Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Actions are King

For the past five months I've been keeping a checklist of actions I've taken that support my long term goals of living simply and sustainably. Memory has a tendency to apply a rather flattering bias when recalling our past-selves, so I like to take notes on what really happened to set the record straight. I do this to confirm that the small steps I take from month to month lead me to where I want to be several years from now. It's all part of laying down the foundation for bigger change down the road. I imagine when I reach that point in the not-so-distant future I'll look back and marvel at how far I've come. Is that an arrogant thing to think? I'm not sure, but it seems to be a common occurrence these days. When I look back on who I was not even a year ago, I see that I've made real and significant progress.

During a visit to my brother's house, I walked over to the first, and only, house that I owned. My brother and I each built our homes at the same time about seven years ago. It's surreal now to think I used to own an entire house, and that I was the only occupant for most of the time I lived there. I don't deny that I have many great memories of that place. Indeed, for a time my identity was quite tied up in the fact that I'd built my own home. In the end, though, it is just a house and it's not the type of place I want anymore. I felt relief as I looked at its disheveled lawn and unkempt yard, and gratitude for finding the courage and foresight to sell it to open my life to grander adventures.

I don't know if it has to do with my age, or maturity, but I am far more comfortable now with slow, steady progress than I was ten years ago. I was a lot more impulsive and impetuous during my university days and if I wanted to change some aspect of myself or my lifestyle, I would dive into it head first, become immersed in the change for about a week or so, and then drop it out of exhaustion or boredom. That's a kind of wisdom that has to be earned I think, if the student is willing, and I realize now that steady and incremental changes in my behaviour lead to lasting change. It's far more effective than trying to change a half dozen major aspects of myself all at once, and far less tiring. I'm sure everyone who's reading this blog has personal experience trying to hold oneself to a litany of New Years Eve resolutions, only to see them all crumble away after that brief surge of post-Christmas willpower sputters and falls to the wayside.

Willpower is a funny thing; from my magical studies I've learned that willpower should be effortless, and not the 19th century Victorian clenched jaw kind that may come to mind. However, willpower shouldn't be used to instill long lasting behavioural change. It should, instead, be used to reinforce habits which are far more effective at modifying behaviours over the long term. A small action, such as five minutes of meditation practiced every morning as part of the morning routine, becomes habit quite easily, and willpower steps in on those mornings where I really didn't feel like it. Those incremental changes, applied slowly and one at a time, really help to instill positive habits. This is just one example of how my conscious choice of actions impacts my life. What can happen, and most often does because life is like that, is that another person's decision or series of decisions will have an impact on my life that I didn't expect. Case in point: meeting my girlfriend. It's been a wonderful experience meeting and getting to know her, and it's had a an effect on my plans for the months to come. This is where staying flexible and detached from outcomes really helps.

All of our lives are made up of decisions, small ones for the most part, and the effects of decisions made by other people. Truthfully we have little absolute control over the direction of our lives. Happenstance, fate, and destiny have a part to play in our lives that, I think, many of us would like to forget about. It would be a cruel world, though, if each person were solely responsible for their lot in life. Those who succeed like to think that they've earned that success solely through the results of their actions, and their actions alone. It's human nature and its ego that encourage that way of thinking. It's also comforting in a sense to think that the less fortunate "earned" their place in life because of poor choices that they've made in the past, rather than accepting that perhaps they were just dealt a shitty hand in life, and no amount of hard work or effort will really change that. Circumstance has a large part to play in all of our lives.

I used to be a firm believer in the concept of meritocracy, but I realize now the world is not so black and white as that. Yes, people who work hard will tend to see some success from all of their efforts, but there are others who work just as hard, if not more so, and yet never seem to catch a break. Here, as in all aspects of life, outside forces play a part in weaving a complex fabric of cause and effect. A man born in Africa who toils under a punishing and corrupt regime, trying to make a better for himself and his family, I would argue, works just as hard as a middle class, white collar, database administrator born and raised in the Greater Toronto area. Neither person choose the circumstances of where or to whom he was born to, nor how the influence of the society and culture they grew up in would affect him. All that each person can hope to do is focus on actions that have an effect on his immediate situation, and perhaps over time, incrementally change the situation in which he finds himself.

For my part, I choose to act in the ways that I have some control over so that I can try to get there. Thankfully the journey itself is quite satisfying and stimulating, so whether or not I reach the destination I have envisioned has less importance than it could. That falls in line with my trying to let go of attachment to outcome. It's better to act according to my values, and let the chips fall where they may. This breeds a way of thinking that tells me that whatever may happen, I can handle it.

I am happy with the progress I've made so far this year. I have things planned out to February of 2014, and I'm sure they'll change as the months go by according to what I'm doing and the circumstances at the time. Being adaptive and flexible will serve me a lot better than slavish adherence to a to-do list of items that my past-self planned knowing little of the future. That's a pretty major change to my personality and outlook, I believe, and I'm certain it's been influenced by the literature I read regarding our uncertain future. Whether or not we face a long societal decline, staying adaptive to whatever situation I find myself in certainly won't hurt.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Yesterday afternoon I was in the Lord Roberts Community Center hoop house to work in some peat moss and compost into the compacted soil in preparation for planting. My girlfriend was eager to help out, and between the two of us we managed to finish prepping the entire area. The hoop house has about 200 square feet of growing space, which allows for a surprising amount of food to be grown in a semi-regulated environment.

The hoop house is an inexpensive and effective way to increase yields. It can extend the growing season by a couple of months, and also allow us to grow plants that wouldn't normally do well in our climate. The key to ensuring the hoop house works most efficiently is through regular monitoring of the weather conditions, and adjusting it accordingly. Along the lengths of the structure, the plastic sheeting can be rolled up from zero to about five feet off the ground, and anywhere in between. This allows for air movement, and also prevents the interior from getting too hot or too cold. On the hot, sunny days Winnipeg is known for, it's critical that someone come in the morning to open up the sides so that the veggies and fruit don't cook in the intense greenhouse effect of the hoop house. To help regulate the temperature during the evenings, the sides are again rolled down so that the soil stays warm, and moisture doesn't escape too quickly. This all requires someone, or more likely some people, to keep an eye on it. This is where community involvement is critical.

One of the key objectives of the co-operative I'm part of is to encourage community participation. The neighbours adjoining the Lord Roberts garden plot have adopted it, and keep an eye on it to make sure nothing grows legs and disappears overnight. On occasion they'll also actively lend a hand with the garden. Yesterday as we worked to move compost into the hoop house, a local resident stopped by on his way home from work. We chatted for some time, discussing what's happening with the garden. He mentioned that he and some other neighbours would set up the bean pole fence for us, without being asked to do so. It's that kind of voluntary involvement that's so important to encourage the first tentative steps towards building a more resilient and self-sufficient community.

Personally, I find the work very enjoyable, and educational. I'm learning about the stuff that really matters to me. Working with friends, family or colleagues makes it that much more entertaining. The work may seem mindless and dull, but it energizes me. To see good, tilled soil ready for the season's plantings is akin to looking at a bright, white page beckoning for the writer's pen or the artist's brush. In some ways, nothing is more creative than encouraging and supporting life to grow under gentle guidance. The pay off for all that work is delicious and satisfying. It's confirmation that I am able to provide for myself. At the end of the day, relaxing to a beautiful sunset with a cold beer in hand, I can look back on what I've done and say, "today's been a productive day." That brings a smile to my face.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Slow Death of Imagination

You may want to chalk this post up to me becoming an ornery old man, but it seems that the power of imagination is the sacrificial lamb of the never ending progress of media and entertainment. What is the end game, here? To make movies and video games indistinguishable from reality? To make them better than reality? Supposing that the natural conclusion of the evolution of visual media (primarily) is to supersede, nay replace, the real world is a little unsettling, to say the least. What place would imagination have in that brave, new world? The creators of entertainment are reaching a point where they have such fine control over the display of their creations that they can readily manipulate consumers' perceptions and interpretations. There are few gaps left for the audience to fill with their imaginings, their essence. I think that's a sad thing.

In a way, I believe media creators have become lost in the endless pursuit of fidelity, and their creations suffer for it. Yes, I can now watch a computer generated video where a character's skin shows those little black dimples and hairs all over the place, but I ask, what value does that add to the creator's story and message? My brain, and imagination, are quite willing and capable to fill in the little details that are pertinent to the story. "The character has acne," is not something I need to know unless it's this commercial. I argue that modern stories would be stronger if they were to allow the audience to engage its imagination while consuming them. They'd have their work cut out for them, however, because the ability to visualize has atrophied for a good majority of the people out there.

The common refrain from adults is "I don't have much of an imagination." Bullshit. That's a self-limiting belief that's been reinforced by the modern media and society. Every mentally healthy person out there has a very powerful ability to visualize and create within the framework of their own minds an internal reality. When I say visualize, I don't mean imagining visually. Visualization is the brain's ability to create a scene, a story, or a feeling within one's own mind. This process has been shown to improve the performance of athletes, musicians, performers, you name it, when they visualize ahead of time whatever it is they need to do. With practice, the brain is unable to distinguish visualized experiences from real ones. This is the power of imagination, and it's a terrible shame we're letting it languish rather than encouraging its use.

However, I don't think it's an accident that modern "progress" wants to supplant the need for imagination. Without imagination, we cannot imagine our lives being any different than they are currently. The status quo is maintained, the consumerist lifestyle lives on until it can't anymore, and we're all none the wiser.

Imagine yourself sitting down to think about the things that really matter to you. That's where it all starts. A voice will intrude, "that's all well and fine, but you have all these things that you are responsible for." The next part is difficult, the next part requires some pretty warmed up and limber visualizing muscle. Imagine all those things you simply couldn't live without were gone. How would you feel? Would it be the end of you? Would you go out and work to win all those things back, or would you stop for a moment and perhaps have a split second realization that all that bullshit doesn't really matter? In that opened space, you may taste freedom. Imagine, how would you fill that space? What would guide your decisions? Imagine yourself sitting down to think about the things that really matter to you.

Will you?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Outlook - Part Three

Like most modern novels, my little story about my plans for 2013 has been broken down into three parts. Here, at long last, is the final piece to round out the trilogy! As promised in the preceding two posts, I will be sharing with you my thought processes in deciding where will be a great place to settle down to ride out the ongoing energy decline. There's some new information I've come across recently that will impact my list of "bug-out" places, and I'll get to that in a bit. First of, though, let's pick my brain apart and puzzle out the (hopefully) rational process of deciding what makes one place more ideal than another.

My criteria for whether or not a given locale will weather the deindustrial future can be broken down into three broad categories: physical, communal, and sociopolitical. Since predicting the future to a fine degree of accuracy has eluded our grasp over the entire history of humanity, I've resisted the temptation to reduce these criteria to really granular requirements. Rather, each category is again broadly broken down into what I consider the "non-negotiables." Anything that doesn't fall into this purview can, and will have to be, dealt with as it comes. I'm hoping this leaves me flexible and adaptable.

I want to tackle the physical requirements first because one of its criteria is more important than anything else. Can you guess what it is? Here's the list:

  • easy, consistent access to potable water
  • relatively mild climate without extremes in either direction
  • low sensitivity to climate change

The first criteria should be self-explanatory. For the most part, citizens of developed countries, especially Canada,  take access to drinking water for granted. There is massive infrastructure investment and maintenance that goes on to provide safe, drinkable water to the majority of the population. Remember the majority of people live in cities now, and how many wells do you know are dug within city limits?

Here's an example of the fragility of modern water supply. The City of Winnipeg gets all of its drinking water from Shoal Lake, brought to the city via a concrete aqueduct 156 kilometers long! Gravity feeds four reservoirs at the edge of the city, and electric pumps deliver the water to their substations and then on to each person's home. Despite being situated where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet, these local sources of water have become so polluted that they cannot be safely consumed. In fact, deaths from Red River fever were common right up until 1904 because of high fecal bacteria presence in the Assiniboine River. Yikes! The implications here, of course, are that high population centers, for the most part, will be hard pressed to meet my primary criteria in the future.

The next two physical requirements are somewhat related. I live in Canada, and to call any of its weather mild is stretching it. However, temperate climates will probably fare best since they have some room to adjust to climate change before they become inhospitable. Coastal regions are mild and wet, but if climate change inundates them with sea water, well, let's just say the mass exodus to higher, drier ground will make the evacuations of British civilians during World War 2 seem like a small family outing.

Some may think that a mild climate really should be negotiable. I mean, how bad can a winter be that reaches temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius on a regular, and ongoing, basis? All I have to say is this: let's see just how comfortable one of those suburban McMansions will be in the middle of a typical prairie winter when the cost of heating is prohibitively high. I also hope that anyone that chooses to stay here really likes salted meats, preserved food, root vegetables and grains, because that's all they'll be eating for nearly six months of the year. I rest my case.

The next main category to address is community. It's a nebulous, hard-to-define, feeling one gets about a group of people who live in close proximity to one another. There are as many types of community as there are types of people in this world. Keeping that in mind, there are some overarching "personality" traits that I'm looking for in a prospective community. They are:

  • low population density
  • self-sufficiency
  • people who "get it"

Low population density ensures pollution will be kept to a minimum, and the impacts of the community on the environment will be lessened. A major predicament that our modern society faces is overshooting the carrying capacity of its environment. There is only so much pollution that an ecosystem can absorb before it begins to accumulate and damages said ecosystem. This ties in with the other two traits because I hope to find a community where the people are environmentally conscious, and are able to provide for themselves without relying on vast chains of supply. Gathering resources locally is inherently less of a burden on the environment.

Practical considerations aside, I want to be part of a community that comes together to help one another. I want people who think outside the box store, and form a genuine network of friends and family who understand that we must live in harmony with our environment if we want any realistic hope of thriving long into the future. Industrial society has run its course and it's proven to be unsustainable. There are people out there who understand this, and are willing to help others to move away from the norm.

The last category may fall more along the lines of "required to live in relative peace and safety." While not absolutely mandatory to living, it will certainly make the transition to a low-energy lifestyle that much easier to bear. The sad reality of a world in decline is that people will fight and bleed over their shrinking slice of the pie. Very few people will ever willingly surrender the creature comforts of modern society; rather, they will focus more and more of their energy on keeping the things they have at the cost of others. This will lead to conflict as resources become scarce. This is why I have sociopolitical requirements for where I want to live. There are two that I've identified, and I hope they'll be guide enough to avoid the majority of strife:

  • historically "quiet" region
  • no coveted resources i.e. fossil fuels and minerals

These two I picked up from The Archdruid Report, where John Michael Greer's historian background helps him predict with eerie accuracy the events that we've seen played out over the past five years or so. Choosing to live in a place with little strategic and economic value, in the sense that a modern society would find value in it, seems profoundly wise to me. The best recipe to being left alone is to have nothing that "sane" people would want, i.e. energy, minerals, scalable sources of food and water, etc. Just think of how many times a homeless person was accosted by an employed, middle class worker for the change he beggared or for the clothes on his back. It's an enlightening example of the power of not having what other people covet. The added bonus to this because my friends will most likely like me for me, and not for what I own.

My original intent was to apply these criteria to some of the places I've been, and determine whether those places would be a good choice. These include Winnipeg, the Okanagan, Vancouver Island, the Canadian west coast, and some of the United States. I'm not going to do that just yet because of some new information that's come my way. Permaculture may provide options and answers where currently I only see problems and questions. I feel I need to process and internalize that information via wwoofing and befriending permaculture practitioners before I can make truly educated decisions on good places to live in a deindustrial future.

Just as an example, I found out that there's people living in the deep interior of British Columbia, in the mountains, living quite well off the land. This is possible due to the techniques and knowledge of permaculture. I didn't think such a thing was possible, and it's that eye-opening experience that's made me realize that there's a lot more to picking a place than I thought. I need to know more about what's possible with permaculture and what I'm capable of when given the right knowledge and tools. This new discovery is helping to shape the rest of 2013, and some of 2014 as well, and I am glad for that. A longer term plan is forming, and while events may disrupt that plan, I now have a solid direction to move in. It's when I have direction that I am my most effective and optimistic.

I am very interested to see where I end up a year from now. I feel the changes in my life are accelerating, and each day I'm closer to a new life I never before dared imagine was possible. I hope you'll stick around to share in my journey.

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 Outlook - Part Two

Last week, I shared my hopes, goals, and accomplishments in the immense field (haw) of organic gardening. This growing season is shaping up to be pretty difficult, given that we still have an abnormal amount of snow cover, the ground is frozen, and temperatures have been hovering about ten degrees Celsius below the historical average. The risk of flooding is high, which won't necessarily impact the city all that much, but one of the gardens I steward is on the river-side of the dike. I keep my fingers crossed and hope for better weather in the coming weeks.

As promised, here is the second part of my plans for the rest of 2013. What I'm sharing with you today is my propensity to try a whole lot of different activities to see how I'll take to them. These activities have a fairly specific aim, which is to be a viable backup in a situation where my "1337" computer hacking skills wouldn't really be in demand. There's an impulse that exists within me, and I'm sure it's not unique, but it's an unmistakeable passion to create. I love to make things that require skill, craftsmanship and attention to detail. The satisfaction of creating something that meets my standards just feels so good! All the different skills and trades I'm trying, and have tried, satisfy those requirements.

  I could spend days writing about my stories and experiences with each skill individually, but to save everyone's time, here's a list of the activities I've tried with the intent that they may lead to earning a living:
  • blacksmithing
  • woodworking
  • construction
  • brewing
  • cooking and baking
  • writing
Having put them all in a neat little list like that, I'm glad to see that they all satisfy the primary criteria of being viable in a de-industrial society. Whew! I've been focused in that respect, at least. Of the skills listed there, I've found that brewing, cooking and writing have been the most satisfying personally, and I do believe they would have value to others. Who wouldn't like beer and bread along with a tantalizing short story written up by yours truly?

I readily admit that my focus may be a little off here. I get the feeling that future economies will be more forgiving to generalists rather than specialists. Specialization, especially to the degree that modern civilizations have achieved, requires immense amounts of energy to support the required complex web of manufacturing goods and providing services. These include things like mass production and transportation networks to the massive service industry that attends to matters that specialists just don't have the time, or skill, to address. If generalists, i.e. people who have a large and varied skill set, are going to thrive in a low-energy future, then that really is good news for me.

I am a few weeks away from finishing an introductory woodworking class. While it has been interesting, it hasn't ignited a passion in me like I thought it would. I also have my doubts as to how applicable modern woodworking skills will be where the availability of all the wonderful and specialized machinery to cut and shape wood is severely curtailed. This highlights an important blind spot in my "future sight" because I have only a vague concept of what the next couple of decades will look like in terms of energy and tool availability. It's probably safe to say that tools and machines that have been around and in use for decades will most likely be around for several more decades. This has prompted me to look once more into the appropriate tech movement that was born during the energy crisis of the 70s. I definitely want to talk more about that in another post.

A person very dear to me once suggested that perhaps my purpose in life is to support others, to help those around me cope with the difficulties of a troubling and confusing future. Whether that be through emotional support, sharing information or lending a hand, it would seem that almost in spite of my attempts to find the one "perfect" skill, I am unintentionally developing the real talent that I'm meant to use. That thought brought a certain comfort to my mind.

The role of adviser is something I've thought a lot about, and as time goes on I experience more and more synchronicity related to it. Since the concept was introduced to me over a year ago via the Archdruid Report blog, I've entertained the idea that I want to be the modern equivalent of a medieval wizard: adviser, intellectual freelancer, the man with (almost) all the answers. This concept of being a source for information for others ties in very neatly with the appropriate tech skills I mentioned above. I certainly wouldn't mind if everyone thought of me as a wizard. I may have to grow out a beard!

The final part of my outlook for this year will be about the beginnings of my search for a place (or places) that would be suitable for settling down for the long term. The vagaries of fortune and the world in general make it almost impossible to guarantee that I'll end up living in any one place indefinitely, but there are specific criteria for what would be an ideal environment. I'll get into those criteria, as well as how some places I've considered measure up. Until then, happy living!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Outlook - Part One

We live in a time where the middle class is under attack. Before, it was the working class that was thrown ever so casually in front of the bus of progress so that the rest of us could have everything we ever wanted. Advances in computers, robotics, and globalization have reached their next logical step and that means the sacrifice of another class of workers in the name of efficiencies, profits and the continuation of the illusion that business as usual is sustainable. Wealth becomes more concentrated and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. It's in this paradigm shift that I'm trying to navigate to a new state where I am as secure as any middle class person could hope to be. The end goal is nothing like what the typical urban, one house, two cars, 2.4 children lifestyle offers up. I will suffer loss along the way, that much is certain, but I hope to gain in ways that make my life more meaningful and authentic.

In certain respects, I'm returning to the lifestyles of my grandparents and great-grandparents: farmers, homesteaders, independents. In a small way it feels like I am letting down my ancestors because they sacrificed much to see their children prosper in ways they never could. Is it a betrayal to return to the roots of my family's origin, and turn my back on the fool's errand of happiness purchased? I may not have a choice in the matter, as it seems to me that a good number of people in the 20 to 30 year age bracket will be actively competing against their parents for jobs in the near future. With the recent headwinds changing to punish savers and retirees, and the shrinking of the middle class, this will become an all-too-common occurrence. In a time of insanity, it's time to make what appear to be insane choices.

Keeping these things in mind, I wish to share my plan of action for the rest of 2013. I have three main goals that I want to accomplish by year's end, putting me in a position where I can make some important decisions on where I want to be in 2014 and beyond. As the financial and economic realms sink more and more into the mire of collapse, I must remember to remain flexible. Adaptation to whatever situation and environment I find myself in are key to dealing with the decline with grace and some measure of dignity. These goals aren't written in stone. Rather, I imagine them written on home made paper using charcoal that I traded home brewed beer for from a friendly, and equally crazy, neighbour.

My goals are threefold: to learn a metric f-ton about organic and sustainable gardening practices, to discover and develop a valuable, low-energy craft or trade skill for bartering, and to find a worthwhile location to start a homestead. This blog post will deal with the first of the three, sustainable gardening, and subsequent posts will address the other two goals.

There are several factors that go towards achieving some measure of independence from our oil-addicted civilization, and the most important of these is food security. If I am able to provide food for myself, and I can trade surpluses for goods I need, then I am no longer reliant on the vast network of grocery stores, just-in-time delivery systems and global food production to sustain me. This was my primary reason for joining the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-operative (SSOCC), and I'm sure it's a major factor for many of the other members as well. What's happened over time is that the motivator for learning how to garden sustainably has changed from fear to enjoyment. I'm happy that I'm pursuing this lifestyle because it feels right to me. It's a discussion I've had with several people, but I digress.

I am now a board member of the co-op, and my primary responsibilities are to act as steward and coordinator of the two intergenerational garden plots located in the South Osborne neighbourhood. Specifically, I am planning the crops to be planted, when they're being planted, and scheduling the volunteers to distribute the work load of tending the gardens. I will be doing all of this with the help of the co-op's vice president, who possesses many years of gardening experience. My hope is that this year will really cement the core concepts and skills required for successfully growing a productive garden. So far I've read several books on the topic of sustainable, organic gardening and permaculture, but I'm itching for the chance to put this knowledge into practice. It's the only way that I'll internalize what I've read. The benefits of learning these skills are obvious. This will fulfill probably the most critical step towards achieving true independence.

Later this year, I'll be signing up as a WWOOFER to volunteer at organic farms in Canada and possibly abroad. Wwoofing, as mentioned in a previous post, will help me learn community building skills, as well as adapting to a life much simpler than I am accustomed to. It's something I'm excited for, but also dread at the same time, as I'm not 100% certain that I'll enjoy it. I have a hunch I'll take to it like a fish takes to water, but that remains to be seen. It really is a personal experiment for me. I plan to wwoof for about two and a half months starting this September. If I go wwoofing in a country like New Zealand, it would extend the time I have to learn gardening and food production skills. If, on the other hand, I stay north of the equator, I'll learn what the fall and winter seasons are like on a farm, and most likely learn valuable homesteading skills in the process. Wwoofing can also potentially satisfy my goal to find suitable locations for a homestead of my own. Where I end up settling down to ride out the collapse is very much in the air at this point, but I am mentally tallying the benefits and detriments of several places as I write this.

What's important to me is that the work I do over the next year be as close to a daily occurrence as possible. I read recently that to see real change in one's life, it's best to refine a goal to the point that some action made everyday moves one closer to said goal. In this particular case, I'll be either reading about, working in, or planning gardens every day for the rest of the year. How wwoofing shakes out will be determined by my placement, and I can make a more informed decision on where I stand according to my gardening experience later this year. I have a feeling that this summer will be an intense period of work and learning, and I am so ready for that.

Next week, I'll talk about my goal to discover and develop a valuable, low-energy skill and the meandering path I've traveled so far.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Treat yourself

Not too long ago, I went down to the local grocer to buy some milk, marveling all the while at the wonders of modern convenience. The event in itself wasn't anything special, but there was something in particular that I noticed that got the gears in my head spinning and churning. At the checkout was a tall, tower-like display filled with assorted candy bars. This little shrine to temptation was crowned with a garish advert: "Treat Yourself! Enjoy two for the price of one." I readily admit I felt the desire to buy a couple of bars, imagining all the while how delicious they would taste and forgetting that I didn't need or crave them at all until I laid eyes on them. Thankfully, I managed to resist the impulse long enough to realize just how ridiculous the whole situation was.

There is a real sense of irony in how the over-consumption of a mass-produced, diabetes inducing, cavity forming piece of crud is thought of as a treat, as though we are doing our bodies a favour. And yet, and yet! How difficult it is to resist the programming to see it as a reward for whatever reason, or no reason at all. This is the hidden power of culture and society. If one is unable or unwilling to pause for a moment while acting out the ingrained habits we're taught since birth, then one is living life according to the dictates of cultural programming.

Thus, I recommend we "treat ourselves" to a moment of silent reflection before acting on habit. For example, if you're at home, reading this on your laptop and you suddenly feel an urge to eat a sugary or salty snack, stop for a few moments and become aware of that urge. Why is the urge there? Where did it come from? Are you truly hungry, or is there another emotion motivating you to seek out that snack? You may find this leads to a long line of inquiry, culminating in the realization that it really is all your parents' fault, and why didn't they do better? I jest, of course. In all seriousness, the value of that minor, insignificant choice to not act has already been realized. After creating that space, please go ahead and do whatever you like. You've already given yourself a gift that no one else can: self-awareness. It may seem overly simply, but that is the beginning of a life long journey of living consciously.

Choosing to act, or in some cases, to not act, forms the basis of approaching life consciously. This concept is one of the most basic and important lessons of magic as taught in the Western mysteries. Their claim is that continued and directed practice of living consciously allows the magician to shape their waking world, much in the same way that a lucid dreamer can manipulate his dream in any way he sees fit. I've only just begun my journey on this path and already I am seeing the benefits of persistent practice and study. My life is taking shape in the way that I want, and it all comes down to my everyday actions being guided by intentionality. Treat yourself, and honour this life by living it consciously.