More Like Beau: Why I’m Looking For Stories in My Daily Life
I live on my phone and my laptop more than I live in the world. I think that that's been true for most of us during this pandemic.
We've been robbed of our opportunity to travel, hike, camp, be intimate, go out for coffee, try new food, make new friends, and form stronger bonds with existing ones.
Sure you can do the last one on Zoom but a conversation in person just hits different.
So, my life started feeling rather ordinary. I woke up, I worked, I exercised, I slept, I repeated. There was no adventure, there was no surprise around the corner, and with these constant (but necessary) lockdowns there was no more looking forward to a night out or a holiday in the countryside.
What'd I do because I couldn't get my adventure fix? I turned to the virtual world. I began inhaling videos and articles about how other people live their lives in a variety of exciting ways. This sea of online personalities with their jaw-dropping feats, interesting jobs, and hilarious quirks was my respite: my break away from the monotony of daily life. For a moment, all I lived to do was experience somebody else's story.
And then I discovered Beau Miles.
Beau isn't your typical Youtuber. He doesn't upload very often. He doesn't have millions of subscribers (although he really ought to). His videos aren't overly-edited barrages of clips with a screaming narrator.
Beau is a Professor of Adventure Education at Monash University, Australia. He's got a doctorate in the subject! He lives on a farm with his wife and kid. He collects junk (mostly wood) by the side of the road and uses his carpentry skills to breathe life into them. Oh, and he runs...a lot.
When I first stumbled upon his channel, I started with his older content. The man has paddled 2000km in a canoe around the southern tip of Africa! Over time, however, his adventures began taking place in and around his neighbourhood. Like the time he ran a mile every hour and spent every minute in-between getting through a lengthy to-do list. Or the time he spent a night on a 100-year old Gum tree right outside his farm.
As he began to embrace spending time in and around his home, his content began changing my perspective towards my locked-down life. See, Beau wasn't "going" on adventures anymore, he was "finding" them. He would look at something ordinary, like the remnants of an abandoned railroad, and then decide to celebrate its history by running its length dressed as a train conductor holding a coal shovel.
Yes, 43km isn't really within the radius of a "neighbourhood" but Australia is a massive place so their neighbourhoods are much bigger than ours
I wondered, to make my life more interesting, do I just need to pay more attention to what's around me? Unglue my face from the black mirror and appreciate an environment I have for so long ignored in favour of the thrills of the internet?
The definition of "perception" is the meaning you assign to your sensory input. In other words, it's the internal story that you write in your mind whenever you experience something. The better your perception, the more meaningful your experiences are, and by extension, your stories become more interesting and perhaps, extraordinary.
In the same vein, a human life is simply a collection of stories written every day. When each day's chapter begins to sound the same you feel like chucking the book out the window. But when you start sharpening your perception: spending more time observing and reflecting than drowning out your senses with audio and video, you begin to realize that even the seemingly mundane has something of interest to offer.
Beau Miles and his wacky adventures didn't lead me to this realization. He planted the seed of course, but the several herniated discs in my spine watered it. After a terrible episode of pain that left me bedridden for a few days, my physiotherapist suggested a daily walk.
At first, the walks were simply a necessity. I turned on a podcast, made my way around my neighbourhood, and resumed whatever I was up to at home. Then, in the spirit of "What Would Beau Do", I started paying more attention to the people and things around me on my walks.
I started noticing things about my neighbourhood that have somehow escaped me for years. Like the fact that there's a quaint little coffee shop near my house (which I'll visit once COVID eases again) or the fact that between every set of nice properties there are run-down houses. The rich and the poor living side-by-side.
A distant neighbour also has two humongous dogs that bark their guts out every time I walk past them. They can't see it through my mask, but I'm pretty sure they can smell my fear.
However, the most interesting to observe are the people. I don't know many of these people, especially the ones further away from home. I can only imagine what they must be thinking or going through, but often their body language speaks volumes.
There are the forlorn faces staring out of shop windows, perhaps wondering if their tills will ever weigh heavy again. There are the worried eyes peering above double-masks with long strides and a quick pace, perhaps rushing home to avoid a disease that seems to lurk around every corner. There are the labourers, like the garage mechanic twisting a wrench under a car, fixing it up perhaps for some customer's hopeful wish for a road trip in the near future. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have the arrogant, masking nothing but their necks and going about their lives unbothered by the pandemic. Perhaps the statistics haven't turned to names for them yet.
My back pain isn't the only reason I walk anymore. It's become a therapeutic experience. I adjust my route around my neighbourhood every once in a while for a change of scenery but the process remains the same. Walk, observe, and look for stories. I'm not looking to spin a long yarn, I'm just in search of little internal realizations that I can add to my life's story so that no two chapters sound the same.
Working on my perception has had a tremendous impact on my perspective. When you tell yourself stories of how difficult the lives around you seem to be, you feel grateful for what you have. When you realize you're walking for leisure while others walk for their livelihood, you feel thankful for a job you can do from home. When you actually get out of the house and use your neck muscles and your eyeballs, you realize your neighbourhood has so much more to offer than you thought. And when you add it all up, life won't seem so ordinary after all.
Yesterday, I set off on my walk a little too late in the evening, walked down a dimly lit road and accidentally invaded a dog's personal space. After I finished getting away from him, I got caught in a sudden storm. To add insult to my drenched injury, I was splashed by a car.
Now, I'm no Beau Miles, but that's as much adventure as I've had in the past few months and I'll take it.