Last weekend, I returned to a place of haven and refuge – Holland’s Wood, Brockenhurst, New Forest.
The forest is glorious, an easy place to abandon yourself in air and trees and sky and sunlight. It makes a tranquil resting point from which to venture outwards.
The tourist-friendly gravel paths are all very well – but I’ve done those. This time, my weekend’s biking was a shimmering, superheated cross-country fight that had me facing pathless, treacherous heathland; mud and mosquito, slope and shingle, rut and ridge – and one apparently spontaneous river.
Rattling loud protest at the pounding it was taking, my bike showed me something I haven’t seen in a long time.
Somewhere outside Ringwood, the sun blistering my shoulders, my entire attention sharpened down to a perfect, searchlight-like beacon illuminating the forward motion of my front wheel.
My knees still absorbed the shocks, my feet still pushed, my hands still gripped the handlebars like they were a white-knuckle ride… but all I could see, feel, think, the only thing in my head, was the next metre of upcoming ground. Everything else had just… ceased.
Created by apprehension, it came with confidence and complete control. It was timeless, intense, white-hot – and unbelievably freeing.
As the ground levelled out and my concentration receded, I found myself laughing – relief or release, I don’t know – but its sheer force brought an insight.
Our lives are increasingly about multi-tasking – in the home, on the web. How many Social Media sites do we maintain; how many tasks do we complete while we schedule more, while we write, draft, chat, code, listen to Last FM? On Twitter, we continue multiple conversations; on FriendFeed, we flick from tab to tab. We group our friends into sets just to keep track of ourselves and we jump dementedly from URL to URL like we jump between the brightly-manic stepping stones of Plurk.
Every day, our minds range outwards along so many lines - our attention is scattered and we rarely bring the full force of our concentration to bear on a single thing. When extremity pulls all those lines, hard, in the one direction – it’s astounding what you can achieve.
Sometimes, it's good to take your head out of the screen. It reminds you what else you can do!