I am a conceptual locksmith. I look for new ways to unlock world views—mine and those of others. It helps me to connect more effectively. It’s part of who I am, a key expression of my identity. The tools of my trade are ideas found in books, conversations and experiences. I also happen to be descended from a long line of chronic hoarders so I balance my collecting of books against this fact and my nomadic tendencies. Honest conversations I have with myself often centre on this tension. 

Regardless of our vocabulary, words can trap us or free us. Actions often speak louder—as the embodiment of words. Sometimes words become fashionable and trendy without leaving a big mark on our lives and others stay with us. Mindfulness and acceptance are two words that have been used so much they seem to have lost their meaning, and it is only deeds (practice) that keep them alive. 

In 2013, after six months away in Queensland, I returned to Tasmania. I brought my new family with me. We three drove down with our possessions and two dogs in two vehicles. A lot of thought went into what we could bring, what would be most useful, and what would supplement the items friends were looking after for me in Launceston. Fortunately, we aren’t all that sentimental with objects.

A few days later, we visited a friend who had been looking after my book and bonsai collection. With my ute and trailer loaded up, I began the two-hour journey to our new home. I kept a nervous eye in the rear view mirror to ensure the boxes and trees were travelling safely and practised the ‘approaching-destination-progressive-muscle-relaxation’ technique also known as the ‘light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel’ vision. The stack looked a little different when I finally pulled into the driveway. I had lost three bags of books! I didn’t even know which ones. At least I knew they would be somewhere in the 15km since I’d last looked at them. 

I was furious at myself as I set out to find them—practicing some breathing exercises. Six bends from home I found the first book, ‘The Way of Non-Attachment’ and a book on roses. Then a hundred meters away, ‘The Art of Letting Go’, and ‘Mindfulness for Beginners’. By this stage I had a massive grin on my face and accepted the lesson I needed to reconnect with. I eventually retrieved every book I’d lost. Each looked a bit more used than before.

This experience reminded me why I have these books (and the conversations and experiences). They are there to support my conceptual locksmith practice. They are not possessions for me to latch onto. I don’t change or grow by having them around me like some osmotic process. I could get a complex about that—even plants can absorb nutrients to grow by having them around. To be true to my identity I must live my values. This happens when I turn words from my books into deeds. 

More broadly speaking, in the mental health field ‘recovery’ is a word that is often bandied around, but it can only be meaningful when it is explored and activated according to individual values, needs, identities and hopes.

Charlie Anderson
Wellways Intentional Peer Worker