The Happy Life (R7)

‘How foolish is that business man who does not sell out and retire to a small country cottage with his little income of a pound or twenty-five shillings a week, where he could eat, sleep and read in peace and walk abroad admiring Nature. Thousands of businessmen could do this and would if they were wise enough to see what an empty thing ‘position’ is…

‘It is certainly a mystery how we got into this tangle, having to conform to the rules of civilisation—up in the morning at a certain hour, and to bed at a certain time at night with certain limited intervals for meals; in fact a very slave to these conditions, and so often without power of being otherwise…

‘Of course, I could not myself be so independent if I were not contented with very little and did not prefer freedom to fine clothes and furniture and the luxuries of food…’

(WHDavies: ‘The Happy Life’ in Beggars 1909)


At the dinner table, I declared my ambition to be a tramp when I grew to manhood. I was 15 at the time and my parents were horrified at my supposed intentions; they took them so seriously that they threatened to have nothing more to do with me which threw me into considerable confusion.

Good education, nice middle class upbringing—the ingratitude of it all… I suppose that’s what they thought. Ours was never a family for talking things out and so I did not have the chance to explain my motives or say where I got the idea from.

Where did I get the idea from? From my reading: from the sense I made out of the writings of Richard Jefferies, Hilaire Belloc, George Bourne/Sturt, Walt Whitman—loafers and wanderers all—and from WHDavies’ iconic poem ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…?’ Later on, after I had chosen to get sucked into ‘civilisation’, I read WHDavies’ Autobiography of a Supertramp and remembered, too late, my profound boyhood ambition.

Whenever I think of what I did between 1955 and 1992, I find it difficult to attach the conventional word ‘career’ to it: I always talk of my various activities as constituting my ‘so-called career’; they were, I suppose, ‘successful’ in their way for 37 years; I would not be the person I am now without having accomplished something; I turn out in Gurdjieff’s terms to begin to qualify more or less as a ‘Good Householder’—held down a job, got money every month to pay off the mortgage and keep body & soul together, perpetuated the race, done outwardly respectable living. Early retirement from teaching at 55 gave me the incredible opportunity to work just when I chose and not otherwise: I have been able to ‘eat, sleep and read in peace and walk abroad admiring Nature…’ for twenty years now; I am out of the ‘tangle of civilisation’; I have a country cottage and a small pension; but, above all,  I am ‘contented with very little and… prefer freedom to fine clothes and furniture and the luxuries of food…’ I just would not know what to do with the £millions amassed by the greedy few. Given all this, the life of a beggarman does not appeal to me at all but tramping, with enough money to make comfortable headway, has always had its attraction for me.

What Has My Disreputable Autobiogaphy to do with Anything—Commercial or Practical?

This tramp-bit of it is a key segment of my life—one that consistently travels regularly all the way round my Figure of Eight.

It is about the freedom of thought that accompanies dispensing with the words we usually apply to ourselves; the words we habitually use, like old songs, to limit what we can do with the world. Use a new word and the world trips up over itself contriving to make us see things from a different point of view. We do not do enough of this.

I am of course too comfortably off to be a professional tramp but a 60-year old hankering after such a life has always thankfully preserved me from going for anything that could be called a ‘position’ in life. I have done things for the benefit of others but have never had any desire to occupy a ‘position’ of any kind; the things that came to me always arrived by chance; I have been constantly surprised by life and the opportunities that just seemed to accrue. Maybe this was at least in part to do with being able to decide to slip out from the conventional word-system, the normal categories, then you may look at your identity from a different standpoint. You can always dump yourself back in the striving to pay the mortgage any time you choose but in the meantime you will have raised yourself up cognitively a level or two.

The nearest I have got to being a tramp is to have contrived to look like one.

Jefferies, Whitman, me & Belloc

On the other hand, I have satisfied my ambition to be an on-the-road tramp by going off at least once a year for a few weeks on solo walking ventures, or by bicycle or, now, by motorbike. To begin with at night I would pitch a small tent under a hedge or in a nettle patch; in 1983 my son and I cycled thus from Inverness to Luton; nowadays (and for some years) I stay in Bed & Breakfast establishments that are preferably way off the beaten track and down at heel—smelly carpets is my measure of excellence. Three years running at the beginning of the 1990’s, taking a fortnight each time, I cycled the 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End; in 2005 I motorbiked 3000 miles round the edge of England, Scotland & Wales in view of the sea most days. These were the Great Journeys.

Above all, I suppose, leading the life of a tramp would have the advantage of being able to suit oneself—where to go and what to do; to be so closely packed into yourself that you begin to have a real experience of your very own self.

After journeying in India, a student of mine, wisely remarked that you do not know your self until you are stranded in a foreign country, without money, not knowing the native language and not knowing where you are. Maybe I learned more from my students than they ever learned from me.

‘Tramp’ is Useful as a Metaphor

I have adopted the intellectual posture of a tramp who, in my eyes, goes doggedly on down the road through life in wind and rain and summer sun, come what may, with his baggage. And so in my bag I have accumulated music, books, ideas, places, possessions, houses & gardens, people and descendents… I have accumulated all these things and I have constantly gone over them, getting them out to look them over, redefining, revisiting, using the ideas I’ve collected, seeking to understand all in the context of Being without letting anything go.

In the Enneagram the Downward Spiralling characteristic of a person with a 7 Fixation is that they go through lots of things in life, just as I have, but fail to accumulate; nothing sticks; they have many passing fads and enthusiasms but they do not accumulate a well-developed singularity of purpose. They have no bag or knapsack. In order to remedy this, with the help of the Enneagram, they must go on a journey to Fixation 5 where they may be able to make their enthusiasms into relatively permanent structures, with relatedness and cohesion.

Unless they move, ‘Tramps’ in the Fourth Way sense, they remain at the lower end of Fixation 7 where they feel perversely comfortable and even proud of the way they are, extravagant and fond of bingeing when they can get away with it, going from obsession to obsession but without making any intellectual progress. When knowledge remains on the same level and without emotional commitment, there can only be very limited growth. To get anywhere, as Ouspensky says, ‘we must see what a restricted field we live in, always deceiving ourselves, always imagining things to be different from what they are. We think it is very easy to change something but it is only when we sincerely try that we realise how difficult, how almost impossible it is… Theories, systems, diagrams are only a help; they help concentration and right thinking but there can be only one real aim and that is to change our being; if we want to change something in our understanding of the world, we must change something in ourselves…’

Mere slogans and exhortations seem very straightforward and we certainly can live with and through them for a bit—for, say, the length of a coaching session or even a three-day training—but then it’s the case that the ‘I’ that gets excited by a slogan is not the same ‘I’ that has to work hard to put it into practice. Unless we can pass the slogan-baton from ‘I’ to ‘I’ within our being there will be no change.

According to the Fourth Way there are Four Main Types of People

There are Good Householders, ordinary people who have got somewhere in life and are propelled into action by the thought that ‘there must be something more to life than this…’ whatever ‘this’ is. The other three types are ‘tramps’, ‘lunatics’ and ‘destroyers’, each of which has a technical meaning, related to the ordinary meaning but with a different slant.

‘Lunatics’ are obsessive about their beliefs, operate from a false and incoherent set of values and engage in either-or thinking—either you are for me or you are against me, for instance; either you believe this or you are wrong… ‘This is the Development Course you’ve been waiting for all your life…’ Billy-Graham-itis…

‘Destroyers’ never hesitate ‘to sacrifice people or to create an enormous amount of suffering, just for their own personal ambitions…’—from an Idi Amin to an Assad to the person who says, “That’s a really stupid idea—you cannot be serious…”

‘Tramps’ go from thing to thing in the hope that eventually they will find something that makes total sense at last, in a sort of quest for the non-existent Holy Grail; meanwhile everything is relative. Without necessarily consciously subscribing to it, their belief is that everything is relative, otherwise they’d have already discovered what is not relative; their behaviour reveals their belief. Tramps do not have to be poor people at all; they may be rich but very poverty stricken in spirit.

Whilst we who read this may be advancing gradually towards the status of Good Householder, most of us are a combination of tramp and lunatic without being conscious of it. To go up a level of being the lunatic in us must fight against obsessive lunacy and either-or thinking; the tramp in us must develop a sense of self-discipline.

A person with tramp behaviour locked into the Downward-spiralling characteristics of an Enneagram 7 Fixation will need self-discipline to move towards integration at 5. The irony is that a person fixated at 7 already has what they consider to be their own form of self-discipline which tells them that they are fine where they are and everybody else needs to come round to their way of thinking. Of course the danger of going to 5 is that they may become exceedingly dogmatic—the very thing they’d like to avoid by being successful tramps, picking nothing up to be dogmatic about!

And so the condition I aspire to, in the midst of ordinary life and to all appearances a reasonably well-turned-out member of society, with a wife & family, is still that of a tramp but one that has succeeded in accumulating many worthwhile things, capable of holding my own with the very best of comrades.

What condition do you aspire to?

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