Twice in the past 48 hours my GPS on my not so smart phone encouraged me onto roads very infrequently travelled.
My standard mode of transport is a 9 year old Toyota Corolla – so middle of the road that I regularly have to use the little red button on the remote to find it in parking areas. It looks like every second car out there. Moreover, it has no 4X4 capacity.
I’d been listening to Daniel Goleman’s Focus on an audio book as I was travelling. He talked about wandering minds and I was totally engaged: for a long time I’ve trusted my subconscious mind to sort out my thinking about things my conscious mind seems incapable of resolving.
When I was younger I thought for a time that I’d made a unique discovery in the power of the unconscious mind, but now I know better.
Nonetheless, it is always wondrously affirming when high cred gurus write best sellers about something I’d discovered for myself.
Truth be told, I constantly had to rewind to catch up to where my mind had started drifting, pulled away by the natural beauty surrounding me on these less travelled roads. It was as if Goleman was watching me, because he went on to talk about those times when you realise your mind had been wandering and how you would return to an earlier point in reading a book – to the place you last recalled paying attention. He calls it conscious consciousness – you’re aware of the fact that your conscious mind is at work.
Goleman talks about productive daydreaming – that artists and inventors do a lot of it – it’s where creativity lives.
He draws a distinction between the times when we deliberately gather information or when we concentrate on solving a specific problem, and the times when our brains go walkabout – where they wander off and flirt with new ideas; seeing patterns where no patterns were in evidence before and then sometimes seeing linkages that our problem-solving data-gathering brains simply could not see.
And so my GPS, which seems not to have much of a feel for Cape Breton Island or Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, enticed me into the walkabout mode, in my car, by directing me to non-existent roads, where I could then choose either problem solving or just free-form exploration.
The rougher the terrain became the more obvious it was that the road was not going to take me to where I was heading. Yet I kept going.
My curiosity suggested that there were things that needed to be seen, by me, just around the next corner. My problem-solving mind attempted to remind me that I had never changed a flat tyre on this car and that I don’t even know where the jack is, but my wandering mind wanted to keep going.
It has been a busy and pretty stressful summer with too much going on at the same time – I realised that this mental and physical wanderlust was what I needed. A slightly risky, mildly nerve-wracking adventure, on my own (yes, I could end up being stranded on a logging road in the dark – and I’ve been told of Steven King novels that have anticipated such adventures) but I could also just enjoy experiencing what was there.
The texture of the road’s surface was fascinating: there were water puddles – sometimes slightly daunting to go through, and sometimes the surface was strewn with seriously uneven rocks, as if maybe someone is laying the drainage foundation for what might become a real road in years to come. I wondered about the reasoning behind all the effort to cut this road here, and to prepare this surface – some of it looked old and neglected, and then, in the middle of nowhere it looked newly attended to in a sort of amateurish way.
That was the first road.
Eventually I ended up in a clear cut site – after travelling through such beautiful forest it was heartbreaking to see. I wondered about the people who earn a living doing this. What is their aesthetic taste? What are their dreams for their grandchildren? Of course I couldn’t answer that. I turned around and gingerly made my way back to a more credible road and eventually got to my friends’ farm where I visited, ate and slept.
Then the next morning, again, I opted to trust the GPS in travelling a new road – I had never been to Mulgrave, Guysborough or Canso. And so, with the previous day’s adventure having opened up my mind and giving me renewed curiosity for exploring, I travelled home along the coast, turning off the highway shortly after crossing the causeway that links Cape Breton Island to the mainland. Goleman was still going on about Focus – he’d now got into climate change and then the usual leadership diatribe about Enron and the corrupt practices that lead to the 2008 meltdown. I wasn’t so much listening to him anymore as enjoying the sound of his voice for company.
I vaguely thought that by not listening but by only hearing, maybe some of his ideas would embed itself in my brain and some time in the future I’ll have a brilliant idea that I would think was my own, and then I’d be awestruck when I’d watch a YouTube of Goleman talking about the same topic, that he and I would have had the same idea.
I was so mesmerized by his voice, my thoughts and the scenery that I didn’t notice that I’d run out of viable road.
The lady in the GPS hadn’t told me to turn off anywhere, so I’d just kept going, and there I was on a very rocky beach road, gradually becoming rougher and less passable. But, the scenery was lovely and I could see – barely – a large ship on the horizon, heading north-east. And then there were some beach peas flowering right next to the car, and some ducks – I wondered whether they might be eider ducks – they had those long straight Richard Gere-style noses – floating among the shoals just off shore.
So the dog and I got out of the car and went for a walk along a very rocky beach. It was hard going – good work for the ankles, and, I was thinking, for the brain – all those signals between the nerves, tendons and muscles of the foot, being sent, received and interpreted by the brain so that I could keep going.
We eventually returned to the car, both had a long drink of water, shared some raw almonds and as I turned the Corolla through its 180 degree arc I admired the Toyota engineers who had so thoughtfully designed a nice tight turning circle in this most pedestrian of cars. And then we got onto the designated road to Sherbrooke, Sheet Harbour and other points South-West. I don’t know about Farley The Dog, but my mind was at peace – I’d allowed it free reign to play and it was grateful. As Stephen Covey says, sometimes the main thing isn’t what you think it is. At least I think he said it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s my own original thought. What do you think?