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What's your next adventure?



My Pal Rich Lisney runs a blog called The Bimbler, carried away by his enthusiasm I have been looking at slow-venturing, which, after excursions into zenventuring, looks slightly promising. Of course slowness is far from being the be all and end all, it is merely the alibi for taking a broader, more considered look at a thing. Adventures where you use cars and powerboats or make speed attempts up hills or down dales are all very well…but…they can get a bit boring. It’s the boredom paradox. One teacher I had in Japan made us do aikido moves again and again until you were screaming with boredom, and then, like breaking through a wall, you suddenly comprehended a whole world of subtlety you’d been missing. In an instant it all became fascinating, as if one had suddenly put a higher power lens on the microscope. But fast, initially exciting things soon pall- the first 30 seconds I spent in a jet boat was…wow!!!...and then I was bored: thumpety thumpety thump it went hitting all those predictable waves.

Going from boring to fascinating – long distance walking can offer moments of intense boredom before flashing into mesmerising oneness and everything=interestingness (this new film ‘Wild’ captures this); I think it has something to do with getting into a rhythm. I think we understand the importance of rhythm and alignment but because these things often result in greater speed we think it is speed itself that is the key. You see the appeal of slowness in martial arts where an old master will have far ‘faster’ reactions than a young whippersnapper simply because he is looking further ahead- he ‘aint faster, he’s just seen it coming much earlier because he isn't flustered. A friend of mine once interviewed Michael Schumacher whilst Schumacher was driving- what surprised and interested him was how far ahead along the road this race driver was looking. Most of us are staring at the tarmac a few feet in front of our bonnet – which means things take us by surprise, and require instant reactions.

Thought for the day: don’t act faster, just look further ahead.

Back to slow-venturing. Slow-venturing doesn’t mean being tyrannised by slowness for the sake of it, it means USING initial slow conditions to find a rhythm that suits whatever you are doing, and thus getting ‘outside’ time into the world of ‘flow’ experience.

Here’s a slow-venture: going up stream instead of downstream. Paddling a canoe downstream is actually pretty dull. Unless there are lots of rapids, caves in the cliffs to explore or other side attractions it’s a bit like sitting in the back of the car. But going upstream is a real challenge. And because you’re fighting every inch of the way you get your nose rubbed in the river. You get to know that river better than anyone else. There is however a few ways going downstream is a slow-venture and that is when the river is too shallow for the boat, or too narrow; it slows you down and makes everything more interesting.

To create a slow-venture think of a normal adventure and slow it right down. Take a really heavy rucksack and only walk five miles a day…turn your canoe into a bicycle trailer, load it up and tow it behind your bike. Naturally ultra-fast ‘alpine style’ assaults on mountains are seen as purer than a siege involving miles of fixed rope, ice screws and bolts, and yet part of me admires that ponderous way of climbing. When de Saussure first climbed Mont Blanc he had 18 assorted guides and porters, several ladders and a host of poles, staves and ropes for crossing crevasses and other obstacles.

I like running- pretty slowly I might add- but the idea of running a long distance walk appeals. So surely that means going fast? But, in a way, running when you are in rhythm seems slower than walking in a rush. And of course: increased amount of time for dawdling at tea shops, pubs and standing stones etc.

In a rush: this doesn't mean moving fast, or making split second decisions, it is simply feeling ragged and roughshod ridden and generally stressed out. We all need to be stretched- and slowing down can actually stretch us more by making us look more closely at a thing. But no one needs the strain of being in a rush.


De-skilling society

Recently I have been revising my notions about helping people. I mean helping people in the abstract, in the potential sense of the world not the real and immediate sense. It would be perverse not to like having the opportunity to help someone fix a tyre – especially when they admit they’re stumped themselves; or open a stuck jar for a helpless cook; or revise some piece (short hopefully) of hopeful writing by a neophyte. These are all likely to get you thanked - rewarded help you might call it.

Then there's doing stuff you don't like to help others: babysitting, perhaps; or coaching maths that you can barely remember having studied yourself. But at least you're giving someone what they want. 

Unrewarded and unnoticed help too: washing dishes in a house full of inveterate dirty dish leavers, picking up litter, paying for something without telling the person benefiting. 

But there is also the more abstract sort of helping. Putting grit down on the road, providing a waste bin, signposting the nearest town. All very helpful.


But a few months ago I was in the Naga hills, an area to the far west of India that borders Burma. Right near the border I visited a village and leaving one house I found myself faced by a short slippery muddy slope to the road. I thought: “If I lived here I’d cut steps here, put in a handrail. What about an old person? They’d have a hard time right now.” But just as I spoke, an aged gent of no less than seventy skipped past me up the slippy slope to the road.

In Indonesia once I’d been in an open truck speeding away when a chap who had told us earlier that he was 75, ran and jumped into the back- a moving truck…

In the Sahara I’ve seen a 67 year old Bedouin sprint up a sand dune and beat a fit looking 17 year old from England.


Maybe it starts with cutting the steps in the muddy slope. We don’t really need them. In fact they provide very good exercise in balance and using muscles we don’t normally use. We’ve paved the road and made everything flat- for cars, mainly. And now people suffer from all kinds of foot and knee problems because the human body sure as hell wasn’t designed for walking on uniform flat surfaces. In fact, bar the odd dried up lake bed and limestone pavement I can’t think of any.


We need variety in everyday life. We need challenge in everyday life. That muddy slope and the skittery scamper it promises may be just what you need.

But what about wheelchair access? I have a good friend in a wheelchair which he can’t wheel himself. He’s taking the Trans-Siberian railway with his Dad later this year. They’ll need help I’m sure from time to time- real immediate help as opposed to abstract potential help- and they’ll get it. Requiring help is far from being helpless, in fact the ability to elicit aid from others is just as much a skill as getting up a slippery slope unaided. Again, a few months ago, I found myself at 4000 metres and feeling very poorly. I had to give my pack to someone else to carry. I needed help- but so what? We’re not all the same. Naturally If was confined to a wheelchair I'd hate not being able to get around on my own. I'd love every place to have wheelchair access. But try to keep that thought in place without rejecting what I now have to say:


If I put the steps in I’m not only removing a good exercise opportunity for myself, I’m removing a challenge for others. Instead of seeing that muddy slope as something primitive, I now see it can be viewed as sophisticated too.





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on the natural tendency of things to reverse their initial intent

Because we live in an upside down world- we think it is made of things and mechanical processes- ttcch- we need to keep reminding ourselves that pushing one thing too hard will result in its reverse happening. Democracy- when pushed too hard results in a kind of brainwash- that we are all the same; sameness becomes over valued and difference marginalised. Instead of breeding tolerance the over reverence for democracy builds an intolerance of others- anyone who is a little different. Of course we institutionalise such things as racism and sexism with good intentions- without realising inevitably these will, in turn, become new forms of intolerance. Democracy is the tyranny of the majority- and just because it's popular doesn't mean it isn't tyrannical.


bookshop video

my pals in Scotland Jessica, Shaun and Nicky have made's brilliant: watch and be cheered



Talent is either everywhere or nowhere. Think about that one.


Tweak your way to Success

We all dream of a single panacea, a single method, a single idea that will bring us success, or happiness, or health or wealth.

Diet books thrive on the idea that a single idea will make you thin. Self-help books promote a single strategy for success: better habits, thinking big, making friends, being emotionally intelligent, doing 10,000 hours of practice…

Yet deep down we suspect the reality…there is no panacea.

Instead there is something better: tweaking.

Tweaking is how you succeed. You keep improving a bit here and bit there. It might be a very small improvement- but every little helps.

If you go on a multi-day hike your rucksack is likely to weigh a ton when you start out. It’s just the way we are: you never know what you might need. But as you walk, you discard stuff. You start tweaking. I even once cut off all the extra straps I didn’t need. Can’t have weighed more than 100grams. But take off a 100 grams a day for ten days and you’ve lost a kilo from your back. In a month three kilos- and that IS a lot in backpacking terms.

Tweaking is recommended as a good way to lose weight. Use smaller plates, don’t eat after 6pm, stop snacking: little things, tiny tweaks- but they all add up. In New Scientist this week I read that leading weight researchers have a maxim: if you want to be skinny do what skinny people do. And when you look at skinny people they do a whole range of things from eating standing up to choosing well lit spots in restaurants. Tweaks. Just keep adding them to your repertoire to slowly improve.

When we change a big thing in our lives there is often a reaction- it can be detrimental and even put you off further progress. You plan to get fit and go for a five mile run when you haven’t run it years: you pull a ligament which puts you off any further exercise. Instead it would be better to tweak your daily routine. Walk faster, walk longer. Slowly enact change.

You’re worried that you’ll lose momentum? Not if your tweaks are all in alignment. It’s like writing a book- as long as you write a little each day, every day, it will get written. As long as the tweaks are connected with a defined challenge or goal you will improve.

You want to improve a relationship? Start by tweaking. Find the most irritating thing you do and stop doing it- you may find it is a very small thing.

You want to get wealthier? Don’t look for the blockbusting pay out, just tweak what you already have. Optimise your production little by little.

Running faster- don’t exhaust yourself- tweak everything instead: lighter shoes, different clothes, better diet, run at different times- try anything and everything as a potential tweak. And if it works- ues it.

Tweaking encourages a creative look at improvement. Instead of being straitjacketed use your imagination to try every kind of way to gain a slight advantage. If you imagine you write better dressed in a cape and top hat- then do it, if you think can paint better paintings by using candlelight- then try it. Tweaking restores the fun to getting better at things. Forget science- or, rather, see science as just one source of tweaks. There are many more.

Get tweaking!





50 years of The Sufis

It is 50 years since Idries Shah's groundbreaking book The Sufis appeared. Follow the below link for my article about it on the Royal Society for Asian Affairs blog site: