Tiny stitches

tiny stitchesHave you heard that phrase – “a stitch in time saves nine”? It is one of those useful proverbs reminding us to take a little action now when we first think of something rather than waiting for the problem to unravel even further into something that will take perhaps nine times the effort to fix, if indeed it can be fixed all by then.
Oftentimes we think of life in big pictures – heroic moments – if you will when the reality of life is actually in the millions of tiny stitches that we make each day on the underside of our life. All those tiny stitches pulling one thing and another together to make the pattern of who we are, what we value, how we play.
No one ever sees them, but they’re there all the same. We know them. We know what it took to make them just so, the cost and yes the do-overs and regrets too.

We find happiness, hope and solace in continuing to stitch our lives together out of what comes our way, working in our private dreams and celebrating wins when we can. Sometimes life rips us away from our patch of meaning and challenges us to pick up the thread. It can take a while to face that setback. But this is life, to muddle forwards as we can. Lots of people spend time in denial, wishing things were otherwise, but that is a type of stitching too. In that stitching you’re not placing your needle to any advantage.

When things are darkest or toughest, it can be hard to remember that you are still making tiny stitches. Your choice in that regard remains. Each breath can be deep or each meal can be eaten in gratitude, or each question an opportunity to ask or be open to listen. Tiny stitches make up our time. They will never be perfect, and they don’t need to be. They’re your tiny stitches, yours to place where you will.

Get uncomfortable

uncomfortableSometimes, when things aren’t working, the best thing to do is to get uncomfortable. Start again, this time outside of your existing comfort zone. Let yourself be a beginner with a fresh slate and no expectations. For example, I’m someone who “can’t draw” but I really value my ability to be creative with words, so this month I’m doing InkTober as my warmup for Nanowrimo. A month of producing a drawing every day – crazy! That makes no sense! I feel uncomfortable doing it, looking at the outcomes and of course sharing it here. Lady Liberty never looked so wonky did she? (Maybe she’s uncomfortable there on her feet all day…)

Last week was uncomfortable in a different way

I shared some of my perspective of living with depression and although that was an uncomfortable thing to do, it opened up the floodgates of conversation about this topic in every realm of my life. People far and wide share their perspectives either publicly or privately and that changed the experience for me. What are you experiencing that you wish was different for you? How are you comfortable in a way that is actually unsatisfying for you? Is it in a job where you don’t feel valued or heard, or perhaps in your relationships where somehow the conversations don’t feel as real as they once did? Perhaps it is with yourself – are you a little bit bored with yourself? Do you know exactly what’s coming next?

Change is uncomfortable

Like travel, change is uncomfortable at an immediate level and yet satisfying from a larger perspective. This is one of those contradictions of life, that comfort feels secure and gives us happiness until too much comfort is smothering or boring. *sigh*  That is a bad deal, but that is how it is. You’re the one in charge and it is your sense of happiness, freedom or fulfilment that ultimately sets the compass on this topic. It takes a little bravery though – to accept the truth of what you’re feeling and to start over.

We start over in all kinds of little ways all the time, and yet we carry so much from one place to another. The sense of new beginnings can be palpable and yet we don’t usually change our name, or throw out all of our clothes and change our favourite meal. So take comfort from the fact that it is just uncomfortable, not annihilating and give yourself permission to try something new.

Go ahead, get uncomfortable. It might be the secret to a happy you.

Worry knot

Back in July we first talked about provisional living  and making choices.  At that time those concepts lead into a long talk about consumption and debt.

a hand drawn celtic knot in the roundLet’s spiral back to our beginning for a pass at the topic from a different angle.
There’s another powerful way that provisional living and avoiding choices haunt us and that is through worry.

Worry is an old word originally meaning ‘to strangle’ but those edges are now softened by time and use. We modern types resonate with the sharper ‘anxiety’ (maybe we prefer the strong sounding Latin root).  Worry strangles my day when it appears because it has a ravenous appetite for eating up my confidence, contentment and ability to make a decision. Maybe you have felt that.

Have you agonised over a decision, well beyond the rational weight or need of the implications? You probably have spent time chasing down all of the possible consequences of each permutation of action and attempted to double and triple guess what it most likely and how best to juggle the outcomes and payoffs. It can go so long you lose momentum to actually make the step, or the opportunity passes you by. Worse still, you can finally come to realise your health is suffering, you’ve become worried sick.

You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in Australia and both the U.S. and the UK (I stopped looking after that, it was too depressing). That’s a lot of people with a knot in their guts over things that are on their mind.

Some of the things that connect our worry to the earlier discussions is to do with the addiction we have to comparisonitis. We lose touch with enough and drift into judging our situation against what we perceive others to have or to be. This outward focus of our energy and attention is draining, it blocks empathy and kindness (to ourselves as well as to others) and it is guaranteed to help us lose our way.

In worry we get lost in a maze. In comparing ourselves to others, we let go of our own thread and our path and step into a wilderness of subjective judgments based on guesses and hearsay. We do not know what is really going on for anyone else. We can’t know what battles they’re facing, what burdens they carry or what pain they’re hiding. It is too easy with social media to compare your own inner turmoil with the show reel other people promote.

When worry starts to get you into a knot, be kind to yourself and bring your attention back to your own reality. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but there are techniques that are easy to learn. Interestingly enough some of them correspond to spiritual practices and we’ll explore that terrain in the new year.

In the meantime, if you’re in Australia and you would like some help with your worries, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

How can I help?
Suggestions are welcome for blog topics for 2015. Comment here or email me directly.

Image source

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.

Follow the wind

Back in our nod to debt grief we asked a core question “Do we have power to release ourselves?”

We yearn for release, for freedom. People have done so through time, it just feels like there’s a stronger sense of entrapment in our wealthy modern world than there really should be. We are not politically oppressed, we are fed, can vote, we each enjoy a quality of life that surpasses that of even royalty just two generations ago. Why then are our quality of life surveys so constantly negative?

This is a haunting question. How can we release ourselves?

I’ve been looking for a choice for us to consider and I was told it would come from an unusual source. I looked and listened and scribbled notes and got nowhere waiting for a teacher to give a hint. Then, while down at the waterfront watching kites, a little toddler said “Follow the wind” and she faced into the breeze and closed her eyes in total bliss. A-HA!
Woodcut of Zephyrus from Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493In that moment she gave us all a reminder of what it is to be free. She reminded us that our shackles are mostly illusions. She saw through to the core of the situation and with her sharp sword of insight she sliced the knot in two.

Well that’s how it was for me, let’s unpack it together.

Freedom is not living in some vague, future utopia that will appear one day without any effort from us. It isn’t a ‘better’ that we can just buy. It is hard to say what it really is anymore because for most people freedom has begun to sound like an advertising slogan or an empty rhetorical stick that a politician uses to make a complicated important issue into a knee-jerk response. Our hearts are gummed up with this foul misuse. At best, we visualise a long holiday, but without the boredom.

But children know what it is. They don’t need to reference a dictionary meaning. They don’t fret about their own value or what curiosity will cost them. We know that freedom is not the same as being childish, but here’s a tantalising clue to lead us back into the right direction.

Our pets know what it is. They don’t even need human language to show us joy in the now and pure experience of whatever the moment is holding. Pets might be tame, but they stay free in a way we deeply envy. You’ve probably met someone who lives through their pet’s experience of the world. We know that freedom is not the same as being wild, but here’s a delicious scent of the juicy potential we used to have.

We know what it is not. We know somehow that these wage-slave lives where people worry about a 3 percent rise in interest rates, or how will they pay for getting any kind of sick that their insurance doesn’t cover aren’t it. Spending a year planning how to use a few weeks off to have a ‘decent break’ isn’t freedom, especially when no-one else does the work while you’re away. Triple jeopardy points if you paid for that ‘break’ on credit. That doesn’t feel like freedom.  We know that it isn’t really having two aisles of soft drink options in the supermarket or having more than 67 brands of cars to select from but somehow that’s what we agreed to accept somewhere along the line and now it is set in stone.

Well, that little girl reminds us that it is not set in stone. That many of the social conditions that we accept and treat as invincible are actually as fragile as a house made out of straw. There are a number of ways that if we huff and puff we could see them fall in. Do you remember how the global economy had a hiccup a few years back over some little ‘misunderstanding’? That was a good example of how things that we’re used to being bullied around by can actually turn out to be rotten or even simply a façade. We get to make a choice about how we participate in our society. We are actually in charge of how we participate.

We are actually in charge of how we participate.

We are actually in charge.

Those companies, those governments, those councils, banks and credit card companies, they all work for us. They’ve forgotten that and most importantly so have we, Everything can be different. They are not invincible. They are not the only way or the single answer. The wind blows the whole way around the earth. The wind blows into every home, every village, it blows across our faces and it whispers ideas into our ears. Welcome the wind and welcome the hope back into your heart. We are all in this together. Take a moment now and feel this, you have something in your hands that we’ve all been told not to notice, to ignore it, to treat it as a bother. It is a tiller. Feel it now. Can you feel that vibration in it? That is the wind of change, the zephyr of self-determination and if you want, the rudder it is connected to that you control, can set you on a new course. Where will you go? Ask some new questions.

That’s what I heard when she suggested we “follow the wind” and I can’t thank her enough.

Image credit: Woodcut of Zephyrus from Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Financial balance

Two Pentacles copyright Erin Morgenstern Phantomwise Tarot

Maybe you don’t see the debt you have as a problem  that needs fixing. After all, it is pretty normal to have some and probably you’ve reached an agreement with yourself about what’s ok to live with. The suggestion to live within your means is patronising and overly simplistic. I get that. Maybe you really are happy with constantly feeling the compulsion to get new stuff and shoving the old stuff to the back of the closet. Maybe you think that if you need to, you could take a load of barely used clothes and accessories to a store and get some cash back by selling them. Good luck to you.

If you haven’t tried to sell your stuff, especially if you think you could, and have even found yourself referring to it as “a type of asset” then I suggest you try. See what you can get for a hardcover book that you bought new for $45 just a year ago. See what your designer jacket is worth on the second hand clothing market. Take just one of those unused sporting items down to the pawnshop and see what they’ll offer you. I challenge you to swallow your pride and accept whatever you’re offered, if they’ll take it at all. Now ponder how much it cost to fill all those busting cupboards. If you’re using that stuff, fantastic, we’re talking about what is essentially clutter. You don’t use it, maybe you don’t even remember buying it. The point is, you’re still paying for it, and you’re paying to keep it.

You just don’t know what the future is going to bring. I know you’re likely to feel positive about it, to be optimistic that probably whatever’s coming is good news. I hope so. What if it’s not? Sure, most of the time nothing much changes. Every now and then something big happens to one of us personally, or to a friend. When it comes down, everyone involved goes right into reaction mode. When it happens, it all seems to happen fast. The rest of your life gets put on hold and you deal with it. Emotionally it can be hard to keep it together. Financially it can be a tsunami of bills and expenses and you need to be able to move through all of that and keep it together to go to work, or look after someone, or call in the attack lawyers or translate from the medical specialists. Whatever the flavour of the situation what you do not need is to be green with worry about where the money will come from.

That’s an extreme example. Personal catastrophes are not common, but they do happen and a financial cushion of some kind can really help. In our interconnected global economy, there are many ways in which a twitchy butterfly somewhere you’ve never heard of can result a few weeks later in difficulties or hardship for you and the ones you love. If you have debt, you’ll find it harder to respond and recover from anything that blindsides you.

Of course it is hard to jump from debt to not debt. It is very much worth doing, although it is a challenging project in itself because you have to learn to balance two moving targets in an unpredictable environment. Like a dog standing on a ball and balancing another ball on your nose, you are going to need some specialist training and some good motivational treats.

Before you’re ready to perform you might be best placed to face up to the quirks and habits that got you where you are today. For all the rationalising about it, mostly why you’re in debt is likely to be due to some unconscious behaviours (I’m not talking about people looking up and aspiring to the poverty line, or in hardship due to extreme or ongoing, systemic poverty. If this is you, please contact a reputable charity and get some help and support in dealing with your situation. I’m talking to everyone else except probably Lady Gaga, Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch).

You can’t see for yourself the patterns you’re in, or you’d change them. Who knows you well enough to tell you the truth without making a big deal about it (or it just being massively awkward)? Your subconscious is your best friend here. It really knows what’s going on when you don’t remember why you had to buy another pair of shoes almost identical to a pair you’ve never worn, or spend your week’s wage on a night out. I’m not normally someone who promotes a binary world view, but in this instance, it works well for the predicament we’re faced with. Income and expenditure, they need to be balanced in your life.

Think about it. You know about budgets, compound interest, and all those things, but you still do it. You’ve been cranky at yourself and sworn you’ll change, and you haven’t. You need to break the cycle. Imagine you had the information to stop your self-sabotage. You need to clear away some of the shadows you have around money so you can use your energy to gain balance and take control over your situation. Dance in balance with the available resources and your perceived needs

(Woo Woo Warning)

I use a very simple tool to ask my subconscious things that I feel ready to know (and you should really be ready because it never lies. It doesn’t tell even little white lies.) Your subconscious is always delighted to be invited to start a conversation with you, but it is not tame. You may not like what it says and some things it throws at you will be confronting.

There are lots of tools, but I like tarot cards because they represent archetypes I understand. There are 20 major life moments in pictures and 4 lots of simple, everyday experiences grouped by the themes of emotion, willpower, money and thoughts. That is the most simplified and basic description I could come up with in 25 words or less. It leaves a fair bit out as you might expect, but it is enough for what we’re want to achieve at the moment.

Well I’ve made a tarot spread, especially designed for this topic and it is available on my freebies page.
I haven’t had time to do a sample reading to illustrate this layout, so if you don’t have your own cards and you are keen to find out if this is helpful, I have a special offer. Let me know either in the comments or by email that you want a free reading and I will do a one for you (this offer is for the first three people who respond or until Monday 8th September 2014 whichever comes first) on the proviso that if I change any identifying details I may use your reading as an example. I will need you to tell me about your situation in order to do this, so please don’t ask if you’re all like “you’re the psychic, you tell me” because I am not a psychic, that’s not the kind of exercise we’re in here.

So, Income and expenditure. Face into the sun and the shadow falls behind you.

(Image © Erin Morgenstern from the unpublished Phantomwise Tarot)

A sober assessment

One simple rule $Before we move off the topic of debt, there are some positive things to share. I find this subject quite emotional – as I’m sure many people do – so let’s clear the air a little with some practicalities.

One simple rule $ imageIn my past, I’ve been through the experience of some credit card debt going bad (which happened to coincide with some poor decisions about tax also coming home to roost). Out the other side of that experience I’m cautious about spending money I don’t have on hand. ‘Vigilant’ would not be too strong a word. ‘Terrified’ might even be appropriate on some days! I worry about it. I don’t really have much now and yet still I worry about it.

I worry about you having it. I do. It is too much. Debt is hurting us. It is one of the heaviest shackles stopping us from living a life of deliberate liberation, and it is voluntary.

Some people seem to think of credit card debt as a kind of charity to themselves. ‘Thank you credit card for helping out for the cost of a pad thai on Saturday night!’ You might be out of cash and craving those sweet noodles, but actually, unless you’re as scrupulous at paying yourself back in full and as quickly as you’d expect any of your friends to be, in reality you’re in a Ponzi scheme with your bank, and the house never loses.

Let’s talk about getting out of debt. That’s a pretty obvious next step conversationally but let’s not go into paying down or clearing it off, not budgets. Not haggling over interest or swapping balances and accounts. Not how to expand or grow your income or start a business on the side. Those things are all great tactics and they can really help you but I’m not the right person to talk about those. Honestly, there’s just huge amounts of useful information and lots of knowledgeable, well-meaning people to help you with all those things online already. Hit up Doctor Google with a few simple questions and you’ll be inundated with options and links. It is easy to find an approach that works for you. Just be aware of anything that people are asking you to pay for!

What is there left to talk about? There’s a key truth to debt that hardly gets any headlines. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a secret. It wasn’t bad luck that gave my phone number to a collection agency. It wasn’t not having education or a job or support if I’d asked for it or an understanding of how to do a budget. I was lazy, busy, a bit selfish, maybe arrogant that I could do it differently – you know – normal. Even so, when faced with the bottom line, despite having the kind of habits that meant a lotto win would end up as more debt, I knew this truth and I bet you do too. It is just one simple rule and it works. I warn you now, it’s a tough one. It is not sexy. It is not huge glittering fun.

It is this: live within your means.

I know, right? Bor-ring. I can feel your eyes rolling back in your head. Stay with me on this one. I think it is radical. Daring. In this age of rampant entitlement, what could be more personally and politically powerful than to disengage from the consumer culture except on occasions of deliberate choice? Okay, that might be a bit of a long bow to draw, but think about it. Why do we immediately reject this obvious truth? Because it requires decisions and choices. It implicitly asks us to do without some things. Our fear of missing out (so common now it just goes by ‘FOMO’) immediately gives us an eye-twitch but reality is all about limits. We are finite beings on a finite planet. Our time is finite, our income is very clearly finite. Knowing this, doesn’t it seem almost childish to continue to believe in ‘later there’ll be more’?

That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as hard work that pays off, or ideas that meet a need and create happy customers, or great services and products you can build and grow from your own capacity to learn and create. It is just that winning lotto isn’t a plan. There is no magical unicorn going to come along and poop golden nuggets onto your welcome mat. Once we face our limits we get to make informed decisions about how to spend our time and the resources we already have. It is not just reasonable, in this day and age it is revolutionary.

Next week I’ll share a tool that will give you a glimpse through your blind spot, or a whisper from your fairy godmother about your particular secrets and self-destructive habits with money. You can skip it if you’re scared, or ask someone to hold your hand.
We can get through this together.

Desire’s dark side

Lustful affairs bring consequences. The lovechild of the compulsion to consume is the unwanted bastard offspring Debt.

Oh Debt. We are not shy about conceiving you.

Australians lead the world with an average household debt (which includes mortgages) footprint of 1.8 – this means that people are spending nearly twice what they earn. All of their income and 80% of a whole ‘nother wage. Staggering. (ref ABS Data May 2014 )  No really.

‘Yeah’ you say ‘but that’s including houses and everybody knows that the Australian housing market is overvalued. That’s why I rent!’ Ok fine.
Australians owe billions on credit cards, about $4 400 per person.

Just for fun, this clock (ASIC Moneysmart ) shows how much Australians currently owe on the plastic. Your factoid for today is that 49% of those who carry $5,000 or more in credit card debt have a degree or a diploma. Oh wait, last one! Two in five people have no idea what interest rate they are paying on their card (and that was in March 2013! ).

Charles Dickens quote from David Copperfield

Much as those figures stimulate the curiosity and sound all newsy they actually distract from the human story that sits behind them. It is all too easy to evaluate yourself immediately against those figures so you can dismiss them. Relief – ‘mine’s lower!’ Or to judge – ‘how could they let it get to that?!’ I chose to include them because they’re real. Most Australians of age have one or more credit cards. They owe money on them that potentially they will never ever actually pay out. Or like dieters who know better, they yo-yo in and out of debt on the cards in tides of recrimination and stoic, forced budgets.

None of us is alone with our debt baby. We live in culture where it is normal to carry debt. That’s what we call it, not ‘tortured by’ or ‘enslaved by’ an endless burden. No, we just casually ‘carry’ it. We consider it part of the ‘cost of living’. Everyone does it. Those who do not have a credit card have an uneasy aura of either a do-gooder or a bankrupt (depending a bit on the tone of voice used to convey the information) but are a bit creepy either way. Not someone you’re going to listen to anyway.

Would you listen to yourself though? If your future self could tunnel through the time vortex and whisper in your ear, what would they say to you about how you left them holding the crying, hungry baby? Can the future you remember the emergency purchase or convenience of takeaway dinner or the money you saved by buying on sale with credit? Did you ever fall in love with a book that you simply must have only to get it home and put it on top of the pile of other books you haven’t yet read? I did. Many times.

When ANZ handed my debt over to a hard-nosed collection agency and I had to own up to my past indiscretions there was no way I could remember a single thing that had been so important it had to be bought with that card. My past self had blithely given me a big stinking problem to deal with and I hated her for it. If that’s not a perfect example of provisional living going bad, I don’t know what is. I don’t know that I would have listened to future me though, if I had tried to deny those lustful urges. In the end, it was an affair that took me years to recover from.

Why do we assume that our future selves will somehow have more resources, more ability to deal with the consequences of our actions? Because we’ve inadvertently subscribed to the doctrine of progress. We do it in our personal lives, we do it in our communities when we build houses on every next block of land, leaving no space for anything else. We do it as a nation when we use every bit of energy we can grab because ‘they will figure out a new technology soon and we’ll all have limitless lives and won’t have to work’ or something that sounds like winning the ‘infinite planet lotto’. Not going to happen. Addictive and easy, sure, but not real.

The reality is that it is impossible to be free when we are in the thrall of endless compound interest on debt. In the next quiet moment you have to yourself, ask your future self what it is that you both want most out of life.

It is not going to be more debt.

Kiss your loved ones and plan a different way forward. We’ve got a lot ahead of us.

Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.