Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Potential, Evolution and Labelling

It was with a jolt that I realized in recent months that I meet many of the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome, the high-functioning form of autism. I went so far as to take an online test, the result of which said it was "highly likely". Bah!

I did some research online and found that virtually all geniuses and high achievers throughout history are now considered to have suffered from this condition. Doesn't that seem a little odd, a little curious? We want to label these people, who have contributed so much to human society, as somehow deficient??

I started to get really mad, especially when these sites talked about curing Aspergers or at least medicating it into submission. Medicating personality?

Now don't get me wrong, I understand that autism is real and can be extremely debilitating, especially at the lower end of the spectrum. Rates of autism have skyrocketed in recent years and it's a huge problem. We need to find out what's causing it--be it vaccines, environmental toxins, or something else--and fix it.

What I'm griping about is the general attitude towards the high-functioning end of this spectrum, which some people believe is not the same syndrome at all. Some are suggesting it's actually an evolutionary adaption. I tend to agree.

In one of her books, Temple Grandin talked about the differences in brain functioning between autistic people and "normals". There seems to be somewhat less activity in the frontal lobes of autistics. This makes sense as these areas affect such things as speech, socialization and mental flexibility/spontaneity--typical problem areas for autistics. Grandin, a highly accomplished autistic herself, believes that the autistic person is sort of half-animal, half-human in the way in which he or she perceives and responds to the world. And this makes sense too--our frontal lobes pretty much define us as humans. Her descriptions of her fluid, visual way of perceiving the world does seem to express a more primordial, animal orientation.

Here's what I think (bear with me):

Simply because a brain differs in function from the norm, doesn't make it a deficient brain. The brain is a fluid evolving structure, so you would hope there would be changes and adaptations over time.

It's easy to interpret a lessened reliance on the frontal lobes as a regression, and therefore undesirable. But what has occurred to me is that perhaps we're evolving to a more fluid way of being in the world and that new way of being will be much less reliant on the frontal lobes. Maybe in the course of our evolution highly developed frontal lobes were crucial, but once they serve their purpose, they will recede in importance.

I suspect that they were important for the development of ego. Speech helped us to name and label, creating subject and object--no longer a unified world, but us and them, self and other. No longer a fluid state of being, but clunky self-awareness. The need to belong to a group, to protect the isolated dot that you were.

One thing about Aspies (that's what they call themselves)--they have no need to belong. If the world were inhabited only by Aspies there would be no war or conflict, because they're just not concerned with those petty needs of the ego.

As I've said before (in Tracing the The Rise of Ego and Materialism), I think we're evolving from unconscious unity to conscious separateness (and ego) to, eventually, conscious unity. We are one with Gaia and with the cosmos, but we have yet to fully awaken to that. I believe that Aspies are at the cusp of this awakening.

The new human will live fluidly again with the world around him, in a state of unity and egolessness. In a sense he will be more animal-like again, with the only exception being that he will be fully awake--an enlightened, conscious being.

Check out this excerpt from Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation:

And this is a very beautiful myth about Aspies--it is a masterpiece:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Infiltration and Naturalization (Part 1)

In my post titled Putting Down Roots I suggested that in order for us to live sustainably on this planet we must learn anew how to inhabit our ecosystems, becoming full participants again.

But how is that to be done? I surely can't be suggesting we return to hunting and gathering and sleeping in little grass nests like the !Kung once did. We must go forward from where we are, but what exactly does the way forward look like?

I don't pretend to have the answers, but I'd like to share the train of thought I've been following recently. As I've pointed out before, I want to use my practice of voluntary simplicity as a tool for exploring the many issues we face. From the clarity I gain by living without unnecessary distractions, I hope to be able to see things in novel ways. I don't expect to find the right answers, necessarily, but I wish to escape from bland, homogenized groupthink. I want to entertain possibilities.

The one question I've been turning over in my head for awhile is--Just how exactly do we become naturalized to our place in the ecosystem? When we move and enter a new locale--a new country perhaps--how do we become truly naturalized citizens of that place? We don't simply take a multiple choice test and consider ourselves naturalized. There's far more to it than that, of course.

About a year ago I read Amy Chua's very thought-provoking book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. It was about the way in which global free markets have created elite minority groups, what she calls "market-dominant minorities"--those groups (usually outsiders) who come to control the bulk of a country's wealth and natural resources. The Chinese in the Philippines, the Jews of post-communist Russia, whites in Latin America--these are a few examples. Then, if universal suffrage is granted to the citizens of these places, more or less overnight, it creates a situation primed for violence and turmoil. The indigenous people of a country, who have been so poorly treated and who have seen their land around them abused and despoiled by the market-dominant minority, suddenly have power. Not only to elect their own, and thus peacefully oust the interlopers, but also to seize property and assets from those they've ousted. Often things have turned even more dangerous, escalating to violence and genocide.

This post isn't about free-markets and democracy, though--it's just that this book got me thinking about the way in which outsiders can really screw things up (all in the name of progress, of course). An outsider comes in and sees cheap labor, cheap resources, opportunities for exaggerated profits. For them, it's about money, success, business. Extracting and transacting. As a result, culture and environment are decimated, the people left impoverished.

I've decided that market-dominant minorities (and multinational corporations) are like invasive weed seeds. In a healthy ecosystem, plants and animals evolve together over thousands or millions of years. Over time they create defenses to protect themselves from each other. There are checks and balances established that create a healthy balance. But if a foreign weed is introduced into that ecosystem--a totally alien seed that the local flora and fauna have never encountered-- it can grow unchecked. There are no defenses present in the environment to stop it. It can take over, smothering out the native vegetation (as the russian olive tree does around here and the kudzu vine does so well in the southeastern US). Market-dominant minorities and global corporations behave similarly. They ride in with their wads of cash, and what human ecosystem has yet evolved a defense against that? Land can be grabbed with wads of cash, metals, ores, timber can be grabbed, whole industries can be grabbed.

On a smaller scale, when we as individuals move about on this planet we run the risk of acting like evil weed seeds in our new landing places. We arrive unnaturalized to the local conditions. This is a dangerous state to be in. We want to be secure in our new place, so we start doing things to stake our claim. We build a house maybe (is the design in alignment with the local environment, or is it more a reflection of the architecture in the place we left?), we attend town hall meetings, city council meetings (do we try to impose our ideas right away, try to outlaw certain "backward" practices we find here?), attend school board meetings, find a church. All of these are ways we're trying to fit in and become naturalized, yet if we don't take the time to acclimate and to really get a sense of the community and all of its intricacies, we run the risk of introducing damaging practices.

In my community there's been uproar over a new school superintendent who arrived from California with his own ideas of how things should be done. The entire community has been up in arms about his crackpot ideas, which probably worked beautifully for him in his old district. He didn't take the time to acclimate to his new locale and find effective solutions that the community could back.

In Denver recently the city chopped down a beloved willow tree without realizing the importance of it to generations of people in the community.

I've heard of monstrous subdivisions going in on formerly agricultural land and the newcomers trying to outlaw livestock from adjacent farms because they object to the smell.

I could create a list a mile long with other examples and I'm sure you could too, but my point is we must take the time to acclimate to our new surroundings before we act. We have a responsibility to become naturalized citizens of whatever place on earth we happen to inhabit. It takes time to become naturalized--it doesn't happen overnight--so we must be careful in the interim, while we still have weed seed potential, to act with great care in our new environment.

Look for future posts expanding on this topic.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Folly of the Growth Economy

Is it reasonable to expect our economy to have continual growth? What does economic growth really mean, anyway, and how is it tied to our well-being? Are there better models of well-being we should be using instead?

To begin to explore this, let's first look at the word "economy". It comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which means household management. Oikonomia is related to the word oikos, which we translate as "ecology" but which originally meant house or dwelling place. So oikonomia is, fundamentally, how we manage the place where we live, whether it be our home, our community, or the whole earth. In it's basic definition, it is not concerned with money at all. It is concerned with managing resources, however.

To illustrate this, I'm going to tell the tale of two different "oikonomias". And to keep it simple, these two "oikonomias" are going to be small farms. I'll call it:

The Parable of the Two Farms

The first farm is self-sufficient. It reinvests its resources back into the land by various methods of sound stewardship. Kitchen and yard waste, as well as animal manures, are composted and spread on the fields; crops are rotated; cover crops are used in the off-seasons to protect and amend the soils; beneficial insects are encouraged and symbiotic relationships form among plants and animals, enhancing the well-being of flora, fauna, and soils alike; diversity is a priority. The soil is seen as the ground from which all life springs, so it is treated with great reverence. Care is taken to preserve topsoil and good tilth. Sound land management protects against unnatural erosion and any unnecessary disturbance of the soil structure. Water resources are used judiciously.

This complex and diverse oikos provides everything needed for the survival and health of its inhabitants. And, in most years, enough of a surplus exists to allow for bartering with other places for more "exotic" goods.

The second farm is a little different. It espouses a strange philosophy which it calls oikonomic growth. The goal is not health or well-being. Instead, the goal is to be manically busy and focused on producing more and more stuff. This requires each year to be more productive than the last. They must be able to export more each year. Numbers have to go up, always.

They plant every tillable acre and harvest all of the mature timber. The next year, in order for their oikonomia to show growth, they need to increase their yields. So, they spread chemical fertilizers on the fields and pesticides to limit insect damage. They begin to clearcut their remaining stands of timber. They move their livestock into pens and feed them grain instead of grass, for the sake of efficiency. The soil begins to erode in the clearcuts, the fields demand more and more chemical inputs just to maintain their current yields. Concentrated animal wastes from the pens seep down into the water table and the well.

Eventually, the farm's assets are depleted. The topsoil is gone. The land is sterile. The water is poisoned. The inhabitants are sick. The farm is no longer able to produce.

So how did these two farms fare in managing their households? Which of the two had a sound oikonomia? Is it the one that showed growth for a number of years? Or could it be the one that never showed any growth?

Leaving the parable behind, I'll end with one more question. Can there be such a thing as a steady-state economy--one based on sustainability instead of robbing from the future?

Read what others are saying about the concept of the steady-state economy:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Meditations on Peace: One Heart's Lament

"Meditations on Peace" will be a recurring feature here.

Today it is the impassioned cry of an American soldier in Iraq. Please read his post here on iPeace and hold him in your heart today. Hold all those who are suffering the ravages of war in your heart.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Forget the Global Economy

Let's step out of the mainstream for a minute and let go of some cherished notions. I'm about to propose a radical economic plan for the little guy. Hold onto your hats.

Here it is, in summary:

Live like your great-grandparents--or maybe better still, your great-great-grandparents.

But say no to indentured servitude. Some of our ancestors found their way here on a wish. It went by the name of indentured servitude and it robbed them of the very thing they most desired--their freedom. Today, we've wished our way into many things: houses, cars, cell phones, plasma t.v.'s. Those wishes are called mortgages, loans, lines of credit and service contracts. All forms of indentured servitude.

In a news article I read today, an economics professor referred to credit as nothing more than trust and faith. Trust and faith from the perspective of the issuer of the credit. Merely a wish from the perspective of the borrower.

It's a wish for future prosperity. Or a wish that things will continue to go as they have. Certainly it's a wish that things won't get worse.

In a lot of cases it's a wish to make yourself look bigger than you really are (see my post The Rise of Ego and Materialism). To live grandly in the moment, instead of sustainably over a lifetime. To look big now and maintain the wish that you will always be able to look big.

But we know you can't. As little children we're taught to recognize and respect limits, but as adults there seems to be absolutely no honoring of limits. The earth is finite. We can't all have more and more and more. That should be obvious.

If we lived like our ancestors and only bought what we could afford now, if we didn't borrow from the future and didn't take from the earth more than could easily be replenished, we could have economic security. We would recession- and depression- proof ourselves.

I know what you're thinking: our ancestors had credit, they had mortgages. Yes, you're right. They had credit at the general store. They had loans from the local bank. But they went to church with the store owner and the banker, they grew up together, they helped bring in each other's crops, often they were even related. In other words, they had trust and faith in each other. They depended on each other. These were real people having face-to-face interactions with each other on a daily basis.

Note that I didn't say they had transactions on a daily basis. There's a huge difference between interacting and transacting. Transacting is a fallen state, an abstraction--it's what we do now and what has gotten us into so much trouble.

Interacting is what we need to return to. It implies true human relationship, honoring each other and honoring the limits of the immediate situation. If there were still local banks where you personally knew the banker and he or she personally knew you and the bank's money came from and was invested in the immediate community, you wouldn't go in asking for a $700,000 mortgage. You'd be laughed out of town.

Instead, you'd ask for a loan that both you and your community could support. You'd build a house only big enough to meet your needs, without taking any more physical resources from the community than necessary.

My economic plan involves, as largely as possible, stepping out of the global economy and returning to a local one. The lesson from all of this recent madness is that we don't deal with abstraction very well. We can be responsible citizens on a small local scale, but it all falls apart when we increase the magnitude. In the global economy, we can't see the results of our actions anymore--they're spread so widely--so we lose accountability. When we participate in the global economy we inevitably cause suffering and damage.

We need to see the results of our actions. We need to live with the results of our actions. That's why our actions need to be on a local scale.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Next Great Depression: When, Not If

Is anyone letting out a big sigh of relief now that the $700 billion bailout has passed?

I didn't think so.

And why should we be relieved? Has anything actually been accomplished? Debt has been shifted around but it's still there. The underlying issues that created the problem in the first place haven't been resolved. We're still operating from within the same totally dysfunctional paradigm.

The goal of the bailout, they're saying, is to free up credit. That is the last thing we need. To go back to business as usual? Come on.

I would much rather have our day of reckoning right now, for believe me it's coming. I would almost wish a depression on us, if it weren't for the magnitude of suffering that will inevitably result. A depression would be nothing more than a true reckoning of our situation. The fact is we are a debtor nation. The greatest debtor nation in the world. Americans now owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. We don't own so much as our own front doors. We have nothing. Why can't we face that now and begin to build true wealth?

I believe this bailout solves absolutely nothing. As individuals and families we need to prepare for the absolute worst. The dollar is going to fail. We are going to suffer from hyper-inflation. Savings, retirement accounts will be totally wiped out. Just forget that you even have them.

Focus on the real, tangible things. Your house, your land, your local community, your food supply, your water supply, how to stay warm, how to stay healthy, how to get along with people. The only capital that matters is our human and environmental capital. You know, the real stuff. Credit isn't real. Mortgages aren't real. Money isn't even real--we just use it symbolically to create the life we want.

But we can create good, meaningful, balanced lives without Wall Street.

That's the good thing that could potentially come out of all of this. Once people get over the shock of it all, and begin to let go of their idea that money ever meant anything in the first place, we might evolve into a whole new way of thinking and being.

We will return to living locally. Resources for the most part will remain within our communities and our communities will once more be strong vibrant places. We will no longer exploit the environment because it will be our environment--what we can see with our own two eyes. We will have to care because our well-being will depend on it. We will no longer have the luxury of robbing from future generations to finance our excesses. We will learn to live within our means and the means of this planet.

I know I sound like some doomsday extremist, but these are very extreme times. You have to know our economy can't continue growing indefinitely. This world has limits and we are already rubbing up against many of them. Sooner or later this system will fail. My prediction is that the time is nearly at hand. So, maybe the bailout buys us a little time. My advice--use that time very wisely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

iPeace: New International Peace Initiative Gaining Momentum

On Monday the new international web portal, iPeace, officially launched. It aims to become the world's largest peace portal and has set the goal of reaching a membership of 1 million people by the end of the year. Built like other social networking sites, iPeace seeks to unite people around the world who are committed to working for peace.

Just to look at the beautiful faces of iPeace members from countries all over the world gave me goosebumps. All of these people are seeking true change. All of these people wish to create a better world. And the internet allows us to dialogue with them, to exchange ideas, to create allies for change, to initiate far-reaching programs and know that we will have support. We do have the power to create positive change and groups like this may go a very long way in helping us get there.

I encourage you to visit the site, become a member, and tell your friends about it. Think what might be possible if this global movement is able to reach critical mass. The power to change the world belongs to us. Let's grab this opportunity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The "100 Things" Guy

I keep seeing references on the internet to David Michael Bruno, the man who is trying to pare his belongings down to just 100 things. His blog, guynameddave, is some good reading and it got me thinking.

Owning just one hundred things--what an elegantly simple solution. What a clean, structured way to break free of our hoarding fetish. What an awesome tool for gaining clarity and breaking free of the consumer paradigm.

I've often thought that when my son is grown I'd like to live in a little hermit hut with just the essentials for survival. So I have to ask myself, if I were totally self-sufficient, i.e. off the grid and growing and raising my own food, would it be possible to do so with just one hundred things?

What do humans really need?

Here's what I would need. A shack for shelter, mattress and bedding, chair, table, woodstove, sink, toilet or outhouse, tub or shower (maybe), lights (solar, kerosene, candles...), pots, pans, jars, silverware and utensils, plates, bowls, mugs, canning equipment, grain mill, meat grinder (maybe), fridge (maybe), clothing, soap, hairbrush, t.p., and tools...lots and lots of tools.

Garden tools: shovels, spades, hoe, wheelbarrow, buckets, pots, hoses, watering can, rakes, trowels, pruners, scythe, and shears to name a few.

General homesteading tools and supplies: Post hole digger, ladders, fencing pliers, saws, a chainsaw (maybe), a mower (probably just my handy-dandy reel mower), handtools (now that could be a very long list!), clothesline, wash tubs and washboard, soap molds, brooms, scrub brushes, an ax, fencing, chicken wire, lumber, paint, watering troughs, feed bins, animal shelter, bee hives, root cellar, shelving, drying racks, barrels.

Luxury items: Writing desk, paper, pens, books.

So, that would all easily exceed one hundred things. But would it be excessive? I don't think so. Granted, hunter-gatherer societies have survived for aeons with just a few belongings, so I know we don't ultimately need much. We are animals afterall, and animals are innately geared to surviving in their environments without gadgets. But of course we have so degraded and distorted our environment, survival for us today is a more challenging affair.

A back-to-the-basics lifestyle, such as I dream of with my hermit hut, would for me represent a balanced lifestyle. Just enough, but not too much. A little impact on the environment, but a fair impact. And being free of excessive clutter would help me to blend in with my environment and become again a participant in my ecosystem, rather than something alien plunked down on top of it.

I have been in the process of paring down my life for several years and will continue to do so even after I'm in my hermit hut, I'm sure. But David Bruno has given me an interesting goal to shoot for. Apparently a lot of other people are taking up his challenge as well. There is now a group on FriendFeed for people who want to join the 100 Thing Challenge.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beyond Materialism

In my last two posts, I discussed some of the practical benefits of downsizing and living a simple life. But I want to point out that the majority of my posts won't be about the practical side of voluntary simplicity.

I want to use simplicity as a jumping-off point to explore the larger issues facing humanity and also to use it as a tool for exploring human potential. I don't think of voluntary simplicity as an end state
--something to be achieved. Rather, I think of it as a door opening up to a larger reality. I want to document my tentative steps into that new reality here, because I suspect that amazing things will begin to happen. Where will this journey take me? Will I come up with any novel insights into the human dilemma? Will I create positive change in the world? I want to document this process mainly because no one else is doing that yet. All the other voluntary simplicity blogs and websites are still talking about the basics, the how-to's. But that's only the very beginning. I think a new paradigm is waiting to emerge and I would like to play a part in birthing that. I hope in the future that other people will begin to share their journeys into the new paradigm as well. We need many different voices showing the way.

For now, I'll leave you with some random questions, which I'll be delving into down the road:

  • If you step out of the consumer paradigm--what's left?

  • How does the land, the Earth, relate to our human potential?

  • What if we honored limits, confined our creative expressions within the limits of the local ecosystem? Are those limits annoying constraints, or are they forms of profound guidance held in the land?

  • Why is economic growth used as an indicator of well-being? What other models of societal well-being are possible?

  • Does the human being only exist to possess and control matter? Where else could life energy be going?

  • Why do humans seek novelty?

  • What core knowledge, what vital skills, are being lost?

  • How do my choices impact future generations, the health of the earth, all living beings, my local community? What's my larger responsibility here?

  • How can I help my children develop a more encompassing philosophy toward life than that which the consumer paradigm promotes?

  • If it saves me time, does it cost me something else?

  • What percentage of my time goes toward spending, earning, consuming, protecting and planning for--THINGS?

  • What am I trying to buy with money?

  • What percentage of my time goes towards mindless distractions? Where could my time be going?

  • When considering purchases (beyond the necessities) what if I asked: "Will this help me become the person I'm meant to be?"

  • What opportunities does the practice of voluntary simplicity create for me?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Best Move Ever (Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about the financial benefits of simplifying my living situation. Today, I'll talk about the other benefits.

Less stuff generally translates into more time. With less clutter, there's less time spent cleaning, rearranging, and searching for stuff. Shopping is streamlined --I know I don't have space for anything but the necessities, so I don't waste time window shopping for things I can't have. I try to do one major shopping trip per month (mainly for groceries) and stay out of the stores as much as possible the rest of the month. I'll still need milk and eggs, cat food and a few other incidentals, but I keep those trips quick and to the point. I also don't waste time with maintenance issues since I rent. There have been very few of those anyway, but at least when they do happen, I'm not the one to waste time arranging for contractors or shopping for parts.

I enjoy a slower pace of life here. It's like I've stepped back in time a generation or two. I love the fact that I can let my son run around and enjoy purely unstructured play time here. And the innocence of play is refreshing. In the past weeks it's been Fun With Vegetables. Most everyone here has a garden, so the kids have been entertaining themselves in creative ways with veggies (and fruits). One night it was eating a watermelon they had just picked in the one yard and making a game of chucking the rinds. Another day they carved a jack-o-lantern. A woman down the street gave them a round melon or winter squash that had split open and they were kicking it around and tossing it. My son created a pulley in the back yard and was hoisting and then smashing over-ripe zucchinis (great fun, let me tell you!) which broke them up into better sizes for composting. He came home with a cute gourd that someone else had given him.... I could go on, just talking about vegetables but you get the point. Families don't seem to be so over-scheduled and harried in my town. There's a lot of just families being families and kids being kids. I love that.

And that reminds me of another benefit. There seems to be more neighborliness here than in the suburbs. When I first moved in, I can't tell you the number of people who stopped by to introduce themselves to me. I had never had anything like that happen anywhere else I've lived. People still wave to you on the roads as they pass, whether they know you or not. Such a civil gesture. In the cities, you're likely to see hand gestures but of a much different variety.

There are fewer distractions and annoying interruptions. I've had two door-to-door sales people since I've been here, maybe five or six brochures (mostly the Schwan's guy, who never stops by when I'm home so I can't put an end to it), and two or three visits from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Not too bad after nearly three-and-a-half years in this place. Since I don't buy much anymore and never order from catalogs, I'm not on any mailing lists either. My mailbox is gloriously empty most of the time (it helps that we only have P.O. boxes here --I don't think bulk mailers send as much junk to them as they do to street addresses).

A smaller house also means a smaller environmental footprint and that feels really good. It takes less carbon to heat and light a smaller house and fewer materials to furnish and maintain it. And the actual footprint (square footage-wise) of the house means that less impermeable surface area has been created, leaving more land to absorb rainfall and replenish the water table instead of running off into storm drains and out to sea.

And finally, a simpler lifestyle has brought me much greater satisfaction. I'm satisfied with what I have and where I am and how I'm living. I have all I need--really far more than I need--and I feel incredibly blessed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Best Move Ever (Part 1)

My best move ever was moving to a smaller house. Actually, it was more than just that. It was simultaneously moving to a smaller house, moving out of the suburbs into the country, and switching from owning to renting. Those three factors have combined to give me more benefits than I could probably list...but I will try.

First, the financial benefits. My mortgage for the old house was $1492/month. Rent for the new house is $340/month. My car insurance dropped by more than a third because I moved out of a major metropolitan area. I pay no property taxes and have no maintenance costs.

Aren't I tossing money away by renting? Not necessarily. When I owned, I was tossing away nearly $10,000/year in interest (after you deduct what I saved in taxes). Now granted, over the course of 30 years, my interest payments would have gone down, IF I actually stayed put--but being a rather typical American, I move every few years. And IF I stayed put, the house would likely have built equity to at least counteract some of my interest payments. Maybe...but just because markets have performed in a particular way in the past is no promise that they will continue to do so. So you never know.

What I do know is that so far, given the current housing slump, renting has been the better deal for me. The timing was just right and the fact that I was simultaneously downsizing has made it work for me.

The other financial plus is that renting has broken me of thinking like a homeowner. As in: Gosh, wouldn't the kitchen look better with a tile floor, or new white cabinets with glass fronts? We really need a new front door. Why'd the old owner's ever put carpet in the bathroom? A shed would sure be nice out back. And a deck. With a pergola. I never cared for rosebushes much, let's put something else in. It's never-ending when you own a home. There's always some project lined up.

Renting breaks you of that. Sure, I can think of things that would improve my little house, but the fact is it's incredibly charming just the way it is. I don't need to make any changes. Renting has helped me appreciate things as they are, has got me to stop fiddling and fidgeting with everything and just leave them be. Which is ultimately very nice on the wallet.

Then there are the utility bills. My old house was 2440 sq. ft. with an additional unheated 900 sq. ft. attached garage/workshop. My new house is 485 sq. ft. Which do you think costs more to operate? Here, I spend about $500/year for heat and about $400/year for electricity for everything else. Trash service is not mandatory (okay, that has its downside, i.e. neighbors burning noxious crap!) But, I take my own trash to the landfill and since I compost and recycle and don't buy much in the first place I go about once every 2 months. It generally costs me between $3.50 and $5.00 per visit. (In the metro area, trash service was mandatory and if you wanted to take a special load to the landfill it cost $20-something per car-load.)

Being 90 miles from the metro area has other financial benefits as well. Dinner at a restaurant in town costs around $5.50 or $6.50. The one time I went out for breakfast my total bill was $1.75. I can see a $3.00 movie in a neat old theater that still has its original stage curtains and is full of rich architectural detail. And vet bills are extremely low. A visit for a kitten's first shots was $10; for a cat with an infected wound $30, including meds. The most I've ever paid was $38.50, and that was a very dire situation. Back in the city, it seemed like every visit was at minimum $300. They always wanted to run every test under the sun when something was wrong. It's refreshing here to see these country vets taking a very no-nonsense, down-to-business approach to their work.

In the three years I've lived here I've saved thousands of dollars.

In Part 2, I'll get to the other benefits beyond money.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Putting Down Roots

There is a missing piece in the discussion about sustainability. It is the significance of place and rootedness. Of humans putting down roots by once again becoming literal parts of their ecosystems. As long as we remain divorced from the land, above it and separate from it we will not live harmoniously with it.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in her wonderful book about her experiences with the !Kung bushmen in Africa (The Old Way), depicts a society of humans who were beautifully interwoven into their ecosystem, as full participants in a complex and healthy web of life. Particularly striking to me was her discussion of the relationship between humans and lions; how they co-evolved and lived harmoniously together over the ages (only to have that balance finally destroyed in recent times by the arrival of pastoralists). The Old Way is now gone for the !Kung, as Thomas made depressingly clear in her final chapters, and today you'd be hard-pressed to find even a few examples of societies which still fully participate in their ecosystems. But for the bulk of human history we all lived immersed in an ecosystem, coevolving with the plants and the other animals, adapting to local conditions and occupying vital niches.

As we developed culture and especially as we moved off the land into cities, we stepped out of our niches. We stepped out of nature and placed ourselves above it. Culture has been plunked down on top of nature, completely out of context. Nature gets squeezed to the outskirts of culture, for the most part. Out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people.

The fact is however that we are embedded in nature. We are shaped by the land around us. Our every move is embedded in the matrix of earth and atmosphere. As we move we set off eddies of air currents, our heat rises, we are exchanging gases with the atmosphere. The plants around us share with us their breath and we share with them our own. When we eat their fruits, we transmute their plant flesh into our own flesh. We feed on our soils as well, indirectly for the most part, but nevertheless. The smells, the sounds, the landscapes of nature are internalized, laid down as neural passages in our heads, becoming literally part of us.

A return to balance here on earth will require us to recognize and re-embrace our place within the larger ecosystem. But first we must merely remember. So much has already been forgotten.

In future posts, I will explore the subject of place and rootedness in depth. My next installment will cover the process of "naturalization" from a unique slant.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Recommendations: Immigration and Population Issues

I've added a list of book recommendations in the sidebar. The only one I need to qualify is How Many Americans?: Population, Immigration, and the Environment, by Leon F. Bouvier and Lindsey Grant.

I'm not sure how many times I picked this book up and set it back down before committing to reading it. The title alone made me feel defensive. If it was going to be bashing immigrants, I had no stomach for it. Simply put, I don't recognize borders. They are imaginary, divisive things. We are one species and I don't believe that any individual has more of a right to occupy a particular place on this planet than anyone else. So if this book was going to be saying, "Keep out all those d*** foreigners", it wasn't going to be worth my time.

Well, I'm glad I gave this book a chance, because it ended up being very thought-provoking and fairly persuasive in its argument. And it served as a good reminder to me not just to read things I know I already agree with, but to lend an ear (or eyeball) to opposing viewpoints as well.

I've been keenly interested in population issues and believe overpopulation to be the No. 1 critical issue we face. All of our other problems are stemming from too many people on too small a planet. Until I read this book, though, I had never considered that the U.S. might be suffering from overpopulation. What's a measly 304 million people in this vast land compared to the populations of India and China? It hardly seems significant.

Yet, the authors' projections for population growth here in the U.S. were alarming. They could be way off-base--projections are notorious for that. But the book was first published in 1994 and here fourteen years later it turns out their projections so far were actually conservative. (I wish I had the book handy right now so I could share the figures, which we could then compare with these: Population Clock. Darn it! I'll edit in the figures as soon as I can.) [Okay, here they are: the authors estimated that we would reach 300 million people in 2012. We actually hit that mark in October of 2006, which means the curve is much steeper than even the authors had predicted.]

The book got me thinking about immigration in new ways. I'm not sure what I believe, but at least this book challenged me to think in new ways. Here are some things I wrote in my journal right after I finished the book (don't hold me to any of my crackpot ideas, please):

Regarding borders...

If there were no borders of course people in marginal lands would move in droves to more productive places, which would then in time become over-exploited until people moved on to the next best place and so on. There would still be suffering but (if I can claim such a thing) more equitable suffering.

Regarding immigration...

What I had never really thought through until now is this: in these extremely dire times, closed borders (which is not at all what the authors were proposing--they were proposing serious limits, but not outright restrictions) might be our only hope. Not just for the U.S. but for the planet. If we stop immigration and lower fertility, ultimately decreasing our population, we will be able to preserve groundwater, forests and other vital environmental resources, prevent more species from going extinct, and perhaps a still (relatively) green America might offset some of the massive environmental degradation elsewhere. A green America, in a world out of ecological balance, could potentially be the thing that staves off total environmental collapse worldwide. Who knows? After all, Americans consume something like 20-40 times more resources than people in third world countries, so each person you add to the population here in the U.S. has a huge negative global impact.

Here, Jared Diamond, one of my favorite "big-picture" people, talks about population and consumption. He states that individuals in first-world countries consume 32 times more resources and produce 32 times more waste than individuals in third-world countries, and that it is consumption that matters far more than sheer population numbers. The problem, he says, is not merely how many people are crowding the planet, but how many times how much. Six, seven, or eight billion people, if they've all acquired the American lifestyle, would create quite a different world than the one we have now (or quite possibly no world at all).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fear-Based Living

When you explore voluntary simplicity in earnest it seems inevitable that, somewhere along the way, you will confront the big existential issues: who am I, why am I here, where am I going?

Simplicity creates emptiness, something that so many people fear. The frantic quality of modern life seems to be an attempt to run away from the big and meaningful issues, to never confront the cause of our fears and insecurities, to never be still long enough to do so. Emptiness is frightening. Stillness and silence are intimidating.

Simplicity opens up space--physical space, mental space, spiritual space. What is going to fill that? The beautiful thing is that something always does fill it. Not knick-knacks, not staff meetings, not baseball practice, or workouts, or appointments with the chiropractor, or lunch dates or trips to the mall. Something else. Spirit, you might call it. States of bliss. Serenity. Radical fearlessness. Radical freedom. And a safe context in which to confront the big questions.

At first though, what might want to fill the empty space is dread. That's okay. That means the bigger questions are starting to surface. That's why we're here, to confront those bigger questions. How will you ever live up to your fullest potential if you never confront the big questions? Manic, fear-based living is not conducive to you becoming fully who you are meant to be in this life. But it takes some courage to cultivate emptiness. You must be willing to pass the edge of the frontier and step into the unknown. You have to confront the demons waiting there.

Voluntary simplicity isn't the only way to create emptiness, of course. There are many different forms of what I call "emptiness practice": silence, solitude, fasting, meditation, celibacy, yoga, even the down-time when you're recovering from a prolonged illness. All of these things can get you to the same place, to the same lessons, to the same revelations. Telling, isn't it, that most of these practices come out of our spiritual traditions? Even voluntary simplicity itself, which now has such a secular flavor, originated in the "vows of poverty" and similar practices found in the early histories of our great religious traditions. Think of the Buddhist monks with their begging bowls, and Christ with his injunction to the wealthy young man, "Go, sell what thou hast."

Emptiness must come first. Fearlessness follows. Radical freedom follows that.

Fearlessly embracing your radical freedom means you can do anything. You can be a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa. You can change the world. You will be acting from your highest potential and from that place anything is possible.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Economic Woes--Could This Be The Best Thing Ever?

A worsening economy, rising gas prices, the mortgage fiasco, the weakening dollar. It all sounds so ominous and frightening. I'm being seriously impacted by it and I'm sure you are too. But as ever-the-optimist I see the silver lining here as well.

We are being forced to change our ways. We are being forced to adopt better ways. The price of gas has us thinking about energy conservation and shopping locally and living within our means. The housing crisis may help people more wisely evaluate their living situations and their true needs before jumping into supersized mortgages. The weakening dollar may help us to rein in our focus, away from the global economy to local economies, to re-building community, to creating bartering networks and to re-embracing our specific place in the ecosystem.

But beyond all of these personal things, the economic crisis could help reform what is a broken, dysfunctional free-market system. We may personally be suffering now, but the corporate world is really going to be reeling. This situation is our way in. We may complain about how corporations are desecrating the earth, damaging human health and exploiting billions of people, but most of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Corporations wield absurd power.

The economic disaster looming before us is our chance to challenge the corporations. We can say no to cheap crap from overseas and buy locally, and it will get easier and easier to do because cheap crap from overseas is soon going to be expensive cheap crap. At some point it's not going to make sense for corporations to outsource to the cheapest country because the fuel costs involved in shipping will wipe out any savings. The same applies to industrial agriculture. People will increasingly support local farmer's markets, sign up for CSA shares, and plant their own gardens. They will no longer be willing to bear the costs involved in industrial farming, especially not the transportation costs. Why pay extra for bland Mexican-grown tomatoes, when backyard tomatoes or farmer's market tomatoes are juicier, healthier, cheaper, and don't taste like cardboard.

Imagine recreating healthy local food systems, vibrant local economies, and sustainable practices all around. Change is possible, and before us right now lies a huge opportunity.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Guy's Tips for Reducing Home Energy Consumption

I came across this article recently in Mother Earth News: "Easy Projects for Instant Energy Savings". In it the author, Gary Reysa, offers the eight best projects you can do around the home to increase your energy savings. Using just these eight tips, his family was able to reduce their electric usage by more than half. It would be well worth your time to check out the article, as well as Gary's own website, for lots of useful information.

But something about the article rubbed me the wrong way. It was the fact that he was missing the Number 1 Tip for Reducing Home Energy Use: MOVE TO A SMALLER HOUSE. (If it seems like I'm shouting that's because I am.) Let's look at his numbers. In the article he states that he was able to reduce his household energy use from 93,000 kWh per year to just 38,000 kWh. Quite a reduction, but I'm distracted by his numbers more than anything. Ninety-three thousand kilowatts! How is that even possible? I added up my electric usage for the past twelve months and it was 9,305 kWh. And I have electric heat. He never states anywhere in his article the square footage of his house, but I have to imagine that it's at least ten times the size of mine. How else do you get an electric bill of that magnitude?

Who needs a house that's ten times bigger than mine? A polygamous sect, maybe, but not the average family.

And even his reduced energy usage (38,000 kWh) sounds obscene to me. In the article he boasts about how he's reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (two pounds of carbon dioxide for every one kWh). That's 55 tons of CO2 emissions he's keeping out of the atmosphere every year (see footnote). Bravo, of course. But on the flip-side, he's still contributing 38 tons of CO2 per year. How can that be a good thing?

My intention is not to make Mr. Reysa look like a bad guy. He obviously wants to make a difference. It's commendable that he is sharing what he's learned with so many others, through this article and through all of the information available on his website. I sincerely applaud what he's doing. But I want to ensure that the bigger picture doesn't get lost.

House sizes in the U.S. have increased dramatically since the 1970s. According to the Census Bureau, the average new home in 2005 was 2434 square feet, up 46.6% from 1660 square feet in 1973. Even if you want to buy a smaller home, they're getting harder and harder to find. Builders aren't building small homes anymore. And in the old town centers around here, the cute old cottages are being scraped off and replaced by oversized monstrosities that look ridiculous on their tiny lots.

Perhaps our current economic woes and the mortgage fiasco will help reverse the trend towards larger and larger houses, but don't count on it. The building industry has convinced us we need: a living room and a family room and a game room; an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room and maybe throw in a breakfast nook; four or five bedrooms for a family of four; a home office; a home-theater room; and a five-piece master bath with walk-in closets. Until we let go of the kind of thinking that has us saying "Okay" to all of this nonsense, builders will keep producing it. It's up to us as individuals to demand responsible housing options and persevere until we get them.

Footnote: After writing this I noticed some inconsistencies with the figures. In the Mother Earth News article the author claims only to have reduced his CO2 emissions by 17 tons (on his website he says 18 tons and his other figures are a little different too). Yet by my calculations based on 2 pounds of CO2 for every one kWh (a figure he cites in his article and which I confirmed to be true, albeit as a rough estimate since it varies from power plant to power plant) he should have reduced his emissions by 55 tons.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tracing the Rise of Ego and Materialism

I want to gain an understanding of the history of ego. My guess is that ego didn't exist, or only barely existed, in hunter-gatherer and tribal groups. The more egalitarian and interdependent a group, the less need for individual ego. With the rise of agriculture and permanent settlements, we started to have specialists and an elite caste. That's probably where ego first began to evolve significantly, especially among the kings and pharaohs. The commoners likely still lived in a collective mindset, but the elite were beginning to individuate and thereby develop egos. They were the first to have the luxury to do so.

The pyramids and other monuments to the elite were massive structures of self-edification. The pharaohs were announcing, "Look, I'm somebody!" Eventually, ego (and a sense of self) spread from the elite to, well, just about everybody nowadays. Today, we're all building massive structures to the self --what else do you call these hideous gargantuan things we're filling our suburbs with? "Hey, look at me, I'm somebody" we all seem to be announcing.

James Howard Kunstler, in his book about peak oil and other imminent catastrophes (The Long Emergency) said something that got my attention. He was talking about how fossil fuels allow each of us (in the West) to live as if we had hundreds of slaves at our beck and call. In other words, we live today like little pharaohs. Fossil fuels elevate all of us into significant somebodies (or so it would seem).

But what exactly is this connection between ego and materialism? As you become a separate somebody, what happens that makes you start grabbing for things? As you're separating from a tribal identity, you're also separating from Nature. Where once you were an interconnected part of the whole, now you are separate and just an insignificant dot. You can't go back to the old way once you have an awareness of self, yet there must remain in you some glimmer of tribal memory and a yearning for that kind of connection and belonging. Grabbing at stuff --it's really an infantile maneuver. We heap up all of this stuff around us as if to reassure ourselves that we're really somebodies, not insignificant dots afterall. We want to stand out and be noticed because ultimately we want to belong again. We can't fuse back into our collective unconscious; we know too much. We're human sapiens sapiens after all --we "know that we know". There's no going back.

Stuff becomes an extension of self. It makes us look bigger. It makes us seem powerful. Think about what happened when the horse was first domesticated. A warrior on horseback was "bigger", he was more powerful. His self expanded to include self+horse+(usually) bronze weaponry. That bigger self could command far more resources than those smaller selves who didn't have horses. The horsemen could dominate and thereby control more wealth and resources. Obviously as individuals they were no more special or powerful than anyone else, but by using things outside of themselves as artificial extensions of themselves (horses and weapons) they made themselves look bigger than they were.

And, in a nutshell, isn't that what ego is? Simply making yourself look bigger than you really are? It starts to seem really ridiculous that after all these thousands of years, we're still doing the same childish thing. I guess in the whole sweeping span of our evolution, a few thousand years is nothing, though, so long as we're not stuck here forever.

Why should we want to look bigger than we really are? Here's the trajectory I think we're on: as we've moved from tribes to city-states to global civilization, we've been moving from a mythic collective identification with the cosmos to the individual isolated dots we now are to (our next step) a supraconscious return to Oneness. This is a theme I'll be returning to in greater depth as this blog evolves because it's so important. This egoic stage, this grossly materialistic stage, while very dangerous is also vital and necessary. We needed to become isolated dots in order to recognize what we had always been immersed in. We needed to become Subject and Object, Self and Other condense into separate dots out of the collective soup from which we were born in order to see ourselves and to know ourselves for the first time.

Making ourselves look bigger is our childish attempt to get at our True Identity. Our True Identity is huge; I think we know that intuitively. But we make the mistake of thinking that our identity is only a physical one, so we heap up physical stuff. These external things are not us, unless you look at it all spiritually and then everything is us. But that makes us all one being , all equally powerful. And then there is no point in egotism because who are you going to boast to, and about what? Once we evolve into the next paradigm, we will have shed that childishness.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are We Going Soft?

I got to thinking about this question earlier in the month. On the 1st of the month I was driving my son to school. Out of the blue he said, "Yeah, we get to turn on the air conditioner today!" What made it odd was the fact that it was 4o degrees and snowing, with a coat of ice and slush building up on the windshield and visibility down to a few car-lengths.

My son claimed that (on a very muggy day back in February) I had promised him we could turn on the car AC on May 1st. My vague recollection is that I said June 1st, and only maybe June 1st.

What I know is that we humans love comfort. We seek it everywhere. So much of our materialistic urges seem to be centered around procuring comfort (and security, probably in equal measure--an issue I'll get to another day). Climate-control, the ability to adjust our living environment to a narrow range of comfort, is just one example. We spend now such a large proportion of our days indoors (is it 90%?--I need to check the statistics). We go from our climate-controlled homes, into our climate-controlled cars, then to our climate-controlled workplaces, malls, gyms, churches, etc. So the bulk of our lives are spent in a very comfortable, but narrow temperature range, maybe roughly 68-74 degrees Fahrenheit.

My question is, over the long term, what might this do to the viability of our species? One thing is for certain, over our long history we have shown ourselves to be creatures of extreme adaptability. We can be found on the coldest tundras, in the hottest deserts, in humid rainforests, temperate regions, on mountain heights --pretty much in every climatic zone. There may be no other species on earth as climatically adaptable as us humans.

Now, obviously if we looked at individual cases within our species we wouldn't seem quite as adaptable. You couldn't take someone from the Amazonian rainforest and transplant them onto the Canadian tundra, or vice versa, without causing those individuals significant physical stress. As individuals we are adapted to our local conditions. But even those conditions, minus central heating and air conditioning fluctuate quite widely. Where I live, over the course of the seasons and years and decades, I can experience -20 degree temperatures and 105 degree temperatures. In the tropical rainforests even, between daytime highs and nighttime lows, there can be significant variability, far more than in our climate-controlled world where we might only experience a range of less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

If we continue over many generations to live in air-conditioned comfort, might we eventually begin to lose the higher and lower ranges of our climatic adaptability? And if so, then what happens at the end of the carbon era if we haven't found adequate energy substitutes? Or what happens if war, or an asteroid or any other circumstance destroys our ability to artificially heat and cool our environment? There is no promise that our civilization will always continue in its present form. In fact it's a given that it won't. (For an interesting look at the fleeting nature of societies read Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) So, what might happen to a species adapted only to a very narrow temperature range when it is suddenly forced to face extreme temperatures? I admit I don't know a whole lot about human physiology, but I do know that temperature extremes stress the heart at the very least. And obviously there's heat stroke and hypothermia. What other effects there might be I simply don't know.

I'm just speculating, and I think it's important that we all begin speculating about the ways our lifestyle choices now impact not just the present but the far reaches of the future. It's so easy to grab for comfort without thinking about anything other than our immediate desires, but responsible and mature humans must think through the far-reaching implications of all of our choices. If we choose to remain adaptable (by spending far more of our time outdoors, or by foregoing air-conditioning, or setting the thermostat far lower in the winter) we may sweat and we may shiver, but we may be doing a very great service to humanity in the process.

What are other ways in which humans may be going soft?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Father Christmas

Two nights ago I had a dream. There was a wide dirt path (or a narrow dirt road for foot traffic) that was going straight through a young forest. A boy of about eight or nine was walking along the path. To one side of the path and parallel to it ran an embankment --it was like the abandoned railroad grades you see around here. A tangle of young trees and bramble grew on it, creating almost a tunnel effect on top. I was walking along the top of it, following the boy secretly from several paces behind, and partly obscured by the brambles. The boy turned in my direction at one point and I instantly froze to the spot so he wouldn't notice me, but as I froze I had also swivelled my body to look behind me. There on the embankment about ten or fifteen paces behind me was a man, who also was instantly freezing to the spot as the boy turned in our direction.

I recognized the man immediately; it was Father Christmas. But he wasn't round and jolly and he didn't wear a red suit. Instead he was tall and lean, with white hair and a white beard. He wore a long robe that was trimmed all around in white fur, but the robe itself was tan, like deerskin (reindeer skin?) or suede. I realized in an instant what should have always been completely obvious (but wasn't) --Father Christmas is a wizard! He gave a subtle nod to me, with maybe the merest hint of a smile. We were both up to the same thing --stalking the boy.

And that was it, the whole dream. What on earth am I to make of it? I was not working with Father Christmas. I had never seen him before (I don't think anyone is supposed to see him) and I had no idea he was following right behind me until I turned. Yet we were up to the same thing and I get the sense that I was up to something rather wizard-ish myself. I was stalking the boy, wishing to evade his detection, but I think there was more to it than just freezing to the spot and blending in. I think I was actively, maybe mentally, practicing some invisibility technique. It wasn't the freezing to the spot alone that prevented the boy from noticing me --there was some technique I was using that made it far less likely he would see me.

Let me add that there was nothing sinister in me stalking the kid. I meant no harm. I never intended to interact with him at all. It seems more like I was practicing on him.

So, where on earth did this dream come from? The only thing reminding me of Christmas in the past few days was a book I read about a family who boycotted Chinese products for a year (A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy, by Sara Bongiorni). Christmas was very trying for them since they had small children and virtually all toys are now made in China. The four-year old boy started making his list for Santa in August and kept adding and adding to it --and everything he added, the mom felt certain, was made in China.

But how did my mind make the leap from this mere mention of our traditional American Santa to a dream about a wizard in animal skins stalking a boy? It seems very unusual. But it sure has a neat mythic feel to it; it feels like for the first time I've gotten a glimpse of the real Santa. And I mean that, too, as ridiculous as it sounds. Over the past few centuries, as we've embraced materialism more and more extensively, Father Christmas --this wise, sacred being who I'm convinced has some mythic reality-- has been transformed (and dumbed-down) into this goofy, jolly, gauche caricature.

Maybe all this dream is demonstrating is my new way of seeing. After all, how can Santa Claus still be Santa Claus (in our twenty-first century American conception of him) once you've transcended the consumer paradigm?

And the wizard aspect of this is very fascinating. I did a brief Internet search to see if there actually have been traditions that believed Father Christmas possessed a sorcerous side to his personality. I didn't really turn up any solid evidence (but how does he get all those toys to all those boys and girls in one night?), except for some kind of dubious link to the germanic god Wotan (Odin, Woden). I will have to look into this further.

Probably, the dream isn't referring to historically accurate conceptions of St. Nick anyway. If this dream is representing my transformation into a new paradigm, then wizardry probably symbolizes my new perceptions and a more nuanced way of interacting with the world.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So many neat things have happened to me since I first began to explore voluntary simplicity in earnest. Things I never could have anticipated. The coolest thing so far is that as I've meandered along, my focus has shifted away from the personal and more and more towards the global. Some kind of global citizen has awakened in me as I continue to be transformed by this process.

As personal as this process is (and surely different for everyone), I can't help but wonder if there aren't certain universal guideposts along the way. Maybe everyone who commits to a deepening experience with simplicity will go through certain unavoidable stages. Maybe everyone will eventually evolve towards the bigger picture; away from the small self, the egoic self, towards something grander and more all-encompassing.

This inkling is a fairly new one for me. Sometime in the past year I crossed a threshold; I reached a point in my explorations where the old consumer paradigm (well, hardly old, since most of the world is still firmly enmeshed in it) totally shattered. To see the world from outside the current paradigm has been utterly transformative for me.

The oddest outcome of all of this is that I begin to have hope. We live in such dire times; we're faced with so many compounding issues (over-population, loss of biodiversity, climate change, issues of food security and declining water tables, topsoil losses and desertification, the exploitation and suffering of billions of people because of the greed of the few, the end of the carbon era,...and the list goes on). Take a close-up look at any one of these issues and you're bound to feel at least a little bleak. Study them all in-depth for several years as I've been doing and it will be amazing that you can still pull your head out from under the covers every morning. It's depressing stuff. There's not a whole lot of reason for hope. At least not on the surface.

But, through this whole process, I've found hope. I'm still alarmed, but I'm excited now too. I've found a way to think about the future that is positive and life-affirming. It involves us, as a species (but person by person) waking up, busting out of the current paradigm and embracing our full human potential.

I believe that the practice of voluntary simplicity is one of the most powerful tools we have for busting through to the next paradigm. Maybe it will turn out to be the crucial one as well. It's not only a tool for personal transformation, but in a very practical way it brings us into right relationship with the earth. More important than anything else is that we survive this transition and to do that, as a species, we have to live lightly on this earth. Our practical, real actions matter more now than at any other point in our long history. Embracing simplicity is a very noble act, given our current circumstances.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you through this blog, and I welcome your wisdom and the tales of your journeys as well.