June 30, 2015

One Size Does Not Fit All

At first we try to fit into the mold society wants to pour us into. For the most part it does not work. One size does not fit all. Unfortunately, the system makes sure there are no alternatives. It demands that you put personal goals aside, be a slave to the system, and go work longer, harder and for less money.

Ricky Syers is a man that gave the system a try. Like many of us, he didn't find it to his liking. Of being a drone working toward other people's goals he says, “I would rather die on the street as a street performer than try to create some sort of life that satisfies someone else.”

We all must do some sort of work to support ourselves, but if we minimize our material desires we may only have to brush up against the exploitative world in a most minimal manner. The rest of the time we can work toward OUR goals, whatever they may be.

You may want to be an artist. Or perhaps being a community activist is more to your liking. Or maybe you just want to live close to nature and enjoy the peace and quiet - grow a garden, sit and think. Or perhaps you want to have time to get to know your neighbours.

Whatever the goal, reducing your desires will make attaining your goals so much more possible.

Simplicity is the way toward actualizing yourself and building the life you want. The system can struggle on without our forced participation.

Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed and be free than lounge in luxury and be confined by society's demands and expectations.

June 27, 2015

Fire Is Hot

When Alexander the Great met Diogenes the Cynic and asked him if there was anything he could
do for him, Diogenes replied, "Stand a little out of my sun".

In a saner world writing about living simply would be similar to writing about the wetness of water, or the hotness of fire. Not so long ago it would have been self-evident that simplicity is the only sane and realistic way to live on this planet.

We have known this for thousands of years, and there is ample evidence to show that we were taught this valuable lesson long ago.

If it weren't for the discovery of cheap fossil fuel energy a couple of hundred years ago, we never would have been able to make perpetual, infinite growth our goal. Harvesting this energy has made us lazy, materialistic, and hazardous to all living things. But we had to be taught to go against conventional wisdom learned over eons of living on our gentle planet.

Most of us alive today in the "developed", "advanced", or "civilized" world have been brainwashed to ignore our intuition and experience that tells us deep down inside that simple is the way to go. As the result of a massive campaign of lies and deceit we have come to believe that we can have everything everywhere all the time. Without repercussions.


Instead this mode of thinking has led us straight into immanent collapse. It was not always this way, as shown by the following timeless wisdom.

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” - Lao Tzu
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus 
"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."  - Confucius  
"The greatest wealth is to live content with little." - Plato 
"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Jesus (Mark 8:34-38) 
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” - Jesus (Luke 12:33)
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” - Socrates 
“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.” - Buddha 
“The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveler, who takes rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way.” - Muhammad 
"Before you take any decision, consider its effect on the next seven generations." - Hopi proverb

Water is wet. Fire is hot. Life on Earth must be lived simply. Not believing these does not make them less true.

June 24, 2015

Follow Your Bliss

One of the most important aspects of living simply is having the time to develop self-awareness; to heed Joseph Campbell’s advise and “follow your bliss”.

With infinite consumer entertainments vying for our attention, developing self-awareness is difficult. Very few people will recommend it, and many will say you are wasting time ’navel-gazing’. Maybe they know that the system as we know it would change irrevocably if becoming our true selves were our top priority.

Ralph Waldo Emerson warned that “society is everywhere in conspiracy against the [individuality] of every one of its members.” How do we fight this conspiracy? Find and live out our “sacred integrity", which will lead to lasting happiness and fulfillment.

Susan Murphy says you have to “allow a kind of healing crisis of mind and heart that will yield a genuinely liberating glimpse of who you are and what reality is, minus all opinions about it.” Such a crisis leads us to our sacred integrity.

Or as the poet Basho says, “Cultivate a mind to follow nature and return to nature.”

In other words, the process of awareness that identifies who we are to ourselves is the same process that reveals reality, and is the same process that operates throughout nature.

How do we gain insight to these processes, and thus get to know ourselves and discover our bliss? The Buddhist mountain hermits in China have 3000 years of experience in this area. They would say, "Don't follow your old habits: Observe your mind."

While this may be a life long journey, the sooner we simplify and align ourselves with nature, the sooner we can get started.

First we change ourselves, then we change the world.

June 22, 2015

Frugal Heaven or Consumer Hell?

A little slice of heaven close to home.

It's official - planet Earth is done. The only heaven we have ever known has been despoiled. And its angels now have claws where we once had wings.

James Lovelock puts our biosphere's predicament very bluntly in his book The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back – and How we Can Still Save Humanity.

“If we continue business as usual, our species may never again enjoy the lush and verdant world we had only a hundred years ago. What is most in danger is civilization; humans are tough enough for breeding pairs to survive....but if these huge changes do occur it seems likely that few of the teeming billions now alive will survive.”

How bad do things have to get before people will voluntarily adopt lifestyles that the planet can support?

Scientists are letting us know that we are currently in Earth's sixth mass extinction event. They are also telling us that we are the cause. We are wiping out our Eden.

Ultimately, our desire for more and faster everything may lead to the demise of our own species.

The good news (yes, there is still some of that) is that those scientists agree with Lovelock and think that there still might be time to save Gaia. But if there is, they say, that door is quickly closing.

I look forward to the day that we close the door on conspicuous consumption, one of the major culprits in the current extinction event. Eventually it will be as socially unacceptable as other harmful, life-threatening practices, like throwing your feces into the street.

From the sounds of things that day will be coming sooner rather than later. Then we can work together to restore Earth to the divine status that it so richly deserves.

But there must be a sense of urgency.

The choice has to be made now. Part of the solution, or part of the problem. Live simply in a frugal heaven, or consume our way to a somewhat lower, hotter location.

June 19, 2015

Choose Simplicity - Choose Adventure

I came upon these lupins while on a recent cycling adventure.
There is a genre of kids books called "choose your own adventure" that allow the reader to follow different threads and outcomes according to their choices at critical junctures. They are interesting in that they allow kids to feel like they have control over the narrative.

In reality, the control kids have with these books is as deep as the control they have over the rest of their lives. In other words, very little. The choices are all given by someone else. You must choose one. But what if you don't like any of the choices?

I like write-your-own-adventure. We should encourage people to create their own stories. Then they  become someone that can create their own adventure in the grand story we call life.

How do we become the author, the artist of our own life?

“I would rather die on the street as a street performer than try to create some sort of life that satisfies someone else.”
- Ricky Syers

Choosing voluntary simplicity is a good way to respond to the sad story of environmental degradation, but that is not all. Just as important is discovering that life is an adventure, and we can be the teller of our own tale.

I have never accepted the mainstream mythical story - go to school, get married, buy a house, have kids, work hard, buy your way to success and be happy. Like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, in this scenario you are restricted to a limited number of choices that someone else is making for you.

No thank you, not for me. I want other choices. I want infinite choices.

A life of simplicity allows us to write our own adventure. It frees time and resources to enjoy life not in a hurried rush, but to live it as an ongoing, slowly unfurling work of art. That is hard to do while frantically running the rat race.

When we choose simplicity, we choose adventure. Our adventure.

"Life is pure adventure and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art."
- Maya Angelou

June 17, 2015

Not Buying Any Upgrades

Is new better? Better for what? Mostly for increasing the profits of the scammers trying to sell us things we don't need. But things are changing and people are quitting the "new and improved" race.

We reached peak technology some time ago, and now upgrades no longer give us the bang for our buck that they used to. To fight this, there is a movement beginning that is turning back the clock on technology.

"Last year over 1 million PCs were dumped by British businesses. Most of this equipment ended up in landfill."

People are foisting their FB account, eschewing email, and lovingly handwriting letters. Many are moving the microwave out, parking the car and taking up biking again. On single speed bikes.

To help neo-Luddites along are low tech magazines spreading the word about leaving the upgrade game and going back to tried and true tools that never should have been left behind. Like a clothes line rather than an energy sucking dryer.

As one magazine says, "Every problem has a low tech solution".

People who live simply are often proponents of low tech living. The Amish are an excellent example of a group that refuses newer technologies to avoid undesirable effects on their communities. How do you use power tools and appliances when the power goes out?

"The average American spends almost $1400.00 annually on electronics."

Going low tech saves money. It prevents waste. Low tech is accessible to those that want to do it themselves, either building or repairing items. High tech is often fragile, while low tech is usually more robust and long-lasting. Low tech is low energy.

Counter to popular thinking, a small group of proponents feel that there will be no technological saves in our future. It is becoming increasingly obvious that our high tech is what has lead us to the brink of disaster.

While low tech has never gone away, it is about to become a lot more popular in our low energy future. It is time to say goodbye to high tech upgrades, and hello to a sustainable hand made, people powered future.

"Every year the world tosses 20 to 50 million metric tons of electronics. Only 10 - 18% is recycled."

June 15, 2015

Consumerism Funds War

In 2012 global military spending amounted to over 1.7 trillion dollars. 

Consumers buying stuff eventually leads to politicians buying bombs.

As our money trickles up it provides the capital necessary to fund war. War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on The Environment. War on Human Rights.

Everything except a War on Poverty or Corruption or Greed. Or Ignorance.

Even the country I currently live in (Canada), a nation once known for international peace keeping, is getting in on killing things.

Our lack of climate change leadership is killing the atmosphere. Our military planes are dropping bombs in the Middle East killing everything on which they fall.

Through a long serpentine route our money funds multiple wars on people and other living things.

Consumerism itself amounts to a war on the planet and all its inhabitants.

Want to stop all this needless warmongering? Aside from a tax revolt, stop buying stuff you don't need.

June 12, 2015

10 Survival Foods You Can Grow

The iceberg lettuce in my grocery store is 95% water, all of it from California.

Never mind food security, the way our world is going we could slip into food survival at any time. What would I do if one of any number of threats tipped into crisis mode, and the supermarket shelves went empty?

One very real disruption (it is not a threat because it is currently happening) is the ongoing drought in California.

When I lived on the west coast a lot of our food came from California. Now I am 6000 km away on the east coast and guess what? A lot of the fresh food in the stores here is also from California. They are exporting a lot of water in the food I eat.

What if the drought there continues and that food supply no longer exists?

We were not always so dependent on food from far away - our diets were far more local, perhaps even from your own yard. Those are the days to which we are destined to return. And when we do, it will be good again.

“Before the 20th century, the majority of produce consumed in the United States came from small farms that grew a relatively diverse number of crops. Fruit and vegetable production was regional, and varieties were dictated by the climate of those areas.” - California Drought

10 Survival Foods You Can Grow


These are only a few examples of foods that can be grown in temperate climates. Many store very well, and a root cellar would be an excellent way of preserving them without having to depend on an external energy source.

So far I am only growing chives. They were left here by the previous occupants. I have some work to do. But it does have to be done whether it is turning new ground, raised beds, or containers.

I think about growing food every time I am in the grocery store and look at all the California water brought here in things like lettuce. California water. Scarce water.

How are you "future-proofing" your food supply?

June 10, 2015

Kindergarten Guidelines For Life

My dad was an early childhood educator. I don't think he ever had a kindergarten class of his own, but he spent a lot of time in classrooms with university students who were specializing in this area, and would soon have classes of their own. It was his excitement for teaching that led me towards a (short) career in education.

Occasionally I taught as an on-call teacher in kindergarten classes. It is a (barely) controlled anarchy of a most wonderful kind. There is potential and magic happening all day long. It is a thrilling, tiring ride for those teachers that are brave of soul and strong of heart.

Dad loved this early atmosphere and always said, "The little people are where it's at." He thought that if you wanted to change the world it was the little people to which you should appeal. After all, the essential learnings happen early in our lives.

If I were teaching "little people" today, the guidelines that we would discuss at the beginning of the year would be something like the following.

  • Share everything.
  • Be kind.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry if you hurt somebody.
  • Learn something new every day.
  • Think and ask questions. All the time.
  • Don’t take more than your fair share.
  • Draw, paint, sing, dance and play a bit every day.
  • Get a good sleep, and take naps.
  • Work and play with each other - together we are strong. 
  • When out in the world hold hands.
  • Show respect for all living things.
  • Be truthful.
  • Be yourself and share your gifts with the world.
  • Nurture your curiosity and sense of wonder.

What if the lessons we learned in kindergarten stayed with us for our whole lives? How different our world would be.

Want to know where it is at? Visit a kindergarten class and see what the little people are up to. Or ask a kindergarten student you know. They will remind you of the important things in life.

June 8, 2015

Tidy and Organized Crap Is Still Crap

There is a psychic cost to owning stuff... even if it is tidy and organized.
I have not read Marie Kondo's book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing". From what I can see, she is into helping people organizing their stuff.

But tidy and organized crap is still crap.

In all fairness, it appears the author is in way deeper than just making a bunch of useless stuff aesthetically pleasing. The few choice quotes I went over tell me she is also urging people to own less stuff.

Less stuff, but more meaningful stuff. Things that speak to your soul and add to your life.

A bunch of messy stuff is soul-sucking. A bunch of organized stuff a little less so. But just enough stuff to help you engage in your passions and priorities is a blessing.

The following quotes suggest that putting this book on hold at the public library for further research may be a good idea. There are some real nuggets of wisdom here, and I speak from personal experience in my quest to live on the least amount of stuff as possible.

And no crap, organized or otherwise.

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”
“The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.”
- Marie Kondo

June 5, 2015

Appleness Valley

L'sitkuk, or Annapolis Valley, NS, or as I call it the Appleness Valley.

Since last August we have been living in the western end of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. The area is the homeland of the Mi'kmaq First Nations, and they call it L'sitkuk. They were the sole occupants until 1604 when explorers from France arrived in this fertile land looking to establish a settlement.

One thing (besides major strife) that has come from this settlement is a rich agricultural heritage. The valley provides conditions conducive to growing a variety of produce including apples. At one time it was the apple growing centre of Canada, shipping apples far and wide via trains which no longer run.

Breathtaking blossom beauty abounds.

I thought maybe the name Annapolis had something to do with apples. I was wrong. It means 'Anne's city', and was named to commemorate Queen Anne. Whatever. I am changing the name because I do not care about royalty, present day or historical.

My name for this place from now on in is "Appleness Valley", and I think it particularly apt. There are apple trees everywhere. Apple trees in orchards. Apple trees in yards. And my favourite - apple trees in the ditches.

Before long this tree will be laden with a bounty of apples.

The abundant apple trees are particularly obvious right now as they are pushing out beautiful blossoms at a rapid rate. It is an apple blossom festival everywhere, and I celebrate their cherished spot in this region's history.

Welcome to the Appleness Valley. Sorry Queen Anne.

June 3, 2015

DIY Dentistry

Dental work found on a 4,000 year old mummy.

Dentistry has probably been unaffordable for as long as it has been around - about 9,000 years or more if archaeologists are right. Those that can't afford proper dental care no doubt have been driven to do it themselves for about as long.

The only time I have ever done do it yourself dentistry is when I used white glue to stick a crown back on until I could get an appointment with my dentist. I was kind of surprised that it worked as well as it did, but it didn't make me think of expanding my DIY skills in this area.

At the time I didn't realize that there was such a thing as home dental repair kits for temporarily attaching teeth and replacing fillings. Then I read an article about the hundreds of thousands of such kits sold every year that are unfortunately being used instead of visiting a dentist.

It is squirm-inducing stuff, and conjures images of people pulling teeth with a pair of pliers and anaesthetic in a bottle. But if you can't afford the cost, what is one to do?

12% of those who had tried DIY techniques had tried to extract a tooth by using a piece of string tied to a door handle. 30% of DIY dentists had tried to whiten their teeth with household cleaning products. 
Other DIY procedures people admitted to included: 
• Using household glue to stick down a filling or crown (11%)
• Popping an ulcer with a pin (19%)
• Trying to mend or alter dentures (8%)
• Trying to stick down a loose filling with chewing gum (6%) - source

The estimate I have from our new east coast dentist (our west coast dentist was the best we have ever had and we miss him dearly) amounts to many thousands of dollars worth of work. To replace my missing tooth alone would be about $5000.

Thankfully none of it is an emergency (unless a slightly less toothy smile is an emergency), and most amounts to maintenance work that we will be able to get done (or not) over the next few years. Any money we spend has to come directly from our pockets.

We have not had the benefit of dental insurance since we quit permanent full time employment about 15 years ago. On the other hand, we have had more time to live a healthy lifestyle that promotes good dental hygiene.

Now our dental insurance is adequate brushing and flossing, and a healthy diet. And low stress. Stress is bad for teeth and other living things. And bad teeth cause stress - it a vicious circle.

No one should have to rely on DIY dentistry. Perhaps there is some way we can provide adequate dental care to everyone. Even if we did manage to engage our governments in an enlightened dental policy, brushing and flossing go a long way to avoiding problems. That and living simply.