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