Sunday, 9 October 2011

Literally Yours

This week saw us host the last of this years week long events and what a wonderful week it was! A group of writers, from six different countries, descended on Les Cerisiers to be guided through six days of embodied writing with the multi-talented Mandoline Whittlesey and poet-singer Sarah E Green. The event exceeded the expectations of all who attended and Mark and I were privileged to attend a beautiful evening of song and poetry. Mandoline kindly dedicated a poem to Les Cerisiers which I'd like to share with you here:
Les Cerisiers

five-leafed green
like an unsaying lip
the tip
of a horses' tail
courting flies under trees
the breeze
just touching
the water's skin
the soon-coming snow
it'll all rest in.

To keep with the literary theme I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Alastair Vere Nicoll, author of Riding the Ice Winds, earlier this year. Alastair truly exemplifies where following your dreams - in his case across Antartica with sledges and kites, can lead. His book is both adventure story and a more personal journey as he is driven to cross this vast continent in time to be present at the birth of his first child. Honest and moving, both Mark and I enjoyed the book for different reasons, read it and let us know your responses. Alastair kindly agreed to an interview which I hope you'll enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed conducting.
the really big dream company: At the beginning of ‘Riding the Ice Wind’ you quote George Bernard Shaw
‘Life is not about finding yourself: it is about creating yourself’ Who, as a result of this adventure, is AVN?

Alastair Vere Nicoll: I think and hope that I’m still in construction. One of themes of the book is that once an undertaking is accomplished, life continues and the same challenges are still faced - in different ways - and so you have to continue working at becoming the person that you want to be. In that sense life is a journey – a journey to becoming you (and sometimes in the other direction). The evolution is scary but it’s also exciting as it means there’s always something ahead.

trbdc: One of life’s eternal struggles, and one that you faced frequently throughout your book, seems to be between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘wants’. What words of wisdom would you offer to anyone who knew what they wanted to do but were constrained by doing what they felt they should do?

AVN: I always struggle to give advice. All I can say is what I experienced and allow people to decide if it resonates as everyone’s circumstances are different. I certainly don’t have it right.

The platitude is that you ‘should’ enact your dreams to make them real but the reality is much more complicated. Certain responsibilities can’t be shirked. We make promises in life and some of the richest decisions we make come from self-sacrifice and patience – particularly around rewarding relationships – and to do what you want without considering the consequences may actually be self-defeating. Having said that, to continually sublimate your deepest desires is a form of martyrdom that is equally unsatisfying. The best thing for me is to confront, articulate and share what I ‘want’ and then strategise to achieve it to try to have the minimum effect on the ‘shoulds’. I’m not afraid of a circuitous route. Long term goals and plans, provided they are being actioned a step at a time - and not held as a mere pipe dream – are ok. It sounds abit trite but I’m a fan of writing down and sharing your 5yr, 10yr and whole of life plans with the key impacted parties.

trbdc: There is a marvellous moment where you describe an ‘instant(s) of magical intensity that make life worthwhile (and) wondered if I’d invoke this memory to inspire me at times in the future when I needed to draw strength from the memory of an uplifting experience’. Have you recalled this moment since? Does it work?

AVN: You asking the question has made me recall it - which I’ve enjoyed.

I’m afraid the response is a little like a sequence of Russian dolls, as the key difficulty is having the mental dexterity and the space and time in your life to remember to remember those moments! I’m not a meditator but I suspect that some of the benefits derived from meditating is to give yourself space to focus and recall these incredible moments that life has to offer which can be too rare among the drudgery.

A legitimate goal is to seek to populate one’s life with as many of those uplifting moments as you can, however the irony is that when you look you don’t find – the moments just arrive unexpectedly, like a flower out of waste.

Trbdc: You talk about getting out of a rut by feeling ‘compelled to dangle every so often by a thin chord above a raging torrent – literally and metaphorically’.
Are you dangling by ‘a thin chord above any raging torrents – literally (or) metaphorically’ at the moment or do you plan to do so in the near future?

AVN: Yes! But not in a way that I had anticipated. I started a business nearly four years ago (and the last few years has been an interesting time for a start up....) building renewable energy plants in emerging markets (– including small run-of-river hydros in the Himalayas, so I guess you could say I’m literally chasing the raging torrent) but it has thrown up, and continues to throw up, some moments when I have to check the chord is properly fastened....

Trbdc: Through the book you explore notions of reality and finding our true selves rather than living in a world where ‘we are being increasingly alienated from our original selves’. Have you any tips for living a more authentic life?

AVN: I’m not there yet – I should be getting tips rather than giving.

I struggle with getting balance as I can get too tied up in new projects which means I’m living in the ‘never-never’, the ‘one-day-maybe’ world too much rather than actually living: another theme of my book. I think projects and plans are utterly essential and unless you really commit to them they don’t happen but John Lennon’s position on life and plans is wholly true and you have to remember to spare some time for just being and that generally means simplifying and deriving enjoyment from the little interactions. I remember recently being impressed by a Barista who served coffee with a huge smile on his face and it was infectious and it made me want to smile more. Doing anything calmly, with friendliness and stopping to engage and observe delivers an authentic life without being defined by physical achievement.

Trbdc: What does the phrase ‘follow your dream’ mean to you?

AVN: A dream needn’t be one thing, it can be just be being who and what you want to be rather than achieving a particular goal. Achieving a goal leaves an emptiness after it. You’re continually pursuing and never in possession. Even the phrase ‘follow your dream’ suggests perpetual unfulfillment, like a hare chasing a stuffed rabbit that it never catches. Perhaps it should be ‘leading your dream’: positively inventing what you want to do (and that’s yours not someone else’s for you), creating yourself in a way that means you can fulfil it and then actively taking it on and making it happen, like a leader not a passive follower. As I’m motivated by challenges, the truest challenge for me is enjoying the journey and all the little moments along the way not just the instant, the ‘orgasm’, of accomplishment.... and of course the dreaming itself can be fun.

Trbdc: What are the elements of your perfect day?

AVN: I could get truly absurd for the really perfect day so I’ll restrict to the perfect normal day; it would be made up of each of the following in no particular order. It all sounds a bit twee but I think right (for me)...;

• Some exercise – it makes me feel alive, healthy and unstressed and allows me to truly indulge the bullet below
• Incredible but simple food – I’m an unashamed glutton and love meal times both for the food for the conviviality and it’s a time I most associate with family
• A moment of nature – for me an incredible, sparse immense panorama is the most uplifting – but it could be as simple as five minutes in a nook in the garden with a coffee just seeing something beautiful
• A moment of love or fellowship – a greeting from a child that’s missed you, a hug, a shared moment
• Indulging the mind – reading a book, watching a good film, reading an interesting article, having an original thought that strikes a chord, accomplishing some difficult work satisfactorily.

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Spurred on by Alastairs words, I think I'll take my coffee into the garden and immerse myself in the immense panorama of my setting.