Just under 3 months ago, I returned to the UK from Costa Rica with my family to avoid the worst part of the rainy season, finish my Masters program, and recce the South west to nail our relocation next spring. We were due to return to Costa Rica in November. For a number of reasons which we couldn't have predicted, we never returned and for now have settled in Bath, Somerset.
My 8 months living in a treehouse on the edge of the jungle by the Pacific with my young family was an extraordinary experience.
I finished my Masters, learnt to surf, got to know Seemah again and spent some deep and unforgettable time with my kids.
So much happened, and we feel different in a good way being back.
I reflected a lot about fast paced London life and learnt a lot about myself. I wanted to capture some of this, to conclude this chapter of my life, to share as it may be of interest to others, and by posting them here they act as a reminder to me if I find myself going back to old ways….
1. Make time for Perspective
Taking time out in Costa Rica made me realise how much I was lacking perspective. I’d had my head down into work for many years.
I tried a lot of stuff in the tropics, tried to live more experimentally. Meditated often (badly), read widely, learned to surf, ran up and down hills, baked bread, sketched with my kids, ran along beaches, rode a horse, taught teenagers at the school, painted, ran in electrical storms, chatted to monkeys, fished with a handline up to my neck in the ocean.
With time I found perspective, and I realised that this was fundamentally missing in my busy London life. Things became less complex, clearer, less anxious.
We are a society of workaholics, and this kills perspective.
Make time for perspective, it opens you up, feeds the soul, it creates a greater awareness of context, self and others.
It might feel difficult making time to do ‘you stuff' when ‘work’ and ‘busyness’ are all around. But it will benefit you and those close to you. And encourage others around to make time for perspective - partners, lovers, buddies, team - whoever.
2. Don’t neglect the inner-self
This is connected to perspective. But I believe now it is perilous to neglect the inner self, the spiritual self. I would define spirituality as ‘a love of life’. Now more than ever I think the world needs to rapidly discover and increase its spiritual capacity, to try to find some balance with the frightening pace in development of its technological capacity.
If not we probably will cook the planet.
So make time for inner nourishment.
3. With slowness comes goodness
In Costa Rica we had to learn to live a slower pace of life, you have to it’s the tropics, it’s very hot, we were remote, things move slower. Stuff takes time, people take a while to respond, they aren’t on twitter.
When you need to travel there’s not always a boat or bus when you think. It might be on the timetable but stuff changes. You have to wait. You are forced to take a 2 hr break and wait. At first this wound me up but then I started to accept that that’s the way it is. Then I started to enjoy the slowness - you have some time to pause, reflect, look around, take it in. I think you become more present, conscious, sharper, more aware. It makes me think wouldn’t life be a bit more fun if stuff just didn’t run all the time. Everything a little bit slower.
But I think the learning is make time to slow down once in a while. Even little micro pauses in everyday life. Ignore email, log off facebook, sit down in a quiet room, lie on the grass. Good things may happen.
The bird in the photo is a Quetzal. We spotted it in the cloudforest in Monteverde. They are a protected and now rare bird, believed to be 'the God of the air' by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. We stood in the forest waiting for a long time before we saw it.
4. Cultivate a hybrid existence
Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, we literally shared our tree house with all kinds of creatures and lived more in rhythm with nature from sunrise to sunset. I think we have an innate desire to affiliate with all life. But more than human life has been edited out of our lives in pursuit of endless development.
And of course it's not frigging easy in the city where there is so much man made-ness you can barely see the sky or a star or a sunrise.
But the point is, just become more aware, notice more than human life around you, be more curious about it, birdsong, trees, plants, shoots, leaves, crawly stuff - all kinds of life. Go walk in a park each day, run through a wood, sit in a garden, listen to nature, notice what flirts with you, look at it, really look at it.
Make time every day for a hit of non-human-ness. All of this over time will start to nourish the soul and inspire your actions.
To realise the interconnectedness of all life.
And then of course there’s tech, we love the interconnectedness that that creates, we had WIFI in the treehouse, and it was critical for us.
We need to be connecting and networking and sharing and making and loving and nurturing and solving shit with other folk. If ever there was a common purpose for all this connectedness…
But there must be balance. Live a hybrid existence – high nature, high tech.
5. Embrace fear
I’d always wanted to learn to surf. I’d dabbled a bit but never really had a sustained effort. So this was a priority mission in Costa Rica. So I did, in surfing terms I’m still very much a beginner. But I can get a long board out the back, I can navigate myself around a big set, I can ride the occasional wave, and I can avoid getting killed. (so far). This is good.
I had some magic times in the water. Unforgettable. I also had some terrifying moments being pummelled in the white water – being held down again and again, not sure if I was going to come up. But I think this is a good thing – it made me feel the power of nature, that I can’t control it. Only ride with it, be with it, don’t fight it, respect it.
I still get a knot in my belly each time I wade out with my board into the water. There’s something extremely humbling about that. I see my work and life as increasingly similar to wave riding, experimenting, self -organising, flow, awareness, fear, unpredictability.
I think occasional fear, and awe of nature is profoundly valuable and creates respect and awareness, an uncertainty that makes me feel alive and a part of the massive web of life.
6. Advertising and Kids = Fail
We had no TV in Costa Rica and living remotely there was no outdoor media. (heaven) For 8 months my kids didn’t see any ads – apart from this one. They stopped asking for stuff which they did back home because no matter how attentive you are you cannot avoid ads in the UK.
But it’s not just the ‘stuff’ – it felt amazing to not have messages in your face everywhere. More present, less distraction and able to see a place for what it is.
There’s all kinds of debates on advertising and it’s role in shaping a consumerist society and its contribution to the destruction of the biosphere.
In an increasingly transparent and networked world, I personally would love to see advertising-free zones. It will raise the bar on product purpose and meaning, the why of a thing, as well as innovation and creativity – the how and what of a thing. Which is all good in my book
But for kids just ban it. It’s something they shoudn’t have to be dealing with. The problems it creates around peer pressure, social issues and materialism let alone environmental destruction. I’ve seen my kids ad free and it’s a much better place.
7. Face the shadow self
No detail here – but I learnt to turn towards some stuff I’d been turning away from for a long time. I realised there is a need to face the uncomfortable truths within ourselves. This is I think important for our evolution and certainly for me for the evolution of my kids.
8. It’s ok to live with uncertainty
I think we still hold many of these questions but we have learnt to live safely with not knowing and uncertainty. Packing up our home in London, travelling together as a family, living a simple life, exploring a new culture, dealing with tropical sickness, tarantulas and the odd life threatening scenario has made us more comfortable with uncertainty. What is certain anymore? Why spend loads of energy trying to predict and control and plan stuff that’s uncontrollable.
Certainty also kills curiosity, which stunts learning and growth.
Stay curious. Lean into uncertainty.
9. Jump off the system regularly
Life without TV, newspapers and cars is fucking glorious. It makes for interested communities, who engage with each other around real stuff. My time in Costa Rica free of highly mediated daily life made a huge impact on me. It’s not rocket science, but it’s better.
So I’m practising keeping this up back in the UK where possible. This is much trickier to practice in cities and highly developed societies. But I think it’s about regularly jumping off the system. Switch off TV, avoid newspapers everyday, ride a bike or walk where possible. Don’t sit behind a desk all day, go for walks and talks. These are sure to make life happier, offer new perspective, free up time to do other better stuff and reduce negativity and toxic inputs.
10. There’s nothing more important than being a Dad
Life moves fast. When we left the UK my son Fin was 5, Olive 3 and Willow just 5 months. I had been struggling over the last few years to be really present for them. My time in Costa Rica made me realise that. I started to see how distracted with work I had often been. Just taking time to look into their eyes.
It’s amazing being a parent but it’s also really hard, because you can’t afford to make mistakes with them, because you have so much impact on their lives.
We’ve all got to know each other really well. Living in a one room house does that, sleeping all together does that.
I think they know who their Dad really is now. And I know better than ever the importance of 'Dad' in my role in life.