On Suffering

I have an injury to my psoas (one of the muscles joining the spine to the leg via the pelvis) that I sustained when training for a strongman competition in 2015. It comes and goes. Some days it flares up and triggers anxiety attacks (maybe it’s a hernia? Maybe it’s hip cancer?) then some days I realise I’ve forgotten about it.

Many clever people through time, from Viktor Frankl to Alain de Botton, have posited that ‘Happiness’ is a futile pursuit. Indeed, de Botton postulates that true happiness is impossible to sustain for more than 15 minutes, before our human neuroses pick it apart and destroy it.

Rather, it is said, we should learn to embrace the inevitable suffering that comes with being a human life form. Essentially, the meaning of life isn’t to pursue some nebulous, fantastical Instagram-post ideal, but rather to learn how to suffer well and find meaning in it. Given that sadness and bad times cannot possibly be avoided, and happiness cannot possibly be achieved permanently, what choice do we have?

Something I’m practicing is ‘sitting with’ anxiety, and ‘sitting with’ pain, rather than continually trying to flee from it. The aim is to avoid the external grasping for some resolution that only results in more pain, disappointment, disillusionment – the feeling that everyone else is having a better time than you.

Then, the actual good times, the 15 minutes where you are actually happy, can be enjoyed for what they are – part of life’s rich tapestry.

Why I Stopped Meditating

On my never ending quest to not be a miserable headcase, I’ve tried many things. Due to my ‘can-do’ attitude and general stubbornness, when I try something I go all out for the taste.

So, I took up mindfulness meditation.

I got an app (Calm), and goddamnit I meditated the shit out of it. Every single morning I would sit for 10 minutes, breathe deeply, try to let thoughts come and go.

Rewind two years – I tried meditation with an app called Headspace, which was also very good but perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind because sitting there concentrating on my breathing just gave me panic attacks.

But now? Hoo boy, I had this thing nailed.

711 meditation sessions.
A total of 124 hours and 30 minutes sat meditating.
Longest unbroken streak? 358 days.

But at the end of it, was I any Calmer? Was I any happier? Was I any less distracted, anxious and fearful of real life? Was the skinny dog tethered in the rain that lives in my head howling any quieter? No.

Why did I stop meditating? Because I got it wrong. I took meditating as something you have to do as part of your daily routine, part of your checklist of ‘I’m doing the right things’, the natural anticipation being that checking these boxes results in an outcome you’re intending. Life, largely, doesn’t work that way.

In making meditation a required daily activity, I robbed it of its meaning. I emailed Calm support and their very prompt and kind response was along the lines of “why not try not being a dickhead and boasting about your meditation stats like it’s fantasy football, and just use meditation as a tool when you need it?”.

So I stopped meditating every morning, and I don’t feel any the worse for it, in fact I likely feel slightly better because I don’t feel like I’m failing to get the benefits of meditation.

And I’ve saved £30/year in app subscriptions.

Why Wouldn’t You Even Try?

When I was a kid, at primary school, we used to play Rounders quite a bit during our PE lesson. For those of you not aware, Rounders is a bit like baseball but shitter.

In my class there were a group of girls who used to be made to play the game, who obviously did not want to.

They would stand there when it was their time to bat, holding the stumpy wooden stick limply by their side, then when the ball was thrown (underarm, of course – we weren’t barbarians) instead of swinging the bat, they would take a listless half-step forward, drop the bat and saunter to first base. It may not surprise you to learn that not one of them ever came close to hitting the ball, even by accident.

I remember very clearly, even at that young age, being both mystified and annoyed by this behaviour. I couldn’t understand how you could stand in front of a slow moving ball, with a bat in your hand, and not even swing at it.

Why wouldn’t you even try? No matter how little you want to win, why wouldn’t you move your arm?

Now, I’m not trying to shame these particular individuals, because I’m sure they had their reasons – or maybe they didn’t need a reason and maybe it’s none of my damn business and the fact this has stayed with me this long says a lot more about me than them.

But in life ever since, I’ve met people who won’t swing the bat.

These are not people who get things done.

I guess that’s the funny thing about your own personal value system, anything outside of it is incomprehensible sometimes. Now, for all I know, these girls could have grown up to be heads of industry, and if so I wonder what happened to make them realise the value of trying, even when you don’t see an immediate benefit.

All I know is, when it was my turn, I swung that bat as hard as I could.

The Problem With Goals

There is an ongoing, life-long process of ‘sorting my life out’. I’d love to be able to tell you I was making progress but I am plainly not.

I’ve read just about every self-help book on the planet. I’ve studied NLP, undergone CBT, ascribed to Stoicism as a personal philosophy. I meditated daily up until recently, I journal, I do Yoga. I’m vegetarian. In case any of these things are relevant.

But I’m still no closer to being happy, and for one reason – any ‘goal’ requires an aim, and the aim needs to be specific enough to be manageable. ‘Being happy’ isn’t really an actionable goal one can strategise for as it’s too vague.

So when Tony Robbins tells me I can design my best life by starting with what I want, I’m stymied – because I just don’t know. If I could write down ‘massive house, fast car, 100 guitars’ with any kind of conviction I would, but that isn’t it.

I have a fantasy of moving to a small coastal village where nobody knows me, introducing myself to the locals as an artist and living a simple life, painting and being eccentric.

But is that a goal? I guess I’m the only one who can answer that, and at the moment, my answer is a bewildered “I don’t know”.

The Observer at the End of Time

Of the many startling ideas to emerge from Relativity and Quantum Physics (time dilation,gravity lenses,black holes, sub-atomic particles etc.) possibly the most startling of all is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which suggests, in simple terms, that nothing can be said to exist until it’s observed.

Electrons don’t spin sedately around the nucleus, as Newtonian mechanics would have it, but rather exist as a sort of haze, representing the probability of their being in any one place at any one time.

Some scientists see the involvement of the observer as the most important feature in quantum theory. Until the observer observes, subatomic particles can be said to exist anywhere, or not at all. Only in the act of observation is the particle brought into existence, so to speak.

How does this relate to us? Well this is where the Participatory Anthropic Principle comes in. On a subatomic scale, quantum phenomena are only brought into existence by observation; but the entire universe is made up of nothing but a vast multiplicity of quantum events interacting on a monumental scale. Do we need any other explanatory device for the whole of the cosmos? If not, then the universe has been brought into being by countless acts of observation, by all the observers who have ever existed, exist now, and will ever exist in the future.


Something I posted on facebook last week

Alright, this is going to be a very long post – so buckle up. On April 3rd I left social media, ostensibly because I was too busy to spend/waste time posting memes. Like many of you I struggle a great deal with my mental health – namely depression, social anxiety and health anxiety. I find social media to be very unhealthy for me in this regard, for the following reasons:

1) Twitter especially, but facebook also, tend to be an arena of people being offended by things, and other people insulting them for being offended about those things. It’s constant adversarial rhetoric from all sides, with ideologues seeing everything through the prism of their specific bias, and none of this has any bearing on reality as I experience it

2) Mass media controlling thought. All mainstream media is fed by an agenda, and there are no ‘good’ agendas – not even the ones you happen to agree with. Every piece of ‘news’ is carefully selected, groomed and manipulated to make you feel a certain way (usually scared). It’s all designed to drive a wedge in between people, because this is how money is made and companies, countries and factions stay in business

3) Privacy. As I predicted in my best-selling novel ‘It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter’ (available on Amazon) we have become our data, we are bought and sold and marketed to relentlessly and largely without our full cognisance. Your phone listens to your conversations and serves adverts to you based on them. Facebook, google etc scrape your life and use it to perniciously pump ‘tailored content’ into your eyes. It leads to more confirmation bias and manipulation of your reality – you are the product.

So I thought deeply about what I actually gain from social media – I give them my data, what do I get in return? Twitter was easy to dispose of, I deactivated my account by default by refusing to accept their new T&Cs in light of GDPR. Facebook is harder, because all my friends are here.

But then it hit me – that’s the problem.

Because all my friends are here, I’m drawn here regularly, refreshing my news feed, kidding myself that I’m learning something, keeping connected, being a ‘good friend’ by liking your posts, or pretending I’m popular when I post a funny joke and a few people lol.

You are the logs in facebook’s furnace of attention.

So am I.

So why haven’t I deleted my facebook account? Well, I find the groups and pages useful for finding creative opportunities and self-development content and support. There are still certain content providers that supply links to interesting long-form articles. I don’t read the news, I don’t visit news websites, the only magazines I read are Wired and Positive News. I need some fresh content occasionally.

To this end, I’ve done something drastic. I’ve unfollowed every single last man jack of you. This is not a commentary on your content or our friendship or anything like that. But you are the logs in facebook’s furnace of attention. I remove the logs, and I don’t visit as often or stay, and when I’m here I’m benefitting in an amount commensurate with the price I pay for it (my data). I remove the logs, and I pay a lower price, by interacting less and giving less data.

I urge you to do the same – unfriend/unfollow me by all means, it’s unlikely I’ll be posting much if at all and when I do it will be sporadic and self-serving.



Differentiated from magic

Once, I threw a coin into a wishing well at Mother Shipton’s cave and wished that I would win a writing competition. A month or so later my first short story was accepted for publication.

Another time, I came back to my car in a car park to find someone had driven into it and he was kindly leaving me his details. He had exactly the same name as me. He also lived a few doors down from a house I lived in some time ago.

Either coincidences mean something or they mean nothing. If they do mean something, do they just mean something to you, or to the universe? On a wider scale, given that our whole reality is based on our perception of events from our own perspective, perhaps coincidences really are the universe speaking to us. Hiding in plain sight.

The odds of someone you meet having the same birthday as you is 1 in 365. Not particularly far-fetched, but if it happened it would make you raise an eyebrow, and you would attribute meaning to it on some level.

As humans, we’re programmed to spot patterns and create connections and tribes due to commonalities. We also wage war due to our differences.

The universe, however, in its cold indifference doesn’t give a shit.

Some Reassurance

Would be nice

Nobody said life was going to be easy.

But being an adult is hard and it really sucks. Yes, you get to drink beer and drive a car and potentially die in a war, but beyond that there’s little to recommend it.

I don’t remember ever really wanting to be a grown up when I was a kid. I just remember not wanting to be a kid. Now, of course, I would love to be a kid again.

Sometimes I go for mental nostalgia walks through my old secondary school, with big blocks of fuzzy blackness where my memory can no longer fill in the gaps. It serves no purpose, save for increasing general melancholy.

Often, I feel like my best days are behind me, and even they weren’t that good.

A Ringing In Their Ears

Persistent, all-pervading metaphor

I suffer from Tinnitus – hearing a sound when no sound is present. For me, it’s a perpetual, high-frequency whine that favours my left ear.

Likely caused by over two decades playing in rock bands, it’s something I just live with. It goes without saying it gets louder the quieter my surroundings are.

But – and here’s the funny thing – it goes away when I forget about it. Or maybe it doesn’t, and I just concentrate on other things. It gets worse when my anxiety gets worse, and I can’t remember it being there at points when I’ve been happy. Although it almost definitely was.

I wonder what else this could apply to – what other maladies, mental and physical, fade away when not given the oxygen of attention?

Oddly, there is some comfort in constancy. Some respite in acceptance. A bend in a toe, a kink in an ear. Wear and tear.

I just need to avoid silence.


Searching for lost time

I have a very bad relationship with my own past. Not because anything particularly terrible happened in it, but because it’s something that has gone and won’t come back.

I suffer badly from nostalgia, a little-recognised medical complaint with melancholy, regret and rose-tinted thinking being the main symptoms.

So much time has passed, that cannot reoccur, which seems somewhat obvious to state, I realise.

Now, the more positive among you might say – “well, given that you are currently, this moment, living in your soon-to-be past, why don’t you relish it now before it gets away, then live with no regrets?” which is an excellent point. Well done.

However, it’s like having your nose pressed up to a masterpiece – you simply can’t appreciate it for its beauty and its flaws until you’re stood far enough away.

By which time, you’re too far away to touch it.