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“In fact, I believe that we should think of freedom of the mind as a conscious and constant attempt to unthink order and authority. To think against hegemony of any variety…”

Breyten Breytenbach

We know that gravity exists because when I drop a ball, it falls down. It has done so since I was a small child, and people far older than me have been dropping things for a good deal longer and assure me that when they do so, the items have always fallen downwards, towards the earth. In all of recorded history – at least that which I know about – there have been no verified incidents of a ball (or anything else) ever falling naturally upwards towards the sky.

It seems consistent to everything I have observed in life that things falling down is a consistent and inevitable effect in the world. And so I have formalised the notion – and called it gravity.  The interesting part of this process, however, is that gravity is not something that is an objective part of the world I live in, so much as it is something which seems to be a consistent rule based on what I repeatedly observe to happen. In short, there is no reason – other than that I have never seen anything to suggest otherwise – that something, when dropped, might not fall upwards one day. And if it did, how much of the world would I be forced to rethink?

So it is with our lives.

I had the epiphany recently of how lucky I am to be surrounded by a truly strange group of friends, near and far. From staid accountants to fiery poi-wielding hippie types in New Zealand and a great deal on and off the spectrum in between. I call it an epiphany because, like the falling ball – the people I know and the lives they lead shape what I believe to be possible and impossible in the world. Like falling balls, all of them, flying off in many directions, they remind me that not everything falls down all the time. And this is important – more than may seem obvious at first.

when falling-down is all you know, and every other ball is similar, the act of falling down starts to look more and more like a rule

Until I started travelling properly, and sharing experiences, thoughts and understanding with truly different people, I had a very different view of the world. It was a world full of people similar to me in many respects in their ambitions, values and the general structure of how they saw the world. To generalise slightly, we were all balls who fell down. In a falling-down world, when falling-down is all you know, and every other ball is similar, the act of falling down starts to look more and more like a rule – like an inevitable axiom of this-is-how-the-world-is. Replace falling down with you need a career, with things like you can’t just up and do random things, things like you must be daft to smile at the sky and stop and watch it because it is beautiful one day. And lives start to take shape around seemingly inevitable, immutable rules – rules given substance and value by the frequency with which they occur. Much like the ball that always falls down is evidence of a rule of gravity.

Travel destroys those rules. It puts you in a world where balls fall up. Where there are no balls at all. It exposes you to the glaringly obvious truth that so many of the rules we create to understand the world and our place in it are nothing more than making our unquestioned habits into rules that appear immutable. Rules which make our bubble different from the bubbles of others. Make us believe sometimes that ours is the only bubble that there is. The only and best sort of bubble.

But not all of us can travel endlessly. We need to go back, at times, to worlds where the balls fall like they should, and the rules we knew before apply. There is a security in a falling-down world, but there is no truth to it. Truth, if it exists, exists in the sum of all the balls and all the directions, the balls we don’t usually see. And so, when we cannot leave our falling-down world, we can bring some falling-up balls into it. We can realise that there is room in the falling-down world for the falling up balls, because they make us remember the other worlds where that is allowed – where it is normal – and reminds us not to make rules to quickly after watching only the balls that suit the rules we have already decided.

So go and look around for some falling-up balls, the ones that make you uncomfortable, and keep them close. They are good for keeping your mind open and reminding you of how the world really is. Who knows, perhaps you are someone else’s falling-up ball yourself.