June 29, 2010

Moving Past Fear And Death

My regular walk in the neighbourhood takes me through Harbourview cemetery. I usually stop and sit, paying my respects while enjoying the quiet. 

These visits have become frequent - and enjoyable - meditations on death. Like Red Smith said in a eulogy for a fellow writer, "Dying is no big deal. Living is the trick." 

This morning at home I saw a white mini van backed up next door, then heard people moving about. Somber uniformed workers emerged from the doorway with a stretcher. Its cargo was covered in a white sheet. 

This is not the first time I have been witness to this intimate moment while living in this building. Various bodies have exited here over the years. 

And now it has happened again. "What", I thought to myself, "might be the message?" 

I had just picked up Answers from the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh from the library. This Zen master writes about 50 of the questions he is most asked. 

I opened the book to The Five Remembrances in the section devoted to daily mindfulness. The Buddha advised that, "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often." 

 The Five Remembrances

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. 
2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape ill-health. 
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. 
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. 
5. I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.

Thich Nhat Hanh adds that the Remembrances "help us to identify and look deeply at the seeds of fear." 

Fear is what keeps us living in ways we don't find enriching. Fear is what prevents us from facing facts. Fear zaps our willingness to change and try new things, even when we know they are better for us. 

We can banish fear with meditations on the limitations of our current reality. Vow to live each day fully, regardless of how much money or stuff you have. 

Do not be afraid. 

I am not yet certain who passed away next door, but I hope that they had learned the trick of living before doing so.

"If you are afraid of death, you are afraid of life, for living your life leads to death. Until you face death and see its beauty, you will be afraid to really live." - Granny D


June 28, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Click on the photo to link to the WorldChanging website.

WorldChanging: A Users Guide For The 21st Century is a giant brick of a book that contains just about everything you need to create a sustainable life. The best thing about it is that all the technology and solutions mentioned are available today. Plus, carrying this volume back and forth from the library will keep you fit.

Often compared to the "Whole Earth Catalogue", WorldChanging is full of optimism and examples of people who are doing it now. Like the Chinese proverb says, "Those who think it can't be done should stay out of the way of those who are doing it." We need to hear more from those who are doing what others say can't be done.

Many complain that we don't hear enough good news. WorldChanging is full of good news. This is a book you will return to over and over, either to help green up your life, or just for a good read to make you feel more hopeful about the future.

June 22, 2010

Cultivate Gratefulness In A World Of 100

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following.

In a World of 100 humans there would be:

  • 80 living on less than $10 per day
  • 57 Asians
  • 21 Europeans
  • 14 from the Western Hemisphere
  • 8 Africans
  • 25 with no access to electricity
  • 52 females
  • 70 non-whites
  • 30 Christians
  • 11 homosexuals
  • 6 people that would possess 59% of the wealth and all 6 would be American.
  • 80 living in substandard housing
  • 70 unable to read
  • 50 suffering from malnutrition
  • 1 with a college education
  • 1 with a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.

The following is also something to ponder... If you woke up this morning with more health than illness... you are luckier than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation ... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep... you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace... you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.

In our privileged position, even if we lived on only $5000 dollars a year (what most of us would consider impossible) we would still be among the wealthiest 15% of all humans.

Feeling grateful for the simple, basic things in life can help us live more simply. It can also alert us to the the fact that we must become more aware of how most humans on our planet are living. They can't afford to live like we can. Come to think of it, neither can we.

Adapted from kanji.org

June 21, 2010

No Mischief Monday

A while back I posted about squatters that were living on a local beach before they were evicted to make way for a new park. I lamented the fact that such freedoms were no longer available.

Then Tiny House Talk commented on my post and turned me on to a link about a Moab man embracing the simple life by living in cave. There is still hope for us non-conformists, it looks like. Troglodytism anyone?

June 19, 2010

Make It Last - Item #4: Wool Socks

When I lived in a housing cooperative the membership set up a "Free Store". This shed was where unwanted items could be placed. Any member could access the Free Store to stock up on any items they may need. This frugal, smart idea kept useful things out of the landfill, and supported the community.

I loved the Free Store and my partner and I both contributed to, and took from, this glorious free exchange of great used stuff. My favourite on-going find was a pile of gently used Merino Wool hiking socks.

I stopped buying cotton socks many years ago. First of all they are just too... well, white. But more importantly, as I found out as a hiker and backpacker, cotton is a notoriously poor insulator that soaks up water and dries painfully slow. Unhappy feet = an unhappy hiker.

As far as comfy, happy feet are concerned, you can't beat wool socks. I have also discovered that wool socks can last a very, very long time. Long after cotton socks would have been threadbare, I still wear the second hand wool socks from the Free Store, although they are due for replacement I must admit.

I broke down recently and splurged for two new pairs of wool socks. These luxurious cushions are my preferred socks for times I need the benefits of proper socks, such as when roaming the hills and valleys of my area. The new socks were expensive, as far as socks go, but I know these quality foot wraps will last me many, many years.

Now that my feet are happy, if I could only find a local Free Store.

June 16, 2010

Rebranding The Simple Life

In the 1970s Van Halen screamed that "the simple life ain't so simple." They were right. Simple living is about as simple as safe sex is safe.

The original slow-food/whole-food manifesto, Laurel's Kitchen, showed us that preparing dry beans and meals from basic ingredients means that the simple life requires a fine-honed sense of how to run a kitchen. Not to mention planning and hard work.

What is simple about becoming a baker, barber, small appliance repair person, gardener, builder, cook, and mechanic? What is simple about walking or biking 4 km to the grocery store in the rain?

Let's face it, there is no such thing as a simple life. It does not matter how much money you have. No one "has it made." Does Bill Gates have a simple life? He doesn't. It is a challenge being a human, period.

So how to re-brand the simplicity movement? If life is just hard, no matter how you look at it, no one lives simply. But why make life as complicated and fast as you can afford to make it? Why put the pedal to the floor until the gas tank is empty? It may be thrilling, but it is not good for you. Registering for the Rat Race has its downsides.

We need to see where we were at as a culture when we hit optimum speed and complexity. I figure the Bronze Age might be good, but more realistically, the 1950's were probably about where we started wandering off and gazing at shiny things, never to return to more important matters again.

How much bigger can houses get? How many more toys do we need to make us happy? How bad does environmental destruction have to get before we see the need to live more simply?

I do not advocate wearing a hair shirt and living in a hole in the ground eating dirt, nor do I recommend a regular diet of mindless consumption. All I am saying is that since the 1950's a few hundred million of us have gone off on an insane tangent like drunken kings and queens. And we are taking everyone, and everything else, down with us. We know it is bad, but we can't stop.

Can kings and queens learn to live like peasants again? Oh, the horror. Being a peasant is worse than being simple. The simplicity movement is going to have to re-brand this thing, and I don't think "voluntary peasant" is going to do it.

June 10, 2010

Enjoy Your Arrangement

Enjoy your 'arrangement' on this very, very day - regardless of what it is. We all end up back in the bin eventually, and often far too soon.

June 9, 2010

My Square Inch Garden

Although apartment-dwelling has the benefit of sharing heat and land, garden space is a rarity at most buildings. Certainly it is where I live. I have tried to promote gardening on site, but to no avail. So armed with what I had on hand, and a desire not to buy anything, I started my 144 square inch space-reduced gardens. (Or 1 square foot, or .1 square meter)

My patio is shaded for most of the day, and is exposed to relentless winds coming off the ocean. It is not the best situation for growing copious amounts of food. That is not to say, though, that nothing can be grown. Witness above our efforts at providing a bit of fresh food.

My project started with two shrinking potatoes sprouting eyes. Previously I had rescued several garden containers from the recycling area, and now with my spuds in mind I took a walk down the beach. I accessed a spot where topsoil had fallen from the eroding land above. I carried a few buckets of rich, free soil home and plunked the potatoes into the 1 square foot container. Much to my surprise the potatoes came up.

Feeling bolstered by my potato experiment I transplanted another square foot of edibles. It is amazing the things that people throw out - herbs for example. We rescued several herbs from certain death due to neglect and wound up with oregano, mint, chives, and parsley. These were replanted in their new home. All of the herbs survived through the mild winter last year, and are again providing fresh highlights to many meals.

The potatoes did amazingly well, and we harvested and enjoyed four meals of fresh potatoes in the fall. The two potatoes destined for the garbage were converted into fresh food using free plants, containers and soil. The bounty of nature is inspiring. It gives and it gives, even in my square inch garden.

The other day Linda pointed out that the space-reduced garden matches our calorie-reduced diet. Fewer calories - smaller garden. Maybe small can be beautiful once again. We will let you know how our sprouted kidney beans make out this year.

June 5, 2010

Conserving Electricity

Is your fridge running? Chances are it is and you never give it a thought. But two hundred years after electricity was first harnessed, 1.6 billion people still live without basic power.

That number includes one of my neighbours, a guy that was living without electricity for the past two years. When he moved out this anomaly was brought to candle light among the glowing windows, loud TVs, and humming fridges. It made me think about life without electricity, or 'hydro' as it is called here.

Imagine living without lights, TV, computer, stereo, microwave, stove, fridge, heat and hot water. It might make an interesting experiment to go off-grid for a short period, like Colin Beavan did for his 'No Impact Man' experiment, but even he only managed a few weeks. Of course, many have never experienced the benefits of power.

I look forward to the power going off here, which it does every winter during big storms. A palpable hush falls - the fridge finally stops running, lights across the harbour disappear, and nature reins once again. That's what calm sounds like, what slow sounds like, what nature sounds like. Maybe my neighbour was on to something.

Much of our electricity use is for unnecessary luxury items. Or it is wasted, as in leaving lights on when not being used, or not sleeping your computer when not in use. Unfortunately, energy conservation is about as popular as the BP oil spill, even though repeated studies show its benefits. A recent study showed potential savings from 20 to 47% using measures that are inexpensive and simple.

Although there is a growing group of people living without a fridge and hanging laundry outside, energy demand continues to rise. The U.S. government estimates the country will need 1300 new power plants by 2020. However, this ignores its own study conducted by experts from government, industry and universities that shows conservation methods could eliminate the need for up to 610 of those large power plants.

Governments are pushing the infinite growth model, the one that is at this moment crashing down around us. They say, "Build, build, build", and "Drill, drill, drill" to meet demand. But when and where does it end? Now? In each of our homes? We can all face up to the truth of our finite planet and conserve, conserve, conserve.

George Orwell warned that we are all capable of believing things that we know to be untrue. That is, until "a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." We are at that point now as we bump up against some unpleasant realities. The battlefields are in places like slums, and the Gulf of Mexico, and the atmosphere.

I will not be taking after my neighbour in no-power living soon. But when I use electricity I appreciate it, and use it wisely. Ideas for conserving electricity in your home can be found here. Perhaps we'll try ditching our fridge, because although it keeps running, it never goes away. Hummmmmm...

June 2, 2010

Make It Last - Item #3: Leather Hiking Boots

Oh, if these boots could talk. They are a pair of leather hiking boots that I bought in 1988, initially for a week-long trek on the West Coast Trail. I needed sturdy, comfortable, water-proof footwear, and preferably something that would give years of service. These boots were made for walking, and that's just what they do, even after 22 years.

I hiked the WCT two more times over the years in these boots. They have gone the distance over kilometers of rocky beaches, and have summited a few peaks in the Rocky Mountains. They wore me out many a time.

I have worn out lesser boots over the years, but my old faithful pair just keep on going. These are the go-to boots for wet weather, and the fit can not be beat. They feel like walking with an old, familiar friend.

10 years ago a friend laughed with disbelief when he saw I was still wearing my old boots. He might be surprised to hear that I am still using them. Finally, though, the soles are wearing thin.

I wonder if there are any shoemakers left? Perhaps in a cramped shop that smells like polish and leather in an alleyway downtown. If such an old-world business still survives, I can give my deserving boots new soles... or souls. Then, together we can continue our hike on the trail to living better with less.