Good housekeeping

A woman empties a pail of bathwater and a baby into a stream

We’re caretakers here. We get to enjoy our time and we leave everything behind when it is time to go.

Every human child from today onward that will ever be born, will be born right here on this single planet, Earth. What they will have for their lives and their children, is partly up to us, from what we build, and partly from what we consume that can never be replenished.

What should they expect from us?

Do good housekeepers use everything until it breaks? Is it really ok that we allow our leaders to exist on a three-year re-election cycle that doesn’t respond well to polling on any issue where short term extravagance needed to be weighed against long term (generational).

You get to make a choice on how much you care about what kind of an ecosphere we’re bequeathing to future generations. It is one of the core aspects of what sustainability actually means (remember that the next time you hear a public figure using the word and you’ll immediately be able to fine-tune your bullshit meter) and also one of the basic skills (delaying gratification) needed in order to mature into adulthood.

So what’s in it for you?

Great question.

Answer: Nothing.

No gold star, no pat on the head, no special tax breaks. Nothing.

This is part of our duty if we want to be citizens of this world. The world, and our species, stretch in time both behind us and ahead of us. We are part of a bigger body of life. All the future of our species (and many others who live here too) are asking of those of us alive right now, is that we keep good house. Don’t trash the place, be considerate of the neighbours, enjoy what we can while leaving plenty for others to share. Any reasonable person would consider it common sense.

Our duty exists whether or not there is a brighter future in it for us personally. We may or may not accept it or like it, but that’s how it is. We can stay as children and wait for someone else to clean up for us, or put our shoulders into the task ourselves. Take a breath or two before you react to that idea. Human life isn’t all about progress and sharing doesn’t mean going without completely.

Later on we’ll get into more of what sustainability might mean day to day, but for right now, while we’re thinking about the values and meaningful lives we yearn for, it is timely to remember that liberty is always bonded to responsibility.

Someone who had a very concrete experience of freedom was Victor Frankl. If you’ve not yet read his famous book (Man’s search for meaning) please consider doing so (it is both short and non-academic). Despite the situation it discusses, I can almost guarantee that it will make you feel more positive and think about life’s challenges with a deeper sense of personal resilience. let’s give him the last word today.

Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

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Sometimes a stumble

Our brave face outward.
Fierce, focussed on horizons and plans of epic proportions,
ready to stride forward, forging success.

Oh but even you are human,
perhaps you stumble. Can you forgive
the foot, the stone, the day?

Pause in the eternal moment here,
between the trip and the echo,
where you explode and reform.
Are you ego, emotion or empathy?

Sometimes a stumble is the biggest challenge of all.

Putting down roots

The tree in the Flammarion engravingI love spending time on Earth. The ephemeral nature of it reminds my soul of the precious fragilities of life. Earth shows us glory and wealth. Earth teaches us that everything has a role to play, that there’s purpose in all things and also that humans suffer most from their own making.

I love the way that all our ancestors that have ever been are right here, still with us. That there’s a little kink in our orientation so that as we spiral and circle and dance around the sun, beautiful repeating patterns are made for us to enjoy.

I mean this, not in some abstract, symbolic way, but in a literal, actual way each day, every year. The physical world of our lives, right here under our feet, is both the source and the destination.

I’m repeating this from last week because this is what is so liberating.

It is freeing to be humbled by the totality of the Earth and accept that the expectations we create, the measures we have chosen, the agreements we’ve made to live our lives the way we do, so many of the things that we crave or expect or demand are all of our own invention. Those things are superfluous. Seek them if you wish, but do so with the knowledge that you’ll be able to breathe anyway, that the sun will come up in the morning, and that the trees will fruit in season.

You have seasons too.

Wishing you were ripe in Spring is very hard to fulfil, creating tension for yourself and those who care about you. Likewise in Autumn to obsess about lost days in youth is so pointless. That’s not to say ‘don’t have them’. Create art with those longings, or seek a higher truth from the impetus to understand, work with what is possible inside the physical limits of our reality. That leaves a lot of room for emotional, spiritual and psychological maneuver, it leaves a lot of room for fun, and for the here and now. Sway with the breeze, drink from the rain, tingle with the fire in your sap. There’s freedom here. There’s liberation in knowing what is real, and what is a wish.

I love spending time on Earth with you. There’s nowhere I would rather be. We’re all in this together.

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You are already home

We’ve come to the core, possibly the most important element that there is in reconnecting to your own soul, your own freedom. It is a bit counter-intuitive, because initially it will seem like it has basically nothing to do with you personally, but if you can stick with it is a big one. There’s nothing bigger in our world. Literally.

Earthrise photo taken by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 1968It is, of course, the Earth.

Our precious planet is so vast and accommodating, perfectly suited to us and so amazingly varied but even that sentence shows a human point of view. We are just one of the multitudes of creatures who belong here (and only here), we consider it ours, but we belong to it. We were born of this world, not just on it. I find this endlessly wonderful but I understand if you’re asking ‘What’s in it for me?’

Imagine you knew, deeply and without question where your loyalties always fell? Wouldn’t that make things clear? What if there was a really simple equation that could always inform your decision making at a fundamental level?

The Earth is a single, finite planet. For all the rah-rah of astronomy in the almost infinite reach of the space we’ve been able to explore through our amazing technologies we’ve found maybe a dozen that maybe might do the trick. If we could get to them, which we can’t (the best candidates are between 20 and 1200 light years away). And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty leery about signing up for a one-way ticket to even a hotel no one has reviewed, let alone a planet no one is confident can support weeds or insects.

What you can get from this is that the Earth is special. We all enjoy a nice Sci-Fi, just remember that the Fi part stands for fiction. The reality is that we are lucky lucky lucky to have this planet. More than lucky, without this planet nothing about us makes sense. We’re formed by this gravity, we’re formed of this chemical mix, and we find only a small range of temperatures and chemicals safe. So how does this help you? YOU BELONG HERE. The needs of the planet are your needs.

Pretty simple.

Anything that damages the planet is not in our interests as a species. Economy, culture, sport, fossil fuels, wildlife, tourism, smartphones, all of it, everything you can imagine is a fully-owned subsidiary of planet Earth. Look at that amazing photograph. Taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Bill Anders as the lunar orbit brought the NASA ship into sight of the Earth.

“For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.”

What a lovely line there at the end, “worthy of careful stewardship”. I think that’s a much more graceful way to explain sustainability. No matter how many ways we describe the intricate interdependencies of related ecosystems, that single image sums it up so perfectly – there is nowhere else. It is all there, in that one ball. We are all in this together. Sustainability isn’t an ‘ism’ we should be into because it is cool or underground or a way to achieve carbon emissions, it is because it is the unarguable reality of a closed system. There’s nowhere to throw anything ‘away’ when you look down on the blue-green sphere.

To an individual human the Earth is so huge, so humbling. Our technology gives the impression that we’ve shrunk it, that we’ve tamed it and controlled it and put it to use for our betterment. Try walking somewhere. Try growing your own food. Try to swim to that island you can see. It is hard. We’ve created a tension between our physical and technical relationships to the Earth. They are out of synch. If you get back in touch with your personal, physical reality to the Earth, it can be so freeing. You know, deep into the core of yourself, that you are one of the stewards of the Earth. We all are, we’re born into that relationship. You know that there’s nowhere ‘away’ for (for example) nuclear waste to go – we simply bequeath that problem it to generations on from ours.

You and I, we’re part of this world. Our bodies come from the alchemy of our ancestors and the Earth. Physically and spiritually we are of this place. It is miraculous and obvious and comforting. In the words of Marshall McLuhan  “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

I find that incredibly liberating because it reminds me that everything else is a form of consensus reality. I can choose if I participate or not. When you start with what is real – the planet and the gifts of air and water, when you live from those as your basis, the relative value of everything else is easier to gauge.

So take your shoes off and feel some dirt beneath your feet. Look up at the stars and the moon tonight and be glad for your beautiful blue bubble that holds you tight as you do.

NaNo-riffic writing fun

NaNoWriMo participant banner 2014It is November and so the Nanowrimo is upon us. Praise be!

I love this crazy, silly fun and free festival that over the years is helping me learn how to write. This is my 8th or 9th year now (? I’ve lost count)  and maybe it has taken that long to learn how to participate, but finally I enjoy this personal challenge more than nearly anything else. I did a beginner triathlon – not as hard. Rode a bicycle 100klms in a day – sure it needed a lot of snickers but it was done in a day. Writing 50 000 words in a month – you need to really turn up for that. Of course here in Week One it does seem like fun, you’re a lot less likely to hear many participants extolling the joys around week 3 when everyone’s stamina and plot seem to run out at the same time.

That’s a thing I’ve learnt, Nano has its own rhythms and as a writer you’ll need a different strategy for each week. The organisers understand this and the support structure is incredible. If ever you have considered that you’d like to write a novel or a play or the story of your Great Grandmother, now is the time to start. Jump in to the idea that you can do a lot more than you imagine. Join the groups where people share their dark moments and their wins. Strangers will cheer for you as you meet your own goals and people who are also writing will understand the tears and joys you’re having. Writers don’t generally stride around in big groups banging drums and cheering everyone having a go – during November it is different – there’s somewhere just for you. I love seeing those posts coming through – people dancing for joy in their lounge rooms or bedrooms saying things like “I never thought I’d make it, but I DID!” and your own heart swells for them.  Then you have a draft. A whole draft. Imagine that, it is dizzyingly exciting.

Editing and rewriting, well that’s for another time. Right now you just need to hit today’s word count target and then tomorrow’s. And then the next day, and the day after. Etcetera etcetera, etcetera. See you in December.

 

Enough water

There’s a wonderful song that goes “Will there be enough water when my ship comes in? And when I set sail will there be enough wind?” (by The Dead Weather if you’re interested) and that two-line koan slips in and out of focus often for me as the bigger questions of life pose themselves to us. It has come to reveal both an anxiety and a truth at the base of our modern worry.

CRUSOE SETS SAIL ON HIS EVENTFUL VOYAGE

We ebb and flow in life. There are tides to our lives, to our internal feelings, to dreams and to the energy we have for others. At least half of our bodies are water. More than half. You don’t need to try to connect to the energy and power of water – you’re a fish swimming in it already. You just carry it around inside you. Miraculous. Yet somehow, we aren’t sure that we’re making the right choices. As though there’s some answer somewhere we should know. It can be hard to try something new because we don’t know that we’ll be successful. We have slipped into the illusion that it is possible to know, to control, to be right. Life is more fluid than that.

Physics tells us we’re living in an ocean of motion. All our atoms are buzzing so fast we can ignore that they’re mostly gap. The same way we ignore that our solid bodies are mostly gappy water. Maybe you’re having a weird day because you’re all quantumly entangled in someone else’s bizniz. Couldn’t say.

What we can say is that your emotional and intuitive self is certainly there talking to your busy, conscious self. Mostly, that conscious chatterbox self is the one asking the questions and putting off adventures until it feel sure everything’s under control, meanwhile your sloppy water bits are vibing away trying to get the message across , ‘Of course there’s enough water, it’s the ocean! Get into it, get underway, you are the boat, you are the waves!’ and chatterbox drowns it all out with doubts, or shopping or and getting distracted by shiny things. That’s how it tends to go in our house.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It costs nothing but a little bit of effort to tune into your own currents. Your depths are there, inviting you to swim into them. There are some weirdarse creatures in there for sure, but you know, that’s part of what makes it an adventure, right? Overall, it is magnificent, it is glorious, it is another world, and it is already yours.

You can set sail. Listen to your waters. There is enough wind for you to follow.

Image credit.

Tears’ fragile path to freedom

There’s a common assumption that freedom equals happiness in a simplified “we all lived happily ever after” kindof way. Just in case you’re not sure, that is a fantasy. It is of very little use to any of us.

The Faithful Beasts Weep Around the Body of the Dead Prince by Henry Justice FordOur yearning for freedom has us seeking all of the elements that might contribute to the alchemy we know as contentment (often confused with the showy cousin “happiness”) but there’s a glitch in the mix and we need to address it.

If freedom did equal happiness, being sad or upset would exclude anyone from the possibility of freedom. We often try and cover over sadness quickly, move on from it, deny it. It is too awkward to dwell on and, of course, it is painful but it is part of being human, it is part of a full life. Lately we’ve lost track of that a little bit by venerating the heroic outsider.

Our culture has confused the idea of individualism with the physical reality of us as individuals. It is a sad and recent development. (This could quickly easily be perceived as a political argument as these terms are used in political contexts but that is not the intent here. If you look up the political elements, or want to follow these other tangents, please feel welcome to do so. We’ll still be here when you come back.)

Basically for most of us, this has lead to a fundamental loss of feeling that we belong. However there is something we’ve all experienced that can lead us back into connection and that is our tears.

Life is not all glowing unicorns pooping rainbow cupcakes of joy and cash. Bad shit happens.

People you love get horribly sick, people you don’t know drive into you, your body isn’t perfect, we age, we suffer. It is a lot to bear and sometimes we cry. It can feel like we cry a river of tears.
There’s nothing to say in the moment that will take that gut wrenching away. That pain is real. It is what it is. It really does hurt. And yes probably most of what caused it is unfair in some way, and our egos want to shout that out and shut down that pain.

Underneath that, after the rawness, there’s an opportunity for something else. Those hot tears and the salt of our body have forced themselves from our body to honour the depth and meaning of the connection with the people in the situation, that situation that you were so deeply part of that you felt that pain. If we were disengaged, we wouldn’t feel that pain. If we didn’t belong there, it would be so much harder to feel even empathy. The connection existed and so the pain that exploded within you is because of that connection.

It is such a valuable clue. We are so much more than just one-dimensional figures on spreadsheets. In the face of an onslaught of advertising working tirelessly to push us into purchasing things we don’t need to assuage fears we didn’t have, in the face of that and inside ourselves we know these truths. That love is real, that when you love you can be hurt.

Our sorrows are personal but lament connects us to the human condition, reminds us of the love and respect that we have for others and that they have for us. We belong in enmeshed relationships with responsibilities and expectations of trust and value.

It sounds unlikely, but tears make a fragile path to a powerful place. They signify our internal eternal freedom, they reflect our ability to hold true to our love and our values. It is inside of love and our own values that we find our own anchors to freedom.

The secret word is revealed

Imagine you knew something that defused nearly everything in your world that was stressful. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Today we’ll reveal it.

We’ll take a little pause from our series of explorations for a very important aside.

The Oracel at Delphi

There’s something we should have said at the beginning, it is part of the social contract of this blog, and we’ll just take a moment together to make sure we’ll all on the same page.

You already know this secret, and you’ve forgotten it. It is a single, powerful (dare I say magical?) word.

Not just anyone is going to get this, by the way. You have to be ready for it, in fact if you’re not at the right point of preparation, you’ll simply gloss over it. Lots of people don’t want to hear it or see it written down, they’re still addicted to the dramas that come from not knowing it, not using it, not embracing it.

If you’d like to stay wound up and frustrated by most things, click away now. Here’s a cute baby animal page to help you leave. (Actually, probably bookmark that page anyway for those black dog days.) But I digress.

If you’re interested in something freeing, revolutionary and free that you can do right now to start shifting into alignment with your values in every area of your life then read on.

It is radical. Subversive.

It is perfectly scalable and personalised to you, your situation, your specific story, your life as it is right now.

Are you salivating? Are you ready? Do you want the secret knowledge, passed down from the Delphic Oracle through the ages to the initiated? (I made that up in case you feel you need someone more powerful than me to tell you this is true.)

Before we reveal this powerful secret, there’s a few caveats:

  1. It is what it is
  2. It is not the same as ‘perfect’
  3. You are in charge of what happens next
  4. This is not a test you have to pass
  5. You can try again as many times as you like

Did you get all that? Great! You’re ready!

You are enough.

 

Yes, that’s it. You are already enough.

Anything else you want to achieve or accomplish or change or create or feel, that’s on top of this. You are enough.
No, not perfect, not ‘always getting better’, not a failure or a waste or too much or too little of anything. You are enough.

Now is the time for sitting with that idea and letting it play out for you. Reread this if you like. We’re all in this together.

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Burn your smartphone

Well, recycle it if possible, there’s a lot of precious and toxic metals, minerals and plastics in one of those babies. But yes, otherwise I am suggesting a Luddite type orgy of technological destruction.

OK, well maybe not destruction, that’s a bit wasteful. And a bit rich coming from a blog.

The thing is, if you’re a quest for freedom, and who isn’t? Then we need to talk about fire. Not the fire in the blood we felt last week, but the fire we stole from the gods, the fire in the forge, which changed the world forever and gave us the misplaced idea that we’re our own gods now.

Fire, you may have heard, is a good servant and a bad master. Have you ever tried to apply that to your own life? No, I don’t mean checking the oven is turned off, I mean checking that you are in control of the technology you’ve let into your life.

Fire’s birth of tools and technology

The fire of the hearth and the forge gave birth to two major shifts for human beings. The first, immediate one, was that it liberated people from the subservience of being limited to just finding and killing food and eating it raw. Cooking made so many more foods palatable and so many more calories and ecological niches available to people.

Secondly, that same campfire hardened spear tips further to bring down more game more readily. This led slowly but inexorably to other tools, and metalworking. Have you ever heard of the phases of human ancient history? Commonly they are the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Getting a feel yet for how important it was to be able to work metal? You need fire for that, a forge, and knowledge and resources.

It is no surprise that nearly every culture has an origin story of stealing fire from the gods. When the human mind was joined with a fire in the forge, we birthed technology.

At the beginning of the Bronze Age there were travelling shamen with secret knowledge. They knew about the secrets of the earth that might yield valuable and precious knives. They were powerful people in the societies they graced – each single object they made was a king-maker. With fire, we had the ability and presumption to create outside of ourselves, according to our will. (Just as an interesting aside, for those who don’t recognise it, that is basically the common definition of magic.)

For a long time there was a very direct connection between the digging and toiling for the heavy gifts from the deep or wrinkled places in the earth’s skin that could then be smelted and forged, cast and smithed into objects vast in number. And over more time, a village wasn’t whole until they had a blacksmith of their own. Then we built factories and it all leapt forward again, in number, in scale, in complexity. Then the factories moved from steam power to electricity, and it all leapt forward again. The next step was the factories and machines being designed by our most favoured technology – the computer – and it began to leap upon leap.

Blacksmith woodcut from 1555A woodcut of a man using a forgeFrom those simpler early times of guilds and crafts when the people who could produce technology directly were respected and lauded we shifted to the integrated skills becoming common jobs and tasks. Over the last two centuries, as the sophistication of our technologies increased, so our personal ability to connect to their creation decrease. So our personal ease and expectation of continuing technological improvements increase. We have now completely lost our connection to the dirt and the sweat and the wonder and beautiful magic of it all, yet consider access to technology a ‘right’. Technology, as often as not, now means a sealed tablet or box that we feed with power and when it dies (and they *always* die), we throw it away and buy a newer, better one.

What an amazing time to be alive.

What is the cost of these marvels? For now, let’s put aside the horrific pollution and the indentured slave type working conditions of the factories we’ve hidden a world away from retail eyes and ponder simply the difference between what we personally are capable of creating and controlling and what our gadgets and tech goodies are built to achieve.

It is quite a gap.

Each iteration of development and power in the technology has taken it further and further from our own personal grasp or capacity to replicate. You’ve probably heard of Arthur C Clarke’s three ‘laws of prediction’ (from 1962 no less!). The third law is “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Are you really the master of all these amazing devices in your life? Do you know how to use them, how to command them, and to turn them off? Have you become overrun by them and their generations of decrepit and half-useful elders? Maybe you know some friends like I do – a couple with two drawers full of old phones and mismatched chargers, more tablets than hands, more TVs than ears, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, dozens of terabits in hard drives and usbs, and more than I could bear to catalogue. This beautiful couple are so constantly tired and so rarely get a chance to relax. They work full time and raise kids, and try and volunteer, and all of this with the pressure of being constantly online personally and professionally.

That’s the way life is now. We’re so lucky to live with all this technology aren’t we?! But you know, a beautiful, high-tech, evolving and sophisticated network of independent structures and super-capable tools that can automatically connect and integrate across systems and platforms is still a prison if you’re on the wrong side of it. Or Skynet about to become self-aware. Either way, this is the call for you to put your tech to a test. Is it serving you?

Are you still the master?

We rise up again when we accept responsibility for fire – when we let it subjugate us or dictate terms we have become confused by the glamour of our own achievements.

Expunge all the technology that is draining your life or putting you to work. Set limits around how much access it has to you. Don’t be smothered by things that should be tools. Take back your humanity by controlling the fires in your life. Backburn your technology!

Burning in the wind

Flame clipart

A few years ago, I was ready to wrap things up. Maybe you’ve felt this way before. As far as I was concerned, there was no point to going on with a job I hated and with a personal life that had ground to a halt. I knew that my dog would be well looked after by my family and he’d forget about me after a while. I thought about it for a long time, it isn’t the kind of thing you want to rush into. I got an unexpected small windfall of money and so went to a friend’s wedding that was far away in a part of the country I’d never visited before. I took time off from work so I could look around while I was there and have a chance to experience a different perspective. I did a lot of bushwalking, exploring and walking.

One day, I had been walking for a long time along a hilly coastline. There was a dry cold wind blowing. I faced into it and closed my eyes. It felt like I was flying. It was a nice feeling. Up from the rocks came a warmth and as it travelled up my legs it became a fire. It was an amazing feeling. My blood was singing and I was alive again. I was burning in the wind. It wasn’t the only important experience I had on that trip, and out of it I was able to start looking for new choices to make.

Talking about a quest for release and following the wind took me right back into this experience.

Spring is itching inside those of us in the Southern Hemisphere and that ‘rising sap’ – the spark of new life – is our next checkpoint for personal liberation.

So much in modern culture suggests to us that there are correct answers to the challenges that life throws at us, but our own experience tells us otherwise. We know that no one is willing to give us these precious answers, because we’ve begged for them. We’ve found that the best we can do is make a choice based on who we are and what we believe in. Then just cross your fingers and hope the gods are smiling.

Spring helps us to remember that our beleaguered brain is not the only organ in our body that can guide us. There’s a fire in us too – so essential – that is a compass pointing only towards passion, only towards our true connection.

Don’t fret right now if you can’t feel it, it is still inside you. It is probably smothered. Fire needs air to breathe just like you do so you’ll need to get out and get some decent chunks of follow-the-wind time to create a space for the spark to catch again. Shelter that flame from the worst of the numbing, smothering, delusional elements of your day to day. It is your personal gem, a ruby of immense value that is your own private wealth.

When your spirit is aflame, you are rich beyond belief.