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The Japanese approach to learning martial arts, the tea ceremony and calligraphy is different to Western methods of teaching subjects regarded as ‘talent’ based. In the West the tacit assumption is you either start very young, possibly driven by obsessive parents, or you have an innate talent. Teaching is conceived as a kind of coaching. And if haven’t got the talent you’re considered a lost cause.

The Japanese know that talent is rather over-rated. More important is your attitude to learning. So their method of teaching assumes that everyone can learn- whatever their initial talent. Instead of hoping that students ‘pick it up’ by osmosis- as in the West- micromastery routines are devised so that everyone, even the apparently talentless, can learn.

A micromastery can be anything from spinning a basketball on your finger, doing an eskimo roll, or making a perfect daiquiri- it is a small, contained and perfectable thing, an activity in a box that nevertheless points to greater masteries out there.

I am currently writing a book for Penguin about micromastery- if you have a something you think is a good example of a micromastery let me know.


simple but not simplistic

Now and again I am drawn to things that are over-complicated. I revel, for a while, in their overcomplicatedness and then I find myself thinking: this is bullshit! Simplify your life!

I realised there was a connection between meaning and simplicity. The simpler things are the more the meaning shines through. You can connect to excitement and nature with a motor boat; or you can surf in the sea, or swim. But when your motor boat breaks down you have nothing- you may even have to swim for it to save your own life. Simpler things require less maintainence. In the long run it is maintainence 'costs' that kill us.

Here are a few principles:

1. When it comes to making a decision automatically make the simpler choice.

2. Simplify your immediate living space- and store everything you don't use everyday or for a current project. Things you 'might need' should probably be binned.

3. Simplify your food to that which is in season.

4. Use simplicity as a powerful problem solver- just ask yourself how you can solve the problem at hand RIGHT NOW with whatever is to hand. It may throw up some interesting routes to a solution.

5. Imagine completing the project in just one day- see what ideas crop up as a result of this thought experiment.

6. Simplify your interaction with people by just paying attention to what they say. Try to suspend inference and habitual judgement.

7. Simplify your emotional responses to the world. Suspend taking an emotional stance on things. See if you gain in available energy.

I have always found that on a hike or expedition when I have only a few things I am very well organised and tidy...but put me back in a house or apartment! Of course some people can tolerate more stuff than others. Find your own simplicity level- the point at which you begin to get messy and disorganised. It might be quite low. Cut out things/people/events until you find yourself living at this point.

When you cut things out of your life it is easier to see what is meaningful to you and what isn't. When meaning increases in your life so does motivation- you do more because you want to, not because you are forcing yourself.

I think we'll begin to see that making life simpler, restricting information gluttony and 'stuff', will be the 21st century equivilent of the 20th century discovery that most sugar was poison rather than nutrition.


higher intelligence

It seems to me that higher intelligence is more likely to reside in curiousity and flexibility than in ability to reason and see the flaws in another's argument, if only because we will wish to continue the conversation with someone who is at least interested in what we have to say.


get the right head on first

if you want to write, get your writer's head on. If you want to take pictures get your photographers head on. Effort spent in being able to quickly and efficiently get the 'right head on' for the task is effort well spent. When you have the right head on you see endless possibilities in that area...feeling barren is a sure sign you are approaching something with the wrong head on. One way to get the right head on is to leap in head first with no thought of quality, only reacting to every creative impulse however weak, never saying 'no' to any idea. This naturally becomes refined once you get the right head on. Taking a break when you'd normally work is another way, so is travel; but these methods have thier own dangers in terms of providing opportunities to bunk off and consume rather than produce. The key, I suppose, is in planned use of breaks and travel.


bikewalking #2

Next bikewalk I decided to tackle the network of holloways in this area. These are deep runnels, shallow canyons if you like, carved by millennia of carts, horses and people trudging up and down their overshadowed depths. Some are fifty feet deep, but average around 20-30 feet, worn through the very soft sandstone. Some you can get a small 4x4 up, and the churned surface shows this. Many you can bike down but to cycle up is a nightmare slog through mud and loose gravel- perfect bikewalk country! If you didn't read the previous post bikewalking is walking with a bike modified with an extendable handlebar so you can push the bike very easily. The bar retracts in when you want to ride. 

The mud would be very slippy if you were simply walking, but the bike works as a support or walking aid; brakes on the bike grips better than any walking pole.

There is lots of carving into the soft sandy walls, so soft that even deep carvings don't last more than a few years. There are also a few niches and mini-caves- here's one that has been turned into a shrine for travelers...

I headed up more hills, walking all the way. Finally I got to go downhill at last, with mud in the brakes it was a fast ride.

Thalassa, thalassa I get a glimpse of the sea. Now I was able to ride downhill back to town, along roads that were idyllic to freewheel along but would have been a drag to walk.



A good while ago my good pal desert photographer Richard Head showed me the picture above. It's from the Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam war. Using bicycles, thousands of kilos of supplies were transported down narrow trails in the jungle. Because it wasn't a road it was hard to see from the air. If the Americans bombed one section the bike pushers just found another narrow trail.

The key thing is the stick poked into the end of the handlebars. It means you can push the bike while walking upright and without getting your shins barked by the pedles. It allows a bicycle to become a real beast of burden. 

If you've ever ridden with a load on the bike you'll know what a pain it is to walk it. In fact its a pain to walk with any bike. You have to lean over and stand slightly twisted. You have to watch out for the peddles, but they always get you eventually. By extending the handlebars that all changes. Now you can walk the bike very easily, even with a big load on the bike. I decided to make an extendable bar that you could slide in out of sight when you wanted to ride. Then it would be possible to have the best of both worlds. You could ride when the going was easy and walk easily when it wasn't.

The bar I attached is from a brush extender- aluminium, strong enough, with an inner pole that extends out.

After fixing it with cable ties I sawed off the ends.

Here is the bike with the bar extended.

You stand behind that and walk. It's actually easier than walking as you have something to lean on and add balance- useful when pushing through mud on my own Ho Chi Minh trail:

The great thing is that such terrain- awkward to ride up is a pleasure, kind of, to walk up. Here is the bike with the bar retracted when things got worse (better really, more fun) later on:

I envisage having a quickly releasable set of panniers on the back making it possible to tackle any trail and carry camping gear at the same time. I once walked the GR10 along the length of the Pyrenees and there was only one twenty foot section along a narrow cliffside path that I'd be nervous taking a mountain bike along. You could find a way round that section or rope up to be safe. Mountains are possible and so are deserts- carrying 20 litres of water on the bike make a five day desert trip a doable proposition- you push/walk over sand and ride along the gravel bits. The important thing to emphasise is that this is NOTHING like your old irritating experience of walking a bike. This is enjoyable, easy and comfortable.



quit or do what you like right now

Arthur Deikman had a great exercise called 'I quit'. It takes just ten minutes. You take ten minutes off from life to say 'i quit, I just quit' to every sugestion or thought or impulse or flash of guilt or idea that comes in to your mind. If you start to question the game remind yourself it is only for ten mniutes- BUT FOR THOSE TEN MINUTES you quit. The purpose is to free yourself from self imposed burdens, including pain, emotional turmoil and other elements of windblown mind trash, useful perhaps in another context but not here, not all blowing around.

Another good one for when you feel weighed down is 'do what you like right now'. For one day- yes an entire day you can manage that- you do EXACTLY what you want to do. Now you may think you do this already pretty much but my guess is most of the time you are running to keep up with things you have already set running. You are in fact doing exactly what you wanted to do last week except its now. Every time you write a list you are making yourself do a present urge sometime in the future. Of course this is just 'life', but for one day you don't do it. Do what you want to do right now. See what happens, how it feels.

As a matter of fact I am doing it as I write this.