Saturday, 4 October 2008

Living a 'both-and' life

Yesterday was a real chilly, wet autumnal day - the kind of day when all you really want to do is to stretch out on the sofa in front of the wood burning stove with a good book. Given that we don't yet possess either a sofa or a stove that was not an option. So I tiled the floor instead (yes, that floor), and ruminated on life and some of the strange turns mine has taken. It's not something I do all the time, but the previous day a friend had asked me how we had come to be running a restaurant and how we came to be here, and as I was trowelling the tile adhesive onto the floor my train of thought meandered on, as thoughts do, from there.

As you probably know, I was something of a late convert to life at the stoves. Ten years ago, after nearly half a lifetime of doing Socially Useful Things - civil servant, welfare rights activist, CAB manager, advocacy campaigner - I made my move towards the somewhat more laid back world of Slow. It wasn't by any means my first break-out: the early eighties had seen me quitting the hallowed halls of the Department of Health to run a vegetarian retreat centre and guest house in North Yorkshire. Whilst being great fun, it didn't pay the bills (too idealistic ... too cheap!), so all too soon it was back to the rat race for a while until the pull of freedom got the better of me again and I set off to spend a couple of years 'on the road', living in community in west Wales and Dorset, and helping to facilitate dance retreats and camps. Then it was the turn of my more serious side again: I was accepted on to the (then) new person-centred post-grad diploma in Norwich, where I stayed as a practising therapist until the Cley years ...

What somehow came into sharper than usual focus yesterday was how I had been swinging manically between head-down all-out ultra serious work mode (and I was - am - seriously serious about what I did) and live-lightly drop-out mode. Sated with one way of being after a few years, I'd go back to the other, only to find that part of me still wasn't getting what it wanted. Because at heart - and here's the rub - I'm a 'both-and' type of person, not an 'either-or' one. For instance, whereas many of my friends are (reputedly) happy with being either lifelong career professionals or downshifting simple-lifers, I'm not. I'm both, at the same time. In the same way, I enjoy writing both serious and frivolous posts in this blog. I love good wine; I can also rave about a 1.89€ Cité de Carcassonne bargain from Leader Price. I love silence, and a raucous rock concert makes me happy. I bask in the stillness of Grillou, and I love the buzz of Toulouse. And so on. Running alongside all of that are my intense curiosity about life and seemingly endless quest for lived experience, both of which have taken (and, I hope, will continue to take) me into some places in my life, both real and metaphorical, that are probably best left unelaborated. Though many may disagree, I couldn't imagine being a person-centred therapist, or indeed a person, without either of those things.

So why am I here? Partly because living in France is something that I've wanted to experience for a very long time. Partly to find, at last, the space and a way to live a 'both-and' life. And partly to explore the whole idea of living Slow: that doesn't mean doing everything at a snail's pace, but living a simple, meaningful, sustainable, mindful and pleasurable life, in the present, in a way that honours the bizarre complexity that is me.

Maybe I should tile floors more often.

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