Context is a Fickle Mistress

The ultimate metaphysical secret … is that there are no boundaries in the universe. Boundaries are illusions, products not of reality but of the way we map and edit reality. And while it’s fine to map out the territory, it is fatal to confuse the two.

– Ken Wilber

We’ve all had that feeling. You return from a life-changing experience, either a vacation, sabbatical, or something entirely different, and within weeks this morphs into merely an experience. This then slowly wears down to just a fond memory, of which you sometimes reminisce at parties.

Your context stays more or less the same, as if less time passed by on your home turf compared to your experience away from it all. Of course a logical observation; you’ve been in an entirely different environment, met numerous new people, did things normally outside of your zone of influence… The challenge therefore is – and here’s where it gets tricky – to retain the lessons life gives you on your journeys, and to incorporate these in your daily life.

Of course my reason to write this narrative has to do with my personal experience. Last December I was road tripping in Argentina with two dear friends and fellow musicians. I will keep the detailed description of our trip to myself, that’s not the goal of this text nor is it the appropriate medium; it lacks good wine and photographs. What I want to talk about is my change in perspective, and how I struggle to keep this change close to myself and act upon it accordingly.

Detachment. One thing I realized when we were on the road, is that radically changing environments detach you from the grip your daily life has on you. Travelling from town to town, through different landscapes, sleeping in a different bed each night, making music for strangers, it all serves as a solvent. After a week or two, you feel a sense of freedom; you distance yourself of your daily worries and activities like work, family, hobbies, et cetera. You gradually start to live in the moment, and enjoy every second of it. I’ve heard people say that after returning from a two week vacation, they did not have enough time to detach themselves, and could use another week or two to properly get some rest. You could see this as a subtle plea for longer vacations…

Freedom. The second thing I noticed was a certain freedom of thought. Your mind notices the lack of control your daily context has on you. It does not need to spend energy on thinking about your salary statement or filing your taxes. It does not feel obligated to figure out the best way to simultaneously circumvent the traffic jam, call your boss to say you’re late, and read up on the materials you should have read beforehand… This removes the clouds normally floating somewhere in your mind, obstructing your vision. The perfect moment to think about Life, the Universe and Everything. What do you want to keep, throw away, cherish, hide?

These two intertwined but subtly different reality shifts are products of a changing context. And before you know it, this context is forgotten, buried beneath the several hundreds of unread emails when you first open up your work or private mail. I can come up with several coping mechanisms, but would challenge you to invent and investigate your own, as each person’s context is their own. One of mine would be to have one or two of your best friends or trusted colleagues remind you every week to think about your changes, to serve as your personal gauge. Do you live up to your own expectations, set at the aforesaid moment of clarity and freedom? Do you go about your work the same way as before, or did you change your present context by doing things differently? Are you a mirror of your context, or do you let your context be your mirror?

Oftentimes, this is the moment to realize the absence of boundaries, and to act upon that realization. We construct boundaries for ourselves, or we let our context define our boundaries for us. We get salaries, mortgages, company cars, two-and-a-half kids, a dog (preferably a Labrador) and a goldfish. And we’re told that’s how life’s supposed to be. For some, that’s enough. For some, it’s not. If you fall into the last category, you know what to do…


What is the difference between a life lived with no purpose and one dedicated to getting something done? What separates dullness, waste, aimlessness, from spirit, fulfilment and direction? When does a ‘dedicated’ life become a wasted life of another kind? What is the difference between the appropriate and necessary energy invested to accomplice something – and fanaticism? Where is the threshold between the two? How do you find it – measure it? Test it? How do you know if you are simply sliding down the wrong slope as the years go by?

– Matt Taylor

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