Monday 11 May 2015

Decoding our code

What is happening, if we feel the pulse of our current state, if we listen in, properly, to the wants and needs, the whining and unutterable truths, the big agendas and gentle nudges, what exactly are we calling for?


We could talk about other trends, but they all fall under this one header. I’m so struck by this epiphany, that I’m compelled to write it down, wring it over, maybe get it tattooed, and in turn, invite some thought around the topic. 

It’s a hard earned truth that our species’ genius is now causing us great suffering. Our evolutionary genetics have built us a world that is grandiose beyond the imagination of our recently passed ancestors. It's true we've become more collaborative, emotionally intelligent and socially-conscious but it’s also true that as we got cleverer, more nimble, perhaps egotistical and selfish too, we have created something that is war-ring us out. 

We live in a war zone, the ice caps are melting, stress, anxiety and depression are predicted to be the most common and debilitating (developed world) illnesses of the next decade, retailers are trading the livelihoods out of our nations farmers, we’re growing fatter, older and ever more sleepless. The F word, Fun, is on the decline.

In developed countries people are working more for less, family structures are deteriorating, we can’t decide if food is art or fuel but we’re so hungry for satisfaction we’re addicted to empty calories. We’re faced with streaming messages about how we can buy ourselves better.

(If you'd like some examples, go shopping; or in-box me.)

Hidden beneath this promise of health and happiness is a data-net tracking down our intricate habits and neuroses so that it can feed back more bait for us to desperately consume.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud marketers for getting under the skin of the insights that issue these messages. I’m one of them. I’m just taking a moment to utter the unutterable truth, surely we can’t say it out loud or we may all lose our jobs? I assure you my friends, without a dark side there is no light.

Like it or not, our new holy grail is, an antidote to modern life.

Rather than continue to plot this peculiar course of denial, which is not only a river in Egypt, isn’t it time to get braver and rawer; to start to (really) acknowledge our demons so we can offer up some more authentic care, light, love and happiness?

(Janis Joplin is a muse of mine.)

In less developed countries the poor get poorer whilst the rich get richer, landfill is hardly a pressing concern and the risk of drowning at sea is more attractive than staying at home, but, you can charge your cell phone under a tree in the middle of nowhere. My parents live in one of the most powerful economies in Africa, yet I listen to them recount cooking the evening meal in which they have to weather a power outage that lasts from 6-10pm, every night (because supply can’t meet demand.) They have no water three days a week (because of drought) - and they’re the lucky ones. 

Of course there is a rosy counter side, of course there is, but wears the weight of the issue? Yes it does.

We 'lucky-ones' have become nations catatonically whirl-winding in trauma – too fat, too tired, too unhealthy, too inactive, too insecure, too busy, too exploited, anxious, stressed, depressed, silently medicated turning the wheel.

“Too” used to be a rarely used emphatic. Not anymore. Too much.

I pace the supermarket, it’s one of the many delights of the work I do. I go shopping. Sometimes, whilst I’m out there, I recall a former life, before London had sunk into my soul, and I realise that I am really, really lucky that I landed with my feet in these aisles, simultaneously I realise that seen through my African childhood lens this job is really, really weird .

I grew up in a land of what the well-off called ‘shortages’ and the not-so-well-off called 'life'. Essential commodities were on the shelves sporadically. When flour, sugar or butter hit the stores a whisper spread like wild fire sans mobile technology, spurring a stampede. Treats were things you made at home or bought on holiday. Boiled sweets, ginger nuts and jumbo peanuts were our daily bliss. Waste was illegal. My parents were sustainable before it was invented.

Today, grown-up into a world I couldn’t have imagined, as I scout the shelves I look hard, beyond the surface of packs and products and colours and words into the deeper layers of meaning about who we humans are becoming.

Whilst we are still offered ample frivoloity, a revolution is gaining voice as our supermarkets and sellers clean up their acts, tapping into our collective conscious as if they can hear our unspoken thoughts and pleas, desperate for rescue from the state we’re in.

And they can hear us. We are being helped and/or persuaded to be healthier, cleaner, purer, gentler, reasoned, responsible, moderate, less rash, happier, calmer, fitter, older, wiser, cooler...

Sometimes kindly
Sometimes aggressively
Sometimes terrifyingly
Sometimes poignantly
Sometimes hilariously

(If you'd like some examples, go shopping; or in-box me, again.)

Paeleo and protein-rich diets, insects and super grains from our not-so-well-off cousins are filling up our shelves. Who would have thought we would take such a big leap back to our seedy pasts as we head into our tech-powered future where you can wear a wrist band that tracks your sleep patterns and suggests how to improve them, turn the heating up from the office and read a story to your estranged children in Australia, face-to-face, before bed time. We’ve come so far and now it would appear we’re back-tracking with a mixture of shame and hope.

I first dug up the courage to visit a therapist over twenty years ago. She gave me a list titled “Ten Rules For Being Human”, I’m delighted to see it make its rounds on social media from time to time. 

One rule was:

When your there has become here, you will simply find another there that will, again, look better than here.


In Britain we’ve just witnessed an election where every party was trying to offer up the antidote to modern life, albeit manifested differently depending on the roots of the speaker. As I listened to it go on and on seeding momentum into our conscience I often wondered who’s politics we were listening to? Yours, mine or ours. I netted out that the politics we hear can only ever really be those of the speaker. If we believe they’re ours we’ve swallowed the projection right on cue.

Now, if I was Prime Minister here’s what I would do:

I’d call three days off. Three whole days. Hurrah you shout!

I’d shut all off-licenses, pubs, bookies and put a big penalty on any reported drug offences. Boo you hiss! It’s heavy going I know but I’m calling for three days of bare naked chilling.

Then I’d ban talking for the first day. No talking. Not a word. No media. Nada. Just the sound of breathing. You're too stunned to make a sound. Touché.

I’d offer up a menu plan for simple, wholesome meat or vegetarian meals to get us through our detox from the election furore.

I’d get someone to donate big bottles of good-natural-born-water to each of us. But after that I’d consider banning bottled water in the developed world. And, if anyone ever instigated one of those ice-bucket-challenges again, I’d throw myself in front of a train. My parents, along with the rest of their sub-Saharan homeland, have lived through a drought for over two years now.

I’d ask everyone to spend at least one hour a day sitting very still and quiet, just noticing how they were feeling, right at this moment and the next moment and the next... Without commentary or judgment. Just noticing what comes and goes if we spend a little time, right "here", with a kind heart and inward gaze.

I’d ask every street in the country to come together on the evening of day two and host a street party. Maybe I’d unbar the off-licenses for this gathering. But I have to point out that in this country we are, myself included, too reliant on drink to get us through. There I said it.

I’d set one of those really annoying tasks: by the end of the night you must know the names of everyone in the street and what their favourite pastime is. You must make a promise to do something with each of them within the next month. Nooky permitted but try to be a bit less obvious. If you live in a long street, well I’m sorry, just be bad at the task.

I’d encourage you to sing and dance and play and shout and let go more than you knew you could – without hurting yourself, or anyone, or anything,  just like in therapy.

For the people that had to work, I know some people really have to and it messes up the whole world when they strike, I’d send in really good meals, massage therapists, a confidential speaking person for anyone that wanted a proper chat, a silent disco for the tea room and a weekend by the sea-side to show our appreciation for all the time they spend turning our precious wheel of life. Then I'd ask them what they'd really like and it's possible they'll say words like: acknowledgment, appreciation, renumeration. Now let's not strike that off...

And maybe it’d all end up in a brawl and I’d be shown.
Or maybe we’d learn some good home truths.
Just maybe, we’d all fall in love again, with our selves and each other and catch a glimpse of our intrinsic good souls, fulled to the hilt with raw potential, grit and character.
Right 'here'.
You never can tell.

Anyway, you can bless your lucky stars, I’m not Prime Minister. By the way, after day three, I’d get down to serious politicking and let you all get on with your work and lives. But I love the idea of a post election detox and Buddha knows we need one.

I learnt long ago and continue to learn more each day: we gain more from taking an hour to sit still and open our awareness to what’s really going on than from powering through the to-do-list as though our lives depended on it. Whilst the part of me that loves the dark side, feels a deep, painful sadness about the state we’re in. The other part of me is so encouraged by the fact that we are, at least, searching for something(s) to save our souls. Thank Buddha or whoever you bow to in reverence, that our inner nature is slowly bringing us home.

I don’t think there’s one answer and definitely not one right one. My tiny gesture to the world is the offer of facilitating people to stop and listen in, not out. I really hope I start a ripple and find some more good things to share. 

My enthusiasm to write all this down comes from a heartfelt belief that we can each only start where we are, but we can start. I could gesture a cliché, but I'll leave it at that.

I'm also wondering what tiny gesture you can make against the sway?
...and whilst you’re mulling that one, in the midst of all this madness, what made your heart smile today?

Yesterday I smiled at the spindly, grey old lady with perfect braids. Decked head to toe in fuschia, with a dog to match. She smiled back. She’s on to it.

Stop a minute, give thanks to and take a moment to acknowledge our innate better nature, the part of us we’ve forgotten to pay attention to whilst we’ve built this party-house. More and more briefs are landing on my desk, which is a coffee table, laced with an intrinsic antithetical plea, a turn out of the darkness we’ve created, towards a better good.

I can hear it all around me. It delights me as much as it terrifies me.

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#thinkingroom @barbra_thinks

Barbra Wright is mostly a Mindful Strategist, Creative Planner & Meditation Facilitator.
In 2014 she founded Thinking Room, because the world needs more of it.
She loves no ordinary conversation and would like to have one with you.