EPISODE 5: EVERY ADVENTURE BEGINS IN THE SAME WAY
For weeks leading up to July 5th - the first day of TURNING LEFT - I’d been organising, shifting, stacking … sometimes piling only to then unpile. I was packing up my home, reducing it to labelled, brown boxes. On July 3rd all but me, two duffle bags and a sleeping bag were put into storage. That night, sitting in an empty abode, which friends knew as The Cove (as it was a safe place for pirates), I ate on the hardwood floor in silence in the amber glow of candles, fairy-lights and a fire. I slept there too … by choice.
Two days later, I left. Which quickly brings me to the point of this blog (Episode 5 of our Adventure Series).
All adventures begin in the same way: They begin with leaving.
Myself and Rich Clarke (who has been fundamental to the lab’s research for many years) studied the brain and behaviour of bumblebees. They are amazing! They can count to at least five. They can recognise human faces. And when they leave their homes for the first time, they do what you would do: They look back … by flying in increasingly large arcs while facing their ‘door’ as they move away from it. They are remembering.
We are no different. We too look back … and remember.
When packing up The Cove, one of the most significant tasks was ‘The Books’. There are hundreds. Prior to the movers coming, I had to take them down from shelves that towered 13 feet in order to be stored. I never throw a book away: I don’t understand how one could. Especially once read. Each is an adventure told … or soon to be told. The words on the page are only part of its adventure. Its living denouement is written in coffee stains, folds and in the margins in pen. Seeing its binding on the shelf is a bookmark in one’s life. The cafes, the landscapes and beds where it was read - and maybe with whom. Books are prescient; Their words find us when we need them. Dostoevsky’s imagination in The Brothers Karamazov was written on parchment. It has since been re-written in the axons and dendrites of the cells of my hippocampus, amygdala and cortex which encode the places, emotions and meanings of his imagination. But so too are the landscapes of San Francisco, my sister Krista’s home, and the pain of my (first) divorce 25 years ago where Dostoevsky’s words found me. Alyosha and Ashley are now forever woven together in my mind.
After closing the front door of this Cove for the last time, I got into my rented ragtop with my two duffle bags for company, and - like a bumblebee - looked back. I saw the meaning that lay behind its facade. I then realised that each facade on 11th street ... just up from Jerry’s cleaners where my boys would deliver clothes by skateboard when visiting from England, and down from the corner shop whose wonderful owner held an extra key (just in case a friend - pirate - needed a place - cove - to hide) ... is a spine of a book on a shelf with the story of its pages inside.
Looking back is why leaving is hard … because we know that it will require letting go. Throwing away the book.
Everything you do, see, know and believe is grounded in your assumptions and biases that are encoded in the structure of your brain. Some of them you authored. Most you didn’t. They were inherited through the past stories that have been projected onto you. A parent’s, a society’s or a culture’s trauma … or victory. Fears, triggers and beliefs, as well as values, when projected early in your life when your brain is most plastic, become blindly self-evident. They are your ‘intuitions’. Perceptual laws that you don’t question because you don’t even know they are there. When asked to explore them, the answer is usually … ‘Explore what?’ … … or simply ... ‘NO!’. The ‘Physics of No’ is to treat one’s assumptions as objective, physical truths (like gravity), instead of what they really are: Subjective truths that might or might not have legitimacy … despite their legitimate feelings.
Which means that most of the assumptions and biases that shape who you are, you don’t even know you have. It’s why marketing surveys often fail, because people give answers that they think are true, or would like to be true. If you don’t believe me, let’s play a game. Let’s see if I can read your mind … right now … from a distance …
There are two shapes below. They do not have names. They are not circles, diamonds or squares. They have no meaning … or so it seems.
Now, I’m going to give you two sounds:
KIKI & BUBU
They also have no meaning (at least in the English language).
Now … as an independent, free-thinking person who knows yourself ... tell me ... which of the shapes is KIKI and which is BUBU?
I’m guessing you said that the shape on the left is BUBU and the one on the right is KIKI. If true, the question is why did you answer this way? What are the assumptions and biases encoded in your brain that drove this decision? Keep in mind that we’re just talking about shapes and sounds here. So if you don’t know the answer at this level, how on earth can you ever be certain of the reasons you tell yourself for your more complex perceptions and choices, like the perception of another person whose brain - unlike your own - you literally have no access to?
The assumptions that you’re unaware of, which unconsciously drove your choices in relation to KIKI and BUBU, is pain. Pain doesn’t exist. Knives are not painful in themselves. Pain is not of A thing. It is a (sometimes useful) perception OF a thing. Pain IS a meaning. If living systems weren’t here to perceive it, sharp things would still exist. Pain wouldn’t. And, your brain is very sensitive to what might be painful. And that anticipation we often then project onto others - in the guise of protection. It’s why you see children who are only 2 feet tall moving less than 1 MPH on a 4-wheel push-board with elbow and knee pads, gloves and a helmet. They are being taught in that moment that life is dangerous - even when they are not experiencing pain first hand. It’s why a child will look up at you immediately after a relatively minor fall. They are asking you with their eyes … “did that hurt?”. It’s your response that will determine whether it does … for them. It’s your fear that will become encoded as theirs.
Your brain is seeing, not the shapes above, but their meaning: The ‘sharp’ sound of KIKI and pointed lines of the shape on the right above are both potentially, and unconsciously painful. Whereas the rounded shape and BUBU are not. It’s also why if I give you the words LOVE and HATE you’ll say the ‘sharp’ shape on the right (the KIKI-shape) is HATE and the rounded, BUBU-shape is LOVE. Why? Because the meaning of hate - in your brain - is pain: If I prick your finger and say the word “hate”, I activate the same brain area. Finally, consider the fact that if I ask you which shape is ODIO, if you’re a native English speaker, you will say that it’s the rounded shape. But if you’re a native Spanish speaker, you’ll say the opposite. Why? Because in Spanish the meaning of Odio is HATE.
What is true at the lowest levels of perception is true at the most complex. We are hidden to ourselves - often purposefully so, since self-honesty is hard and blame easy. Only one of them requires pro-action, responsibility and integrity.
Remember, the first step from A to B is not B. It’s from A to Not-A. The first step is to leave. So if your adventure is going to be successful, you will need to let go of the assumptions that define you. And that will be hard. Since that is to step into our greatest fear … the uncertainty of self. If you cannot predict you, what do you have?
What you have is potential … the potential of expanding. Expanding your perception isn’t found in battle, in the motif of a Viking warrior. True strength reveals itself not in the battle with oneself to remain still, but in the surrender … in the acknowledgement of ‘weakness’ that the warrior often defends against … the first step into movement. It’s the opposite of everything you’ve ever been. It’s to not defend your current self.
Which is why we can often experience the fear, uncertainty and confusion when considering ‘letting go’ … but also clarity and expansion on the other side of it. And why we need a certainty from which to bridge into Not-A.
What can be that bridge?
Love helps us leave.
As my mum says: Life is a series of choices and the essence of life is love.
Two days ago, I turned left ... again. I started cycling from Seattle to San Francisco. A 1,500 KM journey into Not-A. As with my first turning left from NY to Seattle (via Maine) by car, I purposefully do not have a plan: I’m looking for side-roads. But this time, the true meaning of ‘getting-lost’ will be felt. For when you travel under your own power, you don’t just see the landscape, you feel it. You don’t just see the hill, you feel its behavioural significance to your brain and body. In fact, when your brain sees an incline while its body carries a heavy backpack, it will perceive the incline to be steeper than it is. Equally, you don’t just see the descent on the other side. You feel the exhilaration as your soul’s potential energy is released.
The meaning of the hill’s descent is the freedom of ‘letting go’. The meaning of the hill’s ascent is the pain of leaving what previously defined you.
Hence the power of love in the moment of leaving.
Steve is a dear friend of 40 years. We grew up together. We got in trouble together. Played soccer together. He is much taller and stronger than I. For most of these years, he remained in the Seattle area … solid. Whereas I pursued a more Vagabond-life. Our politics 40-years-on is very different ... maybe even opposing … maybe even conflicting. But there is no conflict. There is a loving friendship.
Steve was there to send me off in 1990 when I first rode from Seattle to San Francisco (in winter) 32 years ago. And he was there with his wife Tammy (also a friend of 40 years) 32 years later … helping me to leave … to turn left … again.
It used to be the case that what mattered most in another person was what was inside their heart. Not the box they ticked on election night. While we have different views, Steve’s heart is enormous. It’s why he needs a 6’3” container to carry it. He cares … deeply. And through that care, he didn’t try to convince me to stay. He didn’t try and protect me from risk. For love enables those we care for to take risk. Love is a sandbar … a cove … a place to return to ... to rest in order to leave and risk again.
Steve woke early with Tammy. Carried my bike in the back of his enormous pickup. Went with me on the hour-long ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. Bought me a beer and taco. And before I hopped on my bike, we toasted to adventure with a shot of tequila … twice. True gifts cost effort … objectively. But when done with love, the cost is not felt … subjectively. It’s because a true gift is not in service to oneself. It’s not reserved only for those with whom we share the same politics, the same views, the same occupation, or same community. It is done in service of caring (indifferent to difference) … for what is essential … the essence of life. … it is for love.
We would love to hear about your experiences of the power of love in the moment of leaving. Please contribute at the bottom of this blog and share to encourage others to do the same.
Written by: Beau Lotto.
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