January 31, 2014

Sing Your Way To Health

Sufism encourages singing as a form of worship. 

 "I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think." 
- Rumi

Linda and I usually sing every day. Sometimes that manifests as lengthy melodic conversations about what to have for supper sung to popular melodies. At other times we get out the guitar and sing our favourite artists, or make up our own spur of the moment tunes complete with mostly nonsensical lyrics.

Singing is a primal urge that promotes health. Perhaps Primal Scream Therapy would have been more successful had it been Primal Sing Therapy. Singing is good for the soul, and lots of other things.

Unfortunately, most of us have been told by someone that we "can't sing". To compound the tragedy, we come to believe this to be true, perhaps never to sing comfortably again. But the truth is, we all possess a simple, natural ability to sing.

Music teacher Nikki Slade believes singing is something everyone can benefit from and says "We are all in an orchestra on this planet."

Failing to join this orchestra in order to provide an outlet for our natural urge to sing can leave us unfulfilled. At the very least it is an isolating experience, and most who think they don't possess the ability consider it a sad thing.

"Sounds can influence brain wave frequencies and promote well-being." 
- Encyclopedia of Entertainment

Whoever told us we could not sing was wrong. It is an ability that can be trained and improved by anyone with the interest, although perhaps not to the level that you will be noted for your golden vocal chords. Or maybe you will, if that is what you really want.

Better than fame or riches, singing can bring you better health.

Health Benefits of Singing

  • Reduce stress and improve mood
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Boost the immune system
  • Improve breathing
  • Reduce perceived pain
  • Improve sense of rhythm
  • Promote learning
  • Forge pleasant memories
  • Promote communal bonding
  • Provide comfort
  • Motivate and empower

"There are hidden reserves of strength and hope, and indeed happiness, that singing somehow spontaneously helps people to find. It may be this is one of the ways in which mind and body are interrelated." 
- Dr. Larry Culliford

If you are understandably shy at first, take baby steps and try a bit of humming. I hum a lot as I go about my daily routine - for me it is something that grounds me in the now. It is difficult to think of anything else except what you are doing while humming or singing. It is a happy place.

Whether in the shower alone, or around the supper table with your family, try belting out a tune. It is possible to learn to sing proficiently and use sound to promote harmonious healthfulness.

January 29, 2014

An Upcycled Bag Made Of Bags

My upcycled murse made of woven plastic shopping bags.

Today's post is about my fabulous bag. I would not normally be talking about my bag except that the cashiers at the local grocery store keep on telling me how much they love it.

Far from being an expensive men's designer bag (Man Purse, or Murse for short), mine is a lovingly hand-made model woven from plastic shopping bags.

For 23 years this flexible, sturdy bag has carried bulging loads of library books, vegetable harvests, groceries, and picnics. In all that time it does not appear to have sustained any wear and tear. It looks as good as the day it was gifted to us by a creative eco-conscious friend.

Thus the compliments from the cashiers that see me regularly at the till, stuffing amazing amounts of food into my murse-like reusable shopping bag made of shopping bags.

In an wonderful example of early upcycling, ubiquitous plastic shopping bags were woven with hemp twine, and nylon webbing handles were added. The result is a high quality, functional bag made with a waste material that can be found in abundance in most trees (and everywhere else).

Woven plastic shopping bags continue to be a popular upcycling material for crafting bags, rugs, hats, wallets, purses, murses and a variety of other items.

In Cambodia a company makes upcycling the centre of its business model. It makes items made from cleaned woven plastic bags procured in areas without garbage collection.

Their efforts clean the streets of the bags that "are everywhere: clogging drains, choking animals, and blighting already difficult lives."

There are many online sites offering woven plastic bag DIY projects, so you too can create value from waste, and create something that you can enjoy for years, possibly decades.

I don't know if real men carry murses, but real men definitely care about the environment, so guys, you can't really go wrong here. And if your bag turns heads in the shops, that is your opportunity to share your commitment to a cleaner environment, and a world where plastic bags don't grow on trees.

Beautiful patterns can be made with different
coloured plastic bags.

January 27, 2014

Lessons From The Forest Monday

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” 
- Alan Watts
Every once in a while I like to go for a walk in the forest for a lesson. Here I am not bound by the manufactured rules of human culture. There are no signs, no laws, and no authority other than nature itself. In the forest I am free to be and to learn.

This is the place that I feel the best, surrounded by stillness and quiet. I can think and relax away from busy, noisy crowds. Here I can discover everything I need to know for successful living.

I am in good company - just look at people like Henry David Thoreau, who lived and learned in the woods, or Vandana Shiva who started her eco-education and activism in the Chipko movement (the original tree huggers) that protected the trees from loggers in the forests of the Himalayas.

After repeated walks among the beautiful oaks and rhododendrons, the Indian activist learned that "the forest teaches us enoughness: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation."

The forest is the source of beauty, harmony, art, and perfection in cooperation. It models a method in which everything does its part with thrift and equality.

No species takes more than its fair share. There is no consumerism, no greed, and no accumulation for personal aggrandizement. There is a freedom to be and participate as a necessary and integral part of something larger to which we are all connected.

When we begin to learn the lessons of the forest, we will begin to live in harmony with nature and with each other.

January 25, 2014

My Favourite Tiny Home Is A Tent

In the wilderness this tiny home is luxury accommodation.

I have never owned a house. But I have a great tent. It is like a tiny, tiny, tiny home that can be carried great distances on my back to scenic locations. It is perfect for the nomad in me.

According to the specs, my current tent provides an "exceptionally roomy" 3.34 sq. m (36 sq. ft.) of space that sleeps two comfortably. It has two doors and a skylight for stargazing, but no indoor plumbing.

It is a four season tent, meaning it can be used in most any Canadian wilderness situation imaginable. Indeed, I have had the pleasure of sleeping in it in all four seasons and in a variety of locations and conditions.

The tent has been luxury accommodation while sea kayaking in a raging summer deluge as dusk raced us to the campsite. After pulling up on shore among long shadows and setting up in the dripping trees, the dependable shelter kept us warm, dry, and happy until morning.

What more can one expect in the wild, several kilometres out and a few hours of paddling from the nearest road? At the time it felt like a secure fort in the middle of nowhere. More like a safety pod actually.

This 3 sq. m of safety has been set up on lonely beaches of sand where any hope of rescue comes in the form of a helicopter or boat. It has also temporarily resided on several meters of snow at backcountry sites in the Rocky Mountains.

Some of the best sleeps of my life have been in the tent in nature. On good nights, in the right location, say a mountain meadow, before falling asleep one can see starlight shining through the fabric. But I swear that very same flimsy barrier makes me feel better about being in bear country.

This tiny structure has made the difference on several occasions between extreme discomfort or death and a scary but otherwise secure trip. It is my backcountry security blanket, which to a large degree, is what we are talking about from McMansions to pup tents.

It is possible to live without shelter at all, at least for a while.

I have also spent nights crashed out on the hard ground, sometimes in a sleeping bag, and on hot nights, simply laying in the grass or on the sand. Of course, I have also woken up to mice jumping repeatedly on my sleeping bag and sliding to the sand, so some sort of shelter is nice.

And when it is time to move on my tiny, tiny, tiny home fits into a small packable bag measuring 51 cm x 25 cm (20" x 10") .

Stainless steel appliances optional.

January 22, 2014

Medieval vs. Corporate Feudalism

The New Feudalism has many people feeling like peasants.
"By the end of the 15th century, a skilled workman could provision his family with 10 weeks of work and a laborer with 15. 
By the end of the 16th century (after the seizure of the monasteries and guild lands, which signalled the collapse of the system) wages collapsed and the corresponding numbers were 36 and 42 weeks."
- John Médaille

Feeling like a peasant lately? It is no wonder - the parallels between what is happening now and medieval feudalism are striking. Except today's top down structure leaves out the most important aspect - mutual obligations which provided protections during dangerous times.

Now we are expected to fulfill our obligations to those at the top of the feudal pyramid, while they have  absolutely no obligations to us what-so-ever.

Medieval feudalism was much more than an economic system. More importantly, it was a set of social relations with responsibilities on all sides. Even the most arrogant baron felt some obligation to both the king and to his tenants.

Medieval vs. Corporate Feudalism 

Those at the bottom, the peasants, knew what they needed to do in the chain of things, and in turn expected certain services from those at the top. A living wage, food, land, shelter, and protection from marauders was something even the lowest of the low could expect.

It is only when these obligations began to erode that you got the exploitive brand of corporate feudalism we know today.

Is this progress?

January 20, 2014

Winter Gardening Monday

Our first winter garden of kale and swiss chard.

I love biking to our garden to harvest greens all through the winter. Living in Canada, I feel distinctly privileged to be able to do so. And while it doesn't increase our 'food security' by much (we would starve if we had to rely on it), it does allow us to grow at least a bit throughout the year.

For most of my life I lived in a growing zone more suited to snow people and skiing than to gardeners. I am talking where the season begins in late May if you are lucky, and ends in September. Or earlier.

Everything in between was frozen ground, snow, ice, and a noticeable lack of anything green. That is why I am enjoying winter gardening now that I live in the country's  mildest climate on the west coast.

No strawberries
till spring.
Extending our garden through the winter is something we are just beginning to explore. Like most Canadians, we didn't even think it was possible until fairly recently when it was promoted in our community garden.

This winter we are taking baby steps and are starting with kale and chard, and are learning that there are  benefits to gardening this time of year. First of all, there are no pests, weeds don't grow, and you don't have to water. Actually, there is not much to do at all except harvest and enjoy.

The trade-off is that things grow slowly, depending on the weather. This winter has been mild so far, and we have been harvesting greens regularly since the spring, although less as winter deepens.

Fresh winter chard.

While the number of things that can be grown during winter on the Pacific is reduced, there is still a pretty impressive list for off-season green thumbs. A simple green house or cold frame can expand the possibilities.

Perennials coming
up already.

The coastal gardener can choose from parsnips, beets, turnips, leeks and carrots, that will grow through the fall and into December. Then there are winter greens like kale, spinach, chard, arugula and broadleaf cress, as well as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli that will grow through to spring.

A winter garden can keep our bodies and spirits well through the dark cold days as we wait for warmer weather and a full garden.

Fresh kale for a green smoothy.

January 18, 2014

It's A Good Day To Be Alive

Enjoy life now.

When you think about all the things that can go wrong in life, it seems somewhat miraculous to wake up in the morning and be well. It makes me want to swing my legs out of bed, clap my hands, and say, " It's a good day to be alive".

In the past few days I have heard several examples highlighting the fragility of life. One friend is comforting a loved one who is dying from H1N1 flu, while another friend had a walking wipe out and broke his leg in three places.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
- Agatha Christie

I think it was Buddha that said something like, "there are many things that work against life, and very few that support it." Danger lurks everywhere, and yet against all odds we still prevail.

To be alive and well is a precious thing. We should avoid squandering our gift of wellness while we have it. We have to enjoy these precious moments now and not after the kids are gone, or after we retire, or after we have everything we want.

Life is dangerous and short. We don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Enjoy the richness of life now. It is a good day to be alive.

January 17, 2014

We Are More Than Consumers

Are we acting as destroyers of the Earth?  Photo credit: Chris Jordan
It is easy being a consumer, as unflattering as that designation is, since we have made spending money and buying things as painless and enjoyable as possible. By contrast, acting as a citizen takes some doing.

Being only a consumer is not enough - we have an innate desire to be more than a passive vessel ready to receive an overabundance of stuff. If we can't fulfill our role as citizens, things begin to break down, including our own mental health.

consumer noun \kənˈsjuːmer\

: one that destroys, exhausts, annihilates
: one that devours, finishes, squanders
: one that devastates, depletes, overwhelms
: one that wastes

Desirable Qualities of a Consumer

1. A strong desire to shop, buy, and acquire.

cit·i·zen noun \ˈsi-tə-zən\

: a person that acts as a responsible member of a community

Desirable Qualities of a Citizen

1. Be of sound health.

2. Be an intelligent life-long learner.

3. Have self control and self confidence.

4. Show a positive public spirit.

5. Able to endure self-sacrifice for the good of the whole.

6. Take the right and responsibility to vote seriously.

7. Participate wholeheartedly.

8. Be loyal to the community.

No wonder citizenship has gone out of favour in recent years. On paper it does not look like as much fun as our role as consumers.

Often it is not fun being a citizen - it is mostly a lot of hard work and compromise. But the payoffs of putting in the effort to be more than a consumer are endless. Citizenship is the glue that binds our communities together.

We must rise above being destroyers of the earth and acknowledge the responsibilities we have to each other and the planet as global citizens.

We must be more than consumers if we are to save ourselves.

January 15, 2014

One Flight Vs Everything Else For A Year

Paul Dickinson, executive director of the Carbon Disclosure Project predicts change is inevitable: 

“I’m absolutely, definitely sure that people will be flying a lot less in 5 to 10 years.”

You could be a farmer's market loving, bicycle riding, hemp-wearing, vegetarian that has significantly lowered your carbon footprint, but take even one flight and all that hard work is nullified.

Just one return flight from Vancouver, Canada to Quito, Ecuador creates as much green house gas as the global average production for everything else for a year.

Flying is the least efficient, most damaging method of travel. Aircraft emissions are especially harmful because they spread a toxic cocktail of gasses directly into the upper atmosphere. And it is getting worse.

The aviation industry is growing at about 12% per year, and represents the fastest growing source of greenhouse gasses in the world. Despite its devastating impact, many countries do not include the industry's international aircraft emissions in carbon calculations.

Aviation emissions are also not included in international climate treaties like Kyoto as the industry has been protected from taking responsibility for their impact for decades.

This damaging industry has always been heavily subsidized, making tickets much cheaper than they should be. The 1944 Chicago Convention ruled that no government can levy a tax on aviation fuel. In the U.K. alone, aviation receives the equivalent of a 10 billion pound tax subsidy annually.

If you do fly, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the resulting climate damage. The following are suggestions for balancing the impact of long-haul flights such as from Vancouver to Australia:

  1. Plant three trees for every 4000 miles of air travel.
  2. Eat vegetarian for a year.
  3. Ride your bicycle for a year.
  4. Switch to a green energy provider for electricity and heat. 
There is no such thing as sustainable high-speed, long-distance jet travel. The best way to reduce your travel carbon footprint is to not fly.

Choose instead, a slower, more efficient alternative. Slower forms of travel are more relaxing and enjoyable anyway.

January 13, 2014

Stay Where You Are

Nothing can lower your carbon footprint as much as staying where you are.

I hear a lot of people saying that someone should do something about global warming. I don't hear a lot of people saying that they are voluntarily eliminating non-essential travel.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the creation of that problem, but that seems to be a novel concept for those who selfishly continue climate-harming behaviours while crossing exotic destinations off their 'bucket list'.

A small minority of voluntary staycationers are starting to speak out. There have been people polled in Europe that go so far as to suggest that taking a flying holiday is immoral and should be stopped altogether. It may sound extreme, but the problem we face is extreme.

Tourism is one of the world's largest and fastest growing industries, and it has a huge, rapidly growing carbon footprint that must be addressed before permanent damage is done to our planet's vital systems.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and environmental groups have singled out air travel as accounting for 60% of tourism greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, tens of thousands of commercial jet planes generate more than 600 million tones of CO2 per year. These numbers are projected to increase in the coming years, raising questions about what we are really doing.

Why are so many people flying more often and farther than ever before to do pretty much the same things they do while at home? Can the travel and tourism sector be considered a beneficial activity? Is the promise of zero impact Eco-tourism even possible, or is it all industry greenwashing to protect profits?

A 2007 paper titled Tourism Feels The Heat Of Global Warming concluded, "If the goal is to effectively decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the travel and tourism sector, there seems to be no way around curbing the growth of the industry." In other words, we will just have to stay home more often.

Today one of the most radical things you can do is be happily content to stay where you are. It may also be one of the most beneficial things you can do for others and the planet.

January 10, 2014

Wrap Rage

There are all kinds of drawbacks to buying things. Wrap rage is yet another one that could be harmful to your mental and physical health.

Cutting a blood-spurting gash on your hand or other body part as you try to open the armoured packaging of a new and anticipated purchase is no laughing matter. A majority of Canadians polled reported that they had received injuries in the past from attempting to open impenetrable packaging.

What a bummer! The delicious deliriousness of the shopping experience quickly digresses into "heightened levels of anger and frustration". They tell us buying stuff is supposed to be 'fun'.

I have experienced wrap rage and spilled blood before, but as you would expect, on a very limited basis. Things in the second hand shop don't come in blister packaging, or any packaging at all as a matter of fact. You could say it is the only "frustration-free' packaging going - no packaging at all.

One of my favourite of the "R" words is REFUSE. I refuse to become involved in harmful things. Just like road rage can be avoided by refusing to drive and taking the bus instead, you can avoid wrap rage by refusing to buy anything that comes in wrapping that offends you.

However, what if you do need something that comes in a blister pack?

First of all, stay calm. There is not a single thing inside a blister pack worth hurting yourself over. Consider putting on a pair of gardening gloves. Or wave the white flag and return the product to the store.

If I ever again have to buy an impenetrably packaged item, I am going to take it to Customer Service. I will tell them I wish to purchase the item, but don't want to risk injury upon arrival back home. I am almost positive they would offer to open the item, and recycle the packaging too.

Maybe if this happened often enough, retailers would become advocates for sensible packaging that allows us to buy things we need without losing too much blood.

January 8, 2014

Getting Off The Grass

No grass here - urban garden allotments in Geneva, Switzerland
Looking for good news? Look no further and check out the growing trend toward getting off our addiction to grass, and replacing lawns with food.

Wide expanses of grass for purely aesthetic reasons are thankfully going extinct among those who have realized you can't eat grass. Unless you are a Canada goose.

Goodbye to manicured lawns, hello to the productive and eco-sensitive cultivation of the land. Around the world urban agriculture is on the increase as lawn-covered, mono cropped, death zones are replaced with diverse life-giving fruit and vegetable plots.

In Switzerland there are almost one million allotments representing 50,000 hectares, the equivalent to 3,000 medium sized farms.

72% of Russians cultivate a bit of soil for sustenance, as do about 80,000 urban farmers in the city of Berlin.

We are getting off the grass and replacing lawns with food. Local, fresh food.

January 6, 2014

Make It Last: Be Gentle

The world could use more gentleness. It is the way to be good to things and make them endure.

St. Seraphim told his followers that by adopting a personal spirit of gentleness, thousands of people around them could be saved. Could gentleness also save thousands of dollars?

It can.

Anything treated gently will last longer than if treated harshly without due respect and care. Being gentle is something that has beneficial effects whenever and wherever it is practiced.

When applied to our relationships, gentleness establishes and maintains a safe and supportive environment that honours the individuals with whom we interact.

Gandhi said that you can shake the world, in a gentle way. Surely if gentleness can do that it can also make things last. And it can, whether it is a thing, a relationship, or the very Earth itself.

Try a little gentleness. It is a great way to make things last.

January 3, 2014

Decluttering Is Like Dying

Letting go of our possessions can feel like
the death of our previous identity.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell must have been a minimalist. He knew the hold things have on us and said, "It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly."

If this is so Mr. Russell, then why is it so hard to rid ourselves of those nasty encumbrances?

Over the past decade Linda and I have been on an ongoing quest to become less preoccupied with possessions, and this is what we have found. Decluttering is hard.

As time has gone on it has become easier, but not by much. It is a conundrum that has spawned a lively household debate. Like good little thinkers, we have had long discussions and have theorized on why it is so hard to get rid of stuff.

Linda came to the conclusion recently that it is because decluttering is a lot like dying. Or more like a bunch of little deaths every time we part with something. No wonder it is hard!

Consumer culture places great emphasis on material possessions, and we are trained to derive our sense of self from them. There is no getting away from this misplaced view of our identity - we are reminded by brash commercials thousands of times every day - we are what we own.

If we get our sense of identity from the things we own, what happens when we declutter those things out of our lives? Getting rid of them is like getting rid of little pieces of ourselves.

As I pare down my possessions to only that which I require to meet my goals, I can feel my past identity dying. But it is a delicious death because it frees me to discover who I really am.

I am finding new concepts besides consumerism and materialism with which to identify. Concepts like the rightness of Nature, or the power of good deeds, peace and compassion.

Ultimately, the death of our past selves by putting possessions in their place, allows a new identity to form which is based on the oneness of everything.

Take a risk - declutter and die a bit. Then be reborn to your new free and noble life.

January 1, 2014

Renewing The Earth

Renewing the Earth in 2014 

"Imagine the earth restoring herself to her natural balance. More beautiful, varied, abundant, and magical than ever, she is truly a wondrous place to live. 

Imagine that many of the institutions and structures that were no longer in tune with the needs of the planet have been dismantled or transformed. 

Humankind has developed wisdom and consciousness and has thereby returned to the Garden."

 - Shakti Gawain