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Becoming a nomadic van-dweller was more than just a physical transition from a house into a camper; it was also a psychological and spiritual transformation of sorts.
Being settled and stuck in the rat race was a lot like wearing horse blinkers – life took place in the confines of my flat, my car, and my workplace, and I consciously noticed very little else around me. I found myself racing from one place to another, from one appointment to the next, and the more I raced, the less I actually experienced, because my mind was always elsewhere. I sat in the car driving, and my mind would wander to what I had to do that afternoon, or that evening, or tomorrow; and I was never really mindful of the trees I passed by, the scenery, the clouds above me. I walked along a path or trail, and my mind would wander along its own road, thinking about that bill I had to pay, or that work assignment I needed to complete; I was blind to my surrounds then and there, because I wasn’t mindful. I didn’t live in the moment, but in a fantasy world which played itself out somewhere in the recesses of a busy and overloaded mind. I lived my life in the past, or in the future, but not in the now.
Since I moved into the camper however, I am feeling things beginning to change for me. If you now expect me saying “I am finally mindful”, then I must disappoint you, though, because that isn’t the case. You are not aware ( or rather : unaware ) in a certain way for 40 years, and then suddenly change your outlook over night. That’s not how things work.
What has happened – and I am sure of this – is that I have become aware of my own lack of mindfulness, which, paradoxically, is a form of mindfulness all in itself. I have started to catch myself snapping out of some mental story or another, which I had become entangled in rather than being mindful of my surrounds. I have begun noticing that I hadn’t noticed things around me; I keep finding myself in situations where I look at a familiar place, and see it in a new light, because I am suddenly aware of things that I had never consciously noticed before. I walk along, and without warning become aware that for the last five minutes or so I have not at all been mindful of the plants growing around me.
I am becoming aware of my own unawareness.
Why is this ? Well, moving into my van meant letting go of a lot of things, because there quite simply is no longer the space or the resources for it. Most notably, I let go of much of the mental stimulation we bombard ourselves with on a daily basis. I no longer have a TV ( too much electricity needed ). I no longer spend hours every day surfing the web ( again, power is precious ). I no longer play the radio constantly in the background ( the radio in my van is iffy, so I simply stopped using it ). And so on. Instead, there are long periods of time without artifical stimulation of the senses; long periods of silence, long periods of just wandering through woods and meadows and valleys, long periods of just gazing out the window on a rainy day. Long periods of emptiness and nothingness. Slowly, but quite definitely, I am feeling these to have an effect; all those mental stories that play themselves out behind our eyes, and which I used to get caught up in so much, gradually begin to loose their power over me. They are still there, but I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that they are there, and that I am caught in them. My daily meditative exercise is now spilling over into the rest of my life, and that transition is very profound and powerful.
And so, becoming a van-dweller has a spiritual dimension to it, as well as a physical one. It is still a long way to go, but I am becoming more aware. At long last, I am finding my mindfulness.
So the other day I had the Event Horizon parked up on the dunes above a local beach, and as I was outside cooking up a new batch of kombucha, that vehicle pulled up next to me which I can only describe as the quintessential hippie van. Think a 30+ year old VW van with UK reg plates, wood stove pipe sticking out the roof, painted in psychedelic colours, emitting veritable masses of diesel smoke. It could not possibly have been any more archetypical ! So out come that couple in their fifties – rainbow shirts, jeans, braided hair, boots, the whole works; only the flower behind the ear was missing. They introduced themselves as Pat and Rita ( not their real names ), and naturally we got chatting.
Turns out Pat and Rita are old English hippies, originally from Belfast, and have been living out on the roads ( mainly around the UK ) in their van for 27 years ! That is a long, long time by any standard, and truth be told, I don’t know how they did it – the interior of their van literally consisted of a large mattress, a wood stove, a gas cooker, and a bunch of wooden drawers. No space at all, you can’t even stand up in there. Compared to them, I live in a palace ! Rita is an artist and produces oil paintings of landscapes and scenery ( and she’s bloody good at it ), which is how they make a living on the roads. These two were the nicest people you could ever meet, and they were also my first encounter with other nomads who are doing this full time; psychologically this was sort of really important to me, because it showed me that yes, this is indeed a lifestyle that is sustainable over a prolonged period of time, if done right.
Unfortunately I cannot post any pictures of this encounter, as Pat and Rita did not wish themselves or their van to be photographed for the purposes of social media, which is something they have rather strong opinions about. They did give permission for me to verbally write about it, though.
Either way, at one point during the conversation I was asked what my “road name” was; up to this point I wasn’t aware that such a thing even existed, but apparently it is common among the van-dwelling hippie community in England. I knew that there is a tradition to give long-distance hikers a “trail name”, especially along some of the trails in the Americas; but a “road name” ? Needless to say I had no such name, so Pat – who is an avid reader of Stephen King ( of all authors lol ) – proceeded to promptly and spontaneously christen me “Travellin’ Jack” ( and apparently the apostrophe is important ) ! This is an allusion to the protagonist in the novel “Talisman” by Stephen King and Peter Straub :
Travellin’ Jack, ole Travellin’ Jack
Got a far long way to go
Longer way to come back
This is really quite an amazing conincidence, because as it so happens, this particular novel is very dear to me – I read it over and over again when I was a young teen, and the story captivated me a lot, as do all stories that involve long journeys, wanderings and quests. Strangely, such coincidences seem to be happening a lot when you are out on the roads.
So folks, I have officially been given something I never even looked for in the first place – a road name. And henceforth, I shall be known on the roads as Travellin’ Jack, who wanders the land aboard the Event Horizon.
At this point I’d like to say thanks to Pat and Rita for an interesting, thought provoking, and utterly enjoyable encounter. Travel safe you two ! I’m pretty sure we are going to meet again at some point ?