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Decisions, Decisions

We’ve been married for one week.

We've viewed each other as husband and wife ever since deciding to travel together so the significance we felt after the formal ceremony came as something of a surprise to both of us. As the day approached I realised I was excited as much by the new beginning as I was by the day itself.

In the aftermath of the warm glow of the day I finished reading a book that has left a mark and chimes with this starting of a new chapter. It is called “The Courage to be Disliked” and it is a dialogue between a doubting youth and an older philosopher in which the latter advocates the application of Alfred Adler’s psychology to living life.

I recognise all of it from a worldview that I was once coached in and have long since adopted as my own, though as I was receiving it, it wasn’t named as Adler’s. One particular feature of Adler’s philosophy that resonates at this juncture in my life is its teleological stance. Rather than view life as aetiological or cause and effect (past events cause the present path and choices), Adler posited that the only thing that exists is the here and now, and we are capable of change at any given moment if we only have the courage to choose the path to change.

At first the youth scoffs (as did I when reading it) – if it were down to a simple choice then no-one would be unhappy as any sane individual would choose to be happy. But here is the cleverness of the book - the youth raises all the objections that you might yourself, and the philosopher calmly expands and explains. As the discussion unfolds and the philosopher lays out the steps needed to make the choice and see it through it becomes sufficiently clear that this is not a trite oversimplification of things.

Because it is down to a simple choice, but I do not wish to suggest that it is an easy one. Or that those who lack the resources to make the choice yet shouldn't be handled compassionately. The path after choosing requires courage as it asks you to to walk your own path, leaning only on your inner sense of worth and not bowing to what others wish or think of you. I still remember the point at which my choice began to be made, and I remember the pain and months of inner and outer turmoil that followed. But in making the choice I’d blown open my mind and allowed myself to take actions I never would have thought myself brave enough to take and seek help from sources I never would have considered before. In turn, that led me to make choices that I never dreamed of and it led me to a person who supported me in all of those things and helped me to dream of more things I could do. That simple thought, that choice, the series of choices that followed and the faith I put in them and myself ultimately led me here.

It has been a crazy year. I qualified as a teacher and we’ve married. We’re also putting down roots to support us in travelling again (starting from scratch each time is tough). I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be so much so that I don't pay much attention to it any more, except when I remind myself to. And yet in many ways it’s been one of my most challenging years. I’ve struggled to adjust to the demands of a professional career again, I’ve questioned whether I’ve made the right decision at many points when it has pushed me to physical and emotional breaking points.

But again Adler’s psychology rings true. To achieve happiness we have to feel connected and to feel connected we must feel we are of use. This work is the hardest I‘ve done but it also feels to me like the most useful thing I’ve done and I think that is why I can bear it and why, despite everything I feel a sense of satisfaction and happiness that has so often eluded me during periods of working myself to the bone before.

Still, Adler says nothing about the finer points. The summer holiday represented our first chance to really wind down, to honeymoon and reconnect and escape normal life onto the road and under the sky, and to reclaim a little of the adventure and decompress from all our hard work. The weather is not with us though and the forecast is bleak. The pressure to enjoy and make use of the time is there no matter how we try to focus on the present and we're too weary to know what it is we want. We’ve gone backwards and forwards for a while, making decisions and then remaking, shifting, changing: too fluid, too adaptable and too much uncertainty.

Eventually we realise we’re both too tired and restless to make a proper decision, so in the end we don’t. We pack our camping gear into the car and just drive, choosing our direction as we go. We stop for provisions and decide to hunt for a nearby campsite. Our route takes us through some of the best scenery the Dales has to offer. Up wind swept hill and down verdant dale we go on single track roads with sparse passing places, unharried by other vehicles, avoiding the sheep roadblocks who gaze at us uninterested as they carry on with the serious business of chewing. After an hour of driving, at the advice of the campsite, we’ve tentatively ignored more than a few “road closed” signs and we round the corner into the tiny postcard perfect village of Dent. Split over two fields separated by a small road, High Laning campsite commands exceptional views of the hills and sits on the edge of the village, which leaves us a short hop from both local pubs.

We pay our fee and set about putting up the tent, the sun is warm for now and we’re in high spirits to have escaped the trap of what might be and landed a prime spot of paradise. Having the car means no comfort/space trade-off and we enjoy the ease of pulling out the camp chairs from which to survey the view. We enjoy a beer, chilled from the cool box (another little luxury we’ve afforded ourselves) and then head off for a little explore. The village is every bit as pretty as first impressions promised it to be, we decide to get a light bite at the local rather than cook and then head back to our canvas home for a glass of wine as the sun sets.

Around 2 am the rain begins and by 4 am it’s falling in earnest with the wind rapping on the tent periodically. Still, it’s not too bad, perhaps just a squall. Lulled by the white noise wall that now wraps around us like a blanket and blocks out all other noise (not that there’s much here) we fall back into a peaceful sleep. By 6:30 am we’re less convinced it’s a squall. The car is parked on grass at the bottom of a hill and we check the forecast and decide that it’s time to boogie.

We decamp out of the tent and back into the car (again glad of the easy shelter it offers) and begin to bring down the tent, which is now twice its weigh from all the water it’s carrying. We notice a fellow camper doing the same and I go over to offer a hand. He has a classic BSA on the back of a trailer and he tells me that he was going to ride the Lake District but that he’s “getting out now".

"There’s a bridge that way and a bridge that way" he says pointing in the two opposite directions out of town "and I’ve seen too many stories about what that means, it’s no fun in this weather”. We look around in the half-light, the hill tops aren’t visible and the scenery has taken on a grey soupy look. I can’t disagree. I’m beginning to feel mild trepidation about driving these roads, let alone riding them. We have checked the forecast for other places nearby that are drier but to no avail, this weather is hitting everywhere in our region, the tent is now wet inside and out in any case and it crosses my mind that our road at home is prone to flooding. Most recently the river burst its banks on both sides of us leaving us marooned on a little island by waist height water. I'm thinking an early getaway might be needed to get home at all.

In the end I needn’t have worried about our place, Skipton was wet but it was a normal kind of wet. The water levels on the roads near Sedbergh were starting to impede progress as we left though. An hour later we’re back home and starting the process of drying out in the sun that suddenly appeared and subsequently disappeared over Skipton. The restlessness is dispelled for now. We might not have got the full escape we wanted – or even anything approaching it – and if we’re honest we knew this would be the case but the short evening we had was enough for now.

I wonder as I write this, whether it was the short respite outdoors that dispelled the restlessness or whether it was simply the fact that we exercised our choice and tried. We could have stayed home, railing and sulking at the weather and using it as an excuse not to try. The restlessness would have taken hold as dissatisfaction set in. There will always be things beyond our control which scupper our plans but when we use these things as excuses we enter what Adler calls a life-lie. When we convince ourselves we have no choice or control at all over events we strip ourselves of the responsibility for and the power to curate our own life and happiness.

It is a happy irony that takes me by surprise to realise that this is a lesson I learned and wrote about several years ago shortly after I chose to live my life another way and it seems I’m revisiting it now with more experience and a little more clarity. I, who have so long viewed life as an incomprehensible mess, can now see a neatness emerging; life as a series of circular paths, spiralling back round on themselves to revisit and re-practice old ground and lessons already learned. I’ve no doubt the mess will come back at times but the memory of having had clarity and understanding will persist and help me keep the faith.

Thunder storms are on the way so we busy ourselves and hunker down for the time being with board games, awaiting with no particular impatience the next choice point that the restlessness signals.

#Choice #Adler #Psychology #Philosophy

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