Last weekend I travelled West again. Back to The Land of the Dragon. Back to Wales. This time with wife and dog. This time to North Wales. To Anglesey. To Mona.
It’s a magical place. A sacred island. It was a special place to the Celts. A sort of university for the Druids. Separated from the mainland by the fierce tides and currents of the Menai Straits. The last refuge of the Old Ways – pushed out of this land by the straight roads of the Romans. It is full to bursting with the stones that the Celts left behind.
It has been a long time since we were last here. But Jo has been reading about Boudica – the story of the Celtic resistance to Roman invasion – and wanted to spend time exploring this island which is so central to that story. We had one weekend free before a very busy Summer schedule, so we packed up the van and left. Following the sun westwards towards the horizon.
Then, I realised that I had forgotten to pack my medication, so we had to turn around and drive back home to get it. Which made us late. So we got caught in the Friday afternoon traffic. And it seemed that all of Manchester and Liverpool had decided to head to Wales for the weekend. Progress was painfully slow. Jo gets travel sick if she is a passenger. Plus my driving makes her nervous – she doesn’t trust my post Parkinson’s reaction times. So, she has to drive. Unfortunately, I am an awful navigator. I find it difficult to remember to plan ahead. Am easily distracted by – well, pretty much anything – events on the roadside, music on the stereo, conversation, speculation, the sheer beauty of maps. The combination is not great and often leads to tense journeys. We got a satnav. She helps. But I cannot help resenting her calm, mechanical voice. Her conviction of her own correctness. Sitting in the passenger seat, using Jo’s iphone to search for suitable, dog friendly campsites. To find a post code to key into the satnav. To guide us effortlessly to our destination. I cannot help feeling that we are missing something. An opportunity. A chance to get lost.
There is something wonderfully life enhancing about getting lost. It’s exciting. Because, suddenly, you are open to a world of possibilities. You could be anywhere. But most importantly, you are where you are. You are free to pay attention to exactly where you are. You are free to discover where you are in all its richness. Without preconceptions. Without preformed ideas of how this place must be. It’s about a letting go. Letting go of all the boundaries you had erected around what this place could be. Letting go of the limitations you had unconsciously put upon this place and what it could be. Only when you get lost do you begin to experience a place fully. Any hill-walker can tell you how easy it is to look at a map and convince yourself that you are at a certain place on that map. Easy to persuade yourself that the evidence in the landscape around you confirms that, yes, you are where you thought you were, when, actually, you are somewhere else entirely. The secret of successful navigation on the hill is to assume that you don’t know where you are. Assume that you are lost. Pay full attention to the landscape around you. Try and see it all. Start from there. Never start from the map. If you do that, your mind will happily bend reality to fit to where you think you are on the map. And then you will be in trouble. To really know where you are, first you have to get lost.
Similarly, in life, we all have a tendency to pay too much attention to maps and not enough to our actual surroundings. We easily become obsessed with our plans about where we should be – what school we should go to, what house we should live in, what job we should be doing. We love planning to be somewhere we are not. Our Government positively encourages it – calls it aspiration, says it wants to reward those who are aspirational, wants to build an aspirational society. But aspiring to what? Unless you know who you are first, you don’t stand a chance of understanding where you should be. If you have not given much attention to who you are, you will be vulnerable to all sorts of suggestions about where you should be that are not for your benefit but for the benefit of those making the suggestions – the parent living out their own frustrated dreams through their child. The employer wanting to maximise their profits. The Government wanting to build a stronger economy. The Church wanting to convert the world to the “right” way of believing. There is never any shortage of people offering ready-made life plans as to how to live your life. But, ultimately, if you follow those maps offered by others, you will always feel dissatisfied. Because they are just maps. They are not where you really are at. Only you can find out where you really are. To do so, you have to get lost. Throw away the maps. Abandon the satnav. Pay full attention to your surroundings. Listen. Stop trying to figure it out. Learn to just pay attention. Just listen. Wait. Stop rushing about. There is nowhere to go. Just be where you are. Listen. Stop thinking about yourself and what you think you want. Stop listening to advice. Just be alert. Pay attention. See what comes along. Remain open. Listen.
In most tribal societies, there was/is time set aside for this purpose. So, at a key time, around puberty, at the cusp of adulthood, a person would be given time to go away from the tribe, away from everyday chores, away from routine. Time to examine who they truly are, to discover their calling, their purpose. To get lost and so to find out why they are here. So that they return to the tribe as an adult who knows his/her purpose in life. This is very different from our present set up in our society. Here you are just part of the economic machine. An industrialised society where your value is judged purely in terms of your economic worth – the extent to which you serve the machine. We have lost the notion that every living being has a unique reason for being here. Now. On this planet. And the point of being here is not to amass more stuff, more status, more wealth. The point is to discover the potential you have as a living being. To experience that potential. And you don’t have a hope of doing this unless you spend some time lost in the wilderness, having a good look at where you are.
So, we spent time on Anglesey gently getting lost. Investigating where we were.
We found a place to camp that was right on the beach.
On the Friday night we experienced the most tremendous storm. From 11pm until dawn the sky was lit up by flashes of sheet lightening. Like someone flicking a light switch on and off. Amazing. Never seen anything like it. Plus fierce winds that rocked the van and bouts of pounding rain. Elemental energy. A strong reminder that we are just a part of a much more powerful whole that deserves respect. And, on occasion, demands it.
Then, on the Saturday morning, the sky cleared, the wind dropped and we spent a beautiful, warm, sunny, long day exploring the island. On foot. Walking. Getting lost and finding our way.
We visited the remains of a Celtic village.
A neolithic burial mound.
Do not be offended if I urge you to get lost too.