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Mindfulness in a motorhome: how van life can tame your mind

Mindfulness. Like thousands of others in recent years I have tried to calm my inner turmoil by practising mindfulness.

When I say practice I mean I bought two books: Mindfulness for Dummies (of course) and Ruby Wax’s Sane New World: Taming the Mind.

Of the two, Ruby Wax’s was by far the most entertaining, as well it should be. Her story of a mind gone mad with “hurricanes” of depression, and how mindfulness helped calm her soul and earn her a degree, is well worth a read, even if you don’t suffer from any form of mental illness.

And she cites real science to prove her point – hard evidence that shows how we can rewire our brain cells and break the bad, old habits that make us sometimes doubt our own sanity.

One way of doing this, argues Ruby, is by practicing mindfulness, where you learn how to tame your inner monologue.

You may know her – she is the persistent, cruel bitch that has told you since you were two that you are too fat, too stupid or too ugly to amount to anything.

I gave up after chapter five of the Mindfulness for Dummies book, and as I have grown older I have noticed that my inner monologue has become marginally less bullying.

Only marginally mind you. The slightest provocation, particularly from those I consider my peers, or a minor family crisis, can plunge me into a whirwhind of panic, self-hatred and gnawing fear, within minutes. And it can last weeks, sometimes months.

I think I have discovered the cure for my personal demons though, and that is by living in a van.

There is something very mindful about van living. Our Hymer contains every luxury necessary for a good life, from an electricity supply to running water and a WC, to say nothing of a fridge, memory foam mattress and a wardrobe. There is even a MiFi router.

It is not big, less than six metres long and that includes the driving cab, but it is as perfectly formed as the German engineers could make it.

But it is not a house, where you turn on a tap and hot water comes gushing out, sometimes at a temperature hot enough to make a pot of tea.

The water needs replenished every day, the waste water tank and toilet need emptied daily too, and that electricity supply is dependent on whether or not we are in camp site or, as we are tonight, sleeping in a car park.

My friends in Malawi have taught me how to conserve water, and to bath in a bucket.

I have worked out ways of protecting my fragile vanity when going to the loo, and Nigel and I have found a companionable rhythm in preparing our home for daily life – day after day after day.

It is soothing to fill the water tank. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I empty the waste water, even if it means carrying several buckets of scummy grey water up a steep slope to the nearest drain as I did yesterday.

And when I get dressed in the morning I revel in the limited choice of having only one small shelf and five green plastic hangers to choose from.

Today I am wearing an Obama 2008 campaign t-shirt which I almost used for dusters, before realising it was perfect for my new life on the road. I will probably wear it again tomorrow.

It helps of course that we are spending a few weeks in Greece, where the late autumn sun is still shining, the people are warm and welcoming, and the history on almost every street corner reminds me of our own fleeting presence here.

I can’t begin to understand the neuroscience that means mindfulness can help you regulate your emotions, but I do know that the mindfulness of living in a van is helping tame my mind, just as Ruby Wax (might have) predicted.

Come to think of it, Mindfulness in a motorhome: how van life can tame your mind, has a certain Amazonian ring about it, don’t you think?

4 Responses

  1. Gaynor

    I would buy that book Susan, go for it!
    I remember having similar thoughts trekking in Nepal. The rhythm and routine of the day brought about a real sense of calm. Our purpose was getting up and down hills to our next destination, where we found somewhere to eat and sleep. We bathed in a bucket of water and felt blissful if it was hotter than tepid. We sleep in places that were less comfortable than garden sheds, and housed all sorts of weird and wonderful beasties. It was all part of it and didn’t really bother us too much. Days were spent walking in some of the most spiritual places on earth (on a par, but not surpassing God’s Own Yorkshire) and we had the chance to meet new people and really get to know them as small talk became unnecessary. We were totally cut off from the outside world and had no form of communication other than talking to the people around us. Half the time we had no electricity or running water. Yet we look back on it as being one go the best things we ever did.
    Unfortunately when we came back to ‘civilisation’ we soon forgot about it and were sucked back into a world of mod cons and a crap work/life balance.
    Enjoy every minute of your amazing adventure. You are both so fabulous for doing this and were always going to have the best time. I was going to say you are lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it, it is all down to you both for making it happen. Keep blogging!

    1. susandalgety

      What lovely words Gaynor, thank you. We are parked on a beach tonight, it is not particularly warm, in fact we have had rain for the last few days, but the waves are crashing, the lights on the surrounding hills are twinkling away and we have great wifi. Life is good. x

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