Author: noexpertbut

It’s a thin line between calm and chaos. I want to take that line and make it thick. Really really think. I want to make it so thick that chaos is held clearly and firmly on its side of the line.

As I write this I’m aware that I’m talking about chaos. It’s not going to be contained by a line, real or imagined. By its nature chaos is going to do its best to destroy the very idea of a line. Even when we feel we may have created or discovered some degree of balance, chaos is lurking. It waits patiently for the façade of calm to crumble. Or is there a means to conquer it and remain calm in the face of inevitable chaos?

When I examine what I go through in my day I can see where the conflict between calm and chaos arises. On one side I have my plans, I have a clear idea of how I want to spend my time. There are deadlines to meet and goals to achieve. Chaos sits on the other side poised to thwart, metaphorical spanner in hand, ready to be thrown into my works. It’s so simple for chaos to hinder my plans and by so doing unravel my calm. My calm is almost entirely based on my desire to achieve what I have told myself I need to do. Chaos is no more than the frustration of my desires not being met. And there is the solution lying at the crux of the problem. I am giving chaos all the power. The true chaos is the idea I have created in my mind, that if I don’t tick off my list today then I have failed, that my idea of what needs to be achieved is somehow so vitally important that if frustrated it will lead to calamitous retribution. Aiding chaos is the idea that when anything new comes along I immediately think I have to deal with it and drop what I think is truly important.

The answer to what has seemed like an endless riddle to me might be to alter my perception of emerging priorities and rationally address them for what they are rather than seeing them as obstacles to my calm. Applying reason, I can either give immediate attention to the interruption or triage it. I also have to look closely at the things on my to do list. Who said I had to do all these things? Who said I had to make them all happen today? Who said I had to do them all at once? Turns out I did! Why exactly I don’t know, but it’s clear that the malicious force I personify as ‘Chaos’ is only a figment of my over active human mind, so too is my seemingly endless list of desires. Perhaps the best way to create calm is to remove the line between calm and chaos entirely, remove the very idea of an internal world of opposing forces. With that perhaps I can take away the power they hold in my mind and the affect they have upon my thoughts and actions.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

My daughter is in her last year of high school and as the final exams move ever closer I can see that she is well on the way to being an adult. The constraints of child-hood; going to school, wearing uniform, being told to clean her room, living by parental and school schedules, now all appear like ill-fitting clothes. Life is one size too small and she’s ready for bigger and broader experiences.

This has got me thinking about being a parent and about our roles in life. I’ve always aimed to provide her with a safe and secure environment as well as opportunities for development. I’m certainly very happy with how she has embraced those opportunities and become an interesting thoughtful human being. If there is hope for our species, it’s in the minds of young people like my daughter.

But soon she will no longer be my child and may well leave home to continue studies, to travel or work. She will go into the world and be an adult responsible for her own decisions. For many parents this stage is unsettling. For me it’s liberating and I’m excited to watch what she does with her life.

There are many ways to look at preparing a human being for life. We can build a nest or cage, that is both nurturing but constraining. Offering comfort, support and boundaries. When they leave we can feel empty, all that time and effort and then suddenly they are gone, all that remains is an empty cage. Or we can look at parenting as building a platform, a launching pad for the future. I much prefer the latter. I like to think I’ve given my daughter what she needs to dive into the world and make of it what she wants. She is not an extension of me. Her purpose in life is not to correct mistakes I or others in her lineage have made. Her purpose is to live the best life she can. Actually her purpose is up to her. From me she will always have the support and grounding to restart if needed or to keep flying higher. And I look forward to being a parent to an adult-child and sharing life experiences that don’t involve me always having the answers (unlikely as it may seem), sharing experiences between human beings, not just between father and daughter.

Our roles in life are what we make them and they change all the time. It seems wrong of me to resist that change and far better to embrace it.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

I love my country. It’s a wonderful blend of cultural extremes and unquestionable natural beauty. The natural environment feeds the national psyche but is quite possibly under appreciated by a majority of inhabitants. The contemporary, urban environment I call home is richly multicultural, spiritually varied and is underpinned by an ancient civilisation that existed for thousands of years before it was subjugated by western ideals. Sounds like a lot of other countries yet we all have our particular unique characteristics.

Much of my outlook has been shaped by the filter of my national psyche. There are parts of it I adore and other parts that I am ashamed of. I will defend it and then at other times criticise it for failing its citizens.

So even though I love my country, the idea of nationalism doesn’t work for me.

The main reason I don’t feel overly nationalistic is because I see national borders as divisions rather than unifiers. I see myself as human first and citizen of a nation as secondary.

Take a big picture snapshot. Looking at the history of space and time it’s hard to accept attaching my entire identity to something that has only existed for a very short period of time. It’s like going to the beach, picking a grain of sand and saying ‘I define myself based on this grain of sand’. It’s random, an accident of birth, granted, for some of us, a lucky accident. Just imagine if you had been born in a different country, or born at a different time in history. What you love suddenly becomes very subjective.

It doesn’t make sense to me to decide who I help, who I protect or who I care about based on national borders. They are arbitrary, completely subject to change and not nearly as important as the people in charge would have you believe.

Not believing in nationalism does not mean you don’t love your country. On the contrary, you love it for what it is, not what others tell you it is. How much do you allow borders to determine how you think, feel or love?

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

Recently I saw a social media post from a teacher I know in Nepal. It showed two young children sleeping in the streets of Kathmandu. I found the image heartbreaking. I don’t know who these children are, if they have been helped or if they continue to live life on the streets. Having worked with the 108 Lives Project in Nepal I know I have helped some children and I know other people who have done and continue to do the same. But here in front of me was a picture of two children that I could see but have no way of helping.

One of the challenges of providing aid is coming to understand that you can’t save everyone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and perhaps you can do better for the people around you even when you feel powerless.

When I was faced with divorce I had two young children. One thing that became very clear to me and their mother was that the kids had to come first. This turned out to be the best prism by which to focus decisions. For my part I chose to remain an active parent and over time my ex-wife and I have forged a strong co-parenting practice. I believe this helped fast track recovery from our own negative feelings brought on by the divorce, enabling both of us to provide loving happy childhoods for our children.

The news is flooded with terrible things happening to children, from unprecedented refugee numbers, famine, drought, poverty, ecological disaster, slavery, violence and sexual assault. Like many people I waver between outrage and apathy. The life I am living is filled with demands, responsibilities and distractions that often make me feel powerless in the face of human tragedies.

What I can do however, is offer an idea and that is to put the rights of children at the forefront of every decision. I ask it of myself, I ask it of you and I ask it of our leaders. Imagine if everyone truly put the welfare of children first? It sounds idealistic but surely it is something that as a species we could get our heads around. Children are vulnerable and deserve protection and nurturing. Our apathy gives them the opposite of what they should have and a future as bleak as their childhoods. We can start by combatting our own apathy and examining our choices through this simple idea. You don’t have to be a parent, just a human being, it is no more complex than that. Once you drop the pebble in the water the ripples can be far reaching.


I jumped in the car yesterday, ready to run off to collect the kids from school and taxi them around to their various social engagements with a secret agenda to perhaps do a little shopping for dinner along the way.

The car wouldn’t start.

I sat for a moment as the idea of being late played out in my head like a bad episode of a TV soap. Dance lessons would be missed, after school games forfeited, homework abandoned and my children would go hungry. The day would end in copious tears.

As the car heated up in the hot afternoon sun and the beads of sweat began to drip down my forehead and spine I contemplated the reasons why I hadn’t taken the car for its routine service. They were all justifiable, other bills that needed to be paid, finding a time that was convenient to go without transport, the constant demands of work and parenting. None were as rational as not actually having the car running in good order. My mind moved to wondering why I was so calm in the face of the immediate chaos and I realised that while I had been neglecting the car lately I hadn’t been neglecting my mind.

Just like a car, house or any form of construction, the human mind and body require maintenance. You wouldn’t buy a new car without the expectation that it required looking after. If you decide not to look after it, well the expectation that it will at some point breakdown, as in my case, will certainly be met. You also wouldn’t get on an airplane that was not subject to a stringent routine of servicing and repair. The human mind is no different, it is just as subject to entropy as physical objects.

Our greatest weapon against entropy is maintenance. We can make things work better and last longer if we look after them. It’s safer and much nicer to drive around in a well maintained car, and certainly safer to be in a well looked after aircraft. As your mind and body are what you use to travel through this world practicing routine mindful maintenance can vastly improve your user experience of this very precious existence you find yourself in.

I turned the key again and the car started. Chaos for the moment was averted. There would be no tears before bedtime but there would be more maintenance.

‘Looking at the world through rose coloured glasses’ is an expression that has fascinated me since I was a child. I had a baby sitter who actually had rose coloured glasses and said she preferred to see the world through them than the harsh reality she saw without them. She let me try them on once and I found it amusing to flick them up and down, comparing my reality to her rose tinted version.

The phrase implies a world view that is ignorant to the truth, but could it be seen another way? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting to see things better or perhaps just differently to the way you naturally perceive things. Putting a rose tint on everything isn’t any different from filtering all you perceive through your own mind and body. ‘You’ are what you have to perceive the world. Your mind and body are essentially your mechanisms for perception. Your world view and your self view completely influence how you see things. So, consciously adding a tint is quite possibly more aware than simply going through life taking in information and not recognising how you are altering information as it comes in.

In science this is called the ‘observer effect’, that by the act of observation, the observer actually changes what is being witnessed. If we have low self-esteem, poor self awareness then pretty much everything you think and do will be altered by that ‘reality’.

There have been times in my life where I have felt embarrassed to say what I think, too shy or concerned about what other people might think about my opinion. To people who know me now this must seem ridiculous. Yet I’m aware of how these patterns can corrupt my experience of the world. Over time, through self examination, I have learned to be accepting of myself and this has unlocked a degree of confidence. But I know people who are consumed by what they perceive as their failings. If perhaps they realised they could remove that filter and choose a different way to look at things who knows how their observations of life might change the world before them.

Evan Shapiro

Spending a week away camping with my family recently was both deeply relaxing and at times extremely frustrating. As I experienced moments of frustration, though I couldn’t always stop them, I could however observe myself as the feelings took over.

Why was I getting frustrated in the first place? This was a family holiday, camping right on the beach with amazing wildlife all around and nothing to do but swim, nap and find a good spot to read and relax. I have one word that explains it. Family! I love them, but sometimes they trigger my frustration like no other human beings can. Our interchange with each other is based on years of behaviour. We all have our likes, dislikes and oddities. We can make each other laugh hysterically but we can also drive each other crazy.

I set my agenda early. Reading. I wanted to sit and read. And I told them, I told them all, don’t hassle me because I want to read this year. I’d seen others in the group do it, why couldn’t I?

As I sat in my camp chair in the shade of our makeshift living space determined to enact my chosen course of relaxation my loved ones around me had other ideas about what constituted relaxation. I love having a good chat, but can’t they see the book in my hand? Food preparation, an understandable distraction. Outings; can we go to another beach? Can we go for another swim, can you come out with us and catch waves? Yes of course, I love all those activities, and naturally it’s only fair I take my turn shared among the adults for beach safety. BUT I WANT TO READ!

Everyone had their time table and it seemed that their plans for one reason or another required action by me to enable their desired outcome. This is not a complaint, it’s just what I observed, more about myself than about them. I looked long and hard and wondered how I had contributed to being an enabler, a provider, a necessity to others, a conduit they had to pass through in order to obtain something. How did I come to hold that position? I wasn’t the only one of course. There were a few of us in the group that also filled a similar role for our respective dependents. Did we create this way of being because we want to be in control? Was it just a side effect of being a parent? Was it because I take my responsibilities seriously and I like to make sure those around me are looked after? If so why was I frustrated by it? I’m not one to shirk my responsibilities. On the contrary I would feel guilty when attempting to enact my own desires to relax to the point that, when the opportunities to relax arose, I found myself asking if anyone needed anything? I invited interruption. I maintained the structure of dependency equal to or perhaps even more than those I was ‘responsible’ for.

It wasn’t my wonderful crazy family after all, well not totally. It was me. I was responsible for how I interacted with them and it was up to me if it was going to be different.

Let’s see what happens next year when I sit in my camp chair, book in hand. I think I’ll make a few signs to hold up to help re-educate my loved ones and myself.

‘I’m not moving but I’m actually really busy right now’,Before asking me, ask yourself’, perhaps just ‘Do Not Disturb, information download in progress’ or ‘I love you, but please go away.

I guess I’ll see how it goes. Ultimately it’s my choice to go with the flow, swim against the tide or step out of the water.

What do sorting cutlery, obeying traffic lights and Shakespeare’s King Lear have in common? Their relationship is not overtly obvious, yet as with many other possible examples, they can tell us much about our lives and how we live them.

How can everyday cutlery help us make better decisions in life? Take a moment to consider how easy it is to sort cutlery. Something I find myself having to do most days is stacking and emptying the dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, don’t worry this concept works without one. Simply take the clean cutlery and sort it into the cutlery drawer.

That was easy. That was too easy. Did you notice how quick that actually was? You know the knives go in the knives compartment, the forks with the forks, spoons with spoons. You even know the difference between types of spoons. Ok so now you are thinking, ‘what has this got to do with anything, of course, I know how to sort my cutlery?’ The reason you are able to unconsciously sort cutlery is that you have been conditioned to. This mundane everyday task simply demonstrates how deep that condition is.

Without thinking you can perform the task of sorting objects into a predefined order. Not only can you do this super fast, without thinking, but the order that you are sorting into is not something that you created. It was something that you have learned. It is something other human beings determined and then many many others perpetuated until ultimately it was taught to you. You don’t get much of a choice, you just get to carry on the process.

Traffic lights have been around for just over a century. For many of us, they are part of our everyday movement as we drive or walk to our various destinations. When driving they directly control our behaviour. Green, we go, Red we stop, Yellow, we should slow down and prepare to stop, but in a hiccup of conditioning many of us speed up to catch the light. When I first became aware of how traffic lights were controlling my life I was pretty upset with Red for making me stop all the time, but it soon dawned on me that Green was just as bad as Red in the way it controlled my actions. I’m not advocating anarchy here. There is a good reason we have traffic lights and for pedestrians waiting patiently for the little green man to appear before crossing, they make possible a safe transfer from one side of the street to the other. I don’t mind the safety afforded by traffic lights, I just want to highlight how we have become conditioned to act according to a colour response mechanism.

Cutlery and traffic lights are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In what other ways are your decisions being made based on conditioned responses? I would argue that unless you are making a conscious effort to deconstruct your decisions outside of all social conditioning then perhaps everything you do is predefined by social constructs that have been in place well before you were conceived.

Your world doesn’t have to fall apart when you deconstruct it, however, you may find you can make better decisions for yourself based on what you truly want. Again I’m not promoting anarchy. Social order serves a purpose. Doing only what you want when you want is not what I’m advocating. Actions have consequences and respect for others and their fundamental rights should always be part of decision making.

So how does King Lear fit into all this? Shakespeare gives us a great example of a man who has lived his life according to his conditioned perception of the world. He discovers towards the end of his life that when he makes decisions based on that world’s ‘reality’ they are flawed. His decisions may have a social truth but there is no truth for what is actually real. For example, Lear bases his decision to divide his kingdom on his three daughter’s protestations of love for him. The one that says the least actually loves him most genuinely. Ironically because of her true love for him, she won’t satisfy his ego with false or flowery statements in the way her older sisters are more than willing to do in their thirst for power.

Lear cannot see love other than in the way his society tells him love should be expressed. He doesn’t trust his own experiences of his daughter’s as people. He loves Cordelia most and expects that she will declare it with more passion than the others he loves less. When that doesn’t happen his world order collapses. His idea of what is natural and what is nature become discordant. They are filtered through the prism of the rules of the social order in which he lives. He throws himself into a great storm and relinquishes himself to the forces of nature. At this moment he understands that as a human being he is subject to the whims of nature and no amount of human thought or will can alter that.

Why did I bring Shakespeare into this you may be asking? Before traffic lights, before cutlery and even before Shakespeare, we had social conditioning. As long as we have had social groups interacting, human lives have been conditioned and great artists such as Shakespeare have wanted to tell you about it. They want you to know that there is more going on beneath the surface of human-constructed society. And while social order has its merits, not being aware of it and its control over you can profoundly inhibit your choices.

With awareness, you can blend a socially conditioned life to include genuine decisions that work for you. Ideas such as getting married or a professional career, for example, are fine if you enter into them with awareness. Are you choosing the path ahead because society tells you that is what you want or is it actually what you want? It’s not always easy to see the difference but when you stop to consider your choices, really look at them from outside the social expectation placed on you, then you can make better decisions. Poor decisions can make you feel powerless. They feel this way because despite you thinking it was a choice you made, the reality is you didn’t choose at all.

Human society likes to lay out a life path for individuals. These paths do not consider the individual, however, they only consider what is seemingly best for the collective. If you make a choice that is fundamentally wrong for you then the chances are you are going to feel dissatisfied. For many people, it’s not until their lives change dramatically, through divorce or other significant events, that they begin to question what they actually want from life.

Making decisions with insight, with awareness and clear consideration rather than to satisfy some intangible social ideology can avoid dissatisfaction. It can also bring be confronting for those more stepped in social conditioning.

How do you begin to make decisions in this way? The first step to unlocking understanding is awareness. There are many ways to gain awareness but as a human, it can easily begin by utilising the ways in which we perceive the world. The five senses are our doorway to understanding. We take in a great deal of information every day, yet much of it is filtered in ways we are not consciously aware of. Taking the time to observe your perceptions unlocks a clearer understanding of what is actually occurring. Observing the ways in which you have been conditioned such as sorting cutlery or obeying traffic lights can help you see the many other ways your actions and choices are predefined and not of your own making.

There are many different mindfulness techniques from those taught by Buddhism to those being utilised in contemporary psychology practices and corporate training programs.

It doesn’t matter how you do it. Finding a way that works for you is all that matters and giving yourself the opportunity to see things differently to the way you have been conditioned.

And this is what a metaphorical meltdown sounds like – from The Monday Daily on Radio 2ser 2007 with thanks to my friend The Eavesdropper.


Evan Shapiro
Author – Road to Nowhere

There are two times of year traditionally set aside for clearing out the old to bring in the new. Springing cleaning, a human reflection of seasonal change, and the new year, also based on seasonal renewal but perhaps a more human defined concept of new beginnings.

I’m caught up in the latter. I have completely removed the contents of my wardrobe in the name of rationalisation. My floor is covered in items collected during the coarse of my life. They represent links to past moments, past careers, past relationships and past ideas. My bed is covered in clothes that need to be sorted; those to be kept, those to be discarded. I have to etch out a space in the mountain of material to sit for my daily meditation practice.

Being surrounded by this multitude of items that represent my life is probably not the best environment in which to meditate, however I have a commitment to a daily practice so I go ahead. What I find when I close my eyes is that all these objects are now floating around in my mind. But this is meditation. What I’m seeing is my minds projection. These mental objects and their connection to me can be easily altered. With each breath I can melt them away.

When I open my eyes I see all these things around me and the difference between the representations in my mind and the ‘real’ objects is suddenly negligible. While I can’t melt these ‘real’ ones away with my mind I can choose how they affect me. I can choose to keep or discard. They may have physical properties but it is still my mind, aided by my senses that is creating them for me to perceive, giving them permission to be good or bad distractions.

I sit a little longer amongst my possessions, both connected and disconnected from them. Suddenly this seems the perfect place to meditate because if I can’t work out how to see beyond all the distractions before me how will I see passed all the distractions that life throws at me every day.

I hear the sound of someone outside. A car starts, a train goes by, someone in the kitchen puts the kettle on, a work deadline appears, shopping lists and domestic demands rise as though tangible. I breath and take in these ‘distractions’ rather than fight against them. Just like all the objects surrounding me, these ‘distractions’ are only happening in my mind, aren’t they? It’s only me here, in my head. It’s only me deciding what to keep and what to clear away.

Evan Shapiro

David Bowie’s death has triggered global reactions of grief, loss and contemplation of the meaningful impact this very special human being had upon individuals and global culture. I’m sure there were plenty of other people who also passed away that day, whose loss in people’s lives will be profound. But why has the loss of Bowie had such far reaching affect? You could also ask the same about his life. The answer is the same. Bowie chose to live his life in a courageously creative way. He resonated with so many of us because he chose oddity over conformity, not through a blind rebelliousness but through an intelligent, compassionate and enlightened exploration of humanity and his own identify.

With Space Oddity Bowie took us outside our little blue planet and asked us to see ourselves from a different perspective. From there he never stopped. His many personas explored the diversity of what it means to be human. No right or wrong, none better than another, just different. He spoke to many of us because, although we will never know him personally, he gave us his human perspective. He inspired us to create our own lives in ways that are meaningful to us as individuals and respectful to the global community. The artist is often revered by the society that is too scared to embrace life beyond its own constructs.

Bowie’s final project, Black Star, is a beautiful legacy, as is his entire body of work. His final gift, made while he knew he was dying, is daring, creative, meditative and moving. How very Bowie, how wonderfully human. I’m truly grateful this person named David Bowie was here. While he is no longer among the living, along with countless others, I will continue to gain pleasure and understanding from his work.