September 30, 2015

The Travel Hoax

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked; it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." - Franz Kafka

There are a few things the global travel industry doesn't want you to know. Things like you can find everything you need right where you are, or very few humans will ever travel, or the grass is not greener anywhere else.

The travel industry is like any other - they will say and do whatever they have to in order to get people to part with their pesos. This includes advertising, propaganda, social pressure and shaming. Anything to get a piece of the trillion dollar per year global travel pie.

Over the past few decades the industry has spent large to create a narrative in which all humans for all time have always yearned to be somewhere else. As the story goes, it is always better to be anywhere except where you presently happen to be.

If you don't travel, or want to travel, there is something wrong with you.

Don't get me wrong - I have traveled in my life and enjoyed it a great deal. But it is hardly a pre-requisite to being a good person or having a fulfilling life.

"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." - Carl Jung

Some say that travel is an education unto itself, and it can be when approached as a learning experience rather than just a diversion. But just as it is possible to pass through school and learn very little, one can have traveled and not learned from the experience.

When spending money is the goal, our focus is always directed outward and away from ourselves. The answers are always over there. But in order to really figure this life and our place in it, we have to go the other way. We have to go within.

Our inner space cannot be commodified, which is why we mostly ignore its existence, or the rewards of plunging its depths right where we are at.

The secrets of our selves, and the universe, are in us and freely available. They can be revealed to anyone willing to live consciously and turn their attention away from trinkets, baubles and other distractions.

Everything you need is right at home. Right in your area, your neighbourhood, your mind.

September 28, 2015

The Environment Is In You

I came across these amazing mushrooms on a recent walk in the woods behind my home.

When I go for hikes in the woods I melt right into my surroundings. I meld with everything around me. I cease to exist in my individual, solitary state and merge with everything else. I am in my place and at peace. I am at home.

Modern life separates us from this place of peace. So-called civilized people are "above nature", have "transcended the natural world". We have stopped being participants in a cooperative venture and have taken a competitive ownership over all lower life forms.

Our natural humility has been replaced with an ugly hubristic pride. We are the most important organism on the planet, and everything else is here to serve us. There is us, and there is the environment. We do not want to be associated with that messy, chaotic system.

Wendell Berry challenges us to find "where the line can be drawn between an organism and its environment." "The environment, he says, "is in you."

"It's passing through you. You're breathing it in and out. You and every other creature."

Whatever we do to the environment we do to ourselves, because we are an inextricable part of the whole. No more or less important than anything else.

We are the environment and the environment is us. Just go for a quiet walk in nature and you can get a glimpse of the connection between you and everything else. You are home.

September 26, 2015

Cut The Crap - Cook At Home

As home cooking has fallen into disfavour in recent decades, many people don't know how to cook.

I like to cook all my meals from scratch using wholesome vegetarian ingredients. Evidence is amassing that tells us this is the way to go for optimal health. Recently the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation said as much when it recommended we "cut the crap" and get back to home cooked meals.

Besides "avoid all highly processed foods", they had the following recommendations. 

  • Cook from scratch at home as much as possible with whole ingredients.
  • Teach children and young people how to cook, including through home economics classes in school.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of natural and whole foods.
  • Eat fewer highly processed foods such as sugary drinks, sweets, salty snacks and processed meats with many ingredients, additives and preservatives.

Not so long ago these were simple common sense, but in a time when we are spending more of our food budget outside of the home and eating industrialized food, they are seen as radical ideas.

What happened to home cooked? I have one possible explanation. One of my neighbours remembers being embarrassed at bringing sandwiches made from home baked bread to school.

Wonderbread, which was new to the market at the time, was the more modern and fashionable choice in the 1950s school lunch room. It was "notoriously deficient in vitamin and mineral content" and had to be fortified according to government regulations introduced to combat disease.

Advertising that often appealed to children made it seem like home cooked food was inferior. Today cooking at home is only for celebrity chefs on TV and people that can't afford processed food and restaurant meals.

Wrong. I think we are ready for a fresh, home made, no crap food revolution. We are finally coming to understand that good food is our true medicine.  And the best medicine is made from your own two hands in your own kitchen with tasty, healthy ingredients.


September 23, 2015

Boycott Corporate Malfeasance

Evil doers abound these days. There are so many things to boycott that it is hard to keep track. Linda and I have been growing our list of boycotts for years as we learn more about the way business is run these days. Are we buying from companies pulling a VW and lying to us about their practices?

The responsible consumer must do a lot of research these days to find out who is doing what.

They don't make it easy. It is almost as if corporations are trying to hide something from us, and they are - the list of nefarious activities by corporate entities is well documented.

Whether it is United Fruit overthrowing the government of Guatemala, Union Carbide's Bhopal disaster, or Enron ripping off investors for 25 billion dollars, corporate malfeasance has become business as usual rather than isolated events.

The following is a list of just a few companies that come to mind that are included in our ongoing boycotts. The longer we thought about the list the longer it got. We could add more, as you will be able to as well.


With mergers and name changes it is increasingly difficult to avoid crappy business practices. The simplest thing is to buy as little as you can, thus avoiding supporting businesses that have a net negative overall benefit to humans and other living things. 

No one in charge seems to have the integrity and moral compass to revoke the corporate charters of highly organized and entrenched criminal business organizations. But we can evict immoral companies from our lives.

Indeed, this is what they are most afraid of - us choosing to make them and their crap irrelevant in our new world. If enough people do so, eventually the corporations themselves will truly and gloriously disappear into the pages of a troubled corporate history. 

And the world will rejoice. What companies are you boycotting? 

September 21, 2015

Fall Equinox 2015

Fresh tomato soup for two garnished with some old cheddar cheese.

Happy Fall equinox to our readers in the northern hemisphere. Here in Nova Scotia, Canada the weather has noticeably turned from the hot of summer to the cooler days of autumn.

I put a jacket on to go for a bike ride today. We are letting the sun into the house because we need the heat more than we need to keep things cool. We are putting warmer blankets on our bed. Migrating birds are passing through on their way south.

And I can cook and bake to my stomachs content without melting.

Freshly baked bread for sandwiches.

Many around here say that fall is their favourite season. Snow is still several months distant, and days can be sunny and warm even if nights are cool. When the leaves change, the forest is transformed into a blaze of colours, and visitors come from all around to witness this natural phenomenon.

Happy Fall Equinox 2015.

September 18, 2015

Zenful Living

“Knowledge is learning something every day.
Wisdom is letting go of something every day.”
- Zen Proverb

For me, simple living is zenful living. Through it I hear the sound of a quiet life, a quiet mind. It provides me with all the good things that money can not buy. Peace. Enjoyment. Fulfillment.

Zenful living is being fully in the only time frame we have right now - the present. It is allowing each moment to unfold untrammelled by external forces. It leads naturally toward thrift and frugality.

Emulating nature, I am using just what I really need. Not only for basic survival, but also allowing for a satisfying, meaningful life. I am learning to live with an amount of consumption that is socially, environmentally and spiritually responsible. I am learning what is enough for me.

I have time to go for frequent walks in the woods, and while I stroll under the canopy of leaves I am a forest hermit. Listening. Watching. Being.

Simple living is conducive to mindful living, which leads one from bondage to freedom. It is liberating to feel content and whole while living on little.

This is why I will continue to live a simple, Zenful life.

September 15, 2015

Stop. Ask Questions.

A lot of what we buy is purchased on impulse - why do you think every grocery store has displays of candy right at the checkout? How to overcome the pressure to buy now? Use your self control to wait.

Few purchases are for emergency items or for things we really, really need. Most of the time we see. We want. We buy.

But if we inconvenience ourselves by stopping and asking a few questions about the thing charming us, we can break the spell.

  • do I need this?
  • would I rather save the money?
  • would I rather spend the money on something else?
  • will buying this positively affect my health and well being?
  • will buying this create unnecessary harm to the environment?

More often than not, if we wait the impulse passes. Especially if we stop, ask questions, and think more about the repercussions of our potential purchase. It takes all the fun out of shopping.

And that is the whole point. 

September 13, 2015

Simple Life - Simple Problems

Occasionally I am reminded of how living the simple life protects a person from the complicated problems of a moneyed existence. Problems tend to be magnified along with bank accounts, although you will rarely hear anyone admit that.

There are ample examples warning about how mounds of money can often bring more misery and complications rather than a problem-free life. Such is the precautionary tale of Terrance Watanabe, whose story took place in Vegas, but was too big to stay there.

Mr. Watanabe grew up in a wealthy family in the US. His father started a novelty supply business in 1932 that grew to be a multi-million dollar enterprise. When the father retired in 1977, his son Terrance took over. In 2000 he sold the family business for a large, undisclosed sum, and began a life as a philanthropist.

What the well-meaning Watanabe became instead was an addict, with booze and gambling being his obsessions. It turned out to be a dangerous combination, and over the course of a single year, the man gambled away an estimated $300 million dollar family fortune.

It gets worse.

During the gambling spree, the casino said, Watanabe wrote and cashed in about $20 million dollars worth of bad cheques. They took him to court to recoup the losses. He faced up to 16 years in prison.

During the proceedings it was discovered that the casino was very familiar with Watanabe, and had a picture of him posted behind the scenes so that workers could identify him and make sure that they "treated him well".

Casino employees, in order to pry more cash out of the problem gambler, provided Watanabe with luxurious courtesy suites, and plied him with drugs and alcohol. Soon, the philanthropist had no money for cab fare, let alone cash to give away to worthy causes.

The whole mess ended up in court with everyone suing everyone else. In the end charges were dropped against the failed gambler, and the casino was fined for taking gross advantage of him.

There is a reason the saying isn't, "Money is the root of all happiness".

If all that money doesn't make you happier, or reduce your stress levels, what is the use of having it? It is counterproductive if all it does is amplify your problems, as it does for so many, including Mr. Watanabe.

I'm betting on the simple life, and the simple problems that go along with it. Chances are good you will come out ahead.

September 10, 2015

Need Clarification

Note this person is not carrying any stuff.

How much stuff do you need? Really need.

On a planet where we are trained to desire more everything, and where need-creep defines that we absolutely must have (toys, collections, appliances, electronics, BBQs...), a little need-clarification goes a long way.

One way to think about what is most important in your life is to imagine being in an emergency situation requiring you to leave your home forever. 

The wildfires are moving toward your house and the evacuation order has come down. You only have a few minutes. What do you take?

Most people who have had to go through this traumatic separation from their homes and stuff have reported what was most important to grab on the way out. The top three were:

  1. people 
  2. animals
  3. photo albums
After that they report considering other stuff like clothes and medicine, if they have enough time. Often they don't.
In such a situation clear thinking and a razor sharp perspective hits. All of a sudden the 60" wide screen plasma television and the DVD collection aren't as important as they seemed before. And that spoon collection is definitely not coming.

When Linda and I moved across Canada last summer we were in a similar situation, although we had plenty of time to consider what to bring with us. We made the move in a van and had limited space for stuff.

We took everything we needed for camping while we travelled throughout the summer. We didn't really need much more than that. We also brought a small box of books, a few small carpets (including one we bought in Istanbul over glasses of sweet tea), a small wardrobe, guitars, art supplies, computer and our blender. What can I say? I like smoothies.

All we owned in the world was with us in our little traveling tiny home, and even some of that we could have left behind. Since arriving in our new home we have found that we don't really need much more than what we brought with us. We even took the bed setup that we used in the van and moved it into our new place. We are using it to this day.

Say you had to escape a climate change wildfire, or relocate a great distance, perhaps as an environmental refugee. What would be most important for you take with you? 

September 7, 2015

Happy Labour Day

The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

"The power to dream, to rule
To wrestle the earth from fools
But it's decreed the people rule
But it's decreed the people rule

Listen, I believe everythin' we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth's revolution

We have the power
People have the power
People have the power
People have the power."

From: People Have The Power by Patti Smith

September 5, 2015

Choosing Simplicity

First gleaned apples of the season sitting on my window sill.

You aren’t legally required to conform… yet. It’s only social pressure and expectations. You can rid yourself of all of it - your big house, your vehicle, and all the many things that are mostly unnecessary. You can quit your unwanted job, you can leave your career aspirations behind. You can choose to live simply.

You can live simply and do what you really want to do, despite the persistent myth that you need a high paying job to do so. You can leave the people that are pressuring you into a high stress, high consumption lifestyle. You can scrap your plan and everything you have been taught.

The list of things you can toss while living simply is endless. You can give up your $5.00 a cup morning coffee. You can give up eating out at restaurants and prepare affordable meals at home. You can eat the leftovers too, instead of throwing them in the garbage. You can give up habitual purchases and spend mindfully with intention. Spending less on the unnecessary means more money and time for what you really need.

You can have more time to do the things that you are passionate about, whatever that may be. More moments with your kids, tend a garden, paint, write a book. People don’t want that kind of freedom enough. Conforming seems easier. They are in thrall of the consumer illusion and visions of success. All the while the clock is ticking.

Life is short, and the nourishment of the soul that comes from living simply on your own terms is worth more than a bigger pay check, material wealth, or pleasing other people.

I have never met anyone who took the risk to choose simplicity, and regretted it. None. But I have met lots of folks who have regretted focusing too much on money and superficial success, and realized too late that there is so much more to life.

September 1, 2015

Stuff We Don't Need

Many, if not most, people with money tend to spend it on things they don't need. A lot of folks are addicted to financial wealth and the stuff that can be bought with excess cash. This is not the right track, as shown by record levels of depression and environmental collapse.

We are desperately trying to fulfill ourselves with things instead of what we really need, which is love, emotional contact, and creative self-expression.

The more balanced we become, the more we seek these things rather than being driven to accumulate money and things we don't need. Our natural energy begins to flow, and our lives fall into simplicity and balance.

With balance we can have everything our hearts could desire in abundance, but there is not accumulation of excess. We are not wasting, and we are not using resources that don't need to be used.

With balance we give up the struggle for more. We have everything we need because true wealth is simple and balanced.