‘Life begins at the end of the comfort zone.’ This was what was scribbled on a note taped to our fridge door back in Taiwan 2010. And yes, I liked the adage, because I saw it as a call to climb out of the rut, drop the known in the nearest dustbin, and trot, baggage-free after a risk. I remembered the sentence a couple of months ago, because for the past three years I think I’ve been living it in reverse. I’m starting to wonder if comfort and deep fulfilment are mutually exclusive.
If the comfort zone is a circle, or even an ellipse shape like the orbit of the Earth round the sun, then life up here in The Mud started far outside it. The moment I brought my tent up here and cleared my 2 x 3 metres of space into the brambles, I had hacked a hole into another world. That world was just about inside the solar system of my experience. I was still in Turkey after all, but it was definitely on the outer edge, somewhere just past Pluto.
When I first slept outside and grappled with washing up racks and wheelbarrows of water, comfort, both spiritual and physical, was a distant speck on a horizon I was walking in the other direction of. Everything was for the first time. It was pristine yet wild. My world was a dew drop at five am, and I
was a new born mite perched on it; shocked, enchanted, bewildered, touched. The land touched me because I had no walls erected against it. No expectations. No great vision of what it ‘should’ be. Those first months were magical. Trees muttered in crackles and rustles. Mysterious plants snuck out of the dust to feed me, or heal me. Butterflies, lizards and bugs crawled from the rocks with secret messages. The night sky was alive with other worlds. I was Alice in Wonderland.
But what is it with us humans and our preoccupation for ‘the rut’? I know very well, routines are the orderly assassins of magic, yet now, with the house of my dreams, running water and solar power, I find myself unconsciously retreating from ‘the new’ and sliding back into the dull predictability of the organised. Now that I’m all comfy in my earth-womb, like a marine in a dugout, or a one of those reptiles in their holes, Eden gradually withdraws. It's now down to my outside kitchen and bathroom keep me on my toes. While it’s uncomfortable to cook in a raging storm, it’s also incredibly visceral. I love that I have to face storms for a cup of tea, or grab my brolly to take a leak. Apparently we need to face the elements just to remember we're connected to them and enlivened by them. But even so. I feel those old days of wonder sliding from under my fingertips, and I miss them. Yes, the comfort zone is coming for me, loping and slobbering with couch-potato dissatisfaction.
Which was why I sent a wish out into the valley not so long back. ‘Don’t let me become complacent, Gaia whatever you do,’ I said. Be careful what you wish for, they say. Because life, the ol' trickster, is always waiting . . . right over the edge of your comfort zone.
Two weeks ago, something happened that blew complacency all the way to kingdom come. My novel Ayşe’s Trail took off, and I have to leave here temporarily for London. Despite this being a childhood dream come true, for the first few days after receiving the news, I was beset by deep melancholy. As I wandered about my queendom of olives and home-grown veg and lizards, I began to fret about where all this book lark was leading me. I don’t want to leave the forest, and I feel an irrational and fearful urge to cling on. This place has brought me such happiness. It has healed me. And the thought of hitting the big city, having to dress up and possibly participate, even temporarily, in a lifestyle I’ve long left behind, leaves me panic-stricken and morose.
But when fear decides a course of action, nothing good follows. Just as my garden and the forest about me changes with every year, so do I. Am I really going to hide in a cave forever and refuse to grow or put my hand out into the light. Because nothing around me accepts such self-imposed stifling. So last week I took a deep breath. I kissed the earth and hugged my home. And then I let my expectations of it go. Because that’s the only proper thing to do when you’re in love with something. Free it. And as I did, I heard the comfort zone growl, before it withdrew reluctantly back into its lair. At that moment, the wind of life was in my hair again, and adventure howled down from the hills. The moon was eclipsed, the stars swung into new patterns, and the pines curled and twisted on their roots. I have no idea where I’m going, or what will happen next. But I expect it’ll be worth writing about.
Atulya K Bingham
Sick of the screen?
You can now get a beautiful, illustrated paperback edition of Mud Mountain.
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine.
Want to follow my journey?