Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Helen Keller

An Unrehearsed Life

I am flying back over the Atlantic again, returning home from the US after a little winter sun. It feels very different to my last “flight blog” where everyone was sleeping. This time, people are watching movies, chatting and using their laptops. I wonder why that is?

Normally I don’t do movies on the plane but this time I watched a film about three young children who are taken to the beach by their Grandad. Sadly, the old man dies there. Rather than collapse in trauma or get adult help, the children build a makeshift Viking boat, drag him to the side of the loch using his Land Rover (with innate driving skills apparently), heave him onto the raft, say some final moving words then set him alight. His flaming Norse pyre sails off across the water giving Grandad his desired funeral. It was quite moving if you could look past the gorges in the plot.

I am a little distracted from the movie because there is a woman sitting next to me who is intriguing. She is in her early sixties and quite highly strung. So far she has demonstrated a wide range of disproportionate emotional reactions to fairly innocuous events.

When she and her husband first got on the plane, he was admonished for not listening to her. He missed her question about whether he had her book or not. I suspect she tactically mixed the question into her mumblings while her head was buried in her bag “looking” for it. His attempt to appease her with some humour was dismissed by a hand wave and an instruction to sit down. Later when he changed channel on his TV screen to watch the same show as her (to share the experience I’m guessing) she turned her screen off.

So far, she has expressed contempt, frustration, focused ignoring, pleasantness (with the stewards) and some mysteriously blended emotions that I’m not sure have names. She is formidable. We haven’t even made eye contact yet but I like her a lot though I admit to harbouring a huge urge to provoke her. I have consciously not raised the divider between us. Fortunately, she has been too wrapped up in tormenting her husband to notice.

I conclude that they have not had as a relaxing trip as I have. For me, this holiday went against the grain. Normally I go to the US so I can catch up with friends and see interesting landmarks. This time I booked a beach holiday at a spa retreat. My skin is blue and the slightest thinning of the clouds results in redness and peeling. I was a little worried before going that I would be bored, lonely, trapped or all three but I wanted to try something different.

It was different. The male baths in the hotel, with their tropical showers, menthol ice blasts and Finnish saunas were to be attended naked. I have been in the showers after school sports before but this felt a little less perfunctory. In fact, it felt quite celebratory. It was like our collective genitalia were a form of bunting marking a festival of middle aged sagging and grey chest hair. There was smiling and convivial conversations about the menu and independence in Scotland, while we waved our flags for man-boobs and fallen arches. It was mildly embarrassing but, in truth, a little liberating.

I read a new author’s book, went to a strange, rather extreme little church (one prophesy away from a siege!), ate dolphin, watched a war movie, sun-bathed, did somersaults under-water in the Atlantic and washed out my underwear by hand. It was a week of new experiences, which was what I wanted.

For the last few months, I have been playing with the notion of an unrehearsed life. How much of our lives are just repetition? Normally when I visit the US, I embark on a Barnes-and-Noble-coffee-shop-deep-conversations circuit. This time I wanted to see what new situations called up in me; to feel the delight of spontaneous underwater gymnastics in the Atlantic.

This desire has been with me for a while. I really want to experience humanity differently. I want to know what kinds of human beings there are in the world other than the few classifications I squeeze them into. Who are the new types of people that don’t have colours or four letter acronyms? What other emotions are there that could offer pathways to healing if only we could notice them in ourselves? What types of relationships are on offer that I don’t know about that could be precious, funny, light and life giving?

I am deeply interested in the freedom and release that could come from engaging with this life in ways that are unpracticed.

There is a psychological notion called the “racket.” In oversimplified terms it is the act of re-running familiar scripts, emotions and behaviours rather than reacting appropriately to a new circumstance. We do it because we are scared of the spontaneous experience. We prefer instead to “shoe-horn” the situation into a narrative we are practiced at. We judge any aspects of the event that does not allow our rehearsed response as invalid. It cuts out vast swathes of reality and limits our experience of life. It is a common dysfunction that we are all guilty of. I wonder what aliveness we could know again if we became consciously unrehearsed; if we experimented with life again.

The woman next to me has just come back from the galley and she brought her husband a piece of chocolate. She threw it onto his lap, he smiled but she ignored him and winked at the air hostess instead. He is still smiling. I am starting to realise that he likes being kept dizzy, never knowing what she is going to do next: never being able to predict her reaction. She is mustard … and he likes mustard.

The dead granddad movie is reaching its climax and none of the adult characters know how to handle the situation. Apparently, not many primary school children can rustle up a sea-worthy vessel from driftwood that can keep a dead adult afloat while burning. Which government department deals with an ancient funeral ceremony spontaneously orchestrated by children? Who’s to say Grandad was definitely dead? This is new ground. The solution will have to be creative and unrehearsed. Good on those plucky, inventive, potentially murderous children.

But what I am really curious about is if this flight across the Atlantic is any different from my last flight? Was everyone really asleep the time before or did they write blogs, torment their husbands and watch incredulous movies. Could there have been previously unclassified people sitting next to me who felt emotions that I never have and who were open to showing me a new kind of friendship?

And what could the rest of this flight become if I played it unrehearsed?

Maybe I will stir the mustard a little.