Estival Solstice 2021
Movement Nutrition Community Purpose
The Summer Solstice or Estival Solstice is upon us and I wonder how you all are celebrating the sun's high point. Rewilding outside moving your body in nature or rewilding inside by filling your body with nature. If you feel so inclined, let me know, in Japanese, English or any other language. Take a photo… Hey, even draw something if the mood strikes.
I’m planning on sending these Newsletters twice a year from now until I feel like changing again. Once in Summer, once in the winter on each solstice with a Movement Nutrition Community Purpose update. My creative Postcards will fill the gap between, arriving in Spring & Autumn on each Equinox. For these I’m planning something a little more. You’ll have to wait until September to find out what.
Those of you who read my last newsletter already know that I’ve joined my friends over at Papersky as a contributing editor for Papersky Japan Stories. By this time you read this, I should be in the middle of writing the 2nd issue of my Outdoors & Nature series, where I go on a journey to:
“shed sunshine on Japanese: people, projects, art, creative endeavours and brands that are enlightening our natural world”.
With some luck and trust in the process, it’ll be published towards the end of August.
As you can see, my creative plate is quite full and it does keep me
A fellow professor & artist Akitsugu Maebayashi and I have started a series of monthly conversation with people we find interesting. It’s pragmatically called: In Conversation with…
“The act of casual 'conversation' is commonly overlooked in everyday life, but in our present disconnected-connected online community we have the platform to re-evaluate & emphasise the importance of conversation.”
Our first conversation was with the visual anthropologist Itsushi Kawase and it was most enjoyable. Covering subjects of rewilding, madness, agency of images and songs, self-evaluation, wax & gold, and his films of Ethiopia. The series is primarily for our students, but hey, why not? It's open to all. Just click the zoom link at the scheduled time and… join the conversation ;)
That’s about it for the introduction… so all there is left to say is… Hello, I’m James Gibson and this is my newsletter, where we help each other become better people… just a little day by day.
Let me see, how have I been moving the past six months?
To start, it seems like my belly and the belly of Sanpo my cat are on a rollercoaster ride of their own, up-down in-out without a driver.
So much to the extent we’ve formed a new club: Tummy Brothers Deluxe. Swearing to get this situation under control, I’m doing my utmost to lay off craft beer and he’s promised to stop secret late night snacking …and so it goes.
Oh the joy and delight of a new bike. For those of you who are interested I picked up a Specialized Diverge and added Woho bags from my friends in Taiwan. It’s gravel friendly and a joy to ride. I’ve been extending my range around the high & lowlands from where I live and this new machine is so comfortable even loaded up with bar, fork and rear bags. I feel like I could ride for days. I’ve bagged a couple of camping trips to test things out and have my eyes set on an extended trip throughout September. Not the full length of Japan —I’m saving that for when I have a little more time— but an extended physical-creative journey of which I have destinations in mind with no real plan of navigation
…and so it goes.
Walk or write, force or flow?
I’m a day lark, not a night owl and reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by author Daniel H. Pink helped me realise this and other personal circadian rhythm related nuances. This and the book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman, helped me improve my productive days of work, movement and rest.
Thanks to a friend in the UK who introduced Exercised and The Runner: Four Years Living and Running in the Wilderness by Markus Torgeby. These two books, very different yet complementary, are fascinating, informative, inspiring and motivating. The last couple of years I’ve somewhat obsessed over technology sensors, collecting data while I sleep-hike-walk-ride etc. Often to the extent of the occasional data-techno-anxiety. Looking at those shiny new gadgets which are so desirable I find myself in two minds and question: Do I need to use, do I really need another thing? Well, thanks to these books and email conversations —and a broken iPhone for two months— I reached my tipping point. The answer is no no unequivocally NO! I do not need them, for listening within —meditation helps— one can instinctively hear-feel how a body is doing and the message is clear and strong. I don’t need a ring or wristband to tell me how I feel — I just need to quietly listen.
Back to day larks. I’m most active and actively creative during mornings so here lies my dilemma as the focus-energy is limited — do I walk or write?
Regardless, water, yoga and meditation come first, then if I sit down to write I’ll most likely be typing away in isolation until lunchtime — great. Nevertheless, I miss an early walk with an audiobook. Stimulating mind-body while breathing morning air and seeing what the day has to offer. If I do the walk first the writing suffers and I’m no good for either during the afternoon which is when I work on other stuff, you know… like emails, meetings and obligations requiring a lower level of creative-energy.
By the time Sanji no oyatsu (3pm snack time) comes around, reminded by the community bell. It’s not time for snacks but time for some refreshing movement. Perhaps an extended yoga or more of a training style multidirectional movement workout. This is usually followed by another short meditation —762 days streak— all provided by the Headspace app. Like James Clear points out in Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones:
“make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.”
This is exactly why I use the app and try not to overthink things. I have to think-things all day so please just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. With the yoga mat already in place next to my desk, all it takes is the community bell and like Pavlov‘s dog I feed my creativity with movement.
Movement changes mood changes creative output.
Currently, writing takes precedence over walking, and I’m going with that motivational flow of outputting what I hold inside. Not trying to force my mind-body in counter-logic-procrastination. Yet, I do feel the weight of sitting in my body and sometimes notice myself gazing out the window at the not too distant mountains, thinking of being light and fast on the trails. Maybe it’s time for a bike ride before the sun sets, which today could be quite late.
…and so it goes.
Local just got a whole lot more local. I’ve been harvesting from my garden spinach, rocket, and a green leafy vegetable called umai-na. This directly translated means “delicious leaf” but aurally translated as “delicious isn’t it”. Apparently it’s a variety of Swiss Chard, but I’m happy to go along with the amusing taste good, doesn’t it plant.
You may now have an image of my garden being this wonderful perfect fertile green haven. It’s not. Imagine a tiny space overlooked by neighbours filled with random growing pots and boxes, but it works.
Back to harvesting. I’ve even grown my own mugi, a Japanese collective name for barley, millet and wheat. This particular variety is Mochi Mugi (Hulless Barley) and is now cut and hanging out to dry, soon to be prepared for eating. Most of which I’ll add to brown rice and save a little to plant next October/November. Japanese farmers used to grow a lot of mugi, similar to rice as these two crops complement each other. Rice during summer, mugi winter, growing in the same field keeping the soil strong and healthy. Some farmers still keep up this practice and it is a joy to see these golden fields amongst the empty majority.
The story of this change is one of political power and commercial gain, which from a nutritional —environmental— point of view doesn't make any sense. Our desire for the nutritionally inferior luxurious polished white rice and white wheat has nearly wiped out the consumption of mugi and brown rice altogether. These unrecognisable processed grains are only to be eaten in desperation or occasional celebration. I can’t help thinking how shortsighted we humans are with overinflated self-importance chasing our desires until the end regardless.
There is a huge sense of satisfaction and connection to
Speaking of desires, craft beer & natural wine. So, how did my 90 day no alcohol experiment go? Honestly not too great. It’s hard! At the point of writing this, I can’t even make it through a month of not drinking. Therefore the challenge is still on the table. I am moving away from the socioculturally inherited reactive behaviour of consumption, towards a conscious proactive choice of what, when and where.
On a recent podcast I listened to Dr. Andrew Weil talk about integrative medicine and the mind-body connection. This got me thinking about how enjoyable a visit to my local natural winery or craft beer brewery can be. Cycling over there, tasting, talking and walking out with a couple of bottles and a feeling that we live in a world good and kind. It makes me consider the health benefits connected to feelings of positivity, kindness, belonging and emotional well-being.
Positive mind positive body positive mind.
These local wineries & breweries who’s progressive values are moving away from the giant controlling corporations feeding us low-quality low-priced poor substitutes for the real stuff.
More is better? Yes!
Not more quantity and profit — more quality in product and intention. It’s my pleasure to spend money and taste the fruits of their labour, supporting a culture that is —even if a minority— taking responsibility for themselves?
Does this mean I should start brewing my own wine & beer?
…and so it goes.
What am I eating on the regular?
Still soup, wonderful soup full of vegetables, any vegetables I can get my hands on locally. The obvious and simple truth is: daily food is fuel. It’s all about how easily, satisfyingly, and nutritionally you can eat. There is work to be done and better fuel equals better work. History tells us to eat what is available and affordable. It's just good economy.
Special meals are for special occasions, meaning irregular and few and far between. Flowing desires and capital, sadly we humans have made a modern world where we can get whatever we want, when we want it. So easily & cheaply that we unnaturally make everyday special and our bodies suffer.
Daily food is fuel.
May I recommend taking a walk over to the farmers market and picking up as many different vegetables as you can carry. Onions, garlic, leeks, courgettes, carrots, celery, bell peppers, beans, peas and potatoes of varying types. Big red tomatoes and green leafs of spinach, kale, cabbage along with fresh bunches of parsley, organon, thyme and basil. Learn to make homemade vegetable stock and stick it all in a pan with some old broken wholemeal pasta and season responsibly. Eat with a salad abundant in green leaves, avocados, mini tomatoes red, gold and green. Toss on walnuts, radishes, apple, pumpkin, chia, ground flaxseed and a homemade dressing. Enjoy some quality bread from the local bakery or grains of brown rice, millet, barley or quinoa. Then sit back in satisfaction and ask yourself if you got the government recommended five fruits and vegetables a day?
…and so it goes.
The only physical community I’m part of at the moment is the community of ants who have moved into my office and are running around my desk foraging for crumbs. It's the rainy season and my desk is their ark.
Community is a difficult one and I’m feeling the strain of our present times as I’m sure we all are — introverts and extroverts alike. Introverted by nature I am. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean I don’t like being around people, quite the contrary. I heard recently —I forget where— that extroverts are energised in the company of others, whereas introverts find it rather draining, irrespective of enjoyment. I find this to be true, only able to sustain company for brief periods at a time. Requiring regular intervals of alone-time, time to process and think. Give me 15 minutes to walk around the neighbourhood or an hour, a day to walk off the confrustration, two days to ride away the stresstration. Give me weeks alone to change perspective and reset the self.
I find a few people around me who enjoy similar extended creative jaunts. Be it journeys near or far, familiar or unfamiliar, they always travel inwards.
In a recent conversation with Rickey Gates he emphasised the importance of navigating through the landscape alone to “immerse into the culture you are surrounded by and can focus on the creative process without compromise”. Yes, yes, I empathise.
Similarly with Craig Mod, who just completed another epic creative walk throughput. I had held aspirations of joining him at some point as we’ve talked about walking together in the past. However, after listening to Rickey’s account of solo journeys of discovery, that email was never sent. In his post-walk Q&A, Craig talks about blocking/limiting his connection to media, social or not: “Lean into the boredom of things and to be hyper-present. To force yourself to find the light in the world around you”, which is abundant. Yes, yes & yes… I love this and have experienced it myself. Sometimes you don’t notice the obvious until you hear it said aloud.
As these days of low-level pandemic self-isolation drag on, it’s a challenge not to let the frustration of others get the better of you. As a remedy I look at the humour found in the everyday as people cope with this new social jungle gym of once temporary signs, arrows and plastic curtains, now exhibiting evidence of unhygienic fatigue.
What could possibly go wrong?
Emerging through this fourth turning crisis into the next first turning high. Will we have made a conformist society afraid of social contact or a generation who will surprise us all in ways unimaginable? I try to stay on the side of positivity and thanks to Van Neistat’s new series The Spirited Man, it’s a little easier to do so.
Yes we all miss aspects of community that have been removed so suddenly, however, at least for me, some things have changed in hopeful ways. Now that the awkwardness and miss aligned expectations of teaching/learning via screens are settling into normalcy. I’ve found great value and opportunity in being available to students and peers in new ways. Whereas for the past fifteen years teaching & conversation was limited by our lack of imagination and the imposing physical institutions of the past. With new rules made to limit our engagement I’ve experienced a surprising opposite to be true. More frequent conversations with creative momentum spiralling off in unexpected directions of curiosity and awareness. It’s refreshing to be along for the ride as students with newfound freedom, confidence and subjectivity, confront the objective limitations of the unimaginative and start reevaluating the inherited processes of evaluation in the journey of the unknown, unexpected, uncontrollable possibilities
…and so it goes.
There are days when I wake up and ask the questions: why am I working so hard? What is the purpose, my purpose? Then I remember that the work isn’t that hard.
I don’t have to do, I want to do.
In the words of one of my increasingly favourite artists Tom Sachs:
“The reward for good work is more work”.
Yes, lucky to have a patron even if lost in the history of the Japanese government’s Art and Cultural Education budgets. Which to me and a few like minded professors, seems to be drowning in the ever growing middle management sea of paperwork and regulations. Nonetheless, with a little ingenuity, tenacity and audacity it is possible to create the space to do essential work. Gladly leaving the nonessential work to those who seem intent on filling time creating more rules to abide, barriers to jump, and red tape to cut.
In the words of Bartleby, the Scrivener:
“I would prefer not to.” 1.
Seeing things differently, I strive to do as little as possible, removing the hurdles between me and the work in order to do as much as possible. I feel absolutely no necessity to look busy, talk busy or compare busy —so easy to do— for there is a considerable difference between doing busy and being creative.
Is that accountable to purpose?
Still, here I am trying to finish this monumental newsletter, while my Tummy Brother is doing his utmost to disturb my precious concentration. No matter how much I try to explain, he still insists on leading me outside to play. Persistent in my work, inevitably I sit here questioning the purpose of spending so much time and effort to write this. Is it good enough, am I good enough, will anyone actually get far enough to be reading these words —hello dad— and if they do what will they think?
I break my rule —hey, it is Sunday morning— and procrastinate just a little while pretending it’s research. Anything to avoid typing more of these painful words. Lets see what Tom Sachs is up to, what does he have to say today?
And there it is, the connection to my dots.
“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
We establish our own standards of excellence and dedicate our lives to achieving them.
We teach ourselves how to learn. How to improve.
Success and failure are meaningless in our pursuit.
Showing up is all that matters.”
I asked, I showed up, the universe gave me answers. Deleting the paragraphs previously written I put new words to the page —still painful, always painful. I’m writing this for myself just as much as I’m writing it for you —maybe more so. Taking lessons from my own words and words from recent conversations, forgoing ideas of success or failure and simply keep putting in the work. Creating chains of habit until they are too strong to be broken.
Chains of movement, nutrition, community and finding purpose in the act of showing up and writing them down.
Hey, Tummy Brother… it’s time to play… let’s go outside and explore.
…and so it goes.
1. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville.
Nutrition Movement Community Purpose
Tummy Brother Sanpo.