December 31, 2011

What Will 2012 Bring?

There is a lot I would like to see happen in 2012, but I will be happy with just another 365 wonderful days.

Hope that you get another 365, too.

OK, now bring on 2012 and let's see what happens. My bet is that together we are going to make the world a better place for everyone (the 100%).

December 30, 2011

NBA's Prediction For 2012: Opportunity For Change

Will 2012 be a good year to grab bags of beans and rice and head for the hills?
You don't need to be a psychic-or conspiracy theorist-to see that the new year will be bringing continued upheaval. 2012 is sure to be a game-changer, Mayan prophesy or not.

What we will probably see is a continuation of events triggered by the failure of the capitalist Utopian dream starting in 2008.

What does that mean? Governments at all levels will be cutting services while charging more in taxes and fees. The average person will have less disposable income to... well, throw away.

For example, I just learned that the new year will see my province's health care premiums rise, in addition to increases in the carbon tax on gasoline, the cost of electricity, ferry charges, car insurance, and payroll deductions, if your job hasn't been cut yet.

In some US cash-strapped cities, public works departments are cutting off the lights at night, and although that may make star-gazing more enjoyable, decisions such as these are likely to have other unintended consequences. Some of them, like seeing the glory of the night sky, will be good. Others, not so much.

Things aren't going so well in the Eurozone, either. One of my favourite blogs is talking about the EU drastically changing its configuration in 2012 as banks, and the economies that depend on them, become increasingly wobbly.

Wobbly enough, actually, that forward thinking people are considering the possibility of bank runs (which would trigger bank holidays, rendering your money inaccessible), closed borders, and travel restrictions, while the EU and/or Eurozone collapse.

Did I mention that anti-depressant use is up 25% in the UK since the 2008 global economic meltdown began? The past three years have been a real bummer for millions, and financial uncertainty is believed to be the main cause of the increase in clinically sad people.

Regardless of what the new year brings, it will not be all sad - it never is. There will be many opportunities for change in 2012, and it will be up to us to decide how these changes will impact our lives.

If electricity is more expensive, for example, people will be motivated not to use it wastefully. As for the changes that are less attractive, we can be prepared before hand to help mitigate their impact.

We can be ready for whatever next year brings by doing a few things now. Many of the actions we can take are similar to basic emergency preparedness that we should maintain at all times anyway.

Here are a few that I am working on, and can recommend to you:
  1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. The more simple your life, the more able you will be to absorb, and react to, the changes that are coming.
  2. Have some cash at home (in a safe place, obviously) - enough to pay all your expenses for at least a month or two.
  3. Keep a well-stocked pantry with enough food and water to keep you and your family healthy for up to a week, or more (a minimum of 72 hours).
  4. Pay off debt. Getting rid of debt is like cutting a dragging anchor. We may need to be mobile and free.
  5. Enjoy every day as if it were your last, for things are getting strange, and you never know what kind of outrageous shit tomorrow will bring.

In answer the question posed in the caption on the image at the top - Yes, 2012 is looking like a good year to grab bags of beans and rice, head for the hills, and start a new, simple life. But, the simple life is something that can be achieved wherever you are.

All of us at the NBA Blog wish you a simple, free, and happy 2012! May you have plenty of opportunities for positive, sustainable change in the new year.

December 28, 2011

Amazing Feats of Simplicity: Henry David Thoreau

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things
he can agree to let alone." - H.D. Thoreau, Image by M. Thompson
Tired of the destruction wreaked by high stress lifestyles centered on the acquisition of more and more stuff? Tired of working all the time to support a way of life that is increasingly dissatisfying?

Be inspired by this amazing feat of simplicity that took place 150 years ago in a tiny house in the woods of eastern USA - a house that was smaller than most people's garages today.

Increasingly, people are looking for more gentle ways of living as an alternative to unsustainable modes of production and consumption, and many of them turn to the writings of author, environmentalist, and social critic, Henry David Thoreau.

In 1845 Thoreau built his home and monument to simplicity next to Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. He used found and recycled materials to keep costs down, and reduce his environmental impact. 

To build a replica of his cost-cutting cabin today would only cost about $3000, if you could find a neighborhood willing to accept a home so... sensible. His 150 square foot house would have to be at least 10 times larger to meet the minimum size requirements of today's residential developments where size definitely matters.

Thoreau's 150 sq. ft. cabin was built by hand from found
and reclaimed materials

Thoreau's minimal approach did not end when his house was done. He stocked his home with the same eye to keeping his life as simple and carefree as possible, and only kept what added to his basic life, and no more.

Thoreau considered many wealthy people to be little more than the janitors of their possessions, for when did they actually have time to enjoy them? Henry David treasured relationships, nature, and freedom over possessions. 

Because he kept his possessions to a minimum, and did without extras like coffee, tea, milk, and meat, Thoreau could choose to work less.

The ideal work schedule for a week on Walden Pond was one day of work, and six days of leisure. He wrote, “The order of things should be somewhat reversed – the seventh should be a man’s day of toil…and the other six his Sabbath…”. This radical plan would amount to six weeks of work per year, a schedule most people would find sufficiently relaxing.

Thoreau's amazing feats of simplicity model for us a way of living that minimizes environmental damage, and maximizes personal freedom, responsibility, and enjoyment.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life," he warned, "are not only not indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

The spartan interior of Thoreau's cabin - all you need.

"Live simply. Be free." is the lesson Thoreau shares with us in his amazing feats of simplicity.

December 26, 2011

No Work Monday

"Be silly. Be honest. Be kind." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
All work and no play can be hazardous to your health. We do not want to be so worried about making a living, that we forget to live.

Therefore, we give ourselves time to play, to be silly, to let go. We laugh so hard that we are reborn and don't know where or when we are for a moment.

We dance, jump, sing, fly, shout with joy. We are alive now. Best to take advantage of that while we still can.

We don't want to wait for some arbitrary time when it will be alright to be ourselves and live again. A lot of steam can build up while we wait to retire, for example.

This is our safety valve because we know that having time to play is good medicine. Work has its place, and we bend to it with equal joy when needed. But no more than needed, for we are not machines.

We are working to live, not living to work. We are doing the happy dance, and hope you are, too.

December 25, 2011

Christmas Redux

How many Christmas presents do you remember?
Welcome to my Christmas Redux. Join me as I ask the question, "How many Christmas presents do I remember?"

If you are like me, when you think about Christmas Past you remember piles of glittery, sparkly, enticing boxes set under the tree.

You may even remember learning about delaying gratification as you painfully waited days to wield an 'open sesame' spell over the presents before you. But do you remember the gifts inside?

"A box, a box!"

It makes me think of an old home video of a young boy vigorously unwrapping a large gift on Christmas morning. As soon as he had the wrapping paper off he started yelling with glee, "A box, a box!"

He was so excited about the box that his parents had to explain that the cardboard box wasn't really the gift, and that there was something else inside. Still, the box was more exciting.

When I think back I remember more boxes than their contents.

The majority of presents I have unveiled over the years have long since blended into a massive collage of things that have passed through my life since I was young.

No doubt there were gifts that I was pleased to have received, but these aren't even the things I remember in my Christmas Redux.

 Here are some of the things I do remember:

  • the excitement of the season with all the lights brightening the cold, long nights
  • having more guests in our home than usual, like our loving grandparents
  • a sense of good will toward others that was all-pervasive
  • the smell of the tree, and candles, and feasts
  • eating Mandarin oranges... sometimes too many :)
  • smiling, happy people
  • the cold and snow outside, and the warmth, love, and security inside
  • getting along with my siblings for longer than usual
  • playing with empty boxes and big piles of wrapping paper
  • sensing that one year was coming to a close, and another just dawning
  • and finally, I remember the thought that was behind each and every gift I have had the pleasure of opening - the intentions were honourable and good, and I felt loved. Thank you.
I hope you are experiencing the love of the day. And the boxes. Enjoy the boxes.

Christmas morning Pro tip: Babies look cute in empty boxes, and cats look funny in them. Dogs... not so much. You can make a robot costume out of empty boxes. Or you can slide down a snowy hill in a box.

December 23, 2011

My Gift To The World: A Basic Living Income For All

This gift will add value, dignity, and respect to the world
It is the season of giving, and generosity rules the day. I feel good. So good that I have decided, in all my benevolence, to give all of humanity a basic living income. That is my gift to the world this year.

According to the Basic Income Earth Network, a basic income is one that is "unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement."

The idea of a basic income is one that has been around for a while. For good reason - it is one of the most just and effective ways of battling poverty.

Providing a basic income to all is an effective way to restore balance to our present situation in which global income inequality continues to grow. The World Bank reports that almost half of the people in the world live on under 2 dollars a day and a fifth on less than a dollar a day. Such poverty has devastating consequences.

The average income of the richest 20 countries is thirty-seven times greater than the average in the poorest twenty - a gap that has doubled in the last forty years. Within the richest countries the gap between the richest and poorest is also growing, which is causing great discontent, as it should.

Inequality is a breeding ground for discontent, misery,
and potential violence
It is time to narrow the income gap, and help alleviate the suffering attached to systemic poverty, and the well-meaning but misguided charity efforts organized to deal with it. We need to begin to discuss wholesale changes to our system in order to increase fairness and justice.

Often, talk about guaranteed annual income - if it happens at all - is directed at national implementation. Indeed, in Canada it is being discussed as a way to address the fact that 10% of the population struggles below the low-income line.

Both a House of Commons committee on poverty and the Senate have released reports recommending exploring a basic income for certain groups such as the handicapped, or  all low-income Canadians. I am heartened by the fact that this discussion is taking place in my homeland.

However, I would like to think big - bigger than the national level. We live in a globalized world, so let's take this thing global. I would like to see this basic benefit extended to all of humanity.

We could consider it each human's share of the bounty provided by the earth's resources, and our own technological advances. I will let the economists figure out exactly where the money will come from.

There is clearly enough cash in the world to make my gift a reality. All we need is the compassion and political will to implement what is perhaps the most just and effective way of eliminating poverty.

I am imagining a world where every human is provided, as a basic right, the means to provide themselves and their families with the necessities, without enduring harsh, judgmental systems designed to support bare survival rather than dignity and growth.

I am imagining a world where we all share in the bounty of the planet. A world where we take care of each other. A world where everyone has enough.

That is my gift to the human family for this year, and one which I will continue to work toward in the coming months.

December 21, 2011


Happy Winter Solstice! I invite you, on this shortest day of the year, to grab your hot beverage of choice, relax, and take a look at this short 10 minute video about how small actions can inspire great changes.

Each of us holds enormous power to instigate change, and when we share that, it can create a better world for everyone.

Thankfully, no one will ever be able to privatize love, compassion, and kindness. These belong to the commons that we all participate in every day of our lives. They cost us nothing, and are given and received freely, just as the Earth gives freely in its celebration of life.

Celebrate the great and enduring cycles of nature, and the return of the sun and warmth. Practice giving with abandon - smile, embrace, share, cooperate.

That is what will change the world for the better - it is the only thing that ever has.

December 19, 2011

Peace On Earth Monday

May we all enjoy peace and contentment in 2012

"Contentment is a state of grace, a state of peace and happiness, appreciation and enjoyment for what is, right now. Desires, in contrast, can never be satisfied. Once we get what we crave, we soon find it less satisfying than we expected, so we strive for something else. The only escape from this perpetual wheel of want is to discover the contentment and perfection we already have."
- Gillian Stokes

December 18, 2011

Warning: Shopping Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Santa: "This is NOT my idea of Christmas spirit".

Warning - shopping this time of year can be hazardous to your health. Every year holiday shoppers are injured, and are occasionally trampled and killed. Watch out for competitive shoppers armed with guns, knives, pepper spray, and body armor. It might be best to let them have that last fad toy of the year.

Or better yet - STAY HOME. Consumer Christmas is optional. If you can't afford it, or just are sickened by the whole mess, try a not buying anything Xmas. It is free, it is safe, it is sustainable.

Love, compassion, and caring cost nothing to give, and can be practiced year round.

December 17, 2011

My Indian Buy Nothing Xmas

Xmas is different in India

Ten years ago I spent the holiday season in Gokarna, India, a small Hindu temple town on the Arabian Sea. It was the least consumer-oriented Christmas I have ever had in my western, Christian-based existence, and I liked it.

The entire season was a non-event, except for one Charlie Brown tree that a shopkeeper set up on a table in the street. Both the shopkeeper and the tree looked slightly green in the wilting heat and red dust.

Gokarna is in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, and it is hot year round. There are no conifers, only lofty palm and coconut trees. Minority Christians in India decorate mango or banana trees, but I did not see any so dressed in this pilgrimage town.

Something that reminded me of the brilliant lights this time of year back home were the small clay oil-burning lamps that many people use. After dark they are set out on steps, flat rooftops, and along the tops of walls, creating a low-tech, festive feeling year round.

Indians are festive people generally, living a life of constant and vigorous celebration. They were like Americans at Christmas, but all the time. Their kindness and generosity, their sense of brotherhood, and their good cheer was evident at all times during my multi-week stay in this amazing country.

We seem to save our best for Sundays, or this time of year, whereas the Indians I met were happy and enthusiastic for living cooperatively every day. Witnessing this completely different ancient culture with its simple ways was one of the best, most enduring gifts I have ever received.

My Christmas in Gokarna was unique in my life - it was stress-free. There was no tree to buy, no decorations to set up, no fighting for parking spaces, no shopping, no wrapping, no special meal, no waste, no accumulating debt. Just plain old enjoying the simplicity of the routines of the day among people that were joyful to be alive, regardless of their material conditions.

This year I am recreating my Indian buy nothing Xmas. With all the craziness going on in the world right now, who needs more stress? And with all the economic hardship, who needs to pile on more debt?

No longer do we need to harbour outdated feelings of obligation toward potentially damaging 'traditional' ways. The high-consumption, wasteful Xmas orgies of the past are unsustainable, and therefore open for modification or elimination.

How about a simple buy nothing celebration? A time for rejoicing in our relationships with each other, and for rejoicing in the ample abundance of our planet. A time for  non-commercial down time to clear our heads and remember what is really important in life.

December 15, 2011

Make Peace - Be Content

This is certainly a time of goodwill and sharing. Instead of running around in a manic state trying to buy loads of stuff no one needs, perhaps we should just stop.

Stop, and give ourselves the gift of enough down time to pause and consider what we are doing, and what our true priorities are.

When we are at peace with ourselves, we can be at peace with others, and with what we have.

Then we can all be content.

December 14, 2011

Waking Up To Nature

Raven's Call

Experiencing the natural beauty that surrounds me is one reason I enjoy living a deliberately slow, less complicated lifestyle. I like to have time to notice, and appreciate, the efficiency and beauty of nature. The raven's call is a reminder to wake up to the natural splendor.

I live in a small coastal village of 10,000 transplants, misfits, malcontents, rebels, and revolutionaries. I fit right in. The thing that these self-reliant, hearty souls share is a love of the natural environment. A suit and tie is of little use out here, but if you have a good pair of rubber boots and a thick wool sweater, you are ready.

Out here, on the far western edge of the continent, you know the folly of feeling like an omnipotent, highly evolved organism separate from, or above, your surroundings. In comparison to the vastness of the stormy sea on one side, and the impenetrable, dark, mossy forest on the other, the affairs of humans are mere scurryings of ants.

Here, nature rules, and over the past few long nights it has been the ravens that have been orchestrating the elements from their lofty laboratories in the tree tops. In their black on black cloaks they are the early risers of the rain forest.

Each morning, just as a faint light washes over the sky, I have been woken by the ravens' guttural and commanding call. It carries through the fog, and echos among the cathedral pillars of trees. It celebrates the new day, and the power of nature.

When I lived in the city new days were started with the sounds of revving car engines, squealing tires, and tooting horns.

I much prefer waking to the still and quiet, broken only by the ravens' morning announcements. I enjoy laying in bed and listening to the rain forest rooster's admonishment to rise and acknowledge the magic and the beauty of nature on this very, very day.

December 12, 2011

No Sleepwalking Monday

"It's 2011 - wake up!"

The 1% controls billions by denying them what they need. 

The rest it controls by giving them everything they want... on credit.

Are developed countries waking from nightmares of excess to embrace simple, sustainable lifestyles?

As we gain an increased awareness of global power structures, and the apartheid they perpetuate, will we make the necessary sacrifices in order to improve equality?

Will the 20% that consume 80% of the planet's resources alter their behaviour in order to aid the 80% trying to get by on the 20% that is left?

We are waking up, and once we know, we can't un-know. I sincerely hope that we take this momentous opportunity to do the right thing.

December 9, 2011

Why I Am Having A Buy Nothing Xmas

You don't have to BUY a gift to GIVE a gift
I don't participate in conventional Christmas any more, at least not when it comes to the shopping part of it. No, this year is another Buy Nothing Xmas for me, and because of that, I will be skipping all the hazards of the seasonal shopping frenzy.

As Linus, of Peanuts cartoon fame discovered, "Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous!" These days you never know when you might get pepper sprayed by a hyper-competitive super shopper lunging for an Xbox.

But personal safety is not the only reason I am opting out of the commercialized craziness.

Here are a few others:
  •  80% of humanity lives on less than $10 dollars a day - participating in a high-consumption Christmas does them an injustice.
  • because I believe in counter-culture protest, peace activism, as well as human and ecological rights
  • it is one way for me to withdraw my support for a corporate-dominated world - corporations are not kings, and I am not a consumer serf
  • it is a way to re-assert my political power and take a meaningful action now
  • as a way of addressing poverty - traditional Christmas emphasizes caring for those less fortunate during the holiday season, but does little to implement systematic changes that would eliminate the need for charity
  • it brings attention to the national and global imbalance of power and wealth
Having a buy nothing Xmas is a way to take action in fighting an inequitable world beset by a number of serious problems. Many of these challenges were caused, or worsened by, conspicuous consumption.

So maybe as we close in on the holiday season we can engage our friends and family in discussions about free-market consumer capitalism, inequality, human rights, and justice, rather than what we are getting each other for Christmas.

Instead of rushing off to compete for parking spots and bargains - and risking a competitive shopping injury - let us brainstorm solutions for our broken planet.

Love and goodwill will reign when we leave the shopping behind.

December 7, 2011

Control Your Debt - Control Your Life

Consumption has increased, but wages have been left behind

Simple living is a way of controling your desires so that you can regain control over your life. It is a way to escape the work/spend/work cycle, in order to live consciously and with purpose. It is a lifestyle choice few Americans have been choosing. That may change.

During the period from 1980 to 2008 we enjoyed the largest sustained period of economic growth since the last depression. Everyone felt the illusion of wealth, and it spurred an orgy of consumption such has never been seen before. This rampant consumerism has cost us dearly. We have paid by giving up control over our lives.

We gave up control because for most people the wealth was only an illusion. As it turns out, only the top income earners benefited from the economic upswing.

Income growth (or lack of it) from 1979 - 2007

Bottom income earners actually saw their incomes plummet during this period of supposed prosperity. Middle income earner gains stagnated, while the top 1% were laughing all the way to their safety deposit boxes. And that was during good economic times.

Since 2008, and the global breakdown of capitalism, things have gotten decidedly worse. Income inequality is reaching obscene levels in many countries around the world.

So how have so many people outfitted themselves with dream homes, new cars, wide screen home theaters and annual vacations? How is it that Black Friday 2011 set sales records?

How are people funding these excessive lifestyles? For many the answer is: debt. With prices rising, and incomes stagnating, debt has been the only way many people could continue to fund the high-consumption lifestyles that have come to be seen as "normal".

It has become so bad that people are borrowing money to pay debt. Yes, paying debt with debt. Any kid with a lemonade stand knows that this is not an effective way to run a business, or a household.

Consumer debt 1980 - 2007

Seven in ten people in Canada own houses, and four in ten have no savings. Many people are expecting, for the first time, to be in debt past age 65. About 70% have no pension. It is hard to see how this kind of bondage can end well.

We have been using debt to live beyond our means for decades, and in the process have lost control of our lives. Debt can be a ball and chain that is easy to put on, but extremely hard to remove.

However, one of the best things you can do is get rid of debt. It is one way the 1% tries to enslave us - by enticing us to borrow their money, to buy their stuff.

Eventually, they plan, we will be so in debt that we will be desperate enough to work for them in their crappy low-paying jobs. Jobs that don't allow us to pay off our debt, but do allow us to at least make the minimum payments. It is more difficult to live consciously and with purpose when you owe the big banks money.

Adopting a simple, low-consumption way of life is one way to bend the bars of the cage of consumerism, and slip away to freedom. It can help you get out of debt, and stay out of debt. The time has come for us to start living within our means, and at the same time, fight for a more equitable world.

Simple living can assist us by providing the drive to control our desires and our spending. It is the best way to retire debt, and regain control over your life.

Live simply - be free.

December 5, 2011

No Fences Monday

There is nothing free about fences
I do not do well in captivity. I start to feel claustrophobic, pent in, restricted, suffocated, fettered. I can make it without a lot of money, and I prefer not to have lots of stuff, but there is no way I can live without the freedom of wide open spaces.

One of the most tragic things we have done to our beautiful planet is to create imaginary boundaries and lines that cut the beauty into artificial, little pieces. Even worse is when we solidify such arbitrary boundaries with fences and closed gates.

Fences and gates say "Mine" and "Keep Out". Boundaries divide people into "Us" and "Them".  Borders fuel a dangerous mental illness that makes us feel like we are not all in this together.

I am usually a law abiding citizen, but I have little regard for fences and locked gates. In order to avoid trespassing charges, I tend to gravitate to public land such as parks and conservation areas.

An essential activity in my life has been visiting public spaces where I can walk for days if I want, and not see a single fence or gate. I love having room to roam in wide open spaces, and discovered long ago that it spawns an expansiveness in my thinking and experience.

Without greed-driven, territorial fences limiting me, I am free.

from When The Music's Over
by Jim Morrison

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down.
We want the world and we want it now.

December 4, 2011

Canadian Government Lags Behind The Times In Durban

What if we created a better world for nothing?
It is a bad time to be a Canadian concerned about climate change. In Durban, South Africa, our country has been accused of "bullying" other countries into joining the naysayers, and throwing a wrench into potential positive change for a better, cleaner world.

I apologize to all the activists that have been working hard on guidelines to replace the Kyoto Accord when it expires soon. My government does not represent me, or most clear-thinking Canadians that I know, when it comes to taking action on climate change.

Please ignore our petty, small-minded, anti-science, business as usual bureaucrats, and get on with creating a cleaner, better world without us.

We will get caught up after we vote these climate clowns out of office next election.

December 3, 2011

Less Is More

More is less, Less is more
We need to initiate discussions on the ecological, economic and psychological repercussions that result from high-consumption lifestyles. Any solutions to current global problems must address how our large footprint living has created or acerbated many of these problems.

We are led to live large by the advertising industry and social pressure. We want everything. Then we want more of everything. This is not healthy, sustainable, or a good way to achieve lasting happiness.

Just because certain activities are socially acceptable doesn't mean they aren't damaging to yourself, others, and the planet. That is why we need to begin to talk about doing less, having less, and working less, in order to get more. 

Often doing less is better for your health, and it is certainly better for the planet. You can save a great amount of money by doing less, and having less.

Exercising some restraint on your desires is also an excellent way to boost your emotional well-being. It feels great to have the self-control required to say NO to the incessant pressure to do more, buy more, have more, and work more.

What could you do less of?
  • Driving - driving is expensive and dirty, while riding a bike and walking are good for you
  • Eating - most people in developed countries eat more calories than they need
  • Shopping - cut out shopping as entertainment
  • Eating out - learn to cook favourite dishes, have friends over for potluck dinners
  • Traveling - traveling for fun is great, but is frequent travel really worth it?
  • Showering - fresh water is at a premium, and frequent showers are unnecessary
  • Laundry - it is not necessary to wash every piece of clothing after only one wearing
  • Drugs - even legal drugs like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are expensive
  • Fashion - if it weren't for fashion you would only have to shop for clothes every 5 - 10 years, except for socks and underwear, of course
  • Watching TV - ditch the cable and take a walk, or get back to your hobby
  • Processed foods - these fake-foods are nutrient deficient and expensive
  • Fast foods - healthy food is slow food - if it comes through your car window, it is not really food.
  • Going out - going out is synonymous with spending money - try staying home and relaxing instead
After cutting down and doing less you begin to realize that you do not miss the things you are doing less of. You may find that in the end you don't just do less of some things, but quit doing them all together.

Pretty soon you wonder why you ever had some of your more deleterious habits. Less becomes more. More money, more free time, more freedom, more good health, more good decisions for ecological integrity.

What are you doing less of these days?

November 30, 2011

Honouring The Life Force

OK everyone - hold still, and... say Ch'i!

Want someone to think you are unbalanced? Suggest that they don't kill the mosquito on their arm, or the fly on the wall. Or that they scoop a bug up on a piece of paper and set it free outside. They will look at you like you are a bug.

In spite of that, I must admit that there is a teeny, tiny fruit fly occupying my kitchen that is giving me trouble. At one time dealing with it would have been easy, but not any more.

For a long time my reaction to insect 'pests' was disturbingly automatic. It was the same reaction most people have - kill them. Then I began to question how I could snuff out what the Chinese call 'Chi', or the universal life force, out of a fellow creature doing me no harm.

I discovered not everyone was so careless and callous. Adherents of the Indian religion of Janism, for example, practice non-violence toward all living beings. They believe in the equality of all life, great or small. Devout Jains wear masks so they do not harm bugs by inhaling them, and sweep the ground in front of them so they do not step on anything. I was inspired by their gentleness.

I changed my approach to indoor fauna. If any insect is bothersome I take the time to transport it outside to continue its life unharmed. Instead of dispensing death I am proffering freedom, which is much more consistent with how I live my life.

But this year I am wondering about forcefully evicting insects from my warm home into the cold winter air.

Since the violent evictions of peaceful Occupy protesters across North America, I have been thinking again about the preciousness of life. How are my behaviours like those of the police?

Do I pepper spray innocent, peaceful people with caustic thoughts? Do my lifestyle choices support violence against other people? Against the environment? Against other living things, including insects? Are my insect evictions like police putting protesters out of their tents and into the cold, dark streets?

Now I am wondering if I can even evict my domestic wildlife during the cold months. Wouldn't doing so make me into a one person, black-clad, Insect Riot Squad, out to cleanse all undesirable life forms from within the confines of my own personal Liberty Square?

Military masterminds over history have tried to make killing easier by imagining the enemy as less than human, as mere insects. That wouldn't work with me - I do not want to end the life force of any living thing, human or otherwise. I have vowed to do the least amount of harm possible.

So now, no forced insect evictions till Spring, unless I am really creeped out, or there is some sort of health risk. I guess I should see what the lifespan of a fruit fly is.

November 28, 2011

No Doubts Monday

I have no doubt that the seeds of hope being sown today will reap the changes contained within. The world we envision can be nurtured into something completely new. What we believe is what we will become - think good thoughts.

The scattering of seeds has begun in earnest. The people are sowing row upon row of love, cooperation, equality, fairness, sustainability, peace, justice, and freedom. This garden will thrive, and all will benefit from the ample harvest. 

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”      - Franklin D. Roosevelt

November 27, 2011

Focus On The Present

Zen says, "When eating a banana, just eat the banana."

We have to enjoy the now - there is nothing else. It is easy to get caught up in what might happen in the future. Or what you think will happen. Or what you want to happen. Or what should happen. Planning may be good, but whatever is happening, is happening right now. Don't miss it by spending time in the future, or in the past.

The best way I have found to be in the moment is by concentrating on my daily routine. It may not always be exciting, as Zen teaches, but focusing on our routines has a wonderful way of centering us in the present, where all the action takes place.

The repeated actions of routines are not things that get in the way of life - they are life, at the most basic and fundamental level. They are not to be avoided, dreaded, or delegated to others. These potentially 'boring' activities are our doorways to new knowledge and skills.

Whether I am making my bed, preparing delicious whole-food meals, emptying the sink, cleaning the toilet, baking bread, or brushing my teeth before bed, I am recognizing the opportunities for mindfulness practice and personal improvement.

As I go about daily tasks my goal is to not think about the past or the future, just what I am doing at the moment. When I achieve this focus, the hours slip by unnoticed as I willingly engage in life. Far from drudgery, the daily routine becomes a gentle and persistent teacher.

By willingly, and mindfully engaging in the minutia of life I am learning about living in the moment, and freeing my mind.

November 25, 2011

#OccupyXmas Starts Today

Now that OWS camps are being dismantled around North America, people are asking what direction the movement might go next. Michael Moore has proposed a few ideas worth looking at here. Adbusters, the Canadian anti-consumerism magazine that launched the September 17th march on Wall Street, also has a proposal.

Adbusters is reaching out to anyone concerned about corporate greed, inequality, personal debt, and the environment, when they propose the following on their website:

"Occupy gave the world a new way of thinking about the fat cats and financial pirates on Wall Street. Now lets give them a new way of thinking about the holidays, about our own consumption habits. 

Let's use today, the 20th annual Buy Nothing Day, to launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.

This year’s Black Friday will be the first campaign of the holiday season where we set the tone for a new type of holiday culminating with #OCCUPYXMAS. As the global protests of the 99% against corporate greed and casino capitalism continues, let's take the opportunity to hit the empire where it really hurts…the wallet.

On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams!

We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline.

Buy Nothing Day is about fasting from hyper consumerism – taking a break from the cash register, and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption."

What do you think? Are you game to not buy anything this holiday season in order to send a message to those who would enslave you with debt, siphon wealth to the top, and destroy the environment in the process?

Take this opportunity to use the time you would have spent making a list, driving, shopping, shopping, shopping, driving, wrapping, unwrapping, driving, and returning, to do more personal, soul-satisfying things.

Are you ready to take back the holidays and have a quieter, calmer, less expensive, more authentic Christmas? Occupy Xmas starts today.

November 23, 2011

What Can I Do With Soft Tofu?

Enchiladas can be filled with a shredded tofu mixture,
and served with Spanish rice and re-fried beans
When I began to cut meat out of my diet, tofu was one protein source that helped take its place. At first I only used firm or extra firm tofu - many recipes call for these, and they are more... meat-like. You can crumble, cube, and slice it. It can be boiled and fried. But what about soft tofu? What, I wondered, can I do with soft tofu?

Traditional tofu (non-GM) is soft, and for a while I was not sure exactly what to do with it. In recipes such as chili, or Dal, soft tofu breaks up into little micro-pieces, and has a mushy to non-existent mouth feel. But it was inexpensive and nutritious, so I kept on trying.

I tried putting soft tofu in smoothies, but that didn't really appeal to me. Then I stumbled across a method for transforming soft tofu into something completely different, when I froze a chunk (without water).

I didn't recognize it when I took it out and thawed it. The tofu was no longer a soft, smooth consistency. It was like a sponge with a more fibrous structure. I squeezed all the water out of the block of spongy tofu, then using my kitchen scissors, shredded it into a frying pan of hot oil.

With the addition of a few spices I had essentially made 'veggie ground round', a packaged soy product that simulates Mexican spiced ground beef. I like veggie ground round, but it is too expensive. Making it with soft tofu that has been frozen is much, much cheaper.

Freezing soft tofu transforms the soy into a chewier, more textured finished product. I like the mouth feel that it adds to the dishes it is added to. This form of tofu absorbs seasonings well due to its sponge-like properties.

Mexican Shredded Tofu

350 - 454 grams  - Traditional tofu (soft)
2 tbsp  - oil
1/2 - onion
dash   - Bragg seasoning
1/4 - 1/2 tsp each - cumin, oregano, chili powder
dash - salt, pepper

Thaw a block of tofu that has been frozen. It can go in the microwave to speed the process. When thawed, squeeze the water out, like squeezing a sponge. Heat cast iron fry pan on medium, add oil. Brown diced onion in hot oil.

Add cumin, oregano, and chili powder and stir for a minute or two. Using kitchen scissors, cut the tofu into pan. Add Bragg seasoning, stir, lower heat. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve in burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and salads.

And for dessert, why not make chocolate pudding out of, yes, soft tofu. I usually think of tofu in savory dishes, not sweet ones, but this recipe makes a simple, fast, smooth, and yummy pudding. It is an excellent recipe to make if you have a block of soft tofu and are not sure what to do with it.

Soft Tofu Decadent Chocolate Pudding

Block  - fresh soft tofu
1/4 cup  - cocoa powder
1 tsp  - vanilla
dash  - salt
1/4 cup  -  sugar

Toss everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You may have to mix first to break up the tofu, and/or add a bit of milk. When perfectly smooth put in fridge for 30 minutes. Makes about 4 servings.

Traditional (soft) tofu is economical and nutritious. Using it instead of meat has many benefits for the health of the planet, as well as your health.

November 21, 2011

No Exclusion Monday

This Rebellion Is Inclusive
Defenders of the status-quo say that the Occupy Together Movement consists of a bunch of trust-funders, college students, ex-hippies, and anarchists. No doubt all these groups are represented, as they should be, but this thing is much greater than that.

This rebellion is the most inclusive the globe has ever seen, and many different groups are joining together to fight a common cause.

David DeGraw, author of The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America, wrote, “When you go to Liberty Park, into the heart of the occupation, you will see a very diverse group of people with opinions across the entire political spectrum. It’s the very essence of a ground-up, grassroots organization. The OWS Movement is a decentralized, non-violent rebellion against economic tyranny.”

Fighting that tyranny are students, anarchists, and trustfunders, as well as 84 year old grandmas, aging 60s activists with big grins on their faces, and people in wheelchairs (which police consider 'insurgents on mobile platforms', and therefore summarily teargas and subdue them before they can run over the riot squad's toes).

This movement is reaching out to everyone who has ever been oppressed, and that includes us all. Yes, even the 1%. It may be a cushy oppression for them, but being smothered by all that money is oppressive none the less.

This rebellion is proving to be a magnet for those fighting for liberation from social, environmental, and economic injustice, and that has some worried.

The members of the establishment are rightfully squirming in their noisy leather chairs. This movement may lose a few tent cities, but the ideas, the passion, and the commitment for the long haul are not going anywhere. The pressure will continue until this diverse group's legitimate concerns have been addressed.

The good news, hopefully, is that since this movement is ultimately inclusive, no one will be left out. Not the police that are continuing to brutalize the press and peaceful protesters, not the billions of the world's poor, and not our own 1%. Everybody hurts.

This is about reducing the pain for everyone. This is about no exclusion. This is about a bold new world for the 100%.

Everyone will benefit.

"Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. Oh, no. Don't throw your hand.
If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone."

- REM, Everybody Hurts

November 20, 2011

Take A Break - Celebrate Buy Nothing Day

N. America - Nov. 25, International - Nov. 26
Spending money is pretty effortless. Many are finding that debt is easy to get into, but hard to get out of. In Canada a third of people over the age of 55 won't get out of debt until they are 71! Freedom 65 is the new Freedom 55.

If you don't want to be in a similar position, Buy Nothing Day is a great place to start taking control of your finances, and your life.

Buy Nothing Day is celebrated around the world. In North America the day to go cashless is November 25, and Internationally, November 26.

Started 20 years ago by Adbusters - Vancouver, BC's anti-consumer magazine and instigators of OWS - Buy Nothing Day is meant to provide a respite from the endless spending of money that dominates our lives. It is a pause, a time to stop and meditate on what all this spending of money is for. Is it really necessary? Is it making us happier, better people?

Not spending money is a challenge. When you step back from the microscopic focus on dollar signs you see how the majority of our interactions are ruled by money. It is so insidious that it is hard to avoid and still maintain a semblance of what would be considered a 'normal' life.

But when you step back from the focus on money you see a view of the world usually obscured by the black fumes of consumerism.

On November 25/26 spend a clear and glorious day of not buying anything. Do it alone, do it with friends. It is free, and quite liberating. Exercise control over your finances and your life.

It could be the start of your Freedom 40 dream.

November 18, 2011

Occupying My Living Room And Singing Protest Songs

Celebrating the 1909 publication of the first American
protest song book, a re-issue of "The Little Red Song Book."

Like many Occupy camps around the world, protesters in my area are in the process of being evicted. Although a few occupiers are holding their ground at Occupy Victoria, a court order to remove them is expected today.

It is uncertain what kind of restrictions will be placed on future free speech gatherings in Centennial Square. Hopefully they won't be as sanitized as the ones imposed on Liberty Square in New York - no backpacks, no tents, no sleeping bags, and no musical instruments.

No musical instruments? They might be able to take away our instruments, but they can't take away the music. I wonder if singing is allowed? Humming? Clapping?

To protest these draconian attacks on our humanity, I am Occupying my living room for the day and playing protest songs.

The playing of protest songs has a long history in the peoples' fight for freedom, democracy, and equality. Every generation has their own songs, but what they have in common is the use of music and poetry to confront injustice.

Here are a few of the tunes I am inspired to sing today, with a sample of the lyrics that makes them great protest poetry.

Uprising - Muse
"Another promise, another scene
Another packaged lie to keep us wrapped in greed."

Ohio - Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio."

The Times They Are A-Changing - Bob Dylan

"Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'."

The End of The World - REM

"It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." 

When The Music's Over - The Doors

"What have they done to the earth? 
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and 
tied her with fences and 
dragged her down."

This Land Is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
"The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side.... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city-In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."

Head Like A Hole
- Nine Inch Nails

"Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I'd rather die than give you control.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You're going to get what you deserve." 

Killing In The Name Of - Rage Against The Machine

"And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya, now you're under contro
Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me to. (repeat)"

Signs - Five Man Electrical Band

"And the sign said,
"Anybody caught trespassin'
Will be shot on sight."
So I jumped on the fence and I yelled at the house,
"Hey! What gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out,
But to keep Mother Nature in?
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face,
'Man, you're some kind of sinner.'""

Scooter Boys - Indigo Girls

"Way down south where the Maya reign
Zapata reading poetry in his grave
They said, "We're stealing from the best to feed the poor".
Well, they need more..."

Imagine - John Lennon

"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world"

Any list like this is incomplete as soon as it is started. What protest songs would you add?

This machine kills the desire to consume

"They can't take our songs." David Crosby

November 16, 2011

Adapting To Simplification

A more sustainable, creative human is evolving

Whether motivated by economics, environmentalism, or a desire to evolve, many people are looking for new ways of doing things that are truly green, respect people, and support democratic values such as cooperation, fairness and equality. Many just want to take their lives back, and are willing to make sacrifices to free themselves.

For many, some form of downsizing or simplification will be the route that leads to the intended results. For others, the same will be how they cope with what amounts to a form of involuntary simplicity.

In both cases we must be patient with ourselves during this process, and recognize the stages of absorbing new behaviours and habits into our daily routines. It would be nice to make this as positive and stress-free as possible.

Adapting To Change

In adapting to change, there are many different levels of understanding. The levels of understanding can come at us all at once in an "Ah-ha!" moment (happened for me while traveling in India), but more commonly take place through several stages and over time (also true in my life).

First, we learn about an idea or way of doing something. In this stage we read, talk with others, and gather information. The internet, public library, community groups, and your own personal network are valuable inputs during this stage. For example, we learned about reusable cloth bags instead of plastic.

Next we have to live with the ideas for a while. After the initial exposure we need time to think, and let the new ideas mesh with what we already know. Our brains are working all the time on this absorption and integration of information. Even when you are daydreaming or sleeping, your brain is hard at work incorporating the new input.

"What will I line my garbage can with?" was a problem my brain worked on for a while after my grocery store quit offering plastic bags.

The next stage is the application of the new knowledge in our lives. A greater depth of understanding comes when you enact the ideas, even in small ways. Many people have learned valuable skills that transfer to other parts of their lives by switching from plastic shopping bags to cloth reusable ones. We are on the lookout for other areas of our lives where we can make similar kinds of changes.

At the application stage you become conscious of how the new ideas and information can be incorporated in your daily life. At this stage you may experience moments of clarity where everything seems to fit together. It feels right and good, and makes sense to you. In this case it fits with your desire for a cleaner environment with fewer plastic bag trees.

How this process unfolds will differ for everyone, but the important thing is to allow it to happen. It may take place over months, or years. Don't be impatient to learn everything at once. And don't be angry with yourself when you discover how much you didn't understand before, or for the feeling that you are not doing enough. Each little bit helps, and we must not get discouraged.

It is important to be gentle with yourself, and appreciate that you are evolving day by day while adapting to the conditions being faced in our post-capitalist decadent world. Issues  such as overpopulation, over-consumption, environmental degradation, inequality, exploitation, and social justice can all be addressed through adapting to a more simple life.

Just remember to simplify at a pace that is comfortable for you. Lasting, positive change will result.

November 14, 2011

No Obedience Monday

Obedience is the tendency to follow orders given by a perceived authority figure, regardless of the quality of either of them. Deferring to authority figures can be dangerous as highlighted by several important (and disturbing) studies, as well as historical atrocities perpetrated by people 'following orders'.

Einstein felt that fate was punishing him for his contempt for authority by making him an authority figure himself. I am not very obedient by nature either, so it felt odd when I became a teacher. Vested with authority by the government and society, I entered the classroom.

As an 'agent of the state', though, I never expected obedience from my students. Cooperation, yes. Obedience, no. When they questioned my authority (perceived or otherwise), it usually resulted in all of us benefiting in unexpected ways.

Considering the dangers of misguided obedience we would be wise to remember Benjamin Franklin's words when he said, "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority."

Update: Obedience reared its ugly head Tuesday morning in Liberty Square in New York City as hundreds of agents of the 1% dismantled the birthplace of the peoples' push for real democracy.

I was heartened to hear that protesters in the park Tuesday night were yelling, "Disobey your orders!" at the late-night raiders.

I wonder how many police or sanitation workers refused to work that night?

The General Assembly of around 1000 citizens in the park Tuesday night was reported to be the largest, and most joyous to date, although without sleeping bags, tents, kitchen, medical area, or the 5000 volume library. Marches are planned for Thursday to celebrate 2 months of mobilization.

November 13, 2011

Oniomania: When Shopping Becomes Unhealthy

It is hard to change behaviour if it is not seen as a problem.
Do you like shopping? Do you really like shopping, really need shopping? Are you suffering from Oniomania? Are we all, to a certain extent?


Oniomania (from Greek ὤνιος onios "for sale" and μανία mania "insanity") is the technical term for the compulsive desire to shop, more commonly referred to as compulsive shopping, shopping addiction, shopaholism, compulsive buying or CB. The condition has been recognized for over 100 years.

The Condition

Although not taken very seriously by an increasingly shopping-focused world, CB is a psychiatric disorder with serious repercussions for sufferers, and those around them.

Those diagnosed with this disorder - anywhere from 10-30% of Americans - represent the far end of the spectrum. But it would seem by the global popularity of shopping that we are all susceptible to this condition to some degree. Is this what evolution has brought us to - turning the process of acquisition into an obsessive mental illness? If so, what might trigger this response?

Causes of Oniomania

Could it be the multi-billion dollar marketing and advertising industries? As a small, but growing, group of humanity acquires more wealth they also increase overall consumption. It happened in North America over the past several decades of growing wealth, and it is happening now in places like Brazil, India, and China.

Trust in me...
Marketers salivate at the exploding growth, fertile ground for opportunities in encouraging compulsive purchasing. "Let us help you spend your money", they whisper, like Kaa the Python in The Jungle Book trying to hypnotise the Bandar-log. "Trust in me, trust in me, look into my eyes..."

The hypnosis techniques that the money charmers use are glossy catalogues, television shopping channels, cybershopping, and glittery malls that smell like new stuff. The snakes of commerce are good at creating 'needs', and convincing you to meet them by trading your money for their attractive, yet worthless products and services.

Experts believe that compulsive shoppers engage in their behaviour because of a need to feel special and combat loneliness. CS think that shopping will make things better, but it is an expensive therapy that is proven ineffective.

Compulsive shopping only feels good until the initial rush wears off. It may last until you reach the car and load it up with your recent amazing purchases. Or until you get home to your partner. Or until you realize you spent the rent money. Then the guilt kicks in, and the cycle repeats.

This is a global problem now as more and more people spend money acquiring stuff as they convert themselves from citizens to unhealthy consumers (just like we did in the 1950s).

In a world that worships at the altar of shopping, getting away from it can be a challenge for even the most committed anti-consumer. It is even more difficult for  Oniomaniacs as they represent the elite athletes in the game of desire and consumption. We tend to honour them and their patriotism. What is the problem? Why change?

People chuckle at T-shirts that shamelessly announce, "Shopaholic", or, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping", but this is seriously harmful behaviour for many, and it is certainly bad for the planet.


So how to become less shopping oriented, regardless of where we fall on the Oniomania spectrum? As with many mental illnesses, treatment is difficult, comparable to the intransigence of hoarding behaviour.

Doctors would most likely prescribe therapy and/or pharmaceutical concoctions, but the most effective method is having a strong personal desire to make positive changes for the yourself and the planet.

First is recognizing there is a problem - we have to link our desire to shop and consume with the ongoing destruction of the natural world, not to mention our own happiness. Then we need a plan to reduce desire, and consumption through self-control.

Try starting with 24 hours of not buying anything, then progress to a couple of days. Once you get better at it, you may find you can go a whole week of not buying anything. That might feel so good that eventually most days are shopping-free.

You are liberating yourself from that shopping monkey riding on your back, and realizing the benefits.

Benefits of Kicking The Shopping Habit
  1. Spending less, saving more. Getting out of debt = freedom!
  2. With a reduced budget and no debt, you will be able to work less if you choose.
  3. You could get a lower paying job with NO responsibilities (as in American Beauty)
  4. There will be fewer things to store and maintain in your house.
  5. It feels good to live unencumbered by a constant desire for things.
  6. You will have more money for the things you really need, like food and shelter.
  7. By not shopping as much you are withholding your money from the 1%.
  8. All the time you would have been shopping can be spent doing more productive things like, writing a book, volunteering at your local school, helping a neighbour, learning to play an instrument, hanging with your partner and/or kids...
  9. With less stuff you could move to a smaller home.
  10. Your new extra time could be used to start a blog - spread the word about the joys of kicking the shopping habit.