Books 4: Outliers, Aussies and Blind Faith

These are short comments on 3 of the 5 books I read while traveling from Darwin to Sydney, vai Adelaide and Melbourne!

Advance Australia Where?

Hugh McKay

I picked this book from the many on offer in Darwin that seemed to offer a way back into understanding Australian culture, politics and daily life. Having seen McKay speak in London, and read some of his articles, I thought he would do a good job. And he does. Backed by statistics, and drawing on loads of interviews, discussion groups and other social research he paints a rich picture of the trends and attitudes in Australia. It must be said he is not a philosopher, political leader, futurist, or designer but does some of the groundwork that those sort of people need to do what they do.

He does a grand job of sense and meaning-making on behalf of everyone else: dissecting then re-integrating trends in household size, poverty, IT, community engagement and Australian’s attitudes to those trends. At the end of the book he does offer his opinions on what should be done, but even then I feel like he is still trying to speak on behalf of everyone, informed by their attitudes and values. In that regard, perhaps he is one type of model of a leader – a servant not just to the expressed opinions of the mob, but to the deeper needs and context from which those attitudes emerge, and the future to which they point.

A pretty important read, for any sort of social or political work, but also for understanding which of your own attitudes and opinions are not actually personal, but cultural – that is common amongst millions your peers (whether you be baby boomer, Gen Y, or a new parent), not just your individual response to your specific circumstances. It certainly helped me understand myself a bit better, in a way that will probably bring me closer to my fellow Aussies.

One particular thing is worth mentioning: I never quite knew the context around the idea of the ‘lucky country‘, but he explains it. Donald Horne used this label in 1964, but in an ironic and cautionary sense, not celebratory. Horne thought we were suffering from mediocre leadership, inadequate planning and a complacent population but that thanks to a resource boom we were able to get away with it. I will be interested to see if that’s changed?

Blind Faith

Ben Elton

Great. I read this fast, while on the bus from Melbourne to Sydney. Its depiction of an highly religious, post-sea-level rise, grotesque, web-mediated culture in London was disturbing because it seems so extreme but at the same time so close. Elton’s description of the habits of a population where everything is shared all the time, all online actually had me seriously reconsidering the psychology behind my own blogging….eeek.

Every single one of Elton’s books I has read has been entertaining, yet also induced a major reconsideration of some aspect of my thinking or behaviour. They always also make me question some aspect of our culture. Which makes it the perfect read: entertainment, stimulation, reflection (on me, culture) all in one.

Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell

The newest book by the author of Tipping Point and Blink is another fantastic interpretation and integration of science and psychology brought to bear on a topic of cultural and personal relevance. In this instance, Gladwell looks at the real stories and factors behind those we consider to be exceptional achievers and geniuses. He shows again and again how birthdates, culture, chance, family connections are major contributors to the success of everyone from the Beatles to Bill Gates, to Asian maths whizzes.

And, many of the stories of success have flipsides of tragic failure. More than one of the stories compelled me to consider what I can do to increase the opportunities and level the playing field for those that are disadvantaged, especially children with respect to education. Additionally, for me, it built perfectly on my recently-emergent commitment to a clear focus over the next ten years: he shows that 10,000 hours is the amount of time you have to put in to be expert at anything, rergardless of talent and luck. And 10,000 hours takes about ten years. So, hold me to that and ask me ten years if I have achieved my goal of being expert at….XX [at this stage, creating resilient, apithological communities; meditation/new sense of Self; and Cheng Hsin/Tai Chi are on the short list].

Books 3: Auto/Biographies

These are comments on three biographical and autobiographical books I read whilst on my travels.

Buddha

Deepak Chopra

A narrative account of the Buddha’s journey from Siddhartha the Prince to Gautama the Monk to Buddha. I have not read much of Chopra’s work, and it is probably my loss. My resistance was some hang-over from an anti-American, anti-Oprah-Winfrey-endorsed-authors from my early twenties I suspect. But this book, I think, is a stroke of genius. In a simple way it tells the story of the Buddha free of the dogma and religion that has emerged around his teachings. In contrast to the images you may associate with ‘buddha’ as some happy fat man, Siddhartha did not have it easy. In fact, he spent decades as a starving skeleton, and faced every horror you can imagine, and all voluntarily. And in doing so, became enlightened which changed everything, for all of us. I enjoyed this book and sought it out to read as I have become more and more interested in the subjective accounts of the lives of great people like Buddha, Gandhi, Mandela and also Ken Wilber, and Andrew Cohen etc. [Any suggestions for female biographies I should read, anyone?] Reading these accounts makes them human, making them human makes them similar to me, and so pushes me to ask of myself “what is it that stands between me, and making the type of contribution that these people have made”.

My Master is My Self:  The Birth of a Spiritual Teacher

Andrew Cohen

This is a collection of letters written back and forth between Andrew and his friends and spiritual teachers over a period of critical years when he had his ultimate realisation and finished his searching. I read this while in Rishikesh, where many of the critical moments in this book actually occurred. Cohen is a spiritual leader who is pushing the edge in attempting to support the emergence of a new community of active, enlightened people. This account of the early stages of his journey are really valuable for me to read because it gives me insight into the kind of commitment required to walk on this path, and gives me some taste of the subjective experience of enlightenment and what follows. If, as Gandhi and Buddha both said (not verbatim) ‘I am my message’ then autobiographies of spiritual and world leaders are very insightful documents. I enjoyed this one for sure, and can appreciate the content in ways that I doubt I could have even three years ago e.g. the state of consciousness from which some of the more strange entries emerge.

Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell

Brilliant. I worked on homelessness projects issues in the UK and wish I had have read this earlier. Orwell’s first-person accounts of homelessness in England have unfortunately, in some respects, not dated. His accounts of low-wage working in the backrooms of Paris restaurants are so rich. But richest of all are his reflections on what causes and perpetuates homelessness (and his ideas hold weight in the UK, Asia, and I dare say in the dynamics of wealthy vs. poor nations), the psychology of homeless people that he met, his proposals for social enterprise as a way to end homelessness (remember, this was written in 1933) and why homeless are so despised (because they don’t do work that could conceivably make them rich). The Bio on the inside cover was also incredibly interesting reading. I had no idea about Orwell’s life, and seems more varied and tragic in circumstances than I would have guessed: war, poverty, insanity, he had seen it all.

Books 2: Food, Biocultural conservation, Globalisation and Hope

These are short reviews a few of the books I read that came from sympathetic worldviews about the nature of direction of  globalisation and sustainability.

When reading these, please keep in mind that I have been reading in this area for at least 5 years, and have perhaps been a bit harsh on some authors that are very eloquent and presenting important perspectives that don’t get nearly enough attention. That is, to anyone who is not a sustainability professional I would probably recommend all of these books to read ; )

Frances and Anna Lappe Moore

Hope’s Edge

Frances Moor Lappe’s book ‘Diet for a Small Planet‘ is a classic, and I would suggest an essential read for anyone wondering what eating habits are likely to become the norm as we seek to minimise our carbon emissions and feed a growing global population. It is not the easiest work of reference to have handy next to your stove, but there are some good (and apparently improved in later editions) reference tables that can be photocopied for that purpose.

I don’t think this new book is as good, but still worth a read. It is a personal story of her and her daughter’s journey around the world to visit shining examples of the local, small-planet, democratic, poverty-alleviating revolutions in food. All of the examples are fantastic, and if you have not read anything on agriculture, food production and links with globalisation, ecological destruction and poverty (and the solutions), this combination of hard-facts, hopeful case studies, new paradigms and personal narrative will probably be a really easy and pleasant entry point. These movements should be replicated in every community on earth, there is no doubt in that: from prison farms for rehabilitation, to widespread tree-panting for poverty alleviation, fights for the return of un-used land to landless poor who will use it for food production and governments taking greater responsibility for ensuring citizens (esp. the poor and school-children) have access to fresh, healthy, local food.

However for me, it was a little too long, the tone too cutesy-chummy-personal (and sounding somewhat sounding like a victim / disempowered perspective), and the intellectual rigour falling short of being sufficient ‘Integral’ in attempting to articulate a new paradigm that will underpin sustainability of the food system.

Resurgence

250th Issue of Resurgence – ‘Indigenous Intelligence: Diverse Solutions for the 21st Century

During my time in London I had a reluctant relationship with Resurgence, with which I also automatically associate Schumacher College. I was a bit put off by its insistence on a rather ‘flatland’, soft, deep perspective. Flatland because it often rejects heirarchy. Soft because it contains poetry and art, but precious little about political or organisational action. Deep because it is spiritual, but not interested in the booming, bright, technology, web-savvy face of sustainability that things like http://www.worldchanging.com represents. I think I have been harsh because I see it as being so close to being great, but just short of it.

But, I have warmed to it lately.

  1. it holds a unique, and very valued space of a sort of ‘wise elder’
  2. it does a fantastic job of integrating across tech-spiritual-science-literature boundaries
  3. the people who write in it are presenting a perspective on sustainability that is not as sexy as Worldchanging, not as pragmatic as Permaculture magazine, not as business-savvy as Green Futures, but may actually be the most long-term and truly sustainable of all of them.

This issue is incredibly rich. Making the links between biological and cultural diversity is something that has really just awakened in me with new depth, and the beauty of images, poetry, and quality of writing and initiatives documented in this issue are is very high. You can buy a pdf online from here. Very, very good value – there is at least as much information in here as a good book on the same topic.

Joseph E. Sitglitz

Making Globalisation Work

The scope and depth of this man’s knowledge is quite, quite remarkable.(he  has won a Nobel prize in Economics). This book combines well a global perspective on what is going wrong with more personal narratives and cases. It is also well-structured so it is still easy to go back and extract the main points. His suggestions, if implemented (and they really would be very easy to do), would quickly and dramatically shift our current system of economic and political globalisation into one that was infinitely more supportive of social and ecological sustainablity.

The tone in this book is a hair’s breadth from contemptuous at times, yet some of his statements are so dry they seem to hide the depth of  his care, anger, and hope. He spares no lashing of the US administration of the past decade or so, but again, only because he cares so much and can see the solutions are so very much within our reach. My only hesitation about recommending this book is that I think his solutions are still with one foot in the current paradigm, and I disagree with his unstated assumption about the necessity or benefits of such volumes of global trade in food, goods or otherwise. Otherwise, a perfect primer for understanding globalisation from someone who has worked inside, outside and all around the debate.

Vandana Shiva

Soil not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Very neat, concise summary of the case against modern fossil-fuel dependent agriculture. Vandana draws from many other sources, cites disturbing case studies, and points to a way out. If you need a quick-reference for understanding yourself, or explaining to others, what is wrong with our food systems, then this is one to go for. The editing is not great, and there are a few places where it uses exclusively Indian terminology e.g. for the number 10000.

Resurgence

Only Connect: Soil, Soul, Society

Best of Resurgence in the 90s

This is really filled with some absolutely marvellous, and timeless essays on sustainablity the connects soil, soul and spirit. The people writing are authentic, what they expose is shocking but true, and the solutions advocate for sometimes seem simple but very confronting if considered deeply enough. I have kept this, and will be referring to it again and again. Contributors include: Wendell Berry, Lester Brown, Fritjof Capra, Noam Chomsky, Herman Daly, Vaclav Havel, Paul Hawken, Wes Jackson, David Korten, James Lovelock, Wangari Maathai, Gita Mehta, Neil Postman, Theodore Roszak, Vandana Shiva and Sting. Very high quality stuff.

Arundahti Roy

An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

Very good, but quickly becomes repetitive. This is a collection of her essays and speeches over a few years in the ’90s. As the same points, connections, citations are made over and over. They are incredibly important connections (e.g. poverty-globalisation-environmental destruction-imperialism etc), and a perspective that should be more widely known, but I got a bit tired of the tone. I didn’t finish it, and left it at a youth hostel  in China for someone to discover.

Books 1: Trains, travels, and training warriors

Below are short reviews of the first three books I read while traveling

Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar: by train through Asia

This was appreciated (a gift from Rhys), but a disappointing  read actually. There were a few good characterisations of people he met along the way, but I thought much of it was relatively shallow, and limited in his enthusiasm for inquiring into how the circumstances and journey were affecting or transforming him. The tone, as I recall, was a bit ‘colonial’ and ‘British’ in being remote (as in just an observer), slightly cynical and mostly sharing stories about things that were absurd rather than what was beautiful or magical. It was then, interesting, to read the excerpt of the preface of his follow-up book (30 years later) included at the end of the edition I read, which was basically a detailed confession about his depressed state of mind at the time and problems with his wife. His new book [Ghost Train to the Eastern Star] may be worth a read. And, I am sure there are also better books to read if you want something relevant to a journey through this part of the world.

Ryszard Kapuscinksi

Travels with Herodotus

Again, another appropriate and appreciated gift upon my departure (from Thomas ). In this book the author shows a much greater capacity for integration of what is happening ‘out there’ with what is happening ‘in here’, than Thoreaux and also with what happened ‘back then’ to someone else traveling in the same footprints. The author is certainly remarkable in his command of languages, interest in being affected by the people and places he visits, and had what sounds like an interesting life, as was Herodotus.  And it is all woven together well – travel, biography, autobiography, cultural and political coment. But something about this book never quite captured me….

After writing what I thought of these two books, I can confess my own writing, and this blog, falls far short of the standards by which I have judged these two authors and their work. Additionally, I think the problems I identify with their work were chosen because they are problems with my own writing, and even my own perspective that I am overly sensitive to. For example, I have felt some truly momentous shifts in myself around willingness to die, commitment to my vision, empathy and relationship with those born and living in poorer or just different circumstances, my empathy for and adoption of a ‘deeper’ green perspective on sustainability that is more about soil and spirit than social enterprise and solar technology, the frequent and all-consuming experience of joyous rapture at random moments, and a greater attentiveness to what parts of what I do and who I am add value to the world and affect others in a positive way, to list a few.

Chogyam Trungpa

Shambahla: Sacred Path of the Warrior

I thought this was good. I have had it for a long time, but never got around to reading it. It is often cited in sustainability and spiritual leadership circles, and I think presents a useful perspective on what it is to be a leader, and warrior in a spiritual and everyday sense. It is secular, a compelling alternative and deep vision of leadership, and also offers quite practical guidance in many areas. Some of the ideas that resonated with me included:

  • the emphasis on the inherent goodness in everyone

  • the relationship between sensitivity and sadness with leadership and spiritual devleopment (as emphasised in buddhas teachings)

  • renunciation of anything that stands between you and others (as demonstrated by Gandhi and others), and other forms of surrender

Proudly Australian?

At some point in India, I started to wonder if local people were proud of the same things about their place, culture or heritage that visitors were interested. I asked a few people directly, what they were proud of. This is quite a tough question I think, but I had some great conversations with three Swedish girls in India. On that occasion they were prepared to be quite critical about Sweden. My sheer enthusiasm for certain aspects of Swedish culture won them over though, and they agreed of some things to be proud of.

Later, but still while in Asia, I had a go at writing down the things that came to mind when I thought of being proud of Australia and its people. This list is just what came to mind, and I haven’t included all the hyperlinks of explanations, nor ranked it in any particular order.

  • TISM – a funny band that anonymously produces catchy tunes with biting and intelligent social commentary in the lyrics.
  • Permaculture – young David Holmgren and Bill Mollison created this design system that I think is the purest expression of the sustainability concepts put into practice.
  • Kevin Rudd, speaking Mandarin – I think we are part of Asia, that we need to engage with that region, and this one guy’s linguistic abilities are a real asset in that regard.
  • Landcare (and Coastcare) – a quite amazing voluntary initiative that is a practical demonstration of Australians interest in conserving their landscape. I am not up to date with the latest evolution of Landcare, but the core intent and engagement of local people is truly world-class.
  • Our farmers – the ones I have met are full of wisdom, and love the land. Sometimes they are misled, incentives pull them in directions that were unsustainable, but always their hearts have been in the right place I think. We are still (globally) an agricultural society, and these few thousand men and women and their knowledge are quite, quite important.
  • Our biodiversity – we have so many strange, dangerous, and niche plants, animals, insects and primitive life-forms. Even dry patches of scrub on the West Coast can contain more species per hectare than most tropical forests.
  • Aboriginal culture and arts – tens of thousands of years of isolation have been the context for the evolution of a culture that is, arguably, the most sustainable on earth and deserves more attention (especially from me).
  • ABC, SBS, Radio National, and RTR. I still used these public of non-profit media sources while in the UK and found much of what they did to be far superior than anything I found there. Especially ‘Big Ideas’, ‘Background Briefing’ and ‘The Night Air’
  • The Natural Advantage of Nations – some young engineers thought something needed to be done about sustainability, so created a book, resource and network that was truly world-leading.
  • Little Creatures, Coopers and Cascade Green – good beers, all with their own eco / local advantages. Expensive, but I don’t drink much.
  • Vegemite, marmite and the other of this ilk – sure, it is a great savoury spread. But it was also a great example of the power of using competitions to come up with creative ways to re-use a resource. In this case, a competition to find a use for waste yeast from beer making. Vegemite resulted, and somehow (perhaps this was the true genius) was marketed in a way that people actually ate the stuff?!
  • Somervillle eco-village and GreenEdge projects – the best thinking and analysis I have seen on how to replicate and scale eco-villages that are economically sustainable.
  • Dialogue with the City and related Citizen engagement initiatives – at the time, Allanah McTiernan and co.’s efforts to pilot new levels and methods of engaging citizens in conversations about stuff that matters was world-leading. I have told so many people about this, and still value the experience I gained through participating.
  • Some people – Les Hiddens (Bush Tucker Man), Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil / ALP), Fiona Stanley (child and indigenous health), Tim Flannery (climate change, and everything brilliant he did prior to that), Peter Singer (ethicist).
  • Red, desert dirt – does anyone else have anything like this, or so much of it?
  • Greenspeed – recumbent trikes ; )

What are you proud of about your nation?

Sumatra, Java and Bali – Indonesia

For such a large and diverse country, I did it no justice whatsoever. Since doing some planning in China, I knew I would have to rush through Indonesia to make Sydney in time (it was going to take me at least 5 days to get from Darwin to Sydney). I tried various things to squeeze a few more days in Indo, at the very least to see some volcanoes, forest and go surfing, and here is what resulted.

In between boarding the boat towards Sumatra on the morning of the 16th, and midnight on the 22nd of January (nearly 168 hours), I spent all but about 24 hours sitting on my bum on some form of transport.

First, a ferry, then bus, then 60+ hours on the bus to the ‘cultural capital’ of Yogyakarta, then 11 hours on the bus the next day to Bromo. Arriving in the evening, not sleeping, then leaving at 4am to watch the sun-not-rise over a volcano in the mist. At 8am I walked down off the volcano and back into a jeep, then bus, then an expensive 3km in a 4WD, then ferry (Java to Bali), then bus, then shared but relatively luxurious taxi for the final 19km into Kuta.

I was, at times during this journey, quite pissed off. It was hot, humid (it’s summer here) crowded, people were continuously trying to steal my stuff, or sell me rubbish, or rip me off (and sometimes succeeding). I’m not exaggerating about the proliferation of dishonourable people – and have missing sunglasses, a shirt, money and a few good stories as a result. My saving grace through all this was that I always asked to choose my seat in advance – for the 60 hour trip this was the difference between having my knees around my neck, or stretching out across the stairwell while sitting, then sprawling across the back seat to sleep.

Pekanburu to Yogyakarta gang with goats

Pekanburu to Yogyakarta gang with goats

The view for 60+ hours

The view for 60+ hours

And, at times, I was really happy. As in life always, whenever I wanted to be somewhere else, I was usually not happy. And, if I thought everyone was trying to steal stuff, then it is so easy to notice all kinds of things that reinforce this perception, and so the opposite. I was happy when I loaned out all my clothes to other cold people in the bus, then unhappy 24 hours when one of them had left and taken my shirt with him, and another was hiding my jacket hoping I would forget it. I was happy when guys with guitars or girls with karaoke machines would get on and sing for money, but not happy when the girl expected me to give her ‘money, money, money’. [I’m destined to be sad if my mood swings so much in relation to external circumstances, aren’t I!?]

I must mention some of the transport. It’s worth saying that you will pay more for an A/C vehicle, but I suspect not get one, or one in which the A/C is not working. I am fine with heat and humidity actually, but not when I am expecting the A/C to work. The ferry was great. Superficially, if you squinted, it looked like a quality ferry that would do the crossing to Rottnest from Perth. Open your eyes and you start to see the rust, and patchy repairs to the hull. Step onboard and you see the odd welds, and realise that what looks like metal (e.g. hull) is actually all fibreglass. Sit inside, and you learn that fibreglass is pretty bloody thin as the whole wall of the boat flexes inwards a foot when docking against the jetty. I never used to understand how these Indonesian ferries just ‘sank’, now I know.

batam-seaworthy-ferry-2

The food along this whole journey was OK. But only when I tended to explore other options apart from the one the driver was directing us in to. The designated stops on the local buses were ok, but on one with only fellow tourists the driver directed us to a place that was literally ten times as expensive as the little local place 30m around the corner.

Anyway, rushing through Indo like this was not really going to give it a good chance to impress me. Nor was I going to many destinations (I.e. bus stations) that are set up to impress. Some things did, however, leave a positive impression:

  • great street food in Yogyakarta, including a breakfast that competes with my yoghurt/banana/many grain/muesli/porridge in Kolkata for the best meal so far

yogyakarta-great-breakfast

  • being entertained (and bemused) by the shadow puppet show and distracted gossiping puppeteers and musicians at the Sonobudoyo Museum, Yogyakarta

yogyakarta-puppets-behind-closer

  • the run-down but still cool ‘kraton’ (palace), then Buddhist monuments (Borabudur) in Yogyakarta and hanging out with two great Indonesian guys, both with amazing stories (one is like the winner of Indonesian idol, the other has been lifted out of poverty and it at Univeristy thanks to the generosity of a Dutch woman)

borudubur-buddha-foreground-stupa-back

borudubur-new-friends

  • stumbling upon an amazing (funeral?) ceremony at the southern end of Kuta beach amongst the heart of sunburnt tourists

kuta-burnt-cowkuta-krazy-high-priest-close

  • wondrous Balinese architecture, even on new-ish hotels,

  • beautiful and handsome Balinese, with women sporting an attractive combination of bright saris and fitted tops

  • totally awesome tailor in Kuta who impeccably re-created two pairs of my favourite pants/trousers, but in a way that means I can wear them to more formal meetings

  • enjoying moments of genuine friendliness (heart-warming), adoration (weird) and laughter (the universal language) in between the hassles and nastiness

  • early, early morning worshipping and locals doing their thing  everywhere before it all gets busy, smoky and nasty

My last couple of paragraphs can be devoted to Kuta.

I arrived late, found somewhere expensive, slept, looked around, then found somewhere cheaper. I then went to the beach! I had heard it was beautiful, and with very consistent waves – perfect for relaxing, but also getting back into my surfing. But being Dec/Jan the winds are blowing the wrong way, which is not so bad for the waves, but awful for pollution. I surfed several times, but in a thick soup of plastic, rotting fish, and all kinds of things that made my eyes water and make my skin crawl, even now. It was really awful, but I still got some alright waves.

Having lost my drivers licence on a German train a while back, I didn’t want to rent a motorbike (which EVERYONE else does), get hurt, then be in trouble with travel insurance. Having no board, I needed to surf wherever they rented boards. Having some meetings and wanting to just relax a bit and catch up on sleep, I didn’t have a whole lot of days to wander to other parts of Bali or Nusa Lombongan. Not being confident about my surfing or paddling, I was reluctant to get a lift to somewhere that the surf guides suggested might be crowded and unrideable.

So Kuta was a bit of a loss for me. I wandered the streets quite a bit, doing chores and checking out temples, different parts of the long strip of development along the beach, and confirming that every single shop sold exactly the same crap as every other. I did get back into the groove or surfing (it’s like riding a bike!), and felt much more aware of my weight, and what the wave was doing than ever before. And, I did get to see Uluwatu the day I was due to leave. I paid the guy from the surf shop to take me out on his motorbike. It looked ok, considering it was the wrong season, and I could have totally handled surfing there! It was a beautiful loooonggg wave, and I enjoyed the ride back into town (read upcoming ‘size of reality’ post).

kuta-uluwatu-cliffs-2

So, that was Indo. I think I will be back, and may be even more likely to learn Indonesian than Mandarin when in Oz. Afterall, it is Australia’s closest neighbour and therefore lowest-carbon overseas travel destination. It really does have the best waves on the planet, in warm water, with great food, beautiful people, amazing landscapes covered by much of the world’s remaining tropical forest, a wondrous range of languages, stunning and wearable art. And a warm friendliness and sense of spiritual reverence (whether Hindu, Muslim or indigenous) that still shines past even the worst rubbish, brazen hookers, sleaziest drunks, most aggressive salespeople and rudest bumper stickers you can find in Kuta.

The Size of Reality

Sitting on a motorbike, being ridden back from Uluwatu (Bali), I had one of those extended moments of unselfconscious, blissful contemplation.In this case it was on the sheer size of reality. All of it. Just trying to comprehend the literally unimaginable scale and extent of the reality (or dream) we live in. Like our planet, billions of different people, billions of plants, ants, leaves, worms, animals, tiles, stones, bits of twisted iron, mobile phones…then you start thinking about the stars and everything out there…then if that’s not enough you can start to think about the interiors of everything – the billions of thoughts that go through each individual’s mind in their time in this body, multiplied by billions of people, multiplied by thousands of generations, added to the experience, reactions and impulses of every other non-sentient being. It is all quite, quite, large and dwelling in amazement is something that could take up a long time.

Lucky I was only a passenger…