May 30, 2012

Rock Meditation

"Only after such an unimpeded childhood does a grown woman know in her bones that she inhabits a breathing cosmos, that her life is embedded in a wild community of dynamically intertwined and yet weirdly different lives." David Abram, Becoming Animal
Children instinctively know that nature is not as inert as they are later trained to believe in the Western worldview. Rocks alive? Ya, right.

It is important for kids and adults, to connect with nature. Our separation from the natural world is detrimental to our health, as well as the health of the earth.

Indigenous groups do not separate the people from nature, and rather see themselves as participants in a living, active world. Such a way of life is intimately in tune with the earth, and recognizes that all things possess energy and sentience.

Even the rocks.

A good way to reconnect to earth's revitalizing powers is by taking a moment for a nature meditation, in this case, a rock meditation.

Rock Meditation

You can feel the energy of the earth through ancient rock.
Find a big rock that's smooth enough to sit on, lie on, or lean against. Relax deeply and feel your body against the rock. Feel how strong and firm the rock is. Notice how cool or warm it is.

Think about how ancient it is and how long it has been in this spot. Pretend you are the rock and try to imagine what it would be like to sit so calmly and still for hundreds, thousands, or perhaps millions of years. Let yourself absorb the serene, powerful energy of this rock.  - Shakti Gawain

May 28, 2012

No TV Monday

It's been great since we gave away the TV -
I could feel my neurons shutting down.
A comment about televisions that I read recently struck a chord with me - "You only think you need TV if you have a TV".

It has been a month since we liberated our home of our television. The post I wrote about it continues to be well read, and elicited several comments about readers' experiences with kicking the TV habit.

I enjoyed reading about the alternate activities that people are engaging in instead of spending time passively in the glow of the boob tube.

I read, listen to music, knit, etc. . . anything but watch TV. One of the benefits is that I sleep better.

We actually "do" things. Things like ride bicycles, walk, talk, read, cook and make meaningful decisions based on our own wants and needs and not based on what the television tells us what we need.

I prefer sitting in front of a computer, controlling the content that I am exposed to. 

Now that we do not have a TV, we see no need for one. I could quickly brainstorm 100 good reasons why we should not have an 'idiot box' (my dad's favourite term), but will spare you.

The problems with TV have always been known, but are becoming increasingly obvious.

More and more people are breaking free, and deciding to have no TV.

It is an encouraging trend.

May 27, 2012

Quotes On My Fridge

Photo: Vancouver Island Big Trees
My mom sent me the following quote in a letter, perhaps because I have had lots of questions my whole life. I have always been, and remain, curious about everything.
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue. The point is to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way some distant day into the answers."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
When quotes like this come into my life they often end up on the refrigerator for future inspiration. I wedge them in between bits of art and found objects in an ever-changing mosaic.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the words (and art) from this melange, and will be adding "Quotes On My Fridge" as a new feature on NBA. I have listed it on the Features page which can be accessed via the button at the top.

What's on your fridge that helps you get through the day?

May 25, 2012

Simple Living Check Up

A tiny home in the woods is a good way to live simply,
but it's not the only way
There are as many ways of doing simple living as there are people. If that is the case, can we ever really tell if we are doing it effectively?

Regardless of how you are achieving your small-footprint, more sustainable lifestyle, there are a few guidelines that may keep you on track.

Most importantly, your efforts should be voluntary. As a reader pointed out in a comment yesterday, it doesn't work if you feel like you are being bullied or shamed into your lower-impact life.

The Anti-Hoarder said, "I once had a friend who thought she could convince me to be vegan by telling me that I was "stupid" not to go veg. Well, she's not my friend anymore, and she didn't convince me of the virtues of the vegan life.
My sister in law has taken a much gentler approach and is having more luck pulling me over to her way of seeing things."

Lasting personal changes have to come from a deep desire within rather than from threats from outside forces.

Luckily, there are more carrots than sticks when it comes to living more gently. If your efforts to simplify are paying off you should notice some (or all) of the following:
  • you are spending less
  • you have more time to do things you want to do
  • you experience spontaneous moments of creativity
  • you are feeling healthier in mind and body
  • your cognitive dissonance, or conflicted thinking about the environment, is dissipating
  • you are walking, riding, and taking public transportation more often
  • you are enjoying cooking and eating wholesome foods
  • you are building a supportive community around you
  • you are sleeping more and feel rested
  • you have a growing desire to unload even more stuff
  • your life is slowing to a livable pace
  • people are noticing you are living differently and ask, "Why?"
  • you are feeling content, and free from the effects of advertising
  • your life feels right and natural, and brings you joy (thanks Poortorichadayatatime)
  • you feel more in control
  • you are thinking, "life is good", more often
  • trees, small animals and children wave and sing as you take your daily stroll through your neighbourhood 
Are you feeling that your efforts to simplify are creating the changes in your life that you want?

May 23, 2012

Radical Lifestyles

Warning: Radical lifestyle ahead

Yesterday, part of our influx of simplicity seekers was from who graciously mentioned us in her blog about "living with 2 pairs of jeans, no car, no debt, more time and less stress."

NBA was mentioned in a post about people who are living different lives from the mainstream. People who are spending less, having less, and doing more of what they enjoy.

NBA's description in the post was quite accurate: "Radical living without buying anything except groceries and guitar strings and not selling anything." However, my first thought was, "Radical? Is our lifestyle really that radical?".

But of course, it is.

Canadian's household debt-to-income ratio is 150%. Yes, most of us are spending more than we make. All that money is being borrowed to buy more and more stuff to fill larger and larger houses. This is the norm today, and compared to this state of affairs we do represent a radically different way of living.

We have no debt, and have always enjoyed the freedom of being renters. Our current home is small, and when we need more room we just get rid of stuff. This frees up space - we do not need to 'move up' to acquire more.

We may buy a bit more than guitar strings and groceries, but not much. It feels very natural, but does sound radical when I think about it. But what are the real radical lifestyles on this little planet of ours?

If we were thinking soberly, living a high-impact 5-planet lifestyle would be considered the most radical of all ways of living, and what NBA advocates wouldn't appear as drastic or extreme.

Reaching sustainability will be difficult as long as excessively luxurious lifestyles are seen by society as 'normal' and the standard to which we should all aspire.

The world needs more radicals, more anti-authoritarians, more misfits and malcontents. And yes, theminimalistmom, we include you in this honourable continuum of people daring to live differently.

Such brave folks are needed to show the rest of us that we can overthrow our desires and obtain freedom from ourselves, as well as from those who wish to exploit us.

I don't mind being seen as radical, despite the negative connotations that come with this word in these times of high pressure conformity. I don't mind because I know that radicals create change.

Of course it is all relative, and when put up against the Amish, Linda and I are living a comparatively non-radical, luxurious lifestyle. We may seem radical, but we aren't that radical.

At least, not yet.

How radical are you willing to get in your efforts to simplify your life?

May 21, 2012

Earth Pledge Monday

I am no flag-waver. I am not patriotic or nationalistic. I would not pledge allegiance to any monarch, or to any nation.

Pledging allegiance to the Earth, however, is something that I think makes sense.

Such a pledge would commit to:
  • respecting all life
  • living sustainably in harmony with the environment
  • using resources wisely
  • cooperative abundance for all

May 20, 2012

The Key To Your Earthly Pursuits

Living a low-impact, more sustainable life is not just about saving the planet. It's also about saving ourselves.

It is about escaping from the cacophonous sucking funnel that our system wields to devour everything in its vortex, us included. There may be lots of money in the vacuum bag, but you have to live in the dark with the dust bunnies.

Living a more simple life allows us to create the time and space needed to align our earthly pursuits with our deepest passions.

When I was a child I didn't think about what I wanted 'to be' when I completed the thing they called Growing Up. Mostly I just wanted to be outside in nature.

Whole summers would slip past me while I was out under the sun's welcoming warmth. I spent days riding my bike along meandering rivers, and climbing hills and trees.

Nature has been the key to my earthly pursuits. My love of nature saved me from entertaining endless desires, and the endless work required to fulfill them.

In nature I am always ten years old, and the hours still pass like minutes.

May 18, 2012

The Joy Of Not Buying, Not Selling Anything

It is clear to visitors to this blog that I am not into buying anything, but what is less promoted is that I am not big on selling anything either. I am also a willing participant in the unpaid economy as all the work I currently do is without monetary compensation.

For all the armchair psychiatrists, I don't have chrometophobia (fear of money). It is more like a commerce or shopping phobia, except that it isn't a fear as much as a general distaste for buying and selling stuff.

I have no problem shopping for things I need, like groceries or guitar strings, but I can't get motivated for buying much beyond that. I feel like every unnecessary thing I buy reduces my liberty. Why would I work to make money so I can pay for less freedom?

I am even less motivated to sell things. I am told it can be fun, and lots of people enjoy the thrill of the transaction and resulting monetary reward. Not me. I would rather just give stuff away. I have enough, therefore selling things holds no advantage for me - I don't want or need more money.

Besides, giving things away feels better to me than selling them. It is said that if you are feeling helpless, the best way to feel better is to help someone else. When I give stuff away I feel like I am helping someone else, and that makes me feel helpful rather than powerless.

My neighbour must have caught the vibes of the give-away because, out of the blue, he gave me two pies yesterday. He felt good, I felt great. Our interaction was untainted by something as trivial as money, and therefore held a deeper meaning for both of us.

I am feeling the joy of not buying and not selling anything, and contrary to popular media, others are feeling it too.

May 16, 2012

The Rights Of Nature

What enlightened environmental idea was described by one cranky blogger as "the latest tree hugging bollocks from a bunch of tofu-eating, sandal-wearing greens"? The not-so-radical idea of recognizing the Rights of Nature.

We respect the rights of nature when we balance what is good for us with what is best for other living things and the planet.

Ecosystems including trees, oceans, animals, and mountains have rights just as humans do. Nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, and maintain/regenerate its vital cycles. We know it is not right to drive species, ecosystems, and planets to extinction in order to provide for our own guilty pleasures.

Corporations, and political institutions like Canada's current federal government, have declared a War on Nature, and the 'enemy' has no rights. Recognizing the rights of nature would end this war on the very life support system we rely on for our survival.

If we are to rectify our past mistakes, and restore nature that it might continue to provide for all of life in perpetuity, we are going to have to give up our wrongs, and replace them with rights.

We have the responsibility to enforce these rights, and have already started our unstoppable march toward the full liberation and protection of Nature. Some examples of our increased awareness of the rights and abilities of other creatures includes:
  • In January 2010, a team of scientists announced research results suggesting that dolphins are second in intelligence only to human beings, and should be regarded as "non-human persons." 
  • In January 2011, China banned use of animals in circuses. 
  • In 2011, the government in Catalonia, a region in Spain, passed a motion to outlaw bull fighting and it came into effect on January 1, 2012. 
  • In February 2012 Greece became the first European country to ban any animal from performing in any circus in its territory.
  • It is a well-known fact that elephants mourn their dead, but it appears that elephants can also detect and mourn the death of favoured humans.
T.H. Huxley, writing in the 1800s, opined that "no human being can arbitrarily dominate over another without grievous damage to his own nature."

"If this be true", he continued, "no slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man."

So it will be for humanity when we finally admit that all life, including ecosystems, planets, and ultimately the Universe, possess rights. When we free the Earth from our limitless demands and exploitation, we will be freed ourselves to restore balance, and resume our cooperative niche in nature.

If you think this is just an idea for radical tofu-eating, sandal-wearing environmentalists, you are mistaken. Check out the countries of Ecuador and Bolivia, whose governments have already recognized the rights of nature in their constitutions.

Now, I'm off to hug a tree. And remember - dolphins are people, too.

May 14, 2012

There's A Pill For That Monday

Pharmaceutical companies spend 
more on marketing than research
"Researching and snagging an adequate, wallet-friendly health care plan is tough these days, despite its high-profile presence in political debates.
A large part of the controversy over expensive health costs stems from criticism of high-priced medications marketed by powerful pharmaceutical companies.
From Medicare fraud to CEOs worth billions of dollars, big drug companies are accused of putting profits above patients, spinning false PR campaigns and more." 
Read more here.

May 13, 2012

Happy Day Mother Earth

I love you, Mom
Happy Mother's Day to all mothers - robin mothers, bear mothers, salmon mothers, worm mothers (do worms have mothers?), and human mothers. Without them there would be nothing.

Most of all, Happy Day to the most important mother of all - Mother Earth. She is the one that provides for everything around us. She is all loving, all giving, and ever supportive of her errant children.

What are you doing today for Mother Earth? How about we start with a little respect?

May 11, 2012

Action vs Acceptance

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to change the world. On the other hand there is something to be said about accepting things the way they are, and trusting that everything is unfolding the way it needs to unfold.

I am constantly working on finding the proper balance between learning as much as I can about world events, and wanting to run far, far away from them. I envision a tiny cabin in the woods, off-grid, with water access only, and knowing about only what is happening in the immediate area.

Then I consider the Zen saying that advises that we should never be bound by daily events, but neither should we withdraw from them. Balance is required.

We are not passive actors - simply thinking about something helps to make it happen. Therefore, we have to stay engaged, but remember to balance that with going with the  flow and living life pure and passionate, untainted by worry, regret, frustration or anger.

There are undoubtedly larger cycles of which our current civilization is unaware. Unlike our ancestors who seem to have had a more far-reaching vision than the next election cycle, the Mayan calenders for example, one of which operates on a 5000 year cycle.

What is currently happening in the world is part of the cycle that must play out before we reach the turning point and balance is restored.

A tree must lose its leaves in the fall and go dormant for weeks - during this time it seems dead. But in the bigger picture, last year's leaves mold and decay eventually entering the soil, then the tree. In the spring what once seemed dead reaches a point where it can't do anything but burst forth with new and glorious life. The cycle is complete, to begin again.

We must fight the desire to flee, turn to violence, or throw ourselves from a bridge. With a balance between allowing things to happen with acceptance, and taking action to change what we can within our own sphere of influence, we can create a better world while enjoying this one at the same time.

“After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results.”--I Ching

May 9, 2012


"Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth." 
- Ernest Callenbach
In 2012, at the end of times, there is no shortage of nightmarish events, real or imagined. Decay is delicious, and sickness sells whether it is newspapers or entertainment.

Violent post-apocalyptic movies like The Hunger Games is what people want to see. The morose movie-going public vaulted that bad dream into several box office records.

But what about perfections for the pacifist, hope for the incurably hopeful, and caring for the compassionate? What about utopian visions that help us stretch our minds to consider outcomes of balance and beauty?

Unfortunately, utopian optimism does not seem to have the same box office draw as its darker, more chaotic sibling. Utopian visions are often accused of being pollyannaish, which is a belittling insult for being absurdly optimistic and unrealistically good-hearted, as if there is something wrong with that. 

Why is it so hard to believe that the world really could be a place where things work out, everyone gets along (more or less), and compassion toward all living things reigns?

Ecotopia, written by Ernest Callenbach in 1975, is one such vision, built on the principles of ecology and the concept of living lightly on the earth. And what is its 'absurdly optimistic' vision? Simply that of an ecologically sustainable society triumphing over one that continues on the path of death and destruction.

Although it has some excellent ideas, I admit that it may be overly optimistic to think that California, Oregon, and Washington State could ever split from the rest of the US to become an ecological utopia.

Or maybe not. Perhaps we could get British Columbia, Canada included in the new nature paradise (Cascadia as the real incarnation is called).

I first became familiar with the ecological novel when I came across Callenbach's The Earth's 10 Commandments online.

The Earth's Ten Commandments
  1. Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
  2. Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
  3. Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
  4. Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
  5. Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.
  6. Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth's riches upon weapons of war.
  7. Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth's expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
  8. Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
  9. Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth. 
  10. Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth's bounty. 
I recently picked up Ecotopia at the public library, and have found that it is full of life-guiding ideas like The Earth's 10 Commandments. Others ideas that have piqued my interest so far are:
  • Ecotoptians have TV, but use it very selectively. They do not let TV use them.
  • All TV commercials are between programs, not during programs. Most are simple product descriptions and ingredient lists.
  • Advertising can not use adjectives, nor appeal to 'specialists'.
  • Before any product is built, regular people have to prove that they can repair the prototype themselves with simple tools.
  • There is much more leisure time with a 20 hour work week.
  • Bicycles and trains are the most popular modes of transportation.
  • Before you build a house you have to spend time in the woods planting, and cutting trees.
  • Fossil fuels were banned, and all infrastructure such as gas stations were dismantled.
  • All food is grown organically and sustainably. 
  • Individual cars are outlawed, and most streets have been converted to linear parks complete with creeks, trees, and wildlife.
  • Community building is essential to the running of Ecotopia.
  • Nature and happiness are more important than 'the economy'.
I realize you can't have the light without the dark, but I will probably never see The Hunger Games. I don't need its message of doom and despair.

I am holding out for more positive portrayals of a good old boring world such as Ecotopia where people get along with each other and with nature, and everything works just fine. Not that I think that sustainability is boring - quite the opposite. It is the ultimate adventure for a more hopeful future. 

Dystopian thinking leads us to believe that the worst is inevitable. Utopian thinking reminds us that a better world can be imagined and made real.

Ernest Callenbach returned to the earth that he loved so much in April of this year. He was 83. Ecotopia sold over a million copies and has been translated into several languages.

You can read a piece of writing found on Callenbach's computer after his death here. In it he hopefully says, "A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book."

An optimist to the end. Thank you Mr. Callenbach.

May 7, 2012

Hot Water Savings Monday

Urban hot springs

Hot water heating is one of the biggest uses of energy in the home. 15-20% of the average North American homeowner energy bill goes toward hot water heating. Energy conservation saves you money and reduces stress on the environment.

Becoming mindful of hot water use is an excellent way to lower energy use and costs.
  • Shut off the water while soaping hands at the sink. 
  • Use a low-flow shower head that you can easily switch on and off.
  • Use cold water to wash clothes when possible.
  • Take short showers, or fewer showers.
  • Dishwashers use 12 litres of super-heated water, washing by hand takes 4 litres.
  • Repair leaky faucets, it's often a simple gasket replacement. 
  • When adjusting water temperature turn the cold down, not the hot up.
  • Consider installing a heat pump, solar hot water system, or on-demand unit.
  • Wrap hot water pipes with insulation sleeves.
Humans are 70% water - HOT water. No wonder we enjoy it so much. Use this gift of modern life with care.

May 4, 2012

Going TV-Free
For much of our time together Linda and I have not had a TV, but we have had one for the past several years. For most of that time it did not get used much. It wasn't because we didn't like TV, but because we liked it too much. We knew to be wary of its mesmerizing, time-sucking qualities.

Since we have never had cable, we usually only had one fuzzy channel, our national broadcaster, the CBC. Our viewing time was minimal.

Then I got the bright idea of hooking up the TV to the cable outlet just to see what would happen. Big mistake - about 10 free channels came in clearly, and they immediately began their near-irresistible screen seduction. We were drawn in and soon the remote was never far away.

As viewing time increased, so did our exposure to advertising, and programming that is advertising thinly disguised as 'entertainment'. HGTV, MTV, and programs like My Super Sweet 16, where clueless kids born into wealth throw lavish, over the top parties for themselves, were perversely hypnotic.

Television pushes 'the good life' on passive viewers 24 hours a day. I didn't like how quickly I became one of those slack-jawed vessels. It was scary looking in to the dark side, a skewed view of the world where everyone wants more everything as soon as possible.

Eventually we started to feel tainted by what we were seeing on our mass-indoctrination device. Advertising and excessive lifestyles - and damn the consequences - plus all the negative news, were like dystopic hallucinations.

We had to ask, "Is owning a television adding quality to our lives?" It did not take long to arrive at our answer - "No."

We changed our minds several times, but when it came time to retire our microwave recently, we garnered our bravery and gave away our TV at the same time. We are feeling much better now.

The time that has been freed up will be spent in activities that do add quality to our lives - listening to music, reading, cooking, napping, getting outside, singing and playing guitar, enjoying nature, gardening, and participating in real life with our friends, family and community.

"So, please, oh please, 
we beg, we pray,
go throw your TV set away, 
and in its place you can install, 
a lovely bookcase on the wall.  

~Roald Dahl

May 2, 2012

Enough And The Consumption-Fulfillment Curve

The Consumption-Fulfillment Curve

"He who knows he has enough is rich", Lao-Tzu said. That is because achieving a relationship with enough means unlimited fulfillment, instead of the diminishing returns of increasing consumption.

I feel rich because my basic needs are being fulfilled - not everyone in the world is so fortunate. I have enough food, clothing, and shelter. As long as we live in a world where millions are starving, homeless and cold, how can I expect any more? 

I have quit the endless striving for more. It has allowed me to create a life directed toward more productive and fulfilling purposes. I don't have much by Western standards, but I know I have enough. That knowledge has set me free.

I can't say what 'enough' is for anyone else, but I can tell you what it is for me.

Enough is: 
  • liberation from perpetual want.
  • the sweet spot, elegant and simple. 
  • sufficient, not surfeit.
  • my fair share.
  • what the planet can sustainably provide.
  • feeling secure and satisfied with what I have.
  • comfortable vs. luxurious and extravagant.
  • sane and rational.
  • anti-consumerism.
  • the cure for greed.
  • doable for all of our sisters and brothers around the world.
Yes, you can buy a piece of the moon

Gandhi knew that the planet could provide enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed. He recommended each of us find our 'enough'. That way we can use our resources in the most minimal way so as to not deprive others, and to protect our environment.

"How much is enough?" is a question that we must answer in our journey toward a better life, and a better world. When we answer this question truthfully and honestly, fulfillment is unlimited and we are truly rich.

May 1, 2012


May Day was a traditional late spring/early summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. Today the pagan celebration has been supplanted by labor traditions that have been observed since the 1800s in many countries.

The following is a widespread brief history of the labour aspect of May Day in North America:
In 1884, unions declared that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886. When workers went on strike at a factory in Chicago on May 3, 1886, police fired into the peacefully assembled crowd, killing four and wounding many others.

The workers movement called for a mass rally the next day in Haymarket Square to protest this brutality. The rally proceeded peacefully until the end when 180 police officers entered the square and ordered the crowd to disperse. At that point, someone threw a bomb, killing one police officer and wounding 70 others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one and injuring many others.

Eight of the city’s most active unionists were charged with conspiracy to commit murder even though only one present at the meeting was on the speakers’ platform. All eight were found guilty and sentenced to death, despite a lack of evidence connecting them to the person who threw the bomb.

Four were hanged on November 11, 1887, Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, and the remaining three were finally pardoned in 1893. Lucy Parsons, the widow of Albert Parsons, traveled the world urging workers to celebrate May Day and to remember the events of Haymarket and the subsequent government-sponsored murder of those fighting for the rights of all workers.

Over time, May Day grew to become an important day for organizing and unifying the international struggle of workers and their allies. 
Exploitation of workers and the environment is not sustainable. Observing the labour aspect of May Day sends a strong message to rapacious governments and their corporate allies:

If you exploit us, we will shut you down, and if we don't, the environment will.