liberate and purify is our mind that is so full of unconscious patterns and conditionings. Then we can truly be free. We can be in any situation, good or bad, we can be rich or poor, cold or hot – whatever. But we will be at peace. Right now, most of us hanker after pleasure and run from pain. This is what all our actions lead towards. This may be fleetingly satisfying, but it doesn’t bring us true freedom and peace. True freedom is a state of non-duality, of being at peace with all there is at any moment.
How to achieve this? Meditation and yoga are a good way to start. At the very least, meditation gives us an experience of being in the moment and of watching ourselves. It slowly removes our veil of ignorance and helps us to see things as they truly are. We begin to wake up from the dream. We begin to see that there is more to life than what we perceive with the five senses and that there is a deeper purpose to it all. And: meditation shows us that we have a choice. We have a choice to not react and we can learn to control our minds and emotions through purifying the mind. And this, in my view, is true freedom.

If you are interested in yoga and meditation, I can recommend Satyananda Yoga at http://www.yogavision.net/and Vipassana Meditationat http://www.dhamma.org/

Tiziana’s book, Meeting Shiva: Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas is available here –
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Meeting-Shiva-Falling-Rising-Himalayas/dp/178099916X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371637172&sr=8-1&keywords=tiziana+stupia


Thou shalt have

I was at a meeting yesterday to discuss the needs of travelling people – Showpeople, bargees, Romany and other travellers. I learned a great deal. I also observed there were people from a more official background who couldn’t help but suspect that maybe at some level, what travellers really wanted was to settle into bricks and mortar homes and be like everyone else. Happily there were other voices able to point out that these other ways of living matter to people, and that travellers tend to go into bricks and mortar only when no other options are available to them.

We’re supposed to want normal homes, and large ones at that. I’ve seen facebook conversations full of dismay over tiny flats. We’re supposed to want cars and televisions, and then officialdom organises everything around the assumption you have those things. Infrastructure is nightmarish this way. For a rural person with no car, getting to the doctor when you’re too sick to walk a mile to catch a bus, is a serious issue. The pressure to have, to own, to be normal, comes at us from so many angles.

The idea of people who do not want to have, is threatening to many. The great argument that you must want, you must earn more to pay more income tax, to grease the wheels of the country so that we can all have more stuff… it’s a never ending cycle, and all it does is take us deeper into unsustainability.

I’m watching friends whose desire is to have a small patch of land and be self-sufficient. To rent privately without discernible income is almost impossible. To get a mortgage without regular employ is equally tricky, even if you know you can make the money work. Some bod in an office will look at the numbers and pump them through an assessment based on the certainty that you must have a car, some gadgets, a this, a that, £500 worth of insurance for the contents of your freezer, never mind that you don’t even own a freezer…

The subtle ways in which we are funnelled down the same routes, into being similar, fascinate and appal me. Of course the more similar we are, the easier we are to manage. Fewer headaches for the planning department there. Much governmental and organisational stuff requires figuring out who will be wanting what in the future, and of course the more normal we are, the more predictable we are. It’s easier to sell us stuff, make us do things, and plan out what to tell us we want next.
Thou shalt have exactly the same as everyone else in your geographical area and economic bracket, and thou shalt be happy with it. I met a travelling showman yesterday, passionate about his way of life, determined that the system would fit in around him, rather than he and his family being pressured to change in order to fit the system. He made me want to cheer. Conformity may be convenient for some, but it is much more sterile than diversity.

We are told continually, for all kinds of reasons that there is an unavoidable trade-off between security and freedom. You can’t have it both ways, allegedly. That debate always misses out the issue of personal responsibility. And, for that matter, responsibilities held within communities. There is no need to sell our individuality to fit the preferences of corporate and government machines, but the alternative, requires us to take more responsibility for ourselves. That in turn means needing systems that allow us more choice about what we want to be responsible for. Freedom to choose different brands of toothpaste, is not freedom. The freedom to live in the manner of your choosing, be that in a yurt as a goat keeper, on a boat, in a caravan, is a much bigger and more important kind of freedom. The freedom not to own, not to depend on a car, the freedom not to stay still, the freedom not to want to be wealthy.


The happy Druid

I’ve met a lot of people along the way so far, from people who were penniless and living in single rooms in Bed and Breakfasts, to people who have big country houses and go skiing every year. People who have been invalided out of the workforce, the self-made and the downright lucky. I’ve known plenty of wealthy people who were a long way from being happy, whilst misery and poverty go together very easily. Without a doubt, the happiest people I know are either retired, or self employed, doing something they care about and feel has value, and have strong friendship networks.

Often self employed people like me work longer hours than regular employees and do so for less money, but, you get to say no when you need to. You can fit your work around your life, and I see a lot of that amongst the self employed, especially around child raising. People who work for themselves always have more scope to be creative, and get more direct financial reward for the things they get right. There are more risks, but these days most regular employment is so insecure that the risks seem a lot smaller than they used to. At least when it’s your company you can really fight to keep it going and don’t have to depend on whether anyone else is determined to make sure your job continues to exist. What I hear from regularly employed friends suggest that increasing numbers of workplaces are becoming unreasonable, disrespectful pressure fests. The self employed may not have as much cash, but we don’t endure any workplace bullying unless we do it to ourselves.

There are basic essentials that we all need. Recent discussions on facebook around food budgets demonstrate that a person who knows their stuff and has enough wriggle room for some bulk buying, can live well on fairly little. Less desire to be fashionably dressed keeps the clothes budget down. Feet as transport save money, and the cost of gym membership. There’s an art to being less affluent, and one of the key requirements is knowing that cash does not equate to happiness. Yes, life without the basics is miserable, but that’s not always a money issue. Rest and sleep are basics, plenty of highly paid, high flying jobs will deprive you of those. Human relationships are also a basic human need, and if you’ve got to work all your waking hours, or deeply antisocial hours, money costs you in terms of relationship.

The first secret to finding happiness rests on knowing what actually makes you happy. That’s going to vary for all of us, but whatever you think you’ve got, it’s worth poking it. The joy of shopping, for example, can often be about getting a temporary sense of power out of spending money, but if you run up debts, that disempowers you, it can become like an addiction. Getting drunk can feel like happiness, but there’s thinking out there that our young people do this just to blot out the reality of the rest of their lives. So just how happy a state is that? Merry is great, slightly pissed can be wonderful, but so off your face that you don’t know which way is up? Its popular, hugely expensive in terms of police costs and antisocial knock-ons.

I am able to get by on very little because I know what I need. I have books, online articles and radio 4 to supply me with intellectual stimulus on a daily basis. I have good company in the form of my bloke, my child, fellow boaters, excellent friends and a wide selection of casual acquaintances in the wider world. I need time outside and most especially, panoramic landscape views. Enough food, exercise and rest are possible to achieve, although I don’t always get that balance right. Lying in bed, snuggled with my man, cat purring in my ear, child giggling at the other end of the boat as he reads Pratchett in bed… of these things are contentment made. Happiness is not a big, dramatic sort of emotion. If I need thrills and adventures, moving the boat on a windy day, cycling a hill, undertaking an epic walk – I can challenge myself. I don’t get bored. I have the freedom to think and feel as I please, to choose a lot of what happens, or negotiate it in ways that work all round. I am free from bullying, and unkindness doesn’t feature much in my life. I feel very lucky in all of this.

I’m happy when small things go well, and when what I do works for other people, when publishers say yes, and the child says ‘today was an awesome adventure’ or things to that effect. I’m happy when I feel that I’m acting ethically, and walking my talk in some way or another, and when what I do manifestly benefits someone else. Money can be nice, especially when it represents people who bought my books. But money does not buy me the call of the cuckoo, a child’s laughter, or the man who looks at me with adoration in his eyes.


Small scale living

I picked up an article and some attendant discussions recently about living in small spaces. Apparently new build in the UK is smaller than European averages, with one bedroom flats at perhaps 43 meters square. I did the maths and worked out the boat may be slightly smaller than that, and there are three of us in it. I also gather that in Japan, small living is more prevalent.

There are challenges, let’s be clear. Having more than one person in a small space means next to no personal space. Privacy is at a premium, but not impossible. It calls for constant attention and negotiation, so you really have to get on with the people sharing the small space. We’ve not struggled on this score, although in the depths of winter when it’s wet and grim outside and we’re all fidgety, it isn’t always a joy. Laundry and wet clothes are the biggest practical problem. Again, not insurmountable. I now have little lines strung up over the sink and draining board for when the waterproof outers get soaked. Dealing with wet clothes in a small space is not entertaining, but again, wholly possible. The person with a car probably wouldn’t face this one as much.

We had to give up all sorts of things to downsize. We have to be very disciplined about buying new stuff. Actually I like this, I like living lightly and not feeling weighted down by possessions. There’s less to clean, tidy and maintain, too. Every prospective purchase has to be considered. Where is it going to live? Is something else going to have to move out, and if so, what? It makes us focus on what we value and use most. It also discourages people buying us (and especially the child) anything that is both large and useless. Another win.

There is no way we can have dinner parties. I’m fine with that, I feel no lack. We meet people other places. No frantic pre-visitor tidying up, we just go to the pub. Splendid. We don’t end up with hordes of other people’s children coming to visit. This is fine too. We go to spaces where children can rampage. I do not worry about breakages, or children getting into things they should not. More win.

Large spaces are an invitation to accumulate stuff, (Been there, done that) most of the stuff is barely used, not even necessarily wanted, but it grows to fill the available space. The smaller the space, the less you let it do that. Unlike a lot of people I know, I don’t have an attic, garage or spare rom stuffed with unwanted things I can’t let go of. This is another win. Large spaces are also an invitation to stay in while your small space encourages going out. There’s a lot of space outside. Most of the time I’ve not felt cramped in the boat, because of what’s outside the windows. There’s a lot of space outside, and in nice weather, I can sit in it, and work. My ‘office’ for writing this afternoon will be under the willows. I can also use libraries, cafes, and other public spaces. I’ve felt more cooped up in houses than ever I have on the boat.

Then there’s the cost and environmental aspects. Often we only need one light in the evening, and the heating is much reduced. More space equals more lights and more heating needed. Bigger properties occupy more land, and that does have a direct environmental impact. Think how much soil is taken out of natural use in order to support all those bedrooms and garages stacked with unwanted junk. Smaller spaces take less cleaning and therefore use fewer cleaning products. Less carpet is required. Fewer cans of paint will be deployed in decorating, and on it goes. A smaller space means less consumption, continually, saving money and keeping you greener. Furthermore it will have been cheaper to buy or rent than a big space. And that saved money will enable you to get out and do more interesting things somewhere else.

I’m conscious that anyone with mobility issues may need a bit more space to get around. That’s a different sort of issue. Some working from home options require more storage space and work area than we do – again I’d not argue with that. However, having space so that you can have more junk, and as an antidote to not being able to relate very well to the people you ostensibly live with… not so clever. Small spaces call for interesting skills, managing possessions, accumulation, and human relationships. I can really recommend it as a learning experience. There’s so much to be gained from finding out what you actually need, and what’s just weighing you down. It’s easier than you might imagine, and more fun.