August 30, 2013

Dogs As Simple Living Monks

"The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog."
- Mark Twain

Are dogs the simple living monks of the animal world? It certainly seems that way.

In some native cultures dog represents teacher and in others, dogs are associated with spirituality. They certainly model qualities and skills from which humans would be wise to learn.

  • Dogs don't "own" anything but the fur on their backs. Not even an orange sarong, or a begging bowl, or sandals. They don't seem to mind the lack of clutter in their lives.
  • Dogs practice unconditional love. Your dog will love you regardless of how much money you make, or the amount of stuff you have, or whether you are "successful" or not.
  • Dogs are forgiving. You can scold your dog and it will forgive you immediately, lick your face, and carry on with life. No unhealthy grudges held here.
  • Dogs are non-judgemental. To a dog, life is what it is. You will be as peaceful as dog by accepting people and situations for what they are.
  • Dogs are masters at living in the moment. Although we can't tell for sure, dogs don't seem to think about the past with regrets, or look to the future with dread and fear. It is all about the moment.
  • Dogs are compassionate. They can tell when people are feeling down, and know what to do to help them heal - be there loyally, listen carefully, snuggle up and give lick kisses.
  • Dogs have very basic and simple needs. They may look nifty in that knitted sweater, but they don't really need it. Food, water, love, walks in nature, and a place to lay down for a good long nap, is about all they require.

Studies have shown that people with a pet recover faster from illnesses. They have also found that elderly pet owners live longer, healthier lives non-pet owners. 

We can all benefit from learning the ways of dog. 

August 28, 2013

Musical Rapture

Jamming with Linda and a ukulele on a Tuesday afternoon.

"If I were to begin life again, I would devote it to music.  It is the only cheap and unpunished rapture upon earth."  
- Sydney Smith

One good thing about music, Bob Marley said, is that when it hits you, you feel no pain. When Linda and I do music together we feel no pain. Each note pulls us further into the moment, and the result is pure joy, freedom, and ecstasy.

A slower lifestyle allows more time for creativity. For the juices to flow one needs a quiet and calm space unhurried by the trivialities of a life hooked into the machine. Artists are legendary for knowing when to be idle and let the muse do her work.

And the inspiration can come at any time. An ordinary Tuesday morning can bring spontaneous moments of musical magic.

We can feel the rapture flowing through us.

August 26, 2013

Simplify Monday

Reddit is a social news website where users submit content in links or "self" posts of text. This bulletin board-like site hosts about 5500 pages (new pages are added constantly) covering a huge range of topics. Simple living is one of them, and the page currently has 30,000 subscribed readers.

I help out at r/simpleliving and spend time on the site managing things for the community of readers. The links and self posts that have accumulated in this corner of the Internet represent a wealth of information for those interested in simplifying life.

A recent post on r/simpleliving caught my attention. It asks, "What is the one simple change that made your life better?", and in only one day it elicited 144 comments from readers.

Reality100, the Redditor that posted the question, compiled some of the results which follow:

"What is the one simple change that made your life better?"
  • Meditation
  • Stop watching the news
  • Cut down on TV in general
  • Put a hook beside your front door and never lose your keys again
  • Stop spending time around negative people
  • Quit smoking
  • Ride your bike to work
  • Only drink plain water with meals
  • Stop worrying about what other people think
  • Take yourself seriously, pursue your goals despite what anyone else thinks
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Delete or reduce your time on facebook
  • Yoga
  • Quit drinking caffeine
  • Nap outside
  • Learn to program
  • Get a motorcycle instead of a car.
  • Be mindful
  • Take the stairs
  • Be 100% yourself
  • Amazon Prime
  • Leave 10 minutes early
  • Read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Stop having a data plan on your smartphone
  • Turn your phone onto silent mode, permanently.
  • Work evenings/nights
  • Fix the problems you can fix. Stop feeling bad about the things you can't fix.
  • Don't work a 40-60 hour week
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Cut down on spending
  • Consume as little advertising as possible
  • Unfollow most friends on facebook and follow interesting groups.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Cook your own food and eliminate fast food
  • Keep your surroundings clean
  • Old friends are not necessarily good friends
  • Be altruistic
  • Don't try and change people
  • Don't hate, love instead.
  • Get up early
  • Pay for things in cash
  • Move out of your parents home
  • Have a chore chart
  • Start journaling
  • No TV or Internet at home except on your phone
  • Do as much as possible on your ipad
  • Simplify life by slowing down.
  • Raw vegan diet

How about you? What is one simple change that you have made that has improved your life?

August 24, 2013

No More Walls

“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. 
I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. 
Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”

- Anais Nin

August 23, 2013

Waldo Finds Himself

"Wherever I go, there I am."

Waldo, (Willy in the UK, Charlie in France, Ali in Turkey, and Hetti in India) of the Where's Waldo series, was a world traveler for a while. For one year the distinctive book character could be found in a children's magazine featuring illustrations depicting him in crowds in special places all over the world.

Many people are doing the same and 'pulling a Waldo' for a weekend, or a week or two at a time, depending on available holiday time. They are 'getting away' and hiding themselves in crowds the planet over.

Often travel seems more like hiding from the stick, rather than being drawn by the carrot. People attempting to recover from busy lives that are beating them down by taking trips and blending into the background of far away exotic places.

The market for international vacations is growing by about 4% per year. 2012 marked the first time in history that total international trips taken in one year passed the 1 billion milestone globally.

Numb from the endless work of keeping up with the Jones', people fly from one destination to another in a search of respite and some much needed relaxation. Turns out it can be more difficult than trying to find Waldo in a double page spread of an Australian beach scene.

Waldo can hide from you (and his boss), but he can't hide from himself.

Wally's exploits in world travel (and getting lost in crowds) were documented in 52 Wally's World magazine issues in 1997-98. They provided enjoyable geography lessons for kids in 14 countries, none of whom had to leave home to learn about their planet.

Since then Waldo has settled down as his restlessness has dissipated, and his jet setting ways have mellowed to a gentle pace.

As Waldo slowed down he came to the realization that wherever he went, there he was. When the newness and excitement of his trips wore off, as always inevitably happened, he was back to square one.

He stopped, and looked in the mirror in a moment of reckoning.

You might be able to run and hide for a short while, but like Waldo, you will eventually realize you can't escape the fact of who and what you are.

Waldo took the ultimate voyage and traveled within. In the process he found peace and contentment, right where he is at.

August 21, 2013

You Are Not A Machine

At its peak in the 1930s, the Ford factory in Detroit employed 100,000 workers and used over 120 miles of conveyor belts in a sprawling mile-and-a-half wide, mile-long facility. Image: detail of  "Detroit Industry" Murals (1932-33) by Mexican artist Diego Rivera

You are not a machine. 

Your natural design does not tolerate 2-4 hours of travel per day, 8-12 hours of slave-labor 5-6 days per week, for whatever monetary compensation, on 5-6 hours of sleep, in a system built on penalistic principles and a life under judgmental surveillance. 

Like it or not, you are human. Stress, harassment, constant financial worries, fear and sense of inadequacy destroys the health of any human. This is a scientific fact. 

So why is it that we accept and tolerate a system that in actual reality demands that you erase your needs, and in effect commit a slow joyless suicide for someone else's profit? 

You have a choice, stop pretending that you don’t.

author unknown

I Am Free

August 19, 2013

Tranquillity Mapping

Tranquillity is the experience of inner peace.

Being in tranquil places is one way that allows people to relax, escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life, and ‘boost their batteries’. But tranquil places are difficult to find on an increasingly crowded, developed planet. This is unfortunate for some thinkers equate tranquillity with inner peace and liberation.

How rare are tranquil places these days? So rare that researchers in the UK have been mapping them there in order to protect them. Their ultimate goal is to develop a national 'tranquility guide' for preservation of such areas, and so people can seek out these special healing spots.

One of the most important factors in people's descriptions of tranquil places in the study, was that the area be a natural landscape. Openness was also an important factor among several others.

Factors with positive impacts on tranquillity:

  • a natural landscape 
  • wide open spaces
  • low noise levels
  • presence of running water in rivers, streams and brooks
  • lake and sea views
  • birds and other wildlife
  • clear open night sky with/without moon
  • beach in a unique location
  • forests
  • open field, flora etc. with gentle to moderate breeze

Tranquillity map of Britain (green is very tranquil, red is least tranquil)

There were also several things that the people surveyed reported as making places less tranquil.

Factors with negative impacts on tranquillity:

  • motorized transportation - cars, motorcycle, trains and aircraft 
  • roads and railways
  • light pollution
  • large numbers of people
  • pylons, power lines, masts and wind turbines
  • noise
  • urban development

The mapping study showed that tranquillity is not necessarily the absence of all noise, activity and buildings. Indeed it found that many rural activities, such as farming and cows calling, and natural noises such as birdsong and flowing water, enhance people’s experience of tranquillity.

A regional director of a local group dedicated to preserving natural areas as important havens which are under constant threat from development says, "Tranquillity matters to people and it needs protecting."

Ultimately, though, tranquillity is not found anywhere except in your head. It is possible to be troubled by a busy mind while immersed in quiet nature, just as it is possible to find tranquillity in the city, or your home or yard.

Being  present in the moment is one prerequisite, as is desirelessness, or the mental renunciation of desires for objects of pleasure. In other words, you have to be in the here and now, and you have to release your urges to cling to stuff before you can find true peace.

Tranquillity is always available to us, but it is covered in layers of distraction in the busyness of every day life. It is possible through presence and non-attachment to stuff and outside experiences, to peel the layers of distraction back until a calm peace of mind at the centre is able to shine through.

Beautiful places can help in this regard, but in the end each of us makes the decision to cultivate a calm and unagitated state or not.

May we all work toward being free from disturbances, and experience tranquillity as often as possible wherever we are.

August 16, 2013

Are We Happy Yet?

Considering the number of people on antidepressants, I would have to say we are not happy yet. Maybe if we just had more. Bigger burgers, faster cars, better vacations, more opulent homes, and then we will be happy.

But if we aren't grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we would be happier if we got more? Some studies have shown that in North America additional income beyond $75,000 a year ceases to impact day-to-day happiness.

Past a certain point of sufficiency, adding more of anything actually reduces the amount of pleasure we experience. The more we add, the less bang we get for our buck, until pretty soon we are spending a stack of money, but are deriving little effect on our level of overall happiness.

We don't need more money, or a better job, or more stuff, or a bigger house, or yet another vacation experience or bucket list victory before we can be happy.

Why wait? It is possible to be happy now, and you need nothing more than your mind to make it happen.

10 Steps to Happiness Now
  1. Think less - Feel more.
  2. Frown less - Smile more.
  3. Talk less - Listen more.
  4. Judge less - Accept more.
  5. Complain less - Appreciate more.
  6. Fear less - Love more. 
  7. Want less - Be grateful more.
  8. Work less - Play more.
  9. Cry less - Laugh more.
  10. Worry less - Enjoy more.

August 14, 2013

Do With Less

During WWII it was every North American's duty to cut back on food and consumer goods so that "they'll have enough". Rationing would give each citizen their fair share.

If we could do with less and think about our fair share so that the war machine could have enough to promote death, why can't we do the same to promote life?

Almost 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. 21,000 children under age 5 die every day, mostly due to preventable causes brought on by poverty.

Why don't we do with less so that the poorest among us can have enough?

In 1988, only eight male and two female Golden Toads were located in their range in Costa Rica. A year later, a single male was found, and this was the last record of the species. None have been seen since.

Why don't we do with less so that other living things can have enough so they don't go extinct?

In my part of the world trees thousands of years old continue to be cut despite the inevitable extinction of an ancient forest that began 10,000 years ago.

Why don't we do with less so that our planet can have enough to replenish itself so that its gifts are not depleted and destroyed?

We have reached Peak Everything and the future looks increasingly bleak.

Why don't we do with less so that we can have enough to save the earth, and therefore ourselves?

Some humans are taking more than their fair share, while others are unsuccessfully attempting to get by with much less than what they are entitled to as fellow Earthlings.

We need to have a frank and global discussion about our "fair share", and what that would mean for those of us living excessive lifestyles that are not only condoned, but actively encouraged.

Consumer based lifestyles are currently socially sanctioned not because such lifestyles are better for anyone or anything, but because they are massively and disproportionately profitable for a few.

Even worse, the few can only maintain the conspicuous consumption through the massive use of violence.

Redirecting the nearly $2 trillion dollar global military death budget toward promoting life would go a long way toward setting things right. These taxpayer dollars could ensure we all have equal access to our fair share as members of the human family.

Making do with less so our brothers, sisters and other living things can have enough is the logical, moral, and compassionate thing to do.

August 13, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Stargazing

The Perseid meteor shower happens every August - it is a magical event.

“Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars?” 

- Nora Roberts

It is unfortunate that we take the stars for granted. If these silent points of brilliance only revealed themselves once every thousand years we would flood into darkened fields on the appointed night and celebrate. We would sing their praises and dance to their brilliance.

Nothing puts life into perspective more elegantly than going out on a clear night and watching the stars. Their quiet message imparts knowledge of life and death, Yin and Yang, and the cyclical processes of nature.

The lessons of the night sky are hard to ignore when it puts on a spectacular light show like the Perseid meteor shower, which happens every year at this time.

Late last night I went out under the dome of stars and watched meteors streak through the sky with the Milky Way as a backdrop. Each flash and streak represented the death (changing of form) of a bit of space debris as it rubbed up against Earth's atmosphere.

As I lay on my back with the solidity of the Earth supporting me, and the heavens above, I felt an intense gratitude for being alive at this place, and during this moment in the history of the Universe.

I felt the magic, the connectedness to everything and everywhere. I could feel in every cell of my body that I am small, yet important, part of this greater whole. Then the neighbour's cat rubbed against my side and brought me back to my current form here on Terra Firma.

Stargazing teaches me about my place in creation, and is one of my cherished simple pleasures.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” 
― Carl Sagan

August 12, 2013

DIY Upholstery Monday

Materials used to reupholster my cast iron chairs.

What do a tin of white tacks, 2 pant legs from an old pair of army surplus pants, a pair of child's scissors, and a couple of cast iron chairs have in common? A couple of things.

First, I used all the items in my do it yourself upholstery project. Having never done anything of the sort before, I pushed forward with nothing but my ignorance and a strong desire to cover that awful 1970s vinyl.

Second, all the items are things that I had at hand.

Finished product is much easier on the eyes,
and better on the butt.

The chairs were bought second hand eight years ago. They were made by a Canadian iron works started in 1949, but manufactured in a time when psychedelia was still groovy.

But the vinyl chairs had lost their groove.

Not only did I get updated chairs, but it didn't cost anything, I repurposed the pant legs, and it was a fun DIY project. It also fits with my motto -

"Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are at."

I guess we can take this off now.

August 9, 2013

Warning: Consumerism Is Killing The Planet

Consumer products, services, and packaged experiences should come with warning labels like those found on other harmful things like cigarettes and poisons.

Darn near everything bought and sold in so-called advanced societies could come with a label warning purchasers of the dangers inherent in mindless consumption.










Hey, these would make good bumper stickers. Except bicycles don't have bumpers.

The dangers of consumerism are many, and avoiding them can be complicated. It is easier to escape the bother entirely and just not buy anything.

Warning - not buying anything can lead to contentment and happiness.

There's a warning label for you.

August 8, 2013

Getting Out Of The Progress Trap

"The idea that growth is infinite is the Big Lie of our times. Yet we still believe it because we find it extremely hard to shed the idea that progress is an inherent good."
- Ronald Wright

Over the past few years the common understanding of progress has been turned on its head. The notion that we will always have a bigger, better, more glittery life is beginning to tarnish as reality sets in. Rather than being the beneficiaries of progress, we are now caught in its steely grip.

And ours legs are turning gangrenous.

Unfortunately the response of most people, including our leaders, is to ignore the blood, the swelling, and the pain, and carry on dragging the trap behind them. Why?

Author Ronald Wright studies such things, and thinks he knows. He has shown that humanity has stumbled from one progress trap to another over the past 10,000 years. We get caught when our technological innovations create conditions or problems that we are unable to foresee - or are unwilling to solve.

It happens when our neat stuff like spears, agriculture, cars and GMOs turn around and bite us in the ass with unintended consequences.

Wright thinks we ignore the evidence of these consequences when we become aware of them for two reasons.

First there’s "a cynical propaganda campaign extremely well funded by the people who have a vested interest" in business as usual. For example, the Koch brothers funding of climate change denial so they can keep their petro-pipeline empire flush with damaging, yet profitable, hydrocarbons.

Next is that "there is a very willing audience among people who don’t care, don’t know the facts, or can’t be bothered to look at them. People want to believe that they can just go on expecting the high consumption North American lifestyle forever, because that’s kind of American - and Canadian - dream they were promised."

Environmentalist George Monbiot argues that we ignore when we get trapped because an environmental catastrophe like climate change is like death - our current actions and the resulting consequences seem so far away in the future that we become very adept at not seeing it, and not dealing with it.

Like not making the connection between smoking cigarettes and death.

"The human failing," Monbiot says, "is that we're pretty short-term in our approach. If we're well fed now, or if we see a particular issue coming at us right now, that's the thing we concentrate on."

The only way you can continue smoking, or a high consumption lifestyle, is if you ignore the facts and the building evidence around you. Like it or not, sooner or later (and probably sooner) the party will be over.

So how do we extricate ourselves from the trap?

Neither of the authors quoted are optimistic about human nature evolving quickly enough to overcome our tendency toward denial in order to tackle our most pressing issues. Having said that, both remain hopeful regardless of our evolutionary shortcomings.

Monbiot's hope lies in politics and our ability to organize mass movements.
"To me, hope lies in the political dimension, in our effectiveness as citizens and our rediscovery of the motives that drove our political ancestors - the people who created the mass movements which got us democracy in the first place, which ended slavery, which ended colonization and imperialism and all the other things which have been great advances for humankind. 
If we could do it in the past when life was much more oppressive, and we had far less leisure time, and we had far less money and all the rest of it, we should be able to do it today."
Historian Ronald Wright thinks it crucial that we end immediately any divisive talk of it being about "the economy VS the environment" as is the case in Canada today. Or that the problems that technology created will be solved with more technology.

Wright knows that humans across the ages have discovered that without a healthy, functioning environment there can be no economy, no civilization.

He also knows that North American style consumption is a major environmental threat that needs to be addressed:
"If we stopped the higher levels of consumption from getting out of control, there is enough for everybody to squeak through in a sort of modest prosperity, modest decency of life. The problems are political. They are problems of distribution."
I find it very hopeful that good people such as these are speaking out and waking people up to point out the appendage clamped on to their lower extremity.

'See the trap? Let's remove it together. I promise you will feel better in the long run.'

It is crucial that we help each out of the maze of traps that litter our paths. The consumption trap. The wage slavery trap, the debt trap, the time-stress trap.

Let's pry open the gold plated jaws of unchecked progress, pull our legs out, and run free toward a new definition of progress, and a better world.

August 5, 2013

Less Stuff, More Freedom

Something good starts to happen as soon as you want more freedom over more stuff.

I believe we are reaching a tipping point at which humanity is more concerned with freedom than with stuff. In all the global protests over the past few years I have not heard a single crowd or mob chant, "We want more STUFF!"

We are cluing into the fact that we don't need to buy anything, or go anywhere, to foster our personal growth, to be who we truly are. We are born with everything we need to achieve lasting peace and happiness.

Fostering personal growth free of outside influences, can be done right here, right now. A sure sign that you are on your way is when you begin to have a desire for less stuff and more freedom.

People have been sharing the 'less stuff/more freedom' message for thousands of years as a route to not only saving money and the environment, but more importantly, as a route to freedom, and happiness.

And it is not a secret. People have been and continue to shout it from the rooftops - "It is not what is out there, but what is inside you!"

All the answers we seek will be found within, not at the mall. Or on an exotic beach far from home.

Although, that is not to say that enlightened moments can't happen in either place. When we are ready, the moment can come anywhere at any time. Have more such moments by simplifying your life now.

Living simply with reduced material and psychic clutter, and having the time and space to be fully present in the moment, leads to self discovery, which leads to freedom.

Freedom makes all living things happy.

Let your mantra be "Less Stuff, More Freedom" and you will discover an inner peace such as you have never experienced before.

“I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don't lie outside, in the study of the stars and the planets. They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul. Until we understand what is within, we can't understand what is without.” 
― Anita Moorjani

August 3, 2013

I Could Live In A Tent

I could live in a tent.

I am not expecting much in the way of a place to live. I could make it quite nicely in a basic canvas cabin tent.

I imagine a small piece of land - a place where I can grow a garden, keep some chickens and a goat, and sing, dance, learn and play with uninterrupted abandon.

Somewhere with fresh air, clean water, and surrounded by nature. A place with positive, cooperative neighbours.

Given these conditions, I swear, I could live in a tent. Yes, a tent, and not for a night, or a week, or the summer, or until my 'dream home' is built.

Right now, the tent IS my dream home.

Tiny home, big garden would suit me fine

Perhaps at some point I would want to separate myself from the bears with solid walls. It might be fun to build my own tiny home.

A tiny home (or tent) and a big garden would suit me fine.