This is the view from the window of my studio at home. For those that live on the Dorset/Somerset border, a view like this, or better, is quite common.
Of course, it’s not just the view from my window. It's the view from my window as seen through the screen of my iPhone. I've had an iPhone since they first came out in the UK a little over ten years ago, and every year it feels as though it plays a more significant role in my life. In all of that time, I’ve used my phone like everyone else. Just as Apple and the ‘app-makers’ wanted me to. In a way that allows my phone to demand my attention, to distract me from what’s going on all around me.
A few weeks ago I decided to make a stand, and take ownership of this little piece of technology. My iPhone now has just one page. An image of the view from my studio window; the place where I work best. The place that is calming and soothing after the exertions of the office and wherever else I’ve been. The place where I’m writing this article. I’ve retained only essential applications, moving them to a single nest of folders at the bottom of the page and all notifications have been switched off. Simple really, but it still took ten years to do it!
But this isn’t about the phone. What’s important here is the state of mind that led me to drastically re-arrange my phone’s set-up, the blockage that had prevented me from doing it sooner and the intense satisfaction that has resulted from making this thing mine.
I can think of some parallels.
It’s similar to those moments when you finally decide to tidy your desk or your room. You feel so much better for having done it, and you wonder why you hadn’t done it much earlier.
It’s similar to when, having snapped away with your digital camera on auto settings for years, you suddenly decide to investigate how to use the manual settings and the satisfaction that you derive, after some practice, when the results are noticeably improved.
And it’s similar to when clients (and architects) develop a design whose sole purpose is to impress their peers before that version is scrapped having contemplated what is actually important and a much better solution emerges.
So how do we see what’s holding us back, and how do we overcome it?
Well, I’m no psychologist, but in my experience, the key to this isn’t so much about problem-solving or quality of thought, it’s more about not thinking at all. It’s about having an empty mind; achieving clarity; being in the moment; breathing. These days, I suppose, you might call it mindfulness. But whatever you want to call it, it’s about getting your mental self to a place where you can see your self-imposed blockages for what they are, and where you can begin to see what you really want to achieve. Yes, what you REALLY want to achieve.
Robert Pirsig (who sadly passed away during 2017) wrote the 1970’s cult classic on the subject that is at the heart of this article. In it, he refers to the opening line of an instruction manual which he’d kept because he thought it offered a clue to a better future. It begins:
“Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind”.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig
As the light breaks on 2018, I have a simple desire to become more conscious of my own, self-imposed, obstacles. If we all did that, we stand a chance of making the world a little better than it might otherwise be. I think we owe it to ourselves, the planet and everyone else.