For Jean-Paul growing up in a large family in a busy city meant solitude was something he sought but rarely found. When he was of independent means he started to take excursions to the countryside or coast. Something he has continued to do to this day.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Town and Country programme he talked about finding solitude on his country excursions.
When I was young I knew only the sounds and busy living of the city. Stillness and quiet were is short supply. As a family we never took trips to the countryside. Dad was busy working all the hours he could to keep the family afloat and mum worked harder at home than she was ever really given credit for. Like every child, my life was normal to me and I knew no different. There was no shortage of love and our family worked and function well. We lived in an area with a strong sense of community where everyone knew everyone! Being close to people and them knowing your business cultivated a wonderful atmosphere of honesty and openness.
I’ve heard people use an expression about ‘escaping to the country’ and it sounds like a prison break! I’ve wondered if it actually reveals something of their feelings about living in the city? The idea that they are imprisoned, even subconsciously, in their everyday life is sad. Their ‘escape’ to the country is unlikely to sort the things they need to change, it just avoids facing them.
Life is all about balance. Spending time alone in the country is the counter weight to my busy city life. Each side of the balance helps me appreciate the other. In terms of life experiences I don’t separate them out and I have learned how to make both parts of my life without a longing for one more than the other. On most of my trips to the country I go alone and I like the contrast to my everyday. I enjoy the quiet and there is no need to make conversation. I’m sure some might describe my jaunts to wide open spaces as a form of meditation and they might be right. My trips to the country help shift my focus and perspective. I find it easier to slow down and any problems I have look different. It’s easier to appreciate the things which mean most to me and to see the value of things which can easily be taken for granted.
I know lots of people think heading to the countryside is all hiking boots, Gortex and Kendal mint cake! Others would be literally lost without their compass. It’s not like that for me and I don’t see the big outdoors as a challenge. The mountains are not there to be conquered or ticked off in my guide book. Admittedly having suitable footwear is advisable as is being prepared for adverse weather. The great outdoors presents many opportunities, mental and physical and there is something for everyone. I’m someone who likes to travel light. I take my phone for emergencies but I switch it off. I have a small camera separate from my phone and I enjoy capturing moments but not for Instagram or TikTok. Any photographs I take are for my eyes. The idea that people feel the need to share every moment of their lives through social media is something I could bang on about for ages, but for now the short version is, it’s not for me! I’m more interested in being in the moment than capturing it!
Being in the moment is what it’s all about for me. I find it easier to be in the moment when I’m on my own in the countryside away the city. It’s not an experience that can be boxed, packaged or bought. It’s a way of investing in my wellbeing, surrounded by the very best that nature has to offer. Perhaps being able to take a step back from our lives and find time to reflect is important in lots of way to all of us. Being with nature is one of my ways to do just that. It’s all about learning what makes me happy and understanding the things that don’t.
Few of us are driven by happiness as our guide. For a lot of people the driving force is money, status, ego, winning, being the best, greed, or worst of all believing in the lifestyles we are sold by those who profit from our insecurity! I think if more of us were driven by happiness we might all be a little kinder to one another. The happiness I’m talking about is the sort of happiness that you feel inside without the need to tell someone about it. The sort of happiness where you feel contentment and peace. Maybe if we were driven more by those feelings we might start to see the needs of others and be a little less selfish. Compassion might become common currency rather than a rare commodity! And yes, it is while I’m out in the country I consider these big life questions and look in that metaphorical mirror to examine my own path. I think it feels safer to ask bigger questions while away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It definitely allows me to return home with fresh eyes and a clear mind. My values shift and change and it helps to stop me from being stuck in the same old routine. People have known the restorative power of retreats for centuries. In doing what I do maybe I have found my own country retreat.
I’ve had a few cups of coffee this morning and this interview is beginning to feel like a bit of a ramble! I could go on about all of this for ages but I wonder how interesting it is for your listeners? I have to admit there are people out there who are more able to articulate some of these things better than me. How about we move on to a person who expresses them more succinctly… Jonathan Richman…City Vs. Country