Promise of puppies

promise of puppiesIt felt like a tough week for lots of people. How hard is it to pull yourself out of the downward spiral when friends are having tough times, your back is constant pain, the news is filled with violence and horror? What can you turn to? What keeps you going in dark days when depression sniffs around or when you don’t know how to take anymore of the *same* *shit* for even another day? Times like this words can’t reach past the gunk to help you reset, you know there’s still love and hope inside you, but you just can’t feel it. Take a tip from the pros to help yourself through and use the power that comes from the promise of puppies.

Kittens work too, or Shetland ponies, baby turtles, that video of a baby elephant dancing with a ribbon. Maybe even a penguin falling over. Whatever. You’re getting the vibe here – find that which for you summons the promise of new hope, true innocence, and unquestioning, uncomplicated, straightforward love and fun. For me, this is the promise of puppies – love and fun. You’re on your own with the toilet training.

Are you shaking your jaded head and tut-tutting?

Yeah, I hear you and the “oh grow-up” or “get serious” type comment, but hear me out. If you want to live deliberately, mindfully, according to your values, then you need some tools to help you reset and refocus when events have you grinding your teeth with frustration or anger. Our grown-up rational mind tries to think us out of the problem. Oh mighty giant brain! I don’t know about you, but for me that just goes around in blame circles, or shoulda-woulda regrets, or just one more thing that I have to remember to do or change or remind myself. Here’s the shortcut – looking at a picture (or listening to a piece of music) switches the side of your brain that’s in charge of processing stimuli and at the same time it gives you a nice feeling. The feeling is the key because all that worry and thinking has put tight, anxious feelings in you, feelings of ‘not enough’ and the power of puppies is that you are already enough. A world that can hold puppies is a world where a smile is still possible.

You’re not being heartless or immature to want to be able to smile in the midst of hardship. You’re giving yourself care and re-affirming the context and values that you have decided to embody. If a picture of a puppy or a kitten helps you stay on track then why would you deny yourself? Sheesh, consider making it a tattoo!

Puppies are for life

We all know that a commitment extends beyond the holiday, beyond the first rush of sweet hedonistic pleasure, so remember – the power of puppies extends well beyond playful Saturday afternoons. Sneak a glimpse at one first thing Monday morning, or any sleepless night. Let the love and life you see in them seep back into your weary mind and from there you can relight your candle with what you may like to think of as ‘higher-level activities’, but I don’t judge. Want life? Want to feel the bliss but you’re too far from it to even crack a smile? Build yourself a bridge and come back to home.  Come on back to that golden lake of joyful contentment that lives inside you because from there you’re living the life that you really want.

Freedom, bliss, joy, balance – they all start from your center. Want the power to return to that place whenever you want or need to? Use the promise of puppies to get you there. I do.

Gandhi’s storage unit

Recently I came across a picture of the personal items of Mahatma Gandhi that were auctioned in 2009. Many people enjoy the secretive delight of peeping into other people’s lives and handbags, particularly famous and powerful people and Gandhi was both. I wondered what the historians found when they looked into his storage unit.

Gandhi's personal belongings

He was an incredibly active and influential leader in Indian politics from 1915 through to the eventual political emancipation of India in the late 1940s. During this turbulent time his leadership was to earn him the endearment of Bapu (Papa). What does a man of this stature, of this importance own? What iconic luxury items might he flaunt to demonstrate his power? What valuable investments would he hold and what unique mementoes and gifts from a grateful population does he display? In short, what can we learn about modern living from Gandhi’s storage unit?

He’d had a long and successful career in law, travelled the world, met with many famous people. He was a well published writer, a political activist and leader, a family man and a philosopher. He was assassinated in 1948 at the age of 78. This was someone still in his peak, still active and publicly involved in the world, not in a hermitage or in any way winding down his life. Should be quite the haul of cool and amazing things!

Live simply so others may simply live

Famously, he owned very few things. The selection in the picture represents nearly half of his worldly stuff upon his death. No need for a storage unit. In fact he nearly wouldn’t have even needed a bag, most of his belongings were his daily wear. That’s his eating bowl there. He owned one book and a little statue (of the Three Monkeys) and actually, that was pretty much it. He replaced those sandals as they wore out, he had the one outfit. It is radically stark. There’s a wallet and reading glasses and a watch, that much most people have on their bedside table.

But then, nothing else. It is confronting.

Not just the lack of books (libraries were a real option in the 20th century) not just the lack of photos (he and his family were already being publicly documented) there’s nothing that to a modern eye says ‘this is who I am”. No music, no brands, no toys or other discernable displays. No sporting goods or dvds or miniature Eiffel Towers. But of course we know very well what type of man he was, what his beliefs were, how powerful his integrity and focus was. I don’t know if he was deliberately proving a point about stuff, but it sure feels like it.

What might our lives be like if we embraced only those things that were necessary to what we do, how we live our purpose in the world? His may be an extreme example – but what if it isn’t? What if we acknowledged how useful it is to share resources for the  many (libraries and kitchens and laundries) and keep our personal items humble? Humble stuff in life obviously does not have to mean humble impact.

Let Gandhi have an impact on you, especially if you’ve ever felt frustrated or smothered by your belongings or debt. He lived in a modern, complex world and he did it meaningfully and successfully without a collection of boxed vinyl figurines from a tv series or even sunglasses. There are seven billion people in the world, and there’s not enough room for us all to have a storage unit.

The Gatsby Sutra

2015-04-03 3[Translation of lectures held over this last week by Zen master Gatsby.]

All life is ancient in origin, all origin is in life. The master of life remembers the origin, source.

Eat when hungry, nap in the breaks, love always.

Respect follows on from compassion. Each has a place. All beings have meaning. Be grateful.

You cannot fail at being you. Release your fear, memories of years past, judgement. Be here now.

Yours is the heart beating meaning into each.moment.

Generosity with tummy rubs brings transcendence within reach.

Take action when action is needed. Listen carefully to the songs that seep in from behind life’s blinds.

All life is a circle that spirals over time.

Drink fresh water and be kind to others.

Change my litter tray*

[* this turned out to be a command rather than the final sutra, but Master Gatsby requested that it remain in place.]

Celebrating Summer Solstice

This weekend is solstice time. For us in the southern hemisphere it is midsummer. The solstice is an astronomical fact, an outcome of the tilt of our planet as we circle our sun. It exists outside of every human culture and nearly all mark it in some way. The millennia of geological pattern that we evolved within doesn’t fade. This will happen for eons to come until the sun or the earth get tired of the dance and one of them retires. I find that deeply comforting. The wheel of the year is a graceful beat inside a larger tempo. I sometimes wonder what it sounds like or feels like to the planets as they swirl and swing and shift along, each feeling the echo of each other’s weight and subtly reflecting all those forces back to each other.

So very beautiful.
Our fleeting human lives can connect into that larger grace and feel that flow. Each season from slumber, to renewal, through completion to fall. Here, this weekend, we find ourselves contemplating completion, fullness, mature power. Count your many blessings my friends and celebrate the harmony of this time. From this point our sun wanes in our sky back towards slumber and the year will begin again next midwinter. But that is then. Now is now.
This time of celebration is for all of us. For everyone under the sun.
line drawing of the sun with a face

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.

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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.

Image credit.

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.

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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.

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!

Do you want better?

Thanks for sticking with the debt thing for the last few weeks. It is worth talking about because it links so closely into our faith that there’s a brighter future around the corner. That faith is insidious and it is only by using specific examples that we can understand how it is woven throughout our lives. Eventually we can identify it turning up and make an informed decision about whether to believe it or not. At least you’d know what flag you’re rallying under. That’s important because your expectations and resiliency come from your sense of your own ability to respond to the world.

Here’s an example. There’s an advertisement that’s come out recently. It is impeccably conceived and beautifully executed. This is how it goes.

“Everybody wants better. Everybody. It’s a given. Bigger. Brighter. Faster. Safer. Smarter. Better in a whole lot of ways.” <credit>

Ah, rousing isn’t it!? The advertising creative types have framed it cleverly. “Everybody wants better.” You can’t really argue with that. That’s why people emigrate to far away ands and learn another language. What reasonable person wouldn’t *want* *better*. Wants are like distractions – endless – and ‘better’ is obviously an improvement on whatever it is you’re currently making-do with.

Sometimes making things better is just darn practical.

A bridge across a river is better than a ferry – but wait – compared to what? If you’re trying to deliver on a deadline, yes it is better, but if you’re an artist wanting a lingering inspirational journey, you’re probably going to want the ferry.

Hand written copy of a document anybody? Wow, it can be beautiful, but gee it takes a long time and at the end you only have the one copy. If you want an artwork it is a great idea but if you want to reach the masses or at least 5 friends, probably a printing press is better.

Offical German postage stamp issued to commemorate Gutenberg press

Most of the decisions we’re making today in our lives are more nuanced than those practical examples. The first world makes so much fast and easy that we have very few practical needs unmet. For the economy to continue to grow, wants must be made stronger and stronger.

‘Better’ is an open word, waiting for you the reader (or listener) to put in the comparison. In an ad it basically can’t fail. ‘Want better’ is a double-subjective that creates a vacuum so powerful it can immediately suck any of your attention and then available disposable income into the vortex of that need that it just created.

Look again at the phrase, it is code too for “What you have is not enough and there’s a lot more that you’re missing out on.” It is kinda wasted on the product that paid for the ad. That agency should have bundled a whole bunch of mid-sized aspirational wanna-be products and sold them shares in this campaign. But I digress.

So yes, everybody does want better, it *is* a given. This is a chance to make a choice about what you’re going to compare things to. Do you want better from our governments for the generations not yet born? Do you want better for the billions of people who live without running water or hope of a secure food supply? For whom do you want better and against that what decision will you make next time you see an ad for a new smartphone?

We move through scenarios all the time and our bias is for optimistic outcomes, but there is not necessarily a brighter future around the corner for all of us. How you make decisions is becoming a lot more important than the decisions you make because the future really is an unknown country.

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