Awakin Call: A 23-Year-Old’s Journey of Unlearning

In October last year, I joined the ServiceSpace ecosystem as a volunteer. Since then I’ve been continually laddered by the people in the community and it’s been a beautiful space to a part of. This month, Nipun and Audrey laddered me by inviting me to speak on the Awakin’ Call weekly podcast. You can listen to the whole podcast, or read the transcript.

It was quite a long call, 95+ mins, so I’ve included a few of my favourite snippets from the call below:

Introduction and My Video Game Addiction

Audrey: What strikes me about Liam is that when he engages in all these things it’s not out of a sense of wanting to have fun or a sense of even rebelling against the system. There’s a groundedness and a depth to his way of approaching all of these topics. I think when you talk to him, you really feel that sense of it’s a search for a deeper sense of truth and those bigger questions of life and purpose and meaning.

Audrey: When did the conviction at such a young age to define your own path start to kick in? How did this happen?

Liam: Between 11 to 16, I’d say I was pretty much a zombie — if I’m being completely honest. I would go to school and then I would come back and I’d play video games — for 8 to 12 hours a day! It was becoming a big problem, actually. I think there were a few moments where my friends would highlight, “Liam, maybe you have a problem. You can’t seem to not play video games.” I remember feeling quite angry, as I reacted to the questions from my friends. I think those reactions started that self reflection process. I remember going online and searching for personal development blogs about, “How can I stop playing video games?” That sparked off a little bit.

Eyesight and Eskimo Tribes

They were trying to get these Eskimo tribes to assimilate into modern society. Before they would get assimilated, these Eskimos had perfect vision and they needed perfect vision because they would be out hunting or foraging, but then when they got assimilated into society, the children, within a few years, would all become myopic. They were just being brought straight into the education system. They would all need glasses, but the parents would be fine. That made me question what my optician told me — that myopia is a genetic condition and there’s nothing you can do about it. “Your parents had it, and so you have it. There’s nothing you can do about it. End of story.

I thought, “Actually if what my optician is telling me isn’t true, then maybe somewhere else in a different industry or a different area in society, the same thing is happening, whether it’s in education or in the medical industry or in the way food is sold to us.” I thought maybe there was a similar story being told.

That led me to other topics. Also within health, I started reading this book by Dr. Weston Price, who wrote this book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. He went around indigenous cultures around the world. He would inspect their teeth. These cultures, they wouldn’t have toothbrushes. They wouldn’t have toothpaste. He expected they would have really bad teeth because we have this assumption that we have to clean our teeth every day otherwise they will rot. He expected that, but when he actually looked at their teeth, he found that they were really, really healthy. They had amazing teeth. They had zero cavities. Their jaw was perfectly shaped. Compared to a typical modern pair of teeth, if you like, these indigenous people had incredible teeth. He was talking about the role of diet and things like sugar and the amount of processing that goes through our food.

Meditation and Doing Nothing

… after I had decided I didn’t want to go to university, I had a big gap. I went to Canada for almost 6 months. The learning there was about space. It was about having space to breathe or just think and do nothing really. I went to this work exchange. There’s this website called Workaway and they hook up volunteers with different hosts all around the world, people who have farms or bed and breakfasts, small businesses. I went to this one family in the middle of Canada in Saskatchewan. I don’t know why I went to Saskatchewan, but it was a really lovely host family. I just really enjoyed reading through their profile and Skyping with them a few times.”

When I went on my first one, I guess I got this sense that happiness is within rather than something that I had to get from the outside of myself. During these 10 days, you’re not allowed to speak. You don’t have any writing material. You get served 2 meals a day. It’s sensory deprivation in a way. Yet going on this retreat and experiencing … a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a huge amount of mental rumination and discomfort, but then continuing with it and then at the end actually seeing that there was joy and bliss to be found in just sitting and experiencing that much more directly than in the past.

We’ve all had these moments of awe or just deep moments of presence. We get these moments of just joy, serene joy that comes out. I had those moments, but I always thought they were just coincidental, a kind of magic that just sort of happened. But then realizing, during these 10 days of meditation, that the same joy could arise, the same sort of happiness could arise — that really gave me that conviction that meditation was a worthwhile thing to pursue. It showed me that if you unlearn enough, if you could peel away all the layers, all the assumptions or all the conditionings, you could arrive at unconditional happiness. If I could peel away all these layers, all these conditions and assumptions that I had from my upbringing, from wherever, that what would be left would be this joy, this happiness. I think that’s where the conviction is coming from.

On Hitchhiking

After hearing Satish Kumar talk, I was walking around Camden in London and I found a pair of walking boots. It was like 2 weeks or maybe a week after his talk. I found these walking boots, and they were in my size. And there was a pair of them. I was like, “This is interesting. This must be a sign or something.”

I took them, and I said, “Maybe this means I have to go on an adventure.” Then 2 weeks after that, I meet this girl Talissa, who asked me if I wanted to go on a hitchhiking adventure. When I put it all together — Satish Kumar’s talks, finding the boots and then this invitation — I was like, “I sort of have to say yes now.” So I said yes. It was very short, just 3 days, getting lifts with 12 different cars, complete strangers, putting our thumbs out with a small sign. It was incredible. To really find that the people that picked us up. They were as anxious as we were to get picked up. It was like a game of, “Who dares wins”. It was really touching to meet some of these people.

I remember there was one guy who initially hesitated. He drove past us and then turned around and came back again. He stopped and we got in. About halfway through the journey, he said, “I just got out of prison about 3 weeks ago. I can only take you guys this far because I have a tag around my ankle, which stops me from leaving my hometown.” He was like, “I would love to take you guys further, but I have to drop you off here.” To have that courage to share with hitchhikers that he just met? We were trusting our lives with him and then him coming out and saying, “I’m a prisoner and I just got out of prison.” It was a really powerful moment of trust.

Money and True Security

Trevor: Hi Liam, I’m really enjoying this call. I’m curious because you have taken this non-traditional path and journey, what is your relationship to money and earning your livelihood?

Liam: That’s a question I’m holding as well, especially the money one. I’ve spoken about wanting to become a full-time volunteer. I think money is a neutral technology — not inherently evil or good. But the way we’ve created it, it’s rooted in a sense of permanence. And that doesn’t reflect the actual nature of how reality is. I’m finding it really difficult to on the one hand have my meditation practice and this idea of trust, but then still almost having to live in a monetary society. With the money question, there is this question of what is true security as well? The reason why I would want money is so that I could live, so that I could feed myself and my family and then anyone else that might depend on me.

My next experiment is really diving deeper into this idea of security because money and security they definitely come hand in hand. Really having to have a direct experience that security comes from within, which isn’t something that I can say that I know. When I say I know, I can’t say that I’ve had any experience that security really comes from within. That for me is the practice, the working ground that I have.

In a more practical sense, I recently started a conversation with this guy called Richard. Richard is a piano tuner by trade. He lives in London, but 3 years ago, he decided, “I don’t know why I’m paying so much for rent in Central London. I’m just going to live outside.” He buys a sleeping mat and a really good quality sleeping bag and every night for the past 3 years, he’s just been setting up a tent. He just wild camps in the city. He still has his piano tuning job, but his expenses have dropped hugely. To me, that seems like a viable option, but I know for probably many people that’s completely out of the question.

I guess going along with that, that seems to me for now where I’m at to be a good working ground to test this question of what is true security and where does it come from? Can I trust really the people of London to not kill me when I’m sleeping out on the street or the cold or rain or all of these obstacles? Can I really hold my ground within and be okay with this? I don’t know if that answers that question at all, but that is currently my relationship with money is that I’m seeing if there is a way to not need it at all.


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