March 31, 2017

Peace And Quiet

Peace and quiet can be found here. 

When I moved to a rural area of Nova Scotia two things struck me immediately. One was how dark it was at night. Like a panther traversing a coal dust storm, the dark here slinks and oozes into every crack, crevasse and corner.

The night sky, unmarred by city lights, made up for any discomfort I felt. A brilliant universe blinking above, the likes of which city dwellers may never see.

The other thing that I noticed out here away from civilization was the almost complete lack of noise. After living in cities for most of my life I was used to constant sirens and traffic noise. We should never underestimate how constant low level sounds can affect our stress levels.

Studies have found that unwanted sound can cause stress and raise blood pressure, heart rates and levels of stress hormones. Cities hum and clang constantly, usually below our threshold of conscious awareness. A rumbling train locomotive can be heard for many kilometres in all directions.

Night is better, but city noise never stops.

Living out in the country means there is often a lack of noise, and at first, like the dark, I found it off-putting. Probably because we are social creatures and we take some comfort in being in aural proximity with others. Otherwise you have to wonder if you are the only person left on Earth.

After a while I became more comfortable with living under a cone of silence, and have even come to enjoy it a great deal. I can think better clear of auditory intrusions. I revel in the silence, broken only by natural, soothing sounds, like the wind, or bird calls, or a brook during a spring freshet.

Then the silence is broken by a jet flying overhead, one source of noise pollution that is hard to avoid, regardless of where you are on the globe. The noise from large passenger jets can travel up to 160km (100 miles). There is no altitude they can fly at which they are not audible, and the sound of any given flyby can be heard for up to eight minutes. Definitely an unwanted intrusion.

Sound ecologists remind us that while zero decibels is difficult to come by, there are still many places one can find that are notable for their natural sounds rather than those of civilization. I live in one such place.

Peace and quiet. Priceless.

March 29, 2017

It's Not You - It's Your Cage

There are times we may not feel good, perhaps lack energy for the daily grind. We may try to find solace in buying things we don't really need. Inevitably, we blame ourselves for our predicament. Unfortunately, so do our keepers.

We aren't ambitious enough, they say. Not trying hard enough, not driven to excel. If you aren't working yourself to death you're doing something wrong. Poor work ethic. They want us to believe it is a moral failing.


What people are feeling is an adverse reaction to the increasingly bland and dirty cage our keepers have built for us. Feeling down and drained right now seems like the proper response to what is happening to us in the consumer enclosure.

We are lab rats in a mad scientist's experiment that we didn't sign up for. Run on the wheel all day, forage for stuff, sleep. Repeat. Escape the cage for a day or a week off, then right back in. Run on the wheel all day, forage for stuff, sleep. Repeat.

Lab rats in similar conditions are driven to drugs to cope, then die an early death. And it's not just lab rats.

Similar results occur when humans are put into cramped, stressful cages. We also turn to drugs, whether cocaine or consumerism or a busy work life. In Japan, working one's self to death is called Karoshi, and victims only get off the wheel and escape the cage after dying of a heart attack or stroke due to stress. Corporate and social pressure props them up till then.

We don't naturally want endless amounts of work and buying stuff - they are understandable and socially sanctioned responses to the effects of coping with a bad cage and a sick experiment. We don't need to increase the number of more ambitious workers willing to shop perpetually, we need a better cage.

That is precisely what living simply provides - a better cage. The door is always open and the environment is rich in nature and community.

A simpler life is a less stressful, more contented life. Rather than concentrating on the few moments when grandiose living gives a temporary shot of feeling good, the simple life focuses on recognizing, and being grateful for, the special little moments of each and every day.

The simple life gives more time to do things that are important, like connecting with other humans in a deeper way than brief commercial exchanges. It is engaging your passions, unhindered by the mad scientists that want you to stay in their sad enclosure. It is about finding meaningful work that gives a sense of purpose and contributes to making the world a better place for all.

Feeling down? Can't help buying things you don't really need or want?

It's not you. It's your cage.

March 27, 2017

Remembering Chuck Berry

Thanks for Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry.

"Chuck Berry died on March 18th at the age of 90. Jim and Greg celebrate the life of Berry by looking at his iconic tracks, as well as his vast influence on future artists. They also talk about his work in later years and what it was like to share a stage with the guitar legend."

March 24, 2017

Happy To Not Buy Anything

My Not Purchasing Process - "I don't need it, and feel better without it."

Spending money can trigger a rush of happy chemicals in the brain yielding a high that has been compared to that after taking cocaine or crystal meth. For most people shopping provides a boost of brain juices and a warm fuzzy feeling results. What about the opposite?

Can not shopping give the same kind of boost of happiness as the joy of unbridled acquisition?

Psychologists and neuromarketing specialists have discovered more about the workings of the brain in the past two decades than the rest of history combined. Much of it has been used against us. New discoveries have aided our health, but have also been used to manipulate our spending habits.

Research has shown that the neurotransmitters such as dopamine are released when people shop. Can not buying anything achieve the same result? Unsurprisingly, I don't think any research has been done in this area, except perhaps my own personal data collection.

What I have found out is hardly new or original. Not buying things you don't need does lead to happy chemicals in the brain. Many visitors to this blog know this little secret.

One reader here commented,

"Its a strange feeling that not spending makes me feel more liberated." Or another shares the realization that, "the deeper I get into this, the less I need anything."

Another reader admits,

"As soon as I quit [needless shopping] I started finding myself focusing on all the wonderful things I already have, and what a blessing it is."  

Erin posted while not shopping for Christmas, and said, 

"I have not set foot in one store in the past few months and it is awesome to sit back and need to feel pressure or strain over "having" to buy."

These do not sound like unhappy people to me.

Dopamine is released when we approach a goal. That could be as we approach the cash register with a giant wide screen plasma internet-ready television balanced on a shopping cart, or it could be meeting a personal goal of shopping less and enjoying life more.

One of the best ways to restore low endorphin levels is to live a simple life. In a slower world with more time it is easier to meet the conditions required for the natural production of happy brain neurotransmitters.

When we have the time to notice the beauty around us, we don't have to turn to unhealthy methods for eliciting happy chemicals in our brains. Like consumerism.

We can be happy and content not buying anything.

March 22, 2017

Billboard Activism

R. Crumb illustration from "The Monkey Wrench Gang", Edward Abbey

I don't know of anyone that wants more billboards spread across the landscape. If anything, they would like fewer. But what about the ones that are already there?

You could burn them up, or cut them down, as in Edward Abbey's book, "The Monkey Wrench Gang". The group did "routine neighbourhood beautification projects, burning billboards along the highway 66". But I don't recommend it.

The free speech accorded to the advertising industry is fiercely protected to the full extent of the law so they can infect you with mind parasites that cause you to want to buy, buy, buy. Or conform. Or be afraid. Or hate this or that. Skin tags are the latest villain.

Or you could become a billboard artist/activist.

Take Jennifer Bolande, whose temporary artwork transforms a series of consecutive billboards in the desert landscape near Palm Springs, CA with photos of the landscapes they are blocking.

Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one drives by, perfect alignment with the horizon occurs, revealing the beauty the billboard has blocked. It's a beautification project that reminds us of the damage done by the in-your-face advertising blighting highway sides that the wilderness-loving Edward Abbey disliked so deeply.

"Visible Distance/Second Sight" billboard art by Jennifer Bolande, image by Lance Gerber Studio

Or you could engage in a bit of billboard hacktavism such as during the run-up to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Street artists, working with the group Brandalism, altered ads in 600 European billboards, taking aim at global-warming denial and the corporate forces opposing climate action.

"Following on in the guerrilla art traditions of the 20th Century and taking inspiration from Agitprop, Situationist and Street Art movements, the Brandalism project sees artists from around the world collaborate to challenge the authority and legitimacy of commercial images within public space and within our culture. 
All the artwork is unauthorized and unsigned. This is not a project of self-promotion, and none of the artists names… or websites appear on the works: we believe there are already enough private interests taking ownership of our streets."                             
- from Brandalism website

Billboard activism - not as risky as burning or cutting them down, and possibly more impact through positive messages. I'm putting my gas can and chain saw away, and taking my art supplies out.

But I'm not turning in my honorary Monkey Wrench card.

March 20, 2017

Spring Is A Good Time To Celebrate All Life

All of Earth's life forms are from the same Tree of Life.

People around the world are celebrating life this week. Whether you are celebrating Eostre, the Mother Goddess, Easter, Passover, or Spring Equinox, it is all about rejoicing in the exuberance of life.

Life is something that has been woefully cheapened these days. Human beings are disturbingly expendable, and many thousands are sacrificed every week at the altar to the military-industrial complex and the lust for power, money and glory. 

How we treat non-human life is regrettably worse. We are nasty to each other, and we are deadly to the life forms that are either tasty, or that get in the way of our plans and ambitions. Billions and billions of Earth's creatures are slaughtered every year to feed humans. Many more die as a result of basic human greed.

How can one celebrate life and do it justice, while engaging in its destruction at the same time? Those fluffy yellow balls of chicks are cute, but many more like them are going to be debeaked, warehoused, then killed after short lives stuffed in cages while we steal their eggs.

Unless they are males in which case they are "quickly macerated" shortly after birth. Not exactly an image you want to think about during a celebration of life.

Like us, chickens and cows and pigs and turkeys and fish just want to live and be free. Like us, they are sentient, and that should give us pause. Spring is a good time to consider that reality.

In an article called "After 2,500 Studies, It's Time to Declare Animal Sentience Proven", cognitive ethologist Mark Bekoff writes,

"The animals will be grateful and warmly thank us for paying attention to the science of animal sentience. When we listen to our hearts, we are recognizing how much we know about what other animals are feeling and that we owe it to them to protect them however we can."

Whether the animal in question is a human or a dog or cat or fish or cow, let us reflect on how we are treating the life around us, and how we are protecting it. All life is sacred.

Listen to your heart. Celebrate Life.

Happy Spring.

Note: This is an updated and reprinted post.

March 19, 2017

8.7 Million Reasons To Live Simply

Something people rarely take into account is the fact that we share this planet with an estimated 8.7 million other life forms (trillions of individuals). There are many, many species that are as yet unknown to us. Undoubtedly, our unchecked consumption habits will cause many of those to go extinct before we even discover that they used to be our neighbours.

Adopting a minimalist, simple lifestyle is a great way to honour ALL species, and allow them the best chances for survival on this gloriously diverse planet.

"We have only begun to uncover the tremendous variety of life around us. Smaller life forms are not well known anywhere. Some unknown species are living in our own backyards - literally."  
- Alastair Simpson 

When we talk about biological diversity we recognize three distinct types:

1. Genetic Diversity

2. Species Diversity

3. Ecosystem Diversity

All three of these forms of diversity are imperilled by our inability to overcome our selfish refusal to recognize other life, and accord it the same rights as our lives have. Because, after all, does not all life in all its myriad forms have a right to exist?

Part of transforming our greed-based system will be the recognition that we share this planet with millions of other species that deserve to live just as much as we do. When that happens, a peaceful and sustainable coexistence will begin that will change the way we do everything.

Need a reason to live more simply? To approach life with a minimalist's attitude? To live and let live? I have got 8.7 million reasons. And it is easy to come up with more, with little effort.

“Biodiversity is much more than beauty and wonder, important though that is. It also underpins ecosystem services that -- although not counted in conventional GDP -- humanity is dependent upon."
- Lord May

Do it for the planetary genetic material that keeps things running smoothly as we constantly adapt to change. Do it for all other species, our friendly, hard working neighbours. Do it for the amazing variety of ecosystems. Do it for your own survival. Do it for peace and cooperation and mutual benefit.

But just do it.

Still not enough reasons? Keep on reading NBA, and the comments that add so much to what we are doing here. Or consider adding a comment of your own. Maybe you have reason number 8,700,001 for living simply. We would love to hear it.

March 15, 2017

Don't Organize - Simplify!

And  more importantly, less to think about.

Help - I'm buried in a stuffalanche! My stuff is consuming me. What to do?

There are shelf-loads of books available to help get all your stuff organized.  You can buy closet organizers, storage locker organizers, shoe organizers, make-up organizers, garage organizers, and on and on the list goes. So many that one could use an organizer organizer.

There are even experts, consultants, coaches, and therapists devoted entirely to helping people organize all their stuff. Hmm...

Let me take a crack at it. On a purely non-profit basis of course.

My system is called, "Don't Organize - Simplify!". It's a non-organizing organizing system, and it has two straightforward, easy-to-follow steps.

1) The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it. Let it go. As much as you can. Then, let go of more. Keep going until you start to feel free, fresh, and unburdened. That is a sign you are getting there! Go ahead, organize what is left. It should be easy.

2) Do not allow new stuff to take over your life ever again. Treat unnecessary stuff like the toxic waste that it is. Simplicity is the armour that protects you from mindlessness of consumer crap. Soon enough, you will lose interest in extra stuff altogether.
Contact me if you are tempted to buy something you don't need. I will talk you out of it. Congratulations, and continued success.

If you choose to organize, you will need to do it over again in a short while. And again. And again. And again. You get the picture. Your stuff takes over your life. You live for your stuff. And to get more stuff.

Stop! No more stuff.

Getting rid of the unnecessary allows one to decide what is truly necessary. It is the same whether we are talking about material clutter, or mental clutter.

Don't organize it - get rid of it. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Go ahead. I know you want to.

Ahh, feels good, doesn't it?

March 13, 2017

Reducing Waste Feels Great, Naturally

The wastes excreted by consumer societies are nothing short of a crime against nature. According to Mother Nature's Laws, waste is illegal, and the fines we are currently paying are measured in environmental destruction and a loss of the natural services upon which we rely.

Our processes are linear, unlike the cycles found all around us in the natural world. Industrial processing races straight from the extraction of raw materials directly to the ecosphere via the shortest possible path.

It doesn't have to be that way, although it is the most profitable in the short, short, short term.

In nature nothing is wasted. What is left over from one process is taken up by another, and so on through the cycle. From Producers to Consumers to Decomposers, eventually all that is left are the constituent components of life - which are then taken up by organisms, closing the loop.

And so it goes.

One person, giving all their time to a no-waste lifestyle, 
makes news. 
Many people, giving a little time,  
makes for world-changing events. 
- paraphrasing Peace Pilgrim

I discovered recently, a small scale clothing company that is emulating natural 'material' cycles. In the production of the clothing, the company uses waste as a valuable resource. All the fabric that the company uses is sourced from brokers that deal in the waste that comes plopping out of industrial clothing manufacturers.

For the large clothing company it is more profitable to toss the scrap material than it is to deal with it in a more eco-friendly manner. Industry experts estimate that anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of material used to produce clothing ends up wasted. Tons and tons of it end up in landfills.

The no-waste clothing company:

- makes all clothing from larger pieces of waste cloth.
- what is left over from that is cut into rectangles, sewn together, and used to make more clothes.
- what is left over from that (small bits of cloth and thread) is used to make paper, which is made into cards and sold.

When all is done there is nothing left over. Nothing. Everything has been used up.

This innovative clothing business is closing the loop in the use of materials. I find it impressive, logical, and hopeful. To me, this feels great, just as it does when I creatively work toward the goal of living a no-waste lifestyle.

It can be done. Nature has been doing it for billions of years.

First consumerism and it's unnatural excrements must go, then we can "close the loop" on our resource use. Everyone will feel better because it's the natural way... and nature knows best.

March 10, 2017

Nature Invites Us: "Be My Friend"

Nature has an open invitation for us all to become her friend. When you accept, you have returned into a long-standing relationship. The kind that is good for you. Now you will do anything to protect her from all harm.

Be a Friend of Nature. A Lover of Nature. A Defender of Nature. She will thank you in so many life-enhancing ways.

"On the day I am blue, I go again to the wood where the tree is swaying, arms touching you like a friend, and the sound of the wind so alone like I am; whispers here, whispers there, come and just be my friend."
 - Mi’kmaq poet, Rita Joe’s (1932-2007) last poem

March 8, 2017

A Day Without Women - General Strike

Image selected by Linda.

"The protest on Wednesday stems from the efforts of the organizers of last month’s Women March on Washington. The group called for a national walkout a month ago to coincide with International Women’s Day. 
On their website, the organizers wrote that the protest is aimed at “recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” 
The organizers are encouraging women to refrain from both paid and unpaid labor and to avoid shopping—unless it’s at a woman-owned establishment. They’re encouraging those who can’t participate in the strike, and men hoping to show support, to wear the color red in solidarity. 
They also suggest that men start a conversation about equal pay at work and pitch in with housework at the office and at home. The organizers have also encouraged employers to close or give female staff the day off." - The Atlantic

March 6, 2017

Improving Energy Efficiency With Door and Window Coverings

This unicorn is guarding our front door... from drafts and cold.

The home Linda and I live in is only 4 years old. Even so, it is not without room for improvement when it comes to energy conservation.

The average home loses up to 25% of its heat through windows and doors, so there is room for improvement there. While one can buy insulated window coverings and door curtains, I like to try to do as much as I can with things I already own rather than buy new stuff.

I have fashioned a door curtain for our front door, from an old blanket (yes, the same blanket I used in our DIY thermal cooker), and curtain pins. It works so well that on cold nights with the right wind, condensation on the door will freeze.

My simple bedroom window covering provides insulation in winter, shade in summer.

My window coverings are pieces of cloth, that we already had, attached to the inside window screens. I add clear garbage bags in winter to eliminate condensation and drafts (yes, brand new windows can have drafts, I am discovering). They are easy to put up and take down, and make our home feel more comfortable.

There is always something that can be done to make our homes more energy efficient. Even new ones. And it is surprising how much can be done while not buying anything.

March 4, 2017

10 Best Medicines

Healing sunshine is returning to my kitchen - Spring is coming.

1. Sunshine

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.”

- Luther Burbank

2. Air

"For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth."

- Sanskrit Proverb

3. Exercise 

"Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it."

- Plato

4. Water 

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

- Margaret Atwood

5. Food 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

- Hippocrates

6. Sleep 

“Sleep is the best meditation.” 

- Dalai Lama

7. Laughter  

“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”

- George Gordon Byron

8. Nature

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

- Voltaire

9. Meditation

“The more one meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be their world and the world at large.”

- Confucius

10. Love

"Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarely taken."

 - Karl Menninger

Bonus Medicine - Music

"Philosophers of all ages have dwelt upon the importance of music as both an outlet for the spirit and emotions and as discipline for the mind. It is generally recognized that music gives access to regions in the subconscious that can be reached in no other way."

 ~Sophie Lewis Hutchinson Drinker (1888–1967), Music and Women, 1948

"Let a person be stimulated by poetry, established in character by the rules of propriety, and perfected by music."

- Confucius

March 1, 2017

What Does This Stuff Mean To Me?

Carrying the overweight backpack of useless consumer crap is an unnecessary burden.

Starting out in life I didn't think much about minimalism until I started going on multi-day backpacking trips into the mountains. My longest hike was 72km over 12 days. During excursions like that the pain of too much stuff can not be ignored.

To play jokes on each other my backpacking friends would put rocks at the bottom of someones pack. I didn't think it much funny. Guess what? That is exactly what consumer lifestyles are doing. Putting rocks in the bottom of people's packs. Useless weight. It is also not funny. Especially because one has to pay for those rocks.

Wilderness backpacking trips taught me about reducing the weight of possessions to the bare minimum, and helped me set a long term goal - reduce the amount of stuff I was "carrying" through life to only what I truly needed to get by and thrive. And no more.

Since then it has taken several years and two major moves to winnow the useful and necessary things that add to life from the rocks that just make everything hurt. It was far more difficult than a multi-day self-supported backpacking adventure, and perhaps even more rewarding.

Being free in the wilderness is liberating, but freeing yourself from the excessive trappings of a consumer lifestyle is even more so. It makes me want to call out, "Emancipate yourselves from consumer slavery. None but ourselves can free our lives (and wallets)."

To succeed it was first necessary to take a hard look at everything in my lifestyle pack and ask, "What does all this stuff mean to me?" It requires one to look at every single thing. Serious backpackers have been known to cut the tags off shirts and underwear to save weight. While the savings may be minimal when taken in isolation, you don't need those tags, and it all adds up.

Then consider deeply the significance of that thing. Do you love it? Cherish it? Would you die without it? Or might your life be improved by removing it permanently from your life? Have you used it lately? Does it make your life better and more beautiful right now?

As if that isn't hard enough, then you must deal with what you come up with after all that honest brain work. Argh! More questions.

Keep? Sell? Give away? Garbage? Ceremonial consumer crap funeral pyre in the backyard marking the death of wasteful lifestyles? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Yes, like a difficult, risk-filled backpacking adventure into the wilderness, downsizing is one challenging activity. Even if you don't have a lot of stuff. But both are well worth doing if you are a freedom junky like me.

You may not be able to escape civilization forever at the moment, but you can escape from the burden of the heavy baggage of expensive and excessive materialist lifestyles. Only keep the things that matter to you. Be ruthless about what you keep, and from then on, be ruthless about what you allow back  into your home.

And do regular checks for the rocks at the bottom of your pack.