Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Desert island dreaming

Dreaming of a desert island?
Every now and then I find myself wondering how I'd deal with hypothetical situations. For instance, after watching a gritty war film, I sometimes wonder if I'd be full of bravery or full of fear if I'd been on the front line. Probably the answer is a some mixture of the two. Fortunately I've not had to find out how I'd cope with that particular horror. In darker moments, I sometimes wonder if I'd ever cope with torture (not a cheery thought and another thing I'm grateful not to have experienced!).

Like my daydreams, there are times when we dream of ditching the drudgery of ordinary life and escaping to a remote desert island! Beautiful sandy beaches; palm trees; wall to wall sunshine; coconuts; no deadlines, managers or to-do lists - it can certainly feel like an attractive proposition, but maybe only if we have some degree of comfort as well - wifi for instance! 

Is what's behind this occasional (or regular?) dream the feeling that we need to escape from whatever we find ourselves facing in the day to day?
"There are times when we dream of ditching the drudgery of ordinary life and escaping to a remote desert island"
Last year I read Daniel Defoe's classic book Robinson Crusoe. I thought I was re-reading it, having read it as a child, but I quickly realised how unfamiliar I was with everything apart from the bare bones of the story. I won't regurgitate the whole plot here, suffice to say that life for Robinson Crusoe on his desert island was quite hard. He had to take real care not to get ill or break any bones (potentially fatal with no treatment), and that both loneliness and fear lived with him in generous doses. 

In the story he is on the island for many many years, having been marooned in his early 30s (my age), which has led me to question whether I'd have been as resourceful and hardy as he had if I found myself marooned on a desert island like him!

On this theme, I've just been reading an excellent book by Lewis Dartnell called The Knowledge, which is both an exploration and explanation of the likely skills and knowledge we'd need to recover civilisation following some kind of worldwide catastrophe. In the book, as well as reconnecting ourselves with agriculture and livestock (something Robinson Crusoe did well), there's chapters about the chemistry we'd need to create the materials we'd need to serve various useful purposes. 

Would you know how to make fire if you needed to?
There's information on the recovery of metallurgy, the principles of electricity and important theories to be aware of to shortcut our society back to somewhere approaching our level of scientific knowledge and technology. 

As someone who's both futuristic and strategic in outlook and temperament, as well as someone who loves information and learning this is the kind of book that ticks many boxes for me! 

Heaven forbid a cataclysm of that magnitude ever does occur, however the moral of 'The Knowledge', and perhaps even Robinson Crusoe is that it's important to remember where you've come from, and to keep connected to the bare basics of how to exist and survive - to understand the natural systems, processes and laws which underpin our planet.

The topic of what skills we'd need to survive on a desert island, or post-apocalyptic Hunger Games style future are a surprisingly regular topic of conversation in my family - so much so that my sister spotted a review of The Knowledge and immediately nominated me as the designated person for reading it and disseminating the relevant information amongst the family! 
"If we find ourselves thinking all the time about escaping, then perhaps this is a warning that our life has become too congested"
Across the world many people take this kind of thing very seriously, being collectively known as 'preppers'. These are probably good people to befriend, as they've already accumulated reserves of various essentials, and have probably fortified their house ready for martial law in the event of a breakdown of civilisation! 

As for me, my response is slightly less extreme. I content myself with growing food on our allotment, brewing various things, rudimentary woodwork and DIY around the place. Hopefully these skills would stand me in good stead if I ever did find myself on a desert island - along with my scavenging skills finding flotsam washed up on the beach and appropriating it into some useful function (taking inspiration from Kevin McCloud's excellent series Man Made Home).

If you're familiar with the TV series Lost then there's a good example of this (spoiler alert) as we discover that the survivors from the front of the plane have had the benefits of all the recovered luggage and wreckage of the plane, and manage to function reasonably well as a community, whilst those from the rear of the plane have no such resources and regress to a wilder and more aggressive existence.

Are you stocked up in case of global meltdown?
None of this can take away from us the desire at times to escape from our ordinary lives to the romance of a desert island. I'm sure that in many ways it's healthy to have the occasional pipe dream of escape to the Caribbean (sun lounger, cocktail and wifi included of course). 

However, if we find ourselves thinking all the time about escaping, then perhaps this is a warning that our life has become too congested, out of balance in some way. Maybe we need to take stock of our priorities, time and direction, and create more room for rest in our increasingly fast paced lives.

One thing that being marooned on a desert island would force you to do is to adjust your pace of living. No more convenience food, no shops - decisions about what you really need and the time required to achieve that take on a different meaning. Living on a desert island would also give you plenty of time to think - something that feels harder to do these days in our 24-7 sensory overload culture.

No matter how good our life is, our relationships, our work, our play, we will all experience dissatisfaction at times, and the call of the desert island will ebb and flow. As someone who believes that we're uniquely created by a loving God, the place to truly escape isn't a desert island but actually to escape from our own flawed and incomplete plans for our lives and into the fulfilling and life-giving plans that God has for us. This can feel easier said than done! 

Some years ago I listened to an interesting seminar on this topic by one of the Brothers from the Taize community in France. It was along the lines of 'how do I know what God's plans are for me?', and the pragmatic starting point was to at least start with what you think you'd like to really do, and let God take it from there.
"We will all experience dissatisfaction at times, and the call of the desert island will ebb and flow"
The trouble is that we often aren't sure even what we want, or what we're good at! Perhaps we need to spend a little less time dreaming about desert islands, and instead start to dream about where we'd really like our lives to end up, then cede that to God whilst making appropriate, meaningful and measurable steps towards it. Perhaps a helpful tool to frame this is from the technique of appreciative enquiry: Discover, Dream, Design, Destiny.. Essentially starting with a frank look at where you are, good and bad, then dreaming where you'd like to be, then designing a plan or imagining some steps to take you from where you are now in the direction you'd like to go, then keeping going!

If you're stuck with career choices, a classic book to read that might help is What Colour Is Your Parachute, which has loads of helpful questions and tools to help you consider or reconsider your career choice. Why not give over an afternoon or an evening to take a step back and touch base with your priorities again? Maybe you could plan a day's retreat somewhere - it's healthy to give ourselves thinking space from time to time, especially in an age when it can be hard to switch off.
"Perhaps we need to spend a little less time dreaming about desert islands, and instead start to dream about where we'd really like our lives to end up"
Whenever I think of escaping to a desert island, I usually end up thinking of the people and things I'd miss - my wife and kids for instance, which makes me grateful again for the good things and relationships around me. So this week, as and when you start plotting your escape to the Bahamas, smile and be grateful for the people and relationships you really value, and if you're really feeling the need to escape, then maybe take your dreaming one step further and start to plot your route into the fulfilling and life-giving plans God has for you.


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My Random Musings


Unknown said...

I know Al dreams of running away and living in the woods in the middle of nowhere so I will make sure he reads your post with particular attention to your last paragraph :) Jen -Mrs Dad Network

Random Musings said...

Great post. I often find myself dreaming about just packing up and moving away, sometimes to a dessert island - but in these dreams, I'm never alone. I'd go mental with no one to talk to. I also have a plan for what I would do in the zombie apocalypse. I'm not sure it would work, but it's got to be better than 'sit and cry' lol.
Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

Tubbs said...

The last paragraph is key I think. It's the relationships you have that make life wonderful. Nowhere would be wonderful if Rev T and the Tubblet weren't there #anythinggoes