10 Oct Building Convictions
I am sitting on the top floor of the hostel where the rain is clearing outside, the call to prayer sounds out across the city and I can see over the Bosphorus to Asia. I don’t know where the following came from, but I felt an urge to write. Much of my recent thought process follows. I have struggled to write recently but I think you will understand where I have been and where I am going much more after reading this…
I feel like I am embarking on a much different trip from Istanbul. I have changed so much in the last few weeks through the people I have met, books I have read and bizarre experiences out here. Europe was the known world, even if I didn’t know about the country the cultures were familiar, I am now venturing into the unknown. I am also turning a lot of thought inwards. I read a book by a guy called Scott Stoll, who focused on the spiritual and philosophical side of cycling around the world, I have been discussing a lot with a friend called Jesus who works in a cafe in Sultanahmet and I spent 2 days recently with a Californian poet I met called Sage, we shared a lot of ideas. In progressing forwards on a physical journey I feel I am now also processing a lot of what makes me myself. When I left England, I thought I was on a journey to build stories as inspirations for my film making, I now wonder if that was a cover for the real truth, something I told myself because it was easier than facing up to something. I have questioned a lot as to whether I was always running away from something. I never finished my counselling for depression, I found the Iceland trip and then went straight to New Zealand, maybe it is something I still have to work through. I am overcoming many things already, learning to disregard other’s judgments of me and to control my judgments of others. I read the other day that you only get disappointed, frustrated or angry because you have expectations. I often expect more of others than I should and as a result I get annoyed, I am learning to stop this and it takes a huge weight from my shoulders. I watched two American’s getting irate in the bank on Friday because they weren’t getting served quickly. I sat back and read my book. We all got served, the difference being I was calm and polite to the cashier, made her smile and left happy, the American’s just caused unneeded aggravation for all involved. I also learnt that I have to appreciate everything I am dealt. This week I was sitting with Jesus and we were discussing being stuck in Istanbul. We stopped and looked at each other, realising what we were saying… There are so many people out there who would kill for the opportunity to be stuck in Istanbul. I am so privileged and lucky. And in being stuck here, I have not stopped travelling. I am still learning so much about the culture and constantly meeting people, I’m submerged in a colourful whirlpool of inspiration. To be here for 5 weeks has been a blessing and a well deserved punctuation before the next stage of the journey. Everybody is so busy defining and looking for the peaks and highlights in their time that we forget that every single moment is, to a certain extent, a peak in our lives. If only it could always be so easy to sit back and realise the perfection of enjoying a simple moment.
I read something in Scott Stoll’s book which made me think, he said, ‘every moment that we spend we have to make a decision. The decision is what we trade in this moment of our lives for.’ Many trade moments for imaginary credits that get transferred into the bank, some devote their lives to religion, some peoples’ moments are traded to addiction, at the moment I trade mine for travel. I think happiness or maybe contentment can possibly be defined when you feel that your life’s moments are being traded at a good exchange rate. Was that moment enriching? Was it worth that moment of my life? I just questioned to myself, what is the difference between the examples of wealth, religion, addiction and travel? Anyway, right now my exchange rate is excellent!
I read a quote in Thoreau’s Walden which describes the person I feel I have been all my life “slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself”. Although I have been successful in school, have a first class degree, have had amazing jobs, played in good bands, cycled at expert level and travelled the world, I have never been happy with myself. I push myself to be better all the time. It has ruined relationships. I am learning through this trip that it is not important to be the best. I think I set off on this trip to have ‘the best’ stories or the status of ‘I cycled around the world’ but this is fading as I learn of the real importance in life. The lifestyles, importance of family and community and the slowly reducing interest in material wealth as I travel East is bringing me around to the reality of what is important. It is equally, if not more important for one person to remember the time they laughed sharing a meal with me as it would be for ten thousand people to enjoy watching a prize winning film I could make. Sometimes I wonder how we got our priorities so mixed up. How did money become so important? When I was studying Construction Management and again in counselling I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s worth a look, I regularly forget to look after the basic needs in pursuit of the peak, only to be too hungry or tired to appreciate anything. It is such a waste to be in the most beautiful of places or with such amazing people only to be in a negative frame of mind to a point that you can’t enjoy it. I am listening to my body much more since starting the journey and I really try not to let myself get hungry or tired. Sometimes I think I am becoming some kind of hippy spiritualist, which I always considered mumbo jumbo, I don’t know whether that is the way I am heading but maybe there are other planes that we can be successful on. In regards to my own successes previously in my life, I think I became so aware of the boxes that needed ticking to get grades, to get jobs, to be perceived as successful, that I went about life just ticking boxes. I had discovered the construction behind our society and I could manipulate it. I was perceived as successful and I guess I was. This raises the question, what is success? I guess success is subjective and maybe I am on this journey to realise what my success, my happiness really is. Right now I know that it is not ticking boxes and it is not conforming to western expectations. On my last day in Bulgaria I wrote something in my journal that at the time was very confusing for me, along the lines of: “I feel like a Leigh-shaped jigsaw puzzle that has been shaken up and spread across the floor. My beliefs in what were previously my norms have been pulled apart from simply driving on the other side of the road and nodding meaning no, to hospitality changes, cultural beliefs and perceptions of good and bad. It is even evident in my photos, I no longer know what I am looking at, what is important to me, I just seem to point the camera at something and take a picture. My pictures are poor.” I thought about this a lot and realised that it is a good thing that I am conscious of my own deconstruction. From here on in I hope to feel a reconstruction, a rebuilding of myself but with greater knowledge of what I am building, why I am building it and with an increased emphasis on my own ‘happiness’ or ‘success’.
In Trieste, Italy I met a girl from Gaza, who was going to have to go back home to get her visa extended for education. She told me of the struggles in Gaza, how it is a closed country where nobody is allowed in or out. She described it as a giant prison where nobody is allowed to leave or enter, where there are no jobs, no products and where the people cry themselves to sleep. It had taken her 18 monts to get the impossible, a visa to study abroad. As she told me about her problem she had tears in her eyes, afraid of what she couldn’t do. I stood in the same place, at the same time, the same age and our only difference was the label on our passport. I felt terrible with my passport, my bike and my freedom to roam the world. Since then I have never taken for granted how lucky and privileged I am.
I realise how difficult it is to judge everything in life. Good and bad, freedom and repression are so clearly defined in everything we are told, yet they too are subjective and different in every culture. Take the shepherd, the sheep and the wolf for example. Freedom for the sheep is to be able to graze without the threat of the wolf. The shepherd buys them this but in protecting the sheep, he represses the basic needs of the wolf. I only just realised that these relationships occur everyday and on such an immense scale and at any one time we, ourselves, exist as the shepherd, the sheep and the wolf. We are at once good and bad and we influence the fates of others.
Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking about my issues or, even worse, thinking about thinking, that it takes someone stating the obvious or to echo my own words to actually drive it home, this happened a few days ago. Since I began planning this trip I was aware of the importance of the end being the beginning. The creation of a circle, with no destination, no beginning, no end. Chris, a friend in the hostel told me his favourite quote, “the journey is the destination” and it hit me that all of the things going round in my mind are just a part of this journey. Maybe I have now reached the destination in becoming part of the journey, at least, I now feel that journey is changing and so am I.
Sparrows are flying into the dining room where I am sitting to eat the breadcrumbs left from breakfast. It’s insignificant but beautiful, you’d love it, it’s life.