Something had to change

I’ve been working on my storytelling recently, by condensing what could be pages and pages (or books and books) into a few sentences.

I’ve just finished the first episode of a series of 60 second films that tell the story of my last few years. This is the first one, a general overview that ends with what feels like a natural call to action: which is, how can I help? Other episodes will zero on on each one of my Expedition1000 journeys, and different aspects of SayYesMore’s creation. But for now, here’s Part 1! Let me know what you think!

To paddle around an island

For some time I’ve suffered from an affliction that arrives in the form of a shoulder-mounted gremlin, who maintains silence until I arrive on a tranquil island for some much-needed downtime. Then it pipes up with a word that can’t be ignored…

“Circumnavigation”

God damn. It always sounds so romantic and intrepid, the concept of rounding an island on the sea, but nature also has her way of ensuring that we continue to do silly things by painting upcoming pain-fests as baths of honey.

In reality, these sweet, ever-huggy thoughts don’t last forever. Not when the ocean is gently bopping you on the head and your poor weedy arms are trying to pump out 25,000 paddle strokes in 12 hours.

Emms and I are enjoying an extended honeymoon in Thailand, as you might have read earlier. We’ve spent our first weeks on Koh Phangan, the middle island in a chain of three in the Gulf of Siam, which also includes Koh Samui and Koh Tao. It wasn’t long before I wondered whether some kind of adventure might interfere with our bliss, and slowly a plan developed to paddle round each of the islands.

The decision was made partly because of the distances. Long ago, in 2014, some friends and I paddled around Martinique in the Caribbean. It took around 10 days and was intended to be the first of a series of twenty-five mini-journeys that might go some way towards padding the gaps in between my longer 1000-mile+ trips. Each one, I proposed, would be on a Stand Up Paddleboard, at least 100 miles in distance, and in a different country from the previous paddles.

In order of circumference, Koh Samui is 75km around, Koh Phangan 50km, and Koh Tao 25km. Which comes pretty darn close to 100 miles in total.

We have ourselves a little challenge. As Koh Phangan is the current base this is where we’ll start. The maths are easy. My average speed on an inflatable SUP hovers around 3.5miles per hour, including the odd water and photo break. The sun rises at 6:15am and sets at 5:55, so with Twilight I’d have twelve hours to cover a touch over 30 miles. Normal speed + a couple of meal stops and this felt more than doable. 

 Morning view

Morning view

When you’re away only between sleeps then preparation is minimal. We’ve already got our boards here, inflatable 12 foot Pathfinders by Lakeshore. Mine’s called Mud, after its maiden voyage on the Mississippi. And then I gave myself a £20 budget for the whole day, which is hearty living in these parts.

I was excited, I really was. It had been a while since my last adventure, largely because that waterbike trip along Norway’s rugged coastline had properly kicked my ass, but as we pulled ourselves out of bed at 5:30am I didn’t even hold the slightest envy knowing that Em would be right back in the bed as soon as I paddled off. 

Morning thunderstorms were 50% likely but this is normal during late monsoon season, and the grey-blue surface was mirror-calm as I headed north along the coast, Emms and the co-working hub’s two dogs – Jay and Bruce, bounded alongside briefly until their beach ran out.

Pace was fast, it felt great to be on the move. After half an hour I was into new territory, far beyond my previous recreational paddles. This newness is forever a motivation and for the entire morning I’d be treated to a convex coastline, each headland acting as a carrot before the next one would slowly reveal itself. I was being pulled around the island two or three kilometres at a time, with the rest entirely secret – a reward I had to work for.

 The headland carrot

The headland carrot

The night before I’d made a map for Em with distance markers around the island and my estimated time of arrival at each spot. She anticipated renting a moped (for a massive £7 per day) and coming out to find me, but the eastern half of the island is only accessible by boat or 4x4, so I didn’t expect to see her before lunch.

I hit my first mark, which always feels good. 3 hours after starting I’d covered 18km and it was time for a breakfast. A wide open beach seemed to offer plenty of cafes and I paddled in under the curious gaze of holiday-makers, confused by this man who had apparently come in off the sea. “Passport?!” asked one bearded tourist, jokingly. I grinned, shrugged with a wink, and ordered eggs and coffee. 

After ten the wind picked up but, at least for the backside stretch of the island, it was mostly to my tail. This is rare in SUP, where as a rider you’re doing a half-decent impression of a sail. In years-worth of adventure and expeditions I can recall perhaps ten days of solid tailwind. 

We whizzed along, Mud and I, swell and wind encouraging us both south. Headlands were often mounds of strewn, house-size rocks, toppled into the ocean over the centuries then smoothed over by salt water and nature’s encouragement. The swell to my back would bounce off the rocks and return to whence they came, offering a confused, mogulled landscape as a reminder that this wasn’t all simple.

 Why nam Beach

Why nam Beach

Over halfway I popped into a small, isolated cove and landed on a beach where the early seeds of a party were developing. It’s easy to forget that most foreigners come here to howl at the moon and spread their well-earned cash widely over a considerable amount of cheap cocktails and Asian beer. This was a party I’d been invited to, and dropping in was worth the endless, wide-eyed, “You paddled around the island to get here?”

This is what I love about water travel. When you make it a habit, the world is your oyster. The secret coves and offshore islands become a playground, while the rest of the world still looks out to sea and wonders what it might be like, one day, if they ever headed out there. The truth is, for a few hundred dollars and a recognition for modern-day inflatable technology, this freedom can now be carried around the world, and then becoming a sea creature is just an easy, daily decision. I said my hello’s, waved goodbye and left the soon-to-be-drunk in their spot of paradise. 

At Mile 20, my two-thirds marker, my enjoyment of the day changed. The wind and tide had switched and I only realised as I rounded the boulders of Haad Riin, the southern-most point of the island. From here, home was north west, then north, and immediately the wind howled in my face somewhat inexplicably, because it had never blown in this direction before. My pace halved, the next two miles was akin to crawling through mud, uphill.

 Image by  @EmKarembo

Image by @EmKarembo

By the time I caught sight of Emms and her camera, I was a mess. We collapsed into a raised bar roughly shaped out of driftwood to become a pirate ship. Flags fluttered in the increasing wind and I stared along the coast, no longer a mysterious cascade of headlands — just the ten mile infinity beach that left nothing to the imagination. When you can see your upcoming challenge laid out from the beginning, the incentive to explore with effort is greatly decreased.

A mound of chicken and a bit of prodding from my masseuse wife was just, just enough to get me on my feet again. This was it, the final stretch, and I wasn’t looking forward to these final four hours into wind. 

The wall. Marathon runners will be familiar with it. Endurance adventures offer them up at least once a usual day. Beyond the new perspectives and exercise, the thrill of optimism-paid-off and a gentle notch-in-the-self-confidence-belt, the value of a self-set adventure is in hardening the mind more than the muscles. More is gained from the battle than freewheeling.

Two hours later I could still look back and see that damned pirate restaurant. But the distance ahead had been reeled in, inching slowly and painfully towards the island’s main port of Thong Sala. This, with the ever in-and-out of local ferries, kept me focused. Mother Nature can try to splash, drown, blow and exhaust, but the most likely danger on any venture is man. And man at the control of a big metal craft that doesn’t expect or care for a lone paddler down below — this is a dangerous creature.

This safety is up to me. The boats stay their course, they have their channel. I just need to pick my moment. The safest route would have been under the beach-side struts of the pier but the tide was out and my fin dragged on the sea-bed 100m away from shore.

Once past the port I was on the home straight. 6 kilometres left, around an hour and a half into the wind. Problem is, the sun was already licking the horizon and twenty minutes of twilight was the cushion before darkness.

I was beat. Lifting the paddle for each stroke was now an effort and the easiest thing to do would be to go to land, deflate the board and jump in a taxi. Perhaps finish off the rest of the distance tomorrow. I want to do this yet I don’t want to, and my solution is always to carry on until the giving-up solution is not the obvious one. I started with the intention of paddling around an island and just because I’m tired, hungry and out-of-energy, and just because my enjoyment of the scenario has greatly decreased, I must hold onto the original intention because I once knew going all the way round would be good for me. 

So, going to land packing up is the easiest thing to do until the easiest thing to do would be to carry on regardless and arrive back where I started, without having to deflate the board tonight, then inflate it once again tomorrow (or in four days when I’m ready for a paddle again).

My hands were screaming, and I finally found a reason to begrudge the temperature of the water. The sea is 28 degrees here, and while this is lovely for a quick sun-escaping dip I actually missed being able to cool-down my hands and feet, long-numb from gripping paddle and board. Cold water is an elixir for claw-finger. After my Mississippi paddle in 2011, three months of paddling left me with slightly curled fingers for two months afterwards. It would have been longer were it not for the chill of the lower river.

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For the last hour I was in pitch darkness. The wind has slowed and I was alert to the danger of incoming fishing boats. What I didn’t expect was an enormous whooshing of water to my right, an out-rushing of air and the circular retreating wave from a smooth, rounded back. At first I thought, ‘how the hell did I paddle so close to that rock without noticing?’ but then I realised that I’d paddled this bay before and there had been no rock before. In the ever-so-pale combined light of the stars, the final refractions of sunlight from far below the horizon and the luminescence of coastal road lights over a kilometre away, I wasn’t able to make an exact identification, but I’m around 90% sure that a Whale Shark just surfaced five metres away from me, and then disappeared forever.

Twenty minutes later the end of my paddle was out of sight, and this meant that I only saw the turtle when it was beside me. It shat itself and mightily kicked downwards, throwing up a shower of sea water and leaving my little heart panting like Freddie Kruger had just jumped out.

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Finally a familiar noise, “Woooo whoooop.” Em! Immediately post-wedding we’d venture to the Lower Mississippi and she’d picked up the paddler’s call. There she was, Jay the dog a faithful Boy Friday on her board, and suddenly we were paddling alongside the Srithanu channel navigation tower, a three metre high lighthouse that takes us three minutes to paddle to from our beach.

From the beach where I started this morning. From the start of this little journey. And the end. 

Twelve hours and forty seven minutes after setting out, Mud’s nose touched the sand again. Koh Phangan had been circumnavigated.

With a couple of hundred Baht to spare, the day’s budget of £20 had been spent. But this included Em’s moped hire and a good lunch for both of us, and welcome-home treats in the shape of a pizza, three large Leo beers and a Magnum each. I managed a few slices, slid the Magnum down, sipped about a quarter of one beer, then passed out.


Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this article please do leave a comment, a like, an applause, and even better — share with one person who you think would appreciate it.

My website is stocked with over 13 years of adventures, blogs, projects, photos and films. I share these in the hope that others will experience similar feelings to those that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

And here are my homes on Facebook and Instagram, for daily tidbits, stories, ideas and habits.

The Thailand Project: lifestyle mapping for nomads-at-heart

We’re spending two months in Thailand over the first half of British winter. But this isn’t a holiday, it’s a first step towards re-engineering our lifestyle, work-lives and expectations of married life.

Emms and I married 9 weeks ago, and now I’m faced with answering the question I’ve been posed for years; “what happens when you get married, have kids and settle down?”

Do I carry on adventuring? Do I swap the nomadic life for an office? Or would our family life look very different from the average?

Firstly, to answer the silent question: no, Em is not pregnant. But we are talking about the possible pitter patter of tiny feet (or BabyCorns) in a couple of years, and are very open about how that will (likely) change life as we know it.

These last three years I’ve been face-to-face with the settling-down demons — added responsibility, increased cost of living, ambition-killing-comfort, limited scope for creativity forced by limits on time and money— and I haven’t coped so well. I wrote more deeply about this, here.

The need for change rarely comes from a comfortable place, and I see the past three years as a guiding stick for a re-map of what the next stage of life could look like. There are dreams to chase and swamps to avoid, so let’s start with the bits to cut-out and learn from:

  1. Cold winters: we live on a boat and the last winter in the UK lasted for five months. We weren’t there for the whole winter, but the other 5 weeks were spent above the Arctic circle on a Norwegian island. That was awesome, but no sun and a feast of general darkness is no way to live.

  2. Working space: I need my own space to work in, and this needs to change frequently. For two years Em and I have both freelanced from home. And when home is a 45ft widebeam houseboat and the only viable office is in one room, distraction is high and creativity is cramped.

  3. Prohibitive cost of living: I earn well but in recent years I’ve put a considerable share of my earnings into community work and this has coincided with paying London rent/prices, which feel so unnecessary when life has felt more enjoyable in previous less costly scenarios/ places. Not saving much for a rainy day, future tiny humans and new investments/ projects/ expeditions just to have the same roof overhead feels like standing still.

  4. Lazy belly: Living in a city, even if it is on a boat, doesn’t excite me anymore. Even worse, motivation to get out and ride, paddle and move is limited when the nearest considerable green space is at least half an hour away. Spending life sitting down is deeply unhealthy. I’m not image conscious, but I’d like to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see physically (this isn’t the same as looking internally — I’m pretty content with the person I am). This is a health thing, not stigma or self-loathing!


A realistic blueprint for home, work and family in the future:

  1. What I choose as a lifestyle must also satisfy the needs of Emms. Marriage is not just for September.

  2. Freedom: many of my biggest pain points since buying a home in the UK in 2016 have revolved around a lack of room for manoeuvre, in the expectations I have of those around me/ they have of me and in an inability to pursue exciting work without being held back. After living freely and nomadically for a decade, I didn’t know how to stay in one place and still maintain the momentum that had formerly been powered by shifting location and focus.

  3. UK: The majority of our work, friends, family are in the UK, so being there during Spring, Summer and Autumn feels right and makes a lot of sense. Our main project, The YesBus, is a fulfilling priority and in 2019, at least, we’d like to live nearby rather than endure the current two hour journey each week.

  4. Winter sun: While there are more pleasant climates available, choosing to be damp, cold, Vitamin D deficient and frankly miserable for 4 months is bloody stupid. The only catch is that Em loves Christmas.

  5. Water: I love it. And more specifically, being in and on it — especially when it’s not cold. What I’ve learned from the past couple of years is that even living on the water and being able to waterbike and paddle daily isn’t enough. Proximity to water that doesn’t want to kill me — ie.warm, swimmable, accessible, soothing water— is the only medicine I crave.

  6. Movement in nature: Whatever the season, wherever we choose to live, it must be within nature. An enjoyable, peaceful environment to exercise in daily and maintain physical and mental health.

  7. Work: A healthy balance between personal and community work. One should not override or suppress the other. My best days of work are not necessarily location-dependent but when I feel unstoppable, ideas pour out like water and possibilities and potential are endless. Positive response from new partners, my team and community are fulfilling. Successful events and creations are icing on the cake. But I need to be free in decisions and actions: this means not having to chase the company admin and tax — someone else should cover this — I’m much better at shining a light on others than sitting in a dark room doing dark work. I get more joy from having a silly idea, chasing and making it a reality, then sharing the lessons.

  8. Family: I can’t see my kid(s) in the standard English education system. I’d love them to become independent, problem-solving, light-at-heart / strong-in-mind characters, with an empathetic global view. I’d also love them to have more of a social childhood than I did — which means finding community for them as well as weening them on intrepid behaviour.


 Paddle boarding in to our new home, with everything we’re travelling with in bags on the back of the boards —  see the film of this microadventure

Paddle boarding in to our new home, with everything we’re travelling with in bags on the back of the boards — see the film of this microadventure

So, to start the process of redefining and redesigning our lives, we’re spending the next few weeks on the Thai island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Siam. We’re here to reset and re-energise, to look after ourselves and each other, and to start researching some of the unanswered questions that stand between now and the blueprint above.

Questions like…

Is it cost-effective monetarily and emotionally to spend a proportion of the year in a tropical climate?

Is it practical to be here? What compromises need to be made compared to living at home in the UK? What are the pain points and are there easy solutions?

Ok, so the photos are great, but what are the real benefits of living in an Instagram-friendly place/climate?

Can we find potential partnerships out here to work with SayYesMore?

What is it really about water that makes me tick? And how can I use this longing/ passion to help others?

At a time when our mental health could use some nurturing, is just a few weeks on an island sufficient medicine? And if not (in part or full), can the lessons this new perspective teaches us transfer back to life in the UK, or somewhere else?

I write this on Day 12. We’ve based ourself at a just metres from the sea, at a co-working space called BeacHub in Koh Phangan. Fast internet and a community of other freelancers creates a positive working environment, and our paddleboards are happy to be spending at least an hour a day out on the waves. There’s colour in our skin and a satisfaction at the end of each day. A couple of fresh adventures are brewing and so far, the experiment is working.

In a month or so, as our final days in Thailand draw nearer, I’ll re-visit this blog and see how many questions have been answered.

 At our new base,  BeacHub  in Koh Phangan, Thailand

At our new base, BeacHub in Koh Phangan, Thailand


Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this article please do leave a comment, a like, an applause, and even better — share with one person who you think would appreciate it.

My website is stocked with over 13 years of adventures, blogs, projects, photos and films. I share these in the hope that others will experience similar feelings to those that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

And here are my homes on Facebook and Instagram, for daily tidbits, stories, ideas and habits.

A reflection on burnout

My new wife and I have been making a temporary nest on a Thai island for the past week and a half. It is now mid November and rather than battle the driving rain and less-than-tolerable temperatures back home in London, we’ve started out our married life the way we plan to continue it; warm and free.

Since Emms and I started to (pretend to) act like adults after fusing our lives in early 2016 I haven’t always coped well. The previous decade I’d been largely nomadic, foot-loosely loping around the world with a laptop and any cafe/ co-working space/ boat/ sofa or beach as an office. Commitments, responsibilities and expenses were low.

But then the combination of a bad back, a flourishing homegrown community project and a girl who made me want to stay home led to exactly that…a home. Along with the comfort, a place to store some stuff and the gorgeous familiarity of living with my favourite person, this also meant rent, a more work/income-focused mindset, paperwork. And crucially, the loss of creative spark that I’d always taken for granted when living on the move.

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A place to call home felt incredible, as did finding another human who I never got tired of. The compromise, certainly at the start, was worth it. Soon though, as SayYesMore and the YesTribe started to grow the add-ons piled up. Monitoring endless social media and email accounts. Starting a company so an official bank account could account for the budget of our annual festival. Slowly forming a team, and coping with the two-way dependency and responsibility of other humans. Suddenly, in less than 18 months, life felt very different indeed. And as all this change hadn’t been planned my inner compass started to lose track.

I lost my mojo, my creativity, my energy and, occasionally, my love for life. The only way SayYesMore has kept going these last 18 months was because of a handful of people who kept the momentum going, and at home Emms took over the day-to-day running of the team, online spaces and admin. Her official title: “the cog turner.” Pretty sexy. SayYesMore doesn’t bring any income in though, and Emms had assumed what was essentially a ten-month full-time job without an income, and the only way to make this work was if I worked more to cover our expenses, at the same time spending a few hours a day on SayYesMore.

All of this probably sounds terrifically boring, and while there was an underlying sense that the structure we were building was worth the effort, it started to take a toll. Somewhere along the way I’d lost the energy to exercise and the space to get creative, and while my speaking career was on the up the really juicy bits of my previous Adventure-life were non-existent.

I longed for the freedom to get up in the morning and conjure up a little social project, to work on a new book, nurture a brand new adventure or to simply fly with the wind and land somewhere unknown for a period of time. Despite the great work being done through SayYesMore I began to resent the whole thing. This idea that had blossomed because I wanted to share what I’d learned about living without limits had cost me my own freedom. And stepping back — or out — didn’t feel like a satisfactory option - the sunk cost, faith and commitment from everyone on our team prevented me walking away. Meanwhile there were plenty of little wins but behind-the-scenes, the place that so few people see or think about — I was drowning and only my closest friends could tell. Perhaps there was something in there, a real glimmer of hope or shard of light that was more important than the way I was feeling.

But for a while I was stuck in the mud, professionally more unhappy than I’d felt in a long, long time. Which was, so claustrophobic, unfit and stereotypically unhappy that I had to gruffly laugh at my own paradox. When I realised that my happiest moments were up on stage, energised for an hour at a time because it was stories from the past that excited me, the need for change was looming fast.

Hello mojo

My absent mojo has said hi again these last two months. Our wedding in September was magical, as was a first adventuremoon in the States. The SayYesMore growing pains have proved to be worth it, as the community were selected by Facebook for their first Community Leadership Programme, one of only 100 plucked from thousands of applicants. This annual programme and a healthy dose of funding takes huge pressure off the next year, and the recognition we’ve received as a team has lit a fire in my belly again.

It feels so good to be excited about community work again

The belief that maybe I can be a strong leader rather than a flailing one has led to an interest in learning rather than winging it, and once again I’m excited about the community aspects of my work. Our SayYesMore team have bonded so strongly in recent weeks, freeing me up to pursue more personal projects again, and our fourth annual Yestival in mid October was a blinding success. How grateful we all were for the endless sunshine that blessed the weekend (as opposed to Hurricane Brian that muddied and flew the tents in 2017), and the wave of positivity and thanks that has followed Yestival 2018 has literally shed further light on how worthwhile this movement is.

 Yestival jubilation

Yestival jubilation

I’m so lucky to work with my friends, almost all of them folks that I didn’t know before the YesTribe started, and for the first time absolutely everything is clicking. There aren’t any obvious impending departures, struggles or weak links. We’re a family, a mini community in the image of the wider one that we just happen to run. What a strong foundation upon which to build our next chapter.

It might seems like a no-brainer to spend a couple of months on a Thai island over Winter; this is so much more than a holiday, a honeymoon or a blissful escape. It’s a celebration of new beginning.

For the first time in a long time I’m finding time to work forwardly, rather than catching up. We’ve found a lovely little co-working space in Koh Phangan to base out of and I write this with the sea a few metres away, and the coastal breeze supplementing the very necessary fans dotted around this open-plan, wall-less office. Coffee is on tap, I’m writing (this morning I wrote my first blog on Medium for over a year) and creating and bashing old to-do lists on the head. And it’s so, so fun to feel productive in this work again.

 Our sunglasses enjoy their view here

Our sunglasses enjoy their view here

Creativity is fuelled by hope and possibility. This is a recipe, I’d imagine, for the years ahead.


Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed it please do leave a comment, a like, an applause, and even better - share with one person who you think would appreciate it.

My website is stocked with over 13 years of adventures, blogs, projects, photos and films. I share these in the hope that others will experience similar feelings to those that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

And here are my homes on Facebook and Instagram, for daily tidbits, stories, ideas and habits.

#5: Adventure Q&A

#4: Yes, or No

#3: The SayYesMore story

Ep.2 - My Story: From Playstation to Podcasting

Learning to Meditate

“Meditation.”

Arguably it was the only skill to be pulled out of the hat that morning that involved not doing anything, or so I thought. I’d secretly been hoping for ‘drawing’ or ‘juggling’ as the first 20 a Day challenge, mostly because spending twenty minutes each day for a month on those would surely lead to some tangible progress.

And I naively thought that wasn’t possible with meditation. Well, one month later I’m very happy to have been wrong and in many ways, as I mentioned in my last blog, perhaps the Universe was telling me something by kicking off an example of growth, with a skill that at best would develop me from within. 

Perhaps nature has its way of issuing a gentle reminder. Right at the beginning of a project that I’d assumed would provided some clarity in the art of doing, the practice of Meditation was drawn out of the bowl of choices, and so my first 20 a Day action would be to choose nothing. To find a moment each day to stop, clear the mind, and concentrate only on the breath coming in and out of my nose and mouth.

Approach

At the heart of 20 a Day is learning in a way that I can share. Just as finding twenty minutes each day to work on a new practice isn’t too much to ask, I hoped my month of learning something new would make the same process even more achievable for others.

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So, of course, I turned to my phone, that brilliant and evil pocket dweller that undoubtedly shares some of the blame in today’s mental health epidemic. Our attention spans are short, access to bursts of Dopamine higher than ever, and the stress and anxiety of keeping up our social media appearance and shrinking the inbox down to zero - well, it’s frankly ridiculous.

But, it is real. I’m a fairly rounded bloke and I’m not afraid to share that these last two years I’ve slowly become more anxious and less able to stay on an even keel. This might have some correlation with moving to London after a decade as a nomad and all of the expense, work and change of lifestyle that entailed. Still, although life isn’t exactly shabby I’ve felt a real decline in my own mental health, so with that in mind meditation felt like a godsend. 

What I didn’t know was how I’d take to practicing mindfulness each day. I don’t have much time for hippy, hypothetical, la de da thinking and was a little concerned that my patience would wane fast. I’ve got a hyperactive mind that makes pausing, reading books or general concentration fairly tricky, and the closest I’ve come to a form of meditation has been on my endurance trips, when endless repetitive paddling, pedalling or pushing eventually became zen like. 

We’ve probably all been aware of a handful of products or apps that bring meditative healing to our lives, so that’s where I started. I downloaded a handful of apps, including Headspace, Buddhify, Insight Timer and Breathe.

I started with one called Calm, purely because I’d downloaded it months ago and didn’t even open the thing. Its time had come. Calm kicks off newcomers with a 7-day free trial before paid options unlock hundreds of guided meditations. £9.99 a month, £35.99 for the year or a flat £299 lifetime payment.

Although the lady’s voice was just on the edge of the grating Californian accent you might expect from a meditation guide, Calm’s 7-day Trial turned out to be the perfect access point to meditation for me. I enjoyed the motivation points and saveable quotes of the day, and a reassuring message that I was doing ok, “You’re on a 3 day streak, keep it up!’ But by the end of that first week I was ready to try something else. Next up: Headspace.

Headspace has a free 10-day introductory course, and it was about halfway through this, almost two weeks into my new meditating habit, that something clicked. Headspace’s basic sessions are narrated by an English chap, and there was something about his slightly more personal approach that clicked with me. The trial sessions are only ten minutes long a piece, but there are other free sessions between one and five minutes long that target emotions like anxiety, stress and healing.

Once Headspace’s trial period was over my mind was made up, I knew then that I’d continue daily meditation long after this July commitment, but I fought the urge to continue Headspace’s enticing reminders that I’d completed a 10-day run streak. For the sake of offering up a balanced view of the world of introductory meditation, I looked elsewhere.  

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From individual sessions on Insight Timer (which I really enjoyed) to Breathe, another app called Simple Habit and even the top results on YouTube after a search for ‘Meditation’, I took some time each day to be still with myself, and soak up the chance to not think about anything.

I did mean to try the popular Buddhify, which is aimed at the market for busy people who would still like to meditate and offers sessions that be conducted on walks, during the commute to work or at other periods of the day when totally stopping doesn't feel possible. It is only £4.99 off the bat with no further in-app charges (which probably makes it the cheapest top-end app out there), but as I write this on 31st July I haven’t yet tried it because the free trial didn’t work. I’ll get around to parting with £4.99 soon and will update this blog then.

What I've learned

Making time in a busy schedule is difficult, and I wasn’t so sure I’d feel enough benefit from meditating to warrant spending even twenty minutes a day not cracking on with all the other stuff I fill my plate with.

But, with a commitment to 20 a Day made I stuck at it through the first few days and by the end of week one I found it much easier to focus. During the earlier sessions I honestly looked forward to those hallowed words, “open your eyes,” so I could just get back to work, but by contrast I spent the second half of the month actually looking forward to my meditation time, the guided sessions came and went without a mental checking of the watch and I felt so much calmer after each meditation than before.

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I already have a series of habits that get my day off to a good start, so I almost always meditated in the evening, just before dinner. I’d pop something in the oven for half an hour and head outside. My usual meditation spot was at the front of my boat, finally in the shade and cool breeze after one of those roasting hot July days we were lucky enough to endure this year.

When I wasn't at home I tried meditating on trains, in fields, friend's gardens and even in the party yurt at a wedding (before the party had started). Finding a spot where I wouldn't be disturbed was key, and I quite enjoyed closing my eyes on the tube and letting the journey slip away into oblivion.

I’d always thought meditation was about switching off, drifting into the mental ether and losing awareness, but it isn’t at all. At the heart of the practice is becoming more aware of the little things; breath, the feeling of your butt on the chair or feet on the ground, of the surrounding noises and the thoughts that naturally drift in and out of the mind. Bit by bit as the month went on those thoughts would become less distracting - when you’re sitting still with your eyes closed there is barely anything to do but think, so it felt like a breakthrough when I didn’t dive into my thoughts and go on a journey. Instead, I watched them like I would a movie, and when I realised I was thinking about something random I was able to bring my attention back, as the guides would tell me, to the breath. I suppose it’s a bit like counting sheep when you can’t sleep - focus on one easy repetitive act and that’s the safe space. Everything else switches off.

Meditation is not about stopping, changing or judging thoughts. It’s watching and seeing those thoughts, not chasing them, just finding some comfort in the mind’s wandering. 

Although we’re still in the early days I’ve felt the benefits from meditation in everything I do. I calm much faster when my more stressful projects throw up unexpected problems or bad news. I’ve been taking my time rather than rushing, in everything. I’m sleeping more. Just stopping for twenty minutes a day shot off a siren for me - REST IS GOOD! SLEEP MORE! and no longer do I lie awake pondering what I need to do when I wake up, somehow I'm now able to flick a mental switch and sleep almost instantly. 

I’m enjoying this project for an entirely different reason, too. While considering how to best translate my feelings and learning process for each monthly skill, I’m writing more, thinking clearer and am able to gently bend my view around a topic, giving a really healthy alternate perspective.

I’ve made peace with a few things this month as a result of meditation, stuff that has bugged and even brought up anger inside me. The ex girlfriend who didn’t ever pay back the thousands of pounds I loaned her - for so long that has really hurt me, not to mention how helpful that money could still be. I guess I’ve held out hope for a few years that one day she’d repay that debt, but as long as I held that hope I held the bad stuff too. Anger and resentment can be debilitating. But now, I’ve decided to draw a line under the way I feel about it, at least.

Gratefulness, too, can be exercised. I don’t spend enough time appreciating how lucky I am to live on a boat, with the birdlife tweeting around, water lapping against our hull, the rush of the mini waterfall from the nearby lock. I’ve loved spending time at the bow, taking all of this in. 

The language used by the meditation guides I’ve become familiar with has stuck with me, too.  They speak in a way that removes anything personal; “Turn your attention to THE breath, when you’re ready, slowly open THE eyes.” They don’t say “your breath” or “your eyes” and therefore you can’t feel like a demand has been placed on you. It’s a tiny detail but a freeing one, too.

So, if I could sum up what meditation is, for me, in one sentence. Imagine that stress is a weight, and joy, patience, focus, contentment and gratefulness are muscles. With a bit of work those positive assets can be toned, and the stress becomes less of a burden - even if it’s still there, the rest of you is able to carry it better. Meditation, simply, is a power nap for the soul. A reminder that we are not our thoughts, they just pass to and fro before disappearing, like clouds.

Meditation, simply, is a power nap for the soul.

I also think there’s considerable merit to guiding meditations, as I write I feel like I’d like to train up to help people discover what I’ve discovered this month. The whole process was ever so simple but the results have very much been worth it.

 

Hints and Tips

To summarise, here are a few thoughts that might help if you’re considering taking up meditation for the first time.

  • Find a time of day that works for you, that can easily fit into your schedule. Then try to stick to the same time each day. Build meditation into your lifestyle. (Most apps offer a reminder alarm, if that helps.)
  • Don’t lie down while meditating, you’ll likely fall asleep!
  • Commit to it for at least the first two weeks and don’t slip up and miss a day. After a fortnight you’ll know whether or not it’s something you’d like to continue with. 
  • Try a couple of different apps so you know what’s out there. There is a huge variety and it might take a while to find the style and meditation guide that's right for you. Once you do, there's potential for this to be life changing.

Good luck, and may the zen be with you.


Ep.1 - The Human Tortoise Podcast

20 A Day - An Introduction

Starting July 1st 2018, I embarked on a self improvement habit that, theoretically, shouldn't get in the way of normal life but will leave me with twelve nicely developed skills each year. I'll spend 20 minutes a day for a month learning a skill, or developing one I already have, and along the way will share how I'm doing it and why it has been beneficial. Starting out, some friends helped share some ideas, and I picked out my commitment for July.

On Sunday my friends drew some options out of a hat, potential skills or practices that I could learn in a month, taking just 20 minutes a day to concentrate on improvement. Alongside my own efforts, I'm inviting you to join me each month - either with the same idea, or maybe something else that you'd prefer to spend your time on.

Perhaps the universe was telling me something when 'Meditation' became the first skill of this project. A project I'd initially thought would be gentle practice of doing. Instead, here I am each day trying my hardest not to do anything.

So, I've spent a little more than 20 minutes on Sunday, Monday and then today, meditating for the first time in my life.

I've started off with an app on my phone called Calm. It comes with a ten minute 'Daily Calm' session, which I've tried each day at very different times: on Sunday right before bed, yesterday in the midst of a crowded train journey, and today sitting on the roof of my boat after a morning coffee.

I'm still figuring it out and it's not all easy. I rarely switch off (I'm always hopping out of bed to make notes and my mind is always wandering off here and there, working out problems and wondering what I need to be doing next, so I struggled the first two days. But this morning it was gorgeous, just stopping and giving my tiny brain a moment to heal. Usually, I would have been tapping away on my computer, so letting the sun's warmth and cool breeze rustle my strawberry blonde locks felt particularly nice.

The Calm app also has a feature called 'Sleep Stories' which have promptly sent me off to the land of nod each night this week. I think I can get used to this.


Visit the 20 A Day page to find out what else I've been up to, and for plenty of other ideas to get you started on your own positive habit

From Wild Camping to Comfort Camping with Go Outdoors

When travelling light is second nature it's easy to forget that life's little comforts are easier to take camping than you'd expect. Emma Taylor teamed up with friends and puppies to test out some comfy Go Outdoors gear for their brilliantly titled #GoOutpaws campaign.

[This is paid advertorial content, which we totally enjoyed!]

Wild camping has become second nature to me now, whereas a couple of years ago I would have had to look up the term. I remember my first ‘wild camp’, which was on my friend Anne-Laure’s rooftop in Shoreditch (hardly what you might call ‘wild’!) and my second was a few weeks afterwards on the night of the Summer Solstice with The YesTribe.

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I enjoyed sleeping ‘out’ without a tent so much (my friends thought I was bonkers) so I went alone to Hadleigh Castle with a bunch of people I didn’t know, just to sleep out under the stars and it was utterly magical. So much so, that I have done it countless times since and now don’t even need to think about what to pack, I’m already out the door.

So now it’s time for a new challenge - camping in the traditional sense of the word. I had no idea that camping could be so comfortable without becoming (that wonderful combination buzz word we all love) ‘glamping’. When asked by GO Outdoors to test out some of their equipment, we thought we’d set ourselves a new challenge - camping in comfort! With more and more of our friends starting families, we set aside our usual considerations of how much we could personally carry on public transport, and started venturing outside the box into the realms of ‘what if we had a car and weight was no object?!’.

We started with the largest item on the list - the tent. We had no idea they came with so many interchangeable options! After much deliberation on the GoOutdoors website and using their super handy comparison tool, we decided to go for their own brand of Hi Gear Voyager Eclipse 6… or as we lovingly dubbed it, ‘The Spaceship’.

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After getting over the initial shock of how big and heavy the pack was (a whopping 22kg!) we realised that one handle each made it pretty easy to manage. We were slightly skeptical of the store’s own brand at first but perceptions were blown out of the water once it was up - this was a well designed piece of kit. Being one who is usually happy to rise with the sun on a campout, I am now definitely a fan of the Eclipse style bedrooms, which keep the morning rays out with a blackout blind to allow some extra snooze time. Another very cool feature of this tent was the bedroom configurations and how flexible they were - you could choose to have not only one but two or three bedrooms - perfect for group camping. We invited some friends to join us camping and there was plenty of room for everyone, even the dogs.

We couldn’t believe how much room there was in there, including an enormous porch, which will come in very handy for those unexpected downpours we’ve been getting recently - we were even thinking ahead to Yestival planning later this year and upgrading the staff quarters in the festival field! The tent had plenty of little (and large) pockets to keep gear, hooks to hang lamps and clothes from, options to open and close doors and windows, along with flysheets to keep the bugs at bay and power access points if we ever needed to plug in our widescreen, Playstation and blender for a truly luxurious escape from the city.

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Next largest on the list was the sleeping situation and Dave and I have never tried out a double sleeping bag - it had to be done. Opting to trust the GO Outdoors own brand Hi Gear again, we went for the Divine Double in blue and I must say, that nights’ sleep was divine indeed! There was plenty of room in there, it’s super soft and we were both toasty all night. The only disappointment was not to have a zip on either side so you can escape without having to assault your partner trying to get out. Otherwise though, this is a perfectly cosy duvet substitute for a night under the stars with your bear.

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Normally ones for lightweight inflatable roll mats, we decided that we needed to upgrade to a full on double airbed to match our new comfy double sleeping bag. We went for the Coleman Maxi Comfort Double Airbed - go big or go home, right? The reason we opted for this one over the other potentials was because of it’s unique Dual Chamber Inflation, which means that no matter how fidgety I get in the night, Dave won’t feel a thing on his side - and it works pretty well in that respect. Weighing in at a sizeable 3.7kg, it packs down pretty flat into a bag and is totally worth the effort - speaking of which, we definitely recommend investing the extra £3.99 on the Hi Gear Bellows Foot Pump to save you from going lightheaded when blowing up this beast. My past experience with air mattresses is that they always deflate a little during the night but I was surprised to see this one hold it’s own. It’s strong, the double lock valves are simple to use and they actually work, and the ultimate test was inflating it outside the tent on a bed of thistles (we only spotted them afterwards!) and having the dogs wander all over it and it still lived to tell the tale.

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One job which is a guaranteed chore for us every time we go to The YesBus now is filling large 20 litre containers with drinking water and transporting them to the bus in a wheelbarrow, unless we’re lucky enough to have a car on site. As you can imagine, this task can be quite a lengthy one as the tap is 500 metres away and filling five containers and transporting them across campus is no easy feat. For this reason, when we saw the 40L Aquaroll Rolling Water Container, we were overjoyed at this potential new solution to our water carrying dilemmas! It’s a brilliant bit of kit and does exactly what it says on the tin and with a handy additional tap and and stand, it’s a perfect and essential kitchen sink, water fountain and shower source in one.

So, now we had our water source and a mega comfortable bedroom in our giant spaceship sorted, this adventure called for some fun outdoor activities that the pups and kids (big and small) could enjoy. GO Outdoors have a pretty cool range of giant versions of games and toys I used to love when I was a kid so I was in my element choosing from an Aladdin’s Cave of Nerf Guns, Super Soakers and lawn games. Always the child’s entertainer, I opted for the Handy Heroes Giant Bubble Making Kit. I have always wanted to try it after seeing them wow the crowds on London’s Southbank and it did not disappoint! It comes with everything you need and even the bubble mix is non-harmful to the environment.

To fuel the creatives among us, we also go the Handy Heroes Stone Painting Set, which comes with a bunch of colours and a tiny brush. I was super impressed on finding that the kit even includes the stones, but then a little abashed on discovering that the ‘rocks’ were created with moulds with evidence stickers stating they were ‘Made in China’. This kit did the same for our mental health as colouring books do for adults, it was very therapeutic, it’s just a shame the stones weren’t natural.

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Now for the real laughs, when the Handy Heroes Giant Racket Set and the Pop Up Football Net came out. Both really inclusive, everyone could join in the fun and it was great quality gear that will keep coming out throughout the summer. You don’t need to construct anything or fit parts together, they are instant and ready to go. The rackets are massive and there’s a choice of playing with the ball or shuttlecock, even with the size of the rackets, I still managed to miss the ball! The football net comes all twisted into a clever little flat packed bag and just pings into action when you take it out. I thought getting it back in there would be a mission but it came with simple diagrams and instructions that made it easy.

And no lawn party is the same without a comfy picnic blanket to save from unwanted prickles and a damp bum - we chose the Hi Gear Fleece Picnic Rug as it was a great size, was soft on the top size so the kids and puppies were happy, and has a waterproof backing to prevent moisture from getting through.

All in all, we loved discovering how comfortable family camping can be and aside from the heavy tent, there really wasn’t too much compromise on weight and bulk in order to have a much more luxurious camping experience. This is the perfect collection of gear for a family who are new to camping. It’s all super simple to use, really comfortable and fun with no concession on quality.

Would I take all of this on a trek up a mountain on my own? No. But with a group of friends and family escaping for a few nights making fun memories in nature and in comfort, then it’s a big YES from me.


nb. This is a sponsored post, but the experience and views are authentic!

Five Quick Questions: Anna McNuff

What's your name and how do you describe yourself?: Anna McNuff (Do I win a prize for getting my name right?)

Your Website: http://www.annamcnuff.com

How are you spending your time these days?: I spend my days 50% outdoors - either running or cycling up mountains, splashing through muddy puddles, sleeping in bushes, exploring our beautiful planet. And then during the other 50% I tell stories about those outdoors shenanigans (I totally had to google how to spell shenanigans). 

Telling stories means visiting big kids in offices, and little kids in schools and running around on stage trying to make any kid (big or small) understand that they are capable of more than they will ever know (which is true). I also sit in coffee shops a lot, writing books, articles and wrestling with my inbox. For my brain I do yoga, go swimming, watch keeping up with the Kardashians (totally had to google Kardashians), and when I'm feeling really frazzled I go to the cinema on my own and watch a Disney/Pixar/Marvel film and eat my bodyweight in popcorn. That's how I roll. 

And in my spare time (?!) I run a non-profit women's adventure community called Adventure Queens - which is brimming with 3,000 women supporting one another in getting outdoors and getting WILD.

What's your favourite website?: Your website Dave. I'm kidding. But am I? Yes I am. Sorry. Can I say www.google.com?? I know that sounds redunk, but I come up with new adventure ideas ALL THE TIME. And so Google helps me out in fantasising about them. That would be my proper answer. Okay, I can already see you sitting here going 'McNuff, you muppet. Give me a REAL website.'

Here's one: https://www.theschooloflife.com/ 

I love everything about the School of Life :)

What's one thing you need to change?: One thing?! Crikey. I say yes too much, I try to please people, because I like it when people are happy. That makes me feel happy. But I've done a lot of work over the last year to be more assertive, and I have to say... I'm pretty darn assertive now. But I still get caught out, say yes too much and end up a frazzled mess. So the one thing is... to catch life, to slow it down, to have the nouse to look after myself before it gets to the point where I end up a frazzled mess.

How often do you check your emails?: TOO MUCH. The thing about being self employed is that you never know when a very exciting thing is going to pop into your inbox and blow your world wide open! So I am often checking my emails hoping for that thing to arrive again. Sometimes it does, sometimes it's just a lot of other things I have to do to be able to do the cool stuff. I have recently welcomed a no screen day into my life however... and it is getting me back into balance. I whack my out of office on and spend the day reading, writing in notebooks, heading up a hill, seeing friends. I find the problem with running your own thing is that you never take a break, I can easily go a month without taking a day off 'work'. Thats insane! So this year is about getting my weekends back (even if my weekends happen in the middle of the week - that's cool too).

Anything you want to plug?: Yes please - if you're a lady come join Adventure Queens over at www.adventurequeens.co.uk. And if you're a lady or a man, you can read my book about running the length of New Zealand: 'The Pants of Perspective' - you can get it on Amazon.