Pleasure as the engine of being

Pleasure as the engine of being

Grae  

What if we put our own pleasure higher up the list – instead of at the end of the long days of work, or as a reward for toil? Julia Paulette Hollenbery asks, and elegantly and practically answers this in her new book “The Healing Power of Pleasure: Seven Medicines for Rediscovering the Innate Joy of Being”.

This is a poetic and kind book made from a life of learning and experience. It brings together science, spiritual tradition, embodiment and philosophy — many many references and ideas, into a pleasure and body-centered way of being.

It was a joyful read for me. As I read, I enjoyed feeling the connections come together — practices I knew, ideas I believed, ways I’d learned to help myself — converging into something bigger. Pleasure as a birthright, a force, a way into my body, a way into relationships, a way to see the world.

Julia starts with Mess — the way we are in the world around us, right now, then proceeds through the seven “medicines” we can use to shift ourselves and our world in the direction of pleasure. Each “medicine” can be seen as an antidote for the crazy disconnected way we all seem to live . There are practical exercises for each medicine to bring home the ideas, maybe to adopt as personal practices for bringing out the pleasure in life.

I like this book a lot. It champions our right to pleasure. It gives practical ways in. It does this in a gentle, inspiring and poetic way. It reminds me of all those wise things I ought to remember about how to enjoyably take care of me.

The Healing Power of Pleasure is available here or ask for it in your bookshop.

In the beginning

Grae  

I moved to live on a narrowboat full time from late March 2021. That involved packing up a house-load of things — some had to go, some to a storage container, and a few things onto the boat.

Why a narrowboat? I’ve been wanting try the narrowboating life for 20 something years. I had a taste for about six months over the winter of 2019-2020 and even with the cold of winter and a beautiful but not ideal boat, I was hooked on this life. I’ll dig into the Why of Narrowboating in a separate note.

Sometimes things work out the way you want them to. I spent most of 2020 and early 2021 looking for the right boat. That mostly meant browsing Apollo Duck and the boat broker websites and falling (temporarily) in love with boats that sold to somebody else before I was prepared to buy. Narrowboats have become very popular during COVID times, prices are up and the supply of boats for sale was and continues to be very limited.

Finally ready to buy, the right boat showed up and as the barriers to owning her dropped away smoothly, I ended up falling in love with, and then actually buying the narrowboat Caparina from ABNB.

That’s the beginning of the story. I’ll write more of the Why and How in later posts.

From the cushion to the world

Grae  

Mediation. That’s a thing you do where you sit cross-legged, straighten your back, and clear your mind. Well yes, that’s the idea we start with.

I remember starting out meditating, and it was hard to see beyond that. Hidden behind that structure of sitting there was a real aim — this thing we do in meditation we want to happen in our daily lives. Over time new ideas are revealed… I can meditate while walking, I can meditate lying flat on my back on my bed, at the bus stop, on the bus.

That concentration of form and approach is needed at the beginning. Once we get it a bit, we can keep that awareness, mindfulness, and take it more into daily life. And this idea is neither radical nor that interesting — this is moving from conscious incompetence through conscious competence to unconscious competence.

Okay, so the point of writing this is to explain a bit where I’ve gone with coaching. The metaphor above holds true, it seems to me. I started out in that “let’s sit down and do an hours coaching” and I’m now much more in the “How do I take this coaching behaviour into my normal day job, where I’m a somewhat technical senior manager working with a lot of people?” kind of direction.

So what am I taking from my coaching into my day-to-day work? Some thoughts:

  1. There are many opportunities for high-quality 1:1 talks with people, especially working virtually. We don’t have to try and find private spaces in a busy office. This helps.
  2. Good open questions really matter. It is easy to get stuck in confirmatory questions – they are useful for building a shared idea, but don’t get to where people really are. Good questions are an invitation to get the full story, the full experience, not to just get something that confirms that we’re all “okay”. Good open questions take time and space. I have to be able to handle the answers, hold that space. Good senior management is all about holding the space anyway.
  3. My position matters. In all my interactions, on a video call, in person, whatever, I need to hold you in high regard, I need to see you and want you to grow, become, succeed. Basically these are Carl Rogers’ Core Conditions: empathy, authenticity, unconditional positive regard. Straight from coaching.
  4. I need to see and hold the bigger picture. Beyond the tasks, we are all beautifully flawed humans, doing what we can given what we’ve got. Business is a vast collaborative multi-player game. It is a team sport. I want to “win” and have fun doing it — with others. I try and share this view with others.

How to end a lockdown, together

Grae  

This untidy end to lockdown has caught me.

I’m upset about a lost opportunity for an actual ending, a ritual. Endings matter.

It seems like events got a bit out of the hands of our government here in the UK, and the opportunity — at a nation-wide scale — for us to feel something together was lost.

The “we’re all in this together” frayed into “us and them” over lockdown breaks and the whole lockdown then started to decay as an idea that people could get behind. Governing isn’t easy, I’m sure, but I think this loss of an ethical leadership on the rules allowed the lockdown to fray at the edges without the chance for any sort of useful ending.

Endings matter. Being in sync with others matter. And holding the current situation matters.

Imagine this had happened: we’re getting to the point where lockdown is relaxed. A special government briefing is held to announce relaxing lockdown conditions according to the new threat number. At that briefing, whoever is presenting for the government speaks carefully with gratitude to all of us about how well we’ve handled lockdown.

This spokesperson proceeds:

“Here in government, along with our experts, we’ve had to make minute-to-minute decisions as this virus arrived and as we went into lockdown. Looking back, we got some things wrong. We did our best. Together, we’ve got this to a good place for now.”

“We need to keep working together .. so here’s how we go on from this. Remember that these nine weeks have been hard, harder on others than ourselves, and we don’t want to go back there and lose more lives. By working together we’ll keep lowering that curve.”

“The next time you see somebody out and about, keeping their distance, give them a smile, acknowledge them. Know that we lowered this curve and saved lives together.”

That would do it. We’ve marked the moment, and made a sign, an action, that we can use in remembrance of working together.

This would leave us all with something shared as we move forward and help to leave us with a grateful narrative for the past. The government didn’t do it this way, but you can do it yourself, with friends and family:

  • Tell the story of your lockdown, your frustrations and gratitude, your fear, your sorrow, your loss, your joy.
  • Tell those stories to each other.
  • Mark the change to being less locked down — with others.
  • Move forward together. Use your smile to thank others.
Leading is not being the expert

Leading is not being the expert

Grae  

I was at Schumacher College at Dartington in Spring 2019 — at a few days of course called “Exploration of Eldering”. We talked a lot about the role of the Elder in our societies and how to be an elder. There was a lot to learn. One thing really stood out, something that I use almost daily within teams and leadership.

We have a common idea of the leader being the one person, the decision-maker, the one with the knowledge and expertise. That makes for good stories for the movies but isn’t the way things best or often work in actual life. Good leaders need to be good at leading, not necessarily subject experts or best at everything.

As a leader, I need to hold a group, show vulnerability, listen, take advice, tell stories, discuss, and make decisions. I might have the expertise but I don’t have to use it, and I think it tends to work better when I don’t.

As an elder, or leader, I’m holding a group or situation. I might tell stories from the past about how this sort of issue has been resolved in the past, I might talk about what I don’t know or need to understand. I’ll listen to opinions and help diverse voices to be heard.

Holding, telling stories, listening. These are the key things I’m doing. I’m listening to experts around me and together we’re planing our actions. The group is doing something and can be meaningful to the participants. Showcasing my expert knowledge — if indeed I have any — will break this working ground. Letting others show their expertise or try out their ideas allows them the chance to develop and grow.

In practical day-to-day things, I may know how stuff works but allow others to do things. Again this is developing others. Projecting it-will-all-be-ok is useful, but solving all the problems, less so. Playing the fool can relieve tension too – it can be great in an interview situation to take the pressure off the candidate. Being more fun and just slightly less bureaucratic-professional can relax and mitigate for power, allowing people to shine through fear or nerves.

Listening, holding, stories, and being warm. That’s enough.

Responding to 2016

Grae  

I’ve been thinking out how to respond to this basket of ills called 2016. I guess I can accept that people (celebrities, actors) will die. The hard bit to accept is the rise of #brexit and Trump and what appears to be this shift to the right, towards nationalism, populism and fascism. I’m pretty dismayed about all of this — starting really from the election of John Howard’s conservative government in Australia in 1996. My view was that the future was supposed to be kind, compassionate and generous and that all of us working together over time would help lift all humans out of poverty and degradation.

So, I’m disappointed for the future that I felt was my right in some way.

But how to respond to this? What to do? It feels like the old tools of protest, strike and ideological war just aren’t going to work any more. Nor are the tooling of well-argued arguments, experts or facts.

I’m thinking I’m going to need to do a few things myself, locally, amongst my own community. Maybe you might join in among your community?

Engage more broadly – It is easy enough to live in my metro-elite liberal bubble, but I’m not hearing anything from a lot of fellow citizens that are very angry, possibly struggling to survive and thrive. So, I’m going to open more conversations with people who are not like me, who I’d normally not speak to. And listen. Listen. Not try and argue what I think is right. I want to understand a bit more broadly how it is for people. Different people. I’ll have to be a bit fearless to do this. Small steps first.

Improve the local environment – My local authority in the UK is struggling to make ends meet. I want to help out and improve my local community by turning the ‘pick up a bit of litter’ into a proper habit – to tidy up near where I live and where I commute on foot to and from work. I’ve usually got a plastic shopping bag somewhere in my backpack. I’m going to put it to good use when there is a lot of trash around.

Look for good news and share it – On social media, I’m going to be looking for and sharing positive stories rather than the negative and shocking ones. For amongst all this shift to the right, there are so many wonderful people doing wonderful things. And sharing these stories with each other keeps some hope alive. And watching every frame of the #brexit or Trump train-wreck really doesn’t help my mind.

So, this is my small something, my tiny response to 2016. I hope this helps me and I hope it helps you.

Happy 2017. May it bring many positive surprises for you.

Originally published in a facebook post.

On Europe

Grae  

Political

  • Much easier to influence our neighbours from inside their club. Much harder from outside.
  • Leaving gives a green light to facists / ultra-nationalists to start campaigning against all foreigners and immigration — and we know where that can lead
  • We leave certain treaties that give workers rights; stop doctors working ridiculous and unsafe hours; generally what I would call civilised laws
  • Scotland will almost certainly vote to leave the UK if there is a vote to leave the EU.

Economic

  • Stepping away from a bunch of existing trade deals will cause an economic shock which will cost jobs and cause business failures.  This actually looks pretty certain.
  • View from outside countries/economies may cause pound to fall / currency uncertainty

Why Brexit is a bad idea:

  1. It won’t solve the immigration question. Govt and economy still needs migrants to grow and for health etc to function, and still need to face what to do.  There are really no shortage of levers to control immigration now; there is just a fundamental conflict between economic prosperity and lowering immigration.
  2. It will lead to currency uncertainty
  3. It will lead to new and difficult trade negotiations
  4. It will destabalise the current government
  5. It will lead to Scotland departing the Union.

Living with an electric Car

Grae  

I promised a follow up on living with an electric car. Here’s how we are getting on.

It has been a mixed bag, mostly positive with a few annoyances.   Here are a few highlights:

Quiet

There’s a quiet effortlessness about an electric car.  It is a different feeling to drive completely.   I was used to a roar of engine noise meaning power.  There’s none of that at all.  A bit more like putting the foot down and it takes off with a hint of an electric whirr.    Or touch the accelerator and it glides along silently.  Mind you, some of this silence will be just because it is a new well-insulated car.

Not smelly

When operating this car doesn’t smell. I also never hang around fuelling stations. Now I notice exhaust and petrol fumes on other cars.  This is a bit like it was when people stopped smoking in public and suddenly noticing smelly second-hand cigarette smoke when walking behind a smoker on the street.  So now I notice car pollution. Before I just didn’t notice.

Reliable

The whole car seems pretty simple and reliable. There’s a lot less to go wrong.  No emissions system. No real gearbox.  No catalytic converter, radiator, exhaust pipe, water pump, ignition, fuel injection, turbocharger.  Less to go wrong.  Instead you have an electric motor, a simple gearbox and a bunch of batteries.  Nothing has gone wrong so far.

Low cost per mile

So we charge overnight at home, so we’re paying off of our regular power bill to charge the car (with Ecotricity offering a small grant/discount for electric car owners).  Out and about charging is either free or pretty low cost so far.  So, the cost of fuel seems pretty close to zero. The previous £70 in fuelling the old petrol car has now pretty much disappeared.  This is a decent saving.

Range difficulties

The electric has a much smaller range than the old petrol car.  And the faster I go, the shorter the range, so motorway range (when range really counts) is a lot less than old slow road range.  This doesn’t matter at all going in and out of town, a 5 mile round trip.  But motoring across England it does matter.  It means both limiting maximum speed to say 60 or 65 and stopping regularly (say every 50 miles) for a ½ hour of charging.  It is something like this: the Motorway range is 50 miles and the slow road range is 70 miles.  Slow going.

I really want something like a Tesla with a 200+ mile range. That’d make it barely noticeable.

Home Charging

Home charging is easy for us, we have off-street parking and a garage with power. Simply a matter of plugging in the lead in the garage, then drive the car up, park up in the driveway and plug it in.  This feels just like putting the phone on charge every night.  The car will fully charge overnight from a regular 13A socket, so that is simple.   I guess we charge it every 4-5 days in normal life.

Patchy Charging Infrastructure

So I don’t need petrol stations — but I do need fast chargers out and about and things for people to do while the car is charging.  So more likely you want chargers at shops and the gym and motorway services.

There are networks of charging points emerging — they are being installed across the UK.  Right now there are not enough chargers out there so it is possible to get caught where there is a charger offline.  And because the technology is new, chargers aren’t as reliable as you’d expect.  This means that a whole trip can be aborted when a key charger is not in place.  Or alternatively a trip can slow down because I have to queue up to have a go at the charger.

We’ve resorted to careful planning for the longer trips now — checking charges are available and having a backup in case something is not working.  This is a bit of a faff too, as the mapping of charging points is contains across multiple services and they are all slightly different.

Community

Clearly this is all for early adopters. And that means there’s a community aspect to this built out of the novelty of the whole thing and needing to exchange stories.   

Turning up at a  public charger means you’re likely to run into people charging or waiting to charge — and there’s a chance to have a chat about chargers, cars, range, cables.   This is quite an enjoyable part of the whole thing — as long as you’re not in a hurry.  Think back to the stories of the introduction of motoring.  A bit like that.

In summary

This is early adopter stuff.  If are an early adopter then consider it.  Otherwise wait a couple of years for extended range and simplified charging networks.  There is no doubt the electric experience is a good one when it is all lined up.

I think it is totally worth doing, though with a couple of caveats:

  • Without off street parking it is going to be really hard.  You’re going to have to use public chargers for most of your charging.
  • Make sure that the basic range suits your commuting/regular trips.
  • Beware of buying an electric car — I’d lease until range becomes less of an issue.   Battery technology is improving rapidly.

Travel note: Caledonian Sleeper power sockets

Grae  

I was researching power sockets on the Caledonian Sleeper before my recent weekend at Ben Nevis.  There is some doubt on the net about how much power you can get out of a Caledonian Sleeper compartment shaver socket.   Here’s what I found out:

  1. The sockets are 110/220V – looks like they’ll fit US and 2 pin euro plugs.
  2. There is one socket per compartment. You might be sharing if you are sharing your compartment.
  3. You can easily charge a phone with the shaver socket. That was no problem at all.
  4. I could charge my Toshiba Chromebook, but only when closed.  It is, to be fair, a pretty low current charger.  A big laptop charger probably wouldn’t work.
  5. You’ll need a US or Euro 2 pin 

You can find more gutsy UK 240V 3 pin sockets in the Lounge car.  There are a bunch of people wanting to use them, so you may have to wait.Note that there is no WiFi on the train, and you’ll spend a good amount of time without any 3G on the northern parts of the trip.  But the views!

You’ve already bought your last fossil-fuel car

Grae  

We’ve just spent a week trying out an electric car.  This was the last confirmation I needed.   It is clear that the petrol / diesel powered car is on the way out.  Let me explain my thinking:

  • A basic electric car is mechanically simple; A battery and an electric motor.  There’s no large metal box full of mechanical parts in which fuel explodes. There’s no complex ignition, exhaust, or cooling systems. These cars are easy and cheap to service.
  • The complexity comes in charging and taking charge out of the battery, and in getting efficiency from an electric motor.  We’re doing a lot of society-wide work on battery technology (like, in smartphones/tablets/everything). I’m expecting significant improvements over the next few years.
  • The fuel cost per mile or kilometre is say between 1/5th and 1/10th of that of petrol or diesel.
  • Battery charge density and therefore range is improving fast, as is charging speed.

Better organised and complete charging infrastructure will emerge.  Electric car range will increase.  Doubling of  the currently ~100 mile range to 200 miles will make most journeys feasible.  I’m confident people will get very interested when the fuel and maintenance costs of electric cars start to become clear.

That’s seems to be at most five years away.  At that point, a petrol/diesel car might start to seem an expensive luxury.  Petrol/diesel resale values may fall sharply.   Fuel use will start to decline.   About 60% of the total energy used for transport is personal vehicles.  This would hurt fossil fuel providers, so maybe holding those fossil fuel shares is not a good long term bet.

So, right now, here are my tips for surviving the change:

  • Don’t buy a new petrol car. Look out for a bad resale price in 5 years, especially for an ordinary car.  Are you buying your last petrol car ever?
  • Don’t buy a new electric car just yet. Lease an all electric or plug-in hybrid for a few years. There will be annoying and adventurous times as long distance charging networks stabilise. Allow the basic electric range to double (to say 200-250 miles) then consider a purchase.

We’ve just arranged a lease on a Nissan Leaf. It should arrive next week.  I’ll update how we get on.

Disclosure: I hold shares in Tesla Motors. I’ll benefit if you buy or lease one of them.

Leaf image from wikipedia.