Getting away from it all – One year later…

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One year on…

It’s been over a year now since my visit to wilds of Northumberland National Park and the blissful isolation of the School House. With the blog up and running again now felt a good time to reflect on what’s been happening since.

I’m glad to say the changes I hoped to put into action did happen and did stick. In fact after an initial reduction in my hours with more time for blogging there came a further reduction. We always wanted to manage the school runs ourselves and finally this has been achieved by a further slight reduction.

My eyes are more open and I am much more ready for new opportunities, which has led to some great experiences. This year I attended my first technology conference called Thinking Digital. Held over 3 days at the Sage in Gateshead I got to meet and hear talks from some really inspiring people and made some contacts too. One of these was a fellow blogger Ruth who writes about fashion on her blog sheworechic . The beginning of smartwatches was a great opportunity to work together and Ruth cast her eye over the current batch of smartwatches before the Apple Watch arrived. This felt a great moment for me. Working with someone I met at a conference, which I would never have attended before my time away. It was a small step but it felt good. I enjoyed the experience so much I will be going next year.

For a while I was trying some Buddhist classes. The relaxation I felt was amazing and a good way of tapping into that calm feeling I felt whilst I was away. In the end the time pressure of attending almost felt it was defeating the point of going. There are many lessons I have learnt from attending those classes and try to keep reminding myself to practice in my life. A lot overlapped with the wonderful F*** It book I read whilst at the School House. Buying a copy of that book was one of the first things I did on returning home. It sits on my shelf and reminds of the way I felt reading it. Powerful. Unlimited potential. All those cheesy things you see in self-improvement books and websites.

I completed my first triathlon. This again was part of trying new experiences and not being so afraid to fail. I was very proud of completing it and being more fit and healthy than when I was younger. Now I am working on training for my next one with the goal not to just finish but put in a good time for me.

Life has a way of creeping back to how it was before.

Like a boat drifting to the banks of the river, every now and then it requires conscious dipping in of your oar to get back to the path you want.

Sometimes I and stop and read or watch something inspiring. I now sense the time when I feel overloaded with distractions and noise. So I stop going online, listening to music and podcasts in the car. Walk more. Let my mind speak quietly and gently and let it guide me to where it needs to be again.

A tougher aspect has been learning to live with less. Now I am not going to complain here. I don’t go without much and I am very grateful for that. As someone who loves gadgets its hard watching the latest and greatest come and go knowing you can’t get it. It’s taught me to be more sensible with my spending and whilst it’s dull and sensible it can feel good to have the control to say “I won’t get X today because next year I want Y” and then the pleasant experience when you get Y without still paying the price for previous impulsive purchases. Recently thanks to my blogging I have had the chance to use and write about two gadgets without me buying them first. This is my idea of heaven!

So life has improved. I have several days I don’t completely dread anymore and time to think and write. My goal still isn’t entirely clear but I am putting trust in life that if I keep experimenting, being less afraid and enjoying what I am doing then things will fall into place.

Maybe you can’t have the luxury I had of a week away alone. You might manage a day, an hour a day or whatever you can give to yourself. Without moments to stop and reflect you are just rolling from day to day.

I know someone who put it better than me…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller

 

A New Hope

Finished my first day at Thinking Digital 2014.

Already getting inspired by the many people I have chatted to and especially Katie Moffat who gave me tons of great advice this morning.

It’s going to be fairly heavy going with lectures from 9 until 6 tomorrow.

The direction of this blog is going to be changing and more focused and also I
will be writing more content as well.

My take away from today was to be a great blogger you must read as much or more than you write about your chosen area.

Watch this space!

Getting away from it all – Day 4 and 5

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DAY 4 and 5

I must have been at my zenith of relaxation at this point as I didn’t make any notes nor do I recall an awful lot about the last 2 days either!

Some things do stick in my mind. I recall going for a walk one day and near to the school house is a stream. The water was crystal clear flowing over the rocks and the sun was beating down. My mind recalls a feeling of warmth from the sun and just thinking of it makes me feel calm.

Feeling inspired by my reading and reflections on what I enjoy I thought I would take some time to have a plodge in the stream. This sort of felt strange to me. It would be the sort of thing I might do with the kids but to do it alone in the middle of nowhere? Regardless off came the socks and shoes and in I went! The water was icy cold but after a short while it just felt cool. I had to be tentative as at times I thought the rocks felt a little slippery. It was at this moment I thought about how much I worry. How much I expect the worse. In my mind I had visions of slipping on the rocks and fracturing my ankle. What would I do? I was all alone out here and there was no mobile signal even ( later I recalled that emergency calls can work even with no reception ). “Shut up Richard, just shut up. Enjoy the moment and it will be fine” I told myself. It was too. I took a few photographs of the stream and enjoyed the sounds of the stream and the soothing feeling of the water rushing between my toes. I returned to the house relaxed and happy, lit a fire and warmed myself through whilst having some lunch.

I did a lot more reading and art therapy. What is art therapy you may wonder? Well for me it’s a poncy way of saying I did some colouring in! I found myself a great book called The Creative Colouring Book For Grown-Ups after some googling. Within are pages and pages of complex black and white patterns. After you complete colouring them you have a nice piece of art. There are a number of reasons why I did this and it’s not as silly as it may appear at first glance. Firstly it helps me to engage another part of my brain and explore my creative side. It also forces me to slow down. You really can’t speed colour-in! Whilst I’m doing it my mind is focusing and a lot of other things start to melt away. Sometimes beginnings of ideas start to form. Finally at the end of it you have something to show for it. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a talent at painting and drawing free hand then go for it but personally I don’t and would just get frustrated with how poor my art looked. This allows me to engage that part of me in a quick and satisfying way. It’s something that has stuck with me but now I have transferred it to my time with the kids. We can all sit together calmly and colour in together and they seem genuinely fascinated that I am doing the same as them and we have fun chats whilst we are doing it. Importantly for my boys, they are still, calm and focused. Something I think most young boys don’t naturally do.

A plan was forming in my mind as to the way I wanted my life to move forwards from now on. I was going to do a lot more of what I enjoy, cut back on excess spending to allow this and reduce my time at work. I felt I would reduce my hours initially and see how that feels.

The most valuable thing I got from this break was this.

I need to leave medicine.

The timescale is unclear but it needs to happen. I lost the fear of this during my time there and I felt more at ease knowing this to be the truth. It was the truth lurking behind all my unhappiness. I have ended up in a career that I realised I have never been at ease with. I also learned that going forwards I would be myself a lot more when at work and just let that work out how it does. No more pretending. I could take the rigor mortice grin away. Take off the professional mask and just be me. In the meantime I needed to be aware of this feeling and keep myself fresh and up to date in order to keep my standards up for as long as I was working.

You can imagine the reaction to this when I discussed all this with my wife. We have built a world and a way of life around us based on our income as we all do. To lose mine would have a major impact on all of us. It was no easy discussion and it took weeks for the dust to settle but we both now understand each other’s view. It seemed only right to transition and see how it goes but it meant the world to have my wifes’ support in all this.

I was sad to leave the School House. It was a life affirming and transformative few days and the sense of peace was amazing. Life was waiting back at home however. It wasn’t the life I left behind though and for once I was excited about engaging with it.

 

A Big Thank You

Before the onslaught of texts, tweets, pokes and perhaps even phone calls ( how quaint! ) I wanted to mark the end of the year with a big thank you to my readers.

Without you I’d be talking to myself but getting feedback from you all is the highlight of my day and I honestly am thrilled when people say they have read my post and have enjoyed it and it made them think.

I aim to be blogging more next year and I promise there is an end to my ‘Getting away from it all’ posts in the pipeline.

Thanks again and see you all in 2014!

Stay happy, stay calm.

Rich

A fun use of Airplay mirroring for kids

Just a really quick one this holiday season that I wanted to share.

We discovered this almost by accident when messing around with Gangnam dance booth ( yes, still ). The boys were both trying to dance to the video but huddled over an iPhone it wasn’t working well.

I put the Apple TV on and Airplay mirrored to it. Much better for them to dance around with more space.

It was the boys who created there own fun use of it that I wanted to share. Once they realised everything on the device was shown on the TV it wasn’t long before Minion Rush was on. My youngest stood up and started copying everything on the screen. Jumping, ducking, stomping and of course dramatically throwing himself at the floor when he died.

They have been playing great together like this and taking turns. One doing the running the other on the iPhone.

At least they are getting exercise and playing together whilst enjoying their favorite games.

Perhaps it’s something your children might enjoy. Happy Holidays!

Getting away from it all – Day 3

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DAY 3

So hooked on reading F*** It this day and it shaped so much of what I was thinking and doing. I could feel the fear of failure slipping away. I decided from that day I was going to just be myself more, live life more, be more silly and just enjoy it.

I reached a turning point too as I decided from then on I was going to reduce my number of days per week to give myself more time to do the things I really love doing. I also committed to being more open to new possibilities and say ‘no’ a lot less.

In the true spirit of the book I jumped in the car and drove a few miles over the border. I was looking for a nice place to eat for when the rest of my family arrived. I ended up in a small local pub sitting with three grumpy old men. It was actually rather funny but since I had ordered a soft drink felt I had to oblige and look at their menu. I read some more to pass the time. Making some excuses I headed off and eventually found the place recommended to me. The Border Hotel is a lovely place and the food and welcome were great.

Feeling ever more like I wished to act on my new decisions I drove back in the direction of the house and found a nice hotel to sit and drink coffee in. As luck would have it they had a nice open wood fire and a fantastic range of tasty treats.

I turned my data connection back on. I ignored all the various alerts swishing and bleeping at me. Not today. That crap would wait until I got home. Emailing my agency that finds me work I thought more lateral than normal. I was in a job until late March. What if I ask if they can get another person to cover a day a week for them and get my hours down sooner? Back came the reply that with some caveats they would try their best to help.

Sat there, I reflected more on my use of technology so far on this unplugged break. It’s bloody useful was the overriding thought. Timer in the kitchen. Camera to record all the stunning landscapes. Audiobooks in the car to laugh at. Website for looking up alternative jobs. Texting my mum to let her know I’m have a great time or my wife to tell her how much I miss her and the changes I can see happening. I have to admit a little bit gaming too. Not for long but just enough to switch off from reading and reflecting. Why was I beating myself up? This was my break, for me and I’ll enjoy it any damn way I please.

The flip side to this was that it gave me the chance to step back from it. It didn’t matter that I had been off Twitter for days. Nothing bad happened because I wasn’t answering my emails. I certainly had got a lot more done without so many digital distractions but come to appreciate the good aspects of it for what they are. Tools. These are tools to help us do what we want to do. For me that balance had been lost and this was a powerful reminder to let go of all that background noise and do the things that I love.

I finished watching the Matrix trilogy and the Animatrix ( watch it if you haven’t already ) and I felt I was getting more of the philosophy of the movie. “Free. Your. Mind.” as Morpheus says to Neo. With a free and open mind we can do so much more with ourselves. Perhaps more than we dared to dream at first.

The day ended with a little gaming on the phone whilst I was waiting for a call from my wife. I was upset after a long while that she hadn’t called only to find I had knocked the telephone off the receiver. #Facepalm.

To be continued

Getting away from it all – Day 2

 

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DAY 2

After ending my first day with a lovely healthy meal and a glass or few of rose wine watching a DVD, I awoke on Day 2 in good spirits. It would be my first full day at the house.

I also had no idea what the time was. It didn’t matter. That in itself was such a calming feeling. It didn’t matter what the time was. Takes some getting used to.

Day 2 must have been a very relaxed day as I couldn’t even be bothered to write in my journal that day! I am recalling the events from memory and brief notes written on Day 3.

Much as I loved the view it was being spoilt for me as the place was so remote the windows hadn’t been cleaned for a long time. There were cobwebs everywhere. So I spent an hour or two cleaning all the windows, sweeping away leaves and killing off bluebottles that had hatched since someone had last been in. A little unpleasant but the end result made me happy, and I knew my wife would have hated it the way it was, so I felt I was making the place more welcoming for her.

I had a stroll and walked up what was a much bigger hill than I thought! It seemed a never-ending steep climb but the views from the top were worth it. I could have just captured them in my mind but I had the thought to take my phone with me to take some photos too. I enjoy photography and the area was so naturally pretty it was too good to pass up. So I took a few snaps. Then the bug started to bite. Hey, I thought , I am so high up here I might get a mobile reception! Curious I switched the phone off Airplane mode and indeed there was a very faint reception, 1-2 bars at most. I could have tweeted a photo. If I did though I would be breaking my own data embargo as I would be quickly sucked into reading tweets. It gave me a pleasant feeling of control to switch the phone back to Airplane mode and return it to my pocket. Besides, it was far to0 windy and cold to sit reading tweets!

Returning to base camp ( joking ), I was a bit chilly so I lit a fire with the logs and kindling provided to warm the place through and ran myself a bath. A bloody big, deep bath. With smelly bubble bath and incense. Glass of wine+Book=Bliss.

Prune-like I emerged having finished reading a book called ‘The Secret’. You have probably seen it on bookshelves. I was warned by the person who loaned it to me it might seem a bit weird and ‘hippy’. Indeed I did have to fight against my normal self screaming “Oh come on!” at some sections. However, I was here trying to reshape my life exactly because of the way I had always thought. It wouldn’t hurt to challenge myself to take a new approach. Basically the concept is this. There is enough of everything in the world and if you want and believe strongly that something will come to you it will. This could be an object or even something more abstract like love. I could see how this could work. If you behave negatively and angry you end up surrounded by people like that and vice versa. Just being in these different circles alone is enough to have a dramatic effect on your life and the things and events that come to us. We love feedback as humans and if something great happens we will want to replicate those conditions to make it occur again. Put simply think positive – positive things will happen and so the opposite is true. These things may not occur immediately. The book contains lots of quotations claiming all the greatest thinkers of mankind knew this.

I also made a head start on a book called F*** It – the ultimate spiritual way by John C. Parkin. Immediately I knew this book was written for me. It had come into my life at just the right time. Hold on I hear you saying, this is a book called F*** It, how can it change your life? It just sounds crass and silly. Childish maybe. To that I say good, f*** it!

I love this book so much I bought a copy immediately on returning home. I need it to be there. I need it to sit on my shelf and remind me how free I can be if I want it and how free my thinking was that week. If you are looking to change your life, feel more content, reduce stress levels and get on better with those around you this is the book I would recommend. In fact unless you are already living in a zen state of calm everyday there is something in this book for you.

So I read a lot on Day 2 and bombarded my mind with new ways of thinking. I settled down in front of the fire that night feeling more calm. Confident that things could and would change. Then I watched Neo kick ass in the Matrix Revolutions, read a graphic novel ( comics for adult folks. Not porn ) and slept soundly. Tomorrow was a new day.

For once in a long time I was looking forwards to it.

To be continued….

Getting Away from it all – Day 1

 

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Spending some time alone is an invaluable experience in the modern world. It’s increasingly hard to do but in return its impact is therefore greater. Early this year I felt this was something I really needed to do. To switch off. To get away from ‘it all’. So I did.

I was very clear about one thing. It had to be remote. Seriously remote. I stopped short of staying in a cottage on an island only accessible by boat, but went for a comfortable second. A cottage which was formerly an old school-house located in a remote part of the Northumberland national park. Since I have discovered it is one of the least populated regions of the UK.

Before I left I gave some serious thought as to how I might spend my time. I had 5 days. At the end of those five days my wife and kids would join me for some time away too. I had to make the most of it. My goal was to clear my head and re-think how my life was going to be in the future because the status quo wasn’t making me happy. I had several books to read but I also wanted to spend some time doing the things I really love like watching films and listening to music. As I would be alone I could also spend more time cooking healthy. Finally I decided also to remove a lot of information overload. I planned to not use email, texts, social media and gaming. Followers on Twitter suggested that removing music and movies might be too harsh on myself so I stopped short but to avoid temptation I took an iPod classic which was so old it only acts as a music player. Well okay, it has some naff games on but they were never something I really played.

In the spirit of keeping things simple I thought I would also keep a journal of my time there using pen and paper. I hadn’t written with a pen for years other than to scrawl my signature hundreds of times a day so this would be interesting.

DAY 1

Before setting off I made a spur of the moment decision. I wanted stupidly bright underwear and socks. It dawned on me that morning that all my stuff is conservative and dull. This week was all about change and I felt if I could change something simple it could remind me that things can be different.

I had planned my route out before and typed out the turnings, expecting to have no signal on my mobile worth using for the last part of it. The description sent with it was also very helpful but when includes passages like “at the four cottages on their own turn right and follow the road until you cross the cattle grid” you know things are getting remote.

The views during the drive to the cottage were breath-taking. At one point I turned right onto a long straight country road and at either side in the distance were hills framing it beautifully with the sun shining between them. It was such a dramatic ‘reveal’. An unconscious “Woah!” escaped from my lips. This was beautiful. Utterly perfect. If I were a cinematographer I would shoot this reveal in a helicopter following the car, and as they round the bend the camera would pan out-and-up to reveal the dramatic landscape leaving our heroes to zoom off towards the hills.

For the last few miles of the drive I did not see a soul. It looked like this was going to tick my boxes perfectly.

It was at this point I had my first reflection on technology and its place in our lives. Despite my detailed list I found I didn’t need it as the Google Maps app was spot on all the way. In fact it was so good it took me almost exactly to the door of the cottage only over shooting the end-point by 10 yards or so. Lets not get too carried away though. Had my data connection failed it would be useless. So much of our technology is dependant on external infrastructure.

The cottage was just as I thought but the views around it were much more stunning than I anticipated. I admired the view from the kitchen window as I waited for the cafetière to brew and started to relax. No pressure. No objective. No time limits. I sat down with my cup of coffee and a croissant fresh from the oven and began to read. I read for hours. No interruptions and in total silence. I wondered to myself ‘when was the last time I did this?’ and couldn’t answer the question. It had to be around 20 years.

My iPhone had been turned off and in a draw since arrival. I didn’t miss it at all.

To be continued…

5 days of tech free living

Increasingly I have felt the need to unplug, to disconnect. Not just from technology but also from people for a while. Don’t worry about me I’m ok but it’s something that I have come to realise needs to happen. A chance to think. To slow down.

This week I spent 1 hour just chatting with friends at the gym. Unplanned , unstructured chat. No agenda. No time to end it and not wanting something from it. What hit me? I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this. Yes, I meet with my friends now and then but there is always a subtext. We haven’t met in ages perhaps or it’s one of the kids birthdays and so on.

It felt great. I really valued that connection without expectation. Yet we had only been chatting for an hour. It felt so much longer because I was fully relaxed.

I decided a while back to allow myself the chance to spend more time relaxed and also thinking about the overall direction life is going in. I decided I needed to be alone. Not just a bit. Not just a hour without the kids. Not just me and the wife. Alone. Really alone.

At first I was looking at some seriously remote places like islands in Scotland where you get dropped off by boat an you are the only person there for many miles. Various factors dictated that wasn’t wise so I have found a cottage in Northumberland which hasn’t soul for miles around it.

I’ll be staying there for 5 days and then at the end my wife and kids are coming to stay too to enjoy the views and seclusion.

Then it hit me. This is a real opportunity to do something unique to me. To completely unplug from technology.

Here is what I propose. For 5 days I have no web ( that’s enforced ) but also no TV , no gaming , no using my smartphone. I may allow myself music and films but even that I am debating.

I’d really be interested in people’s thoughts. How far should I push it? Would you ever do the same? What sorts of things would you like to know about during my experience?

I’ll be writing on pen and paper and plan to arrive with adequate food etc so that I don’t need to return to ‘civilisation’ for those 5 days. Books, drawing and perhaps playing on my guitar will be my sources of entertainment.

Please leave me a comment below.