October 31, 2013

While You Live, Shine

Shining brightly is important for children
and other living things.

Music has always existed in the Universe. The planets themselves are constantly singing a celestial tune. Written music has been around for substantially less time, about 2000 years.

The oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation is the Seikilos epitaph. It was found engraved on a tombstone not far from the ancient city of Ephesus in western Turkey.

The song uses ancient Greek musical notation and the melody is recorded along with lyrics. While the tune is interesting, it is the lyrics that really appeal to me.

While you live, shine.

Have no grief at all.

Life exists only for a short while,

and time demands its toll.

Not much has changed in the area of human needs over the past two millennia, and the lyrics of the Seikilos epitaph's song are as bang on in 2013 as they were in the first century. 

Live fully now. Quit wasting time on things that don't make you happy. And, get on with it.

October 30, 2013

A Consumer By Any Other Name

Since the 1970s we are increasingly called Consumers rather than Citizens,
and it makes a big difference in how we feel and act.

What’s in a name? That which we call a Consumer by any other name would spend just as much.

I know not how to tell thee who I am.

The name consumer, dear reader, is hateful to myself because it is an enemy to so many.

Had I written it I would tear the word.

With apologies to William Shakespeare, today I consider what it means to be labeled a Consumer.

Maybe you noticed how in the past few decades we have all gone from being Citizens to being Consumers. Since the 1970s the term 'consumer' has outstripped 'citizen' and its use is still on the rise.

The changeover was made official in my own country recently during the speech from the throne when the Canadian government chose the term to refer to its Citizens.

In the speech the government vowed to protect Canadian Consumers (not citizens) and said, “When Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured of a voice, a choice, and fair treatment." (emphasis is mine)

Wow - thanks but I really would rather be known as a Citizen and be assured a voice, a choice, and fair treatment when I try to participate in making this a better country for all. Instead I risk being put on the government's well-documented "Enemy List".

So please do not call me a Consumer. I am a Citizen.

A Citizen is someone that takes an active role in their community. Citizens enjoy the care and protection of their governments, and are granted certain rights and privileges by the state.

Consumers on the other hand, buy stuff. They take an active role in the marketplace while fulfilling their needs, wants, dreams, desires, cravings, and fantasies. Consumers do not enjoy the care and protection of anyone because in the marketplace it is "buyer beware".

The only rights and privileges consumers have is the right to credit, and the privilege to buy more than they need.

Consumers are only concerned with the price of things, while Citizens want to know about their value. Consumers compete, while Citizens cooperate.

Psychological research has shown that economic terms such as 'consumer' are associated with behaviours showing lower environmental concern and conservation behaviour, greater competitiveness and profit-seeking, and lower well-being.

In the eyes of our pro-business governments, Citizens are money takers, while Consumers are money makers. Citizens are demanding while Consumers are placated.

Today Consumers are being referred to by many other names, and none of them are very flattering.

Synonyms For Consumer

  • Cashholes
  • Purchasebots
  • Buying Drones
  • Spendoids
  • Shoppertrons
  • Wallet Mongers
  • Money Grunts
  • Shopaholics
Being called a Consumer by the very government that ignores my active role as a participating Citizen is insulting and demeaning.

In the future please refer to me as a citizen, a person, a comrade, or even a dude, but please don't call me a Consumer.

October 28, 2013

Moral Dilemma Monday

Your decision to choose a simple life will probably be met with puzzled, blank stares by your friends, family, and co-workers. They might even ask if you are insane.

"Why don't you want to 'cash in' with the rest of us, and live the high life? Is something wrong with you?"

We all feel the need to toe the line in life - we are social creatures. No one likes to be ostracized. That is why it is one of the most powerful punishments a community can met out.

The fear of being ostracized keeps most people in line - they go to work, buy a house, fill it with stuff, have kids, buy them stuff, follow all the rules and laws, and stifle the questions that invariably bubble to the surface from time to time.

Being out of favor with established ways can result in a damaged reputation. This can effect jobs, friends, and possibly your future. It makes most of us think twice before saying or doing something that may be thought controversial. Like, choosing to live simply while surrounded by excess.

Or talking about geoengineering, or the complicity of our government representatives and corporations, or weather control, or the end of oil, or native rights, or a whole host of other topics with are essentially verboten in mainstream society.

So here is our moral dilemma:
  • Should we make lifestyle changes that are crucial to continued life on the planet, or should we keep on submitting, laying low and living our culturally approved big footprint ways that will not draw any attention to ourselves? 
  • And when it comes to conversations about life-threatening practices such as unregulated consumer capitalism, should we measure our words, or worse, hold our tongue, so as not to offend anyone and put ourselves at risk?
The choice is right in front of us. What will you do?

October 26, 2013

Not Buying Anything: Priceless

"Our freedom can be measured by the number of
 things we can walk away from."

- Vernon Howard

October 25, 2013

Non-Cooperation The Key To Change

We have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws as well as
refuse to cooperate with unjust systems.

Making change is good, but not everyone has the means to camp out in Zuccotti Park for a few weeks. And as much as many of us would like to march on the Capital, or confront evil frackers on the front lines of the War on the Environment, these may not be practical responses for the masses.

So what can an activist-minded person do closer to home?

All of us, wherever we are, have the option of withdrawing our cooperation in a system that is hell bent on destroying the environment and anything that gets in the way. This system can only operate as long as we choose to continue participating and cooperating.

The moral thing to do is to refuse to go along with things that smack of evil, exploitation and destruction.

Once we stop lending our support, change happens and the system as we know it will begin to reflect the desires of those hoping to establish a kinder, gentler, more respectful system.

Simple Guidelines for Non-Cooperation

  1. Don't work for them. We can refuse to participate by withdrawing our labour. Before accepting a job ask, "Is this right livelihood, or will working here create harmful results?"
  2. Don't buy their stuff. A very effective way to show you are not participating in our sick system is by withdrawing your cash from it. People in the business world tend to take notice of things like that. Before buying anything ask, "Is the manufacture, use, or disposal of this product harmful to myself, others, or the environment?"
  3. Don't invest your money in their enterprises. Many individuals and institutions such as universities are divesting themselves of investments in harmful corporations such as those that produce fossil fuels, cigarettes, weapons, or nuclear. Look for ethical or green investments.

If you have ever participated in a boycott you have experienced a small bit of what Gandhi called peaceful non-cooperation. He defined this powerful and accessible tool as "a protest against an unwitting and unwilling participation in evil".

He added, "Non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as co-operation with good."

Refusing to participate in your own destruction may be simple, but it is far from easy. We have come to depend on the evil that provides us with the excessive lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. It will be hard to unplug and learn new ways independent of the system, but it is far from impossible and can be immensely rewarding.

Just as Gandhi and his followers learned to make their own clothes and manufacture their own salt in order to free themselves from their colonizing masters, we must learn to provide for ourselves apart from the exploitation and greed of those currently trying to colonize our minds for profit.

Riffing off Gandhi's work, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor."

Change will come when enough of us refuse to cooperate with our current unjust systems. Don't work for them, and don't buy their stuff.

October 23, 2013

Riches Don't Count - Happiness Does

In past decades per-capita GDP growth of developed nations has increased dramatically.

I say, "So what?"

During this time average incomes rose as well (although they have been stagnating for most of us since the 1980s).

Again I ask, "So what?"

Happiness surveys generally show that above $60,000 to $75,000 of income per year we essentially get no more bang for our bucks. That makes aspiring to become a millionaire or billionaire terribly misguided because it can't yield an improved overall life satisfaction. For that we don't need loads of cash.

Why can't we buy more happiness with our riches?  Because our money suffers from the effects of diminishing returns. The more money we make or get or steal, the less effective it is in increasing our satisfaction level.

Going from $0 dollars to $100 dollars yields a very large effect on our well being. But going from $100,000 dollars to $100,100 dollars makes hardly any difference at all. In both cases we are talking about the exact same amount of money.

So our countries have been more productive, and our salaries have gone up. But we have made no gains what-so-ever on our overall happiness scores.

So what is all the struggle for riches and stuff for if it is not leading to an increased satisfaction with life? For me the answer was to quit struggling, and start enjoying.

I am happier living in retirement on $20,000 a year than when making $60,000+ a year as a full time teacher. Because of this experience, I don't care if you make 400 times more than the average person.

I say, "So what?"

 I want to know if you are 400 times happier. 

October 21, 2013

Benefits of a Bicycle

My White Bicycle
 by Hopkins, Kenyon/Burgess, Ken

My white bicycle, my white bicycle. 

The rain comes down but I don't care. 
The wind is blowing in my hair. 
Seagulls flying in the air.

My white bicycle. 

October 18, 2013

Rubber Tramping

The possibilities for a home on wheels are only limited by your
imagination and creativity. This is a funky, comfy bus conversion.

Would you like your living costs to be $500 dollars per month or less? Think you could live in 45 square feet? Are you an unconventional, freedom-loving non-conformist? Rubber tramping may be for you.

In a growing trend in North America over a million nomads and gypsies are making their homes in RVs, converted buses, vans and cars. Some are fighting conformity while others are escaping a life of mediocrity.

Still others are reluctant rubber tramps forced on the road as financial refugees. The lucky ones are those that use the lifestyle to retire early with savings or a small pension. All are living life off the grid.

Airstream trailer conversion.

Vehicular living doesn't leave much room to roam inside, but there are benefits to being a new nomad. You can save money, be free of financial enslavement, live a small footprint lifestyle (very small), keep your belongings to a minimum, and be as mobile as it gets.

I see rubber tramping, van-dwelling or RVing as the equivalent of living in a sailboat except you live on wheels instead of water. Something that Linda likes about the pavement option is that you can't sink!

The thing that appeals to me most is the freedom. I also like the idea of being totally off grid and not having to pay someone simply to exist.

Rubber tramping - the view is great from this home on wheels.

There are drawbacks to life on the road. Winter is a big one. Another less solvable problem is how this lifestyle is seen by more conventionally housed individuals. As usual, there is a stigma attached to living differently, and living on four wheels is generally frowned upon, or can even be outright illegal in some locations.

Still, Linda and I are considering downsizing from our current 582 sq. ft. condo to a significantly smaller dwelling - maybe a bit more than 45 sq. ft. We are currently researching a wheelchair accessible RV that is completely set up for a handicapped occupant. It would probably be closer to a palatial 200 square feet.

Everything you need is contained in this mobile tiny home.

Will we be joining the rubber tramp community that is living wild and free on the land? With our current de-cluttering and downsizing project going "full steam ahead" we are definitely "on that bearing".

We will let you know how things go in upcoming posts.

"I stick my finger in the map. It smells of the open road." 

Rustic, functional charm.

October 16, 2013

Ha, Ha, Ha Your Way To Health

Ha, ha, ha, happy.

Ha, ha, ha. Laughter and an active sense of humour can help maintain good health and could even prevent a heart attack. I figure that laughing shouldn't be too hard - the world has become so silly that most of the time it is hard NOT to laugh.

There is no reason not to laugh considering how good it feels. The funny bone is definitely connected to well being. Laughter is free health care.

Does that mean that clowns are doctors?

A University of Maryland study showed that healthy men and women who were shown a humorous movie experienced a 22% increase in blood flow, and overall improved vascular and endothelial health. The endothelium is the protective barrier lining our blood vessels, and when it is damaged it can lead to heart problems.

Proving that a heart condition is nothing to laugh at, the researchers found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh than healthy people. But if you have heart disease laughing can make all the difference.

The study found laughter has immediate effects on heart health, and that the effects lasted for 45 minutes after the movie had finished.

Laughaholics have hangovers that feel good and that foster good health. Ha.

Other Benefits of Humour and Laughter

  • Natural pain killer
  • Improves breathing
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Gives a better sleep
  • Decreases stress
  • Makes you look and feel younger
  • Boosts relationships
  • Connects you to the here and now

Taking things seriously all the time and dwelling on the negative that abounds in the world today does not produce solutions, and it destroys peace of mind. The resulting stress is a silent killer.

The Maryland study concludes that everyone should strive to laugh several times every day. 

"For a healthy heart," they recommend, "exercise, eat right, and laugh heartily a few times a day. Read funny books or watch a funny show. Try to take things less seriously."

Want free health care? Relax. Smile. See the humour that abounds in the universe and laugh along with it. It is so much better than the alternative.

Ha, ha, ha. 

Ho, ho, ho.

Hee, hee, hee. 

I can feel it working already.

"I am thankful for laughter, 
except when milk comes out of my nose."

- Woody Allen 

October 14, 2013

Doing Nothing Monday

"Save the World - Do Nothing"
Think of the personal stress and environmental damage we could avoid if
we did nothing more often.

Many summers ago I was camping with a group of friends, and our music and merriment stretched into the early morning. A woman emerged from the tent on the site next to us. In her house coat, she approached our campfire.

"When do you people stop?" she asked while throwing her hands towards the sky as the stars quietly disappeared.

We all looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. "Do we stop?" someone honestly asked.

"I don't think we do," another friend observed.

It is the same with our culture of busyness, formerly known as The Rat Race. Now it is just the race.

When do we stop?

People often confuse busyness with doing something.

Lao Tzu, the chilled out Chinese philosopher didn't. Ever mindful, the author that wrote the Tao Te Ching, said, "Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing."

How much of our busyness is doing nothing? Or worse, how much of it is not only unnecessary, but also harmful to ourselves and others?

Since 2008 Linda and I have been experimenting with doing less with less. We stopped the busyness. We started doing more nothing.

Prior to the Great Recession we were already working toward a more peaceful lifestyle. We quit working full time and threw away our  planners and day-timers. Thus ended the perpetual multi-tasking state of mind that needs organized distractions in order to recover.

Leisure activities and holidays can be just as busy and frantic as back home. When do we stop? Or even slow down?

Our culture is obsessed with busyness. It is a drug to which many are addicted, and the repercussions prevent us from doing the important work.

Since slowing down we focus on single-tasking. It is a "when eating a banana, just eat the banana" state of mind.

October 11, 2013

In The Wilderness I Am Completely Free


As for me, I delight in the everyday Way, 
Among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves. 
Here in the wilderness I am completely free, 
With my friends, the white clouds, idling forever. 
There are roads, but they do not lead to the world; 
Since I am mindless, who can rouse my thoughts ? 
On a bed of stones I sit, alone in the night, 
While the moon climbs up Cold Mountain. 

- Han San, 9th century

October 9, 2013

What We Really Need

Most people would consider being the last person on earth to be the supreme torture. It would be a form of solitary confinement except the entire globe would be your cell.

Humans are social creatures, and we do best together whether we like it or not. When it comes right down to it, each other is all we really need.

Ask anyone that has had to abandon their home in a moments notice during an emergency or disaster.

Victims of natural disasters like wildfires have reported on what goes through their minds at the moment of reckoning.

Hint: it has nothing to do with stuff.

We don't need money - we need each other. We don't need to buy things - we need to share things. Yes, our stuff, but also our thoughts, our ideas, our dreams.

Working together while sharing our creativity has the power to create change and build a better world. A world that recognizes what is really important and what we really need.

Then maybe we can prevent there ever being a "last person on earth".

October 7, 2013

Too Much Food Monday

Average daily calorie consumption, 2009

Doesn't anyone read Goldilocks and the Three Bears any more? What ever happened to moderation?

Too much of anything can create problems, as can too little. We should always be aiming for just the right amount. As the idiom goes, "Enough is as good as a feast".

Today too much money usually means too much food. Too little means not enough.

While some countries are experiencing an obesity epidemic, there is still a high incidence of starvation in others.

The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 1400 calories per day. The global average in 2009 was 2,800 calories. A large portion of the population got 900 calories or less. That is too little.

Some rich countries have an average calorie intake of over 3,500 calories. That is too much. Gorging on that much food while remaining sedentary results in negative health and lifestyle outcomes.

It also takes calories from those that need them simply to survive.

The problems at the Global All You Can Eat Buffet mean that the number of people dealing with the negative consequences of too much food outnumber those that deal with the challenges of having too little.

There are people at the back of the line that haven't had any porridge (hot or cold) while a large group of others are going back for second, third, and fourth servings. And it's not hard to see who is doing the queue-jumping.

If we were to stop squandering our extra money on unhealthy consumer driven pursuits, or hoarding it in trophy bank accounts, we could eliminate both obesity and starvation, not to mention a host of other challenges.

Imagine everyone at the global family table getting enough sustenance to maintain a healthy life. No more, no less.

That would be just right.

October 4, 2013

Simple Is The Way

Of all the research I have done into what thinkers and philosophers of the past have recommended, I have never come across any that suggest we spend our lives focused on increasing our material wealth.


When it comes to religious figures and ancient texts the result is always the same. None that I know of tell their followers to acquire as much stuff as possible. Quite the opposite.

Even our comedians warn us of the dangers of participating in the acquisition of material possessions.

So who exactly are we listening to when we are deciding how to live our lives? Not these folks, that's for sure, for if we were paying attention we would realize that simple is the best way, indeed the only way, to live successfully on Earth.

That has been the unheeded message for thousands of years.

Simple Wisdom

“If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, then this is the best season of your life.”

- Wu-Men

"I am more and more inclined to reduce my baggage, to lop off superfluities. I become more and more in love with simple things and simple folk- a small house, a hut in the woods, a tent on the shore. The show and splendor of great houses, elaborate furnishings, stately halls, oppress me; impose upon me. They fix the attention on false values, they set up a false standard of beauty; they stand between me and the real feeders of character and thought." 

- John Burroughs

"Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts, of life are not only dispensable, but hindrances to the elevation of mankind." 

- Henry David Thoreau

Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where rust or moths corrupts or where thieves break in and steal but lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust does not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.

- Mathew 6:19-21 

"Happiness, the goal to which we all are striving is reached by endeavouring to make the lives of others happy, and if by renouncing the luxuries of life we can lighten the burdens of others.... surely the simplification of our wants is a thing greatly to be desired! 

And so, if instead of supposing that we must become hermits and dwellers in caves in order to practice simplicity, we set about simplifying our affairs, each according to his own convictions and opportunity, much good will result and the simple life will at once be established.

- Gandhi

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.” 

- Lao Tzu

"You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" 

- Steven Wright

October 3, 2013

10 Tips For Living Like It's The Collapse

#8: Have a well stocked pantry.

There is nothing like a good, old collapse to put things into perspective. You really find out what is important after the supermarket shelves are empty, gas stations closed, and the unprepared are in a panic.

Although we have escaped total collapse so far, middle- and lower-class citizens around the world are experiencing a significant drop in their standard of living. Some analysts predict that this trend will continue resulting in catastrophic changes that will drop citizen's standard of living forever.

How would you handle a post-collapse standard-of-living equivalent to half of what it is now, or worst case, one-third? If you earned $60,000 annually today, then your post-collapse standard-of-living could be between $20,000 and $30,000.

If you think voluntary simple living can be tough (and it can), think about what involuntary simple living would feel like. Forced simplicity is the norm for more and more people that previously enjoyed globally lavish lifestyles. By all appearances, collapse has already begun.

People wonder when things will get better. I wonder if they will get better. I would say that rather than continue to chase a fading dream, now is time to face a new reality that will require everyone to live more simply.

Choosing to adopt a simpler lifestyle now will be much easier than being forced to after an economic or environmental collapse.

It will be better to be prepared rather than panicked.

10 Tips For Living Like Its The Collapse

  1. Keep it light enough to travel (only own essential things that add to your life).
  2. Know how to cook using basic food staples like flour, rice, and dried beans.
  3. Grow a garden, cultivate fruit trees, compost.
  4. Live in an area of low population density.
  5. Know your neighbours, cultivate community through shared projects.
  6. Develop skills that allow you to live a happy, healthy lifestyle with very little.
  7. Think of what you have to offer for bartering - possessions, or skills like hair cutting, baking, sewing, farming, animal husbandry, building, fixing...
  8. Keep a well stocked pantry, rotate through foods for maximum efficiency.
  9. Have an emergency kit prepared (good for coping with weather disasters, earthquakes, or economic troubles).
  10. Build savings to cover basic expenses during an emergency, period of unemployment, or an outright collapse.

I don't know if we will reach collapse in my lifetime, and I hope we don't. But history shows that collapses have occurred many times before, and will occur again. It is a worthy endeavour to think about what is most important to you before rather than after something happens, then build a life around what you find.

Some will find that a simpler life is more agreeable to them than their previous lifestyle, collapse or no collapse.