Tag Archives: philosophy

Happiness

I started this post as an extended review of a book called The Happiness Project, that got my wheels turning over the active and determined pursuit of happiness.  Turned out that it was a much bigger topic and focus of my life than just one little essay.

Reading the book made me realize how happy I am right now, in my life exactly the way it is. I’m well aware that many other people would not at all be happy with this, perhaps would not even be able to endure it.  I’m often perched on the edge of broke, when I work for money it’s at a job I don’t love, I’m living in my very unfinished converted barn without running water, windows or constant heat.  But in downward comparison, I have more than some of the wealthiest Cubans have.  Cuba is much better off than a lot of Africa.  Relative poverty in Canada is still unattainable riches to the  third world, and the great thing (that I’m quite grateful for), is that I rarely forget it.  I feel rich, almost all the time.  I have an abundance of time, good credit, my health, the unflickering love of friends, wood to burn and a stove to start fires in, beautiful wheels, plenty of food, clean air and water. I live in one of the most beautiful chunks of the most beautiful countries, and I really love the things I do for free.

The few aspects of my life that aren’t ideal don’t bother me that they’re not ideal, and I think that that is the real definition of happiness.  The non-ideal elements don’t throw you off the balance.  One is never going to get every aspect of your life into total alignment with your ideal vision, certainly not living as small pieces of a greater whole that is collectively terribly out of ecological harmony.  At the very least, putting off happiness until arriving at some ideal is an unreasonable expectation.

I also realize I’ve done a huge amount of work to become what I think is pretty damn happy.  I am deeply proud of being in this place, now, with a quick backward glance at struggle that at times, I barely survived.  It is not an exaggeration to say I am lucky to be alive, several times over.  But beyond luck and endurance, I am here and happy, and that is my own doing.  It does take work, and deliberate attention, and that is the gold of this book.
Oh, there’s lots more

Vegetarian

Whenever I’m forced to say I’m vegetarian, usually in some public place where eating is happening, I’m always asked, “Why?” by someone earnestly curious, while silence blooms around us to eavesdrop.  I flounder to answer this question every time.   Is it that I don’t believe in cruelty to animals?  Do I believe I’ll have better health, better karma, or is it a moral/environmental act -in other words, am I working on my carbon footprint?

All of the above is true for me, but let’s explore some of the “meatier” issues here.

Environmentally, there’s a strong argument that a healthy ecosystem includes grazing animals (Omnivore’s Dilemma).  But then the common mistake is to jump from this fact to defend supermarket steak- a product that is so far removed from ethics and health that it’s no longer defensible.

Yes, our evolutionary ancestors ate meat and our genetics carry the DNA of generations of meat eaters.  However, they hunted!  There were no mammoth feedlots.  As a society we are now inarguably too far removed from the  source of our food and the reality of the food chain.  Remarkable, how a little saran wrap can insulate us so thoroughly from the pain and death involved in the meat we eat.

There’s a very strong argument that vegetarianism is a better health choice.  VERY strong. There remains a counter-argument that  for some, vegetarianism can never provide optimum health (Vegetarian Myth).  However, even that camp can’t deny that North Americans eat too much meat and would benefit from significant reduction.

So, to cut down on meat is better for us individually and collectively, everyone agrees.

But, to cut down, or to quit?  I think  that comes down to a “what feels right?”, for you.

The average American eats 9oz of meat per day (Michael Pollan), and eating meat is connected to every life-shortening disease you could mention- heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  1/3 of all arable land is devoted to  growing crops for animal food (US FDA), while the vast majority of food calories grown to feed to meat animals is “wasted” on metabolism during the animals growth. On average it takes 20 food calories fed to an animal to get one meat calorie out (Diet For a Small Planet).  Lets not even start in on the vast additional environmental and health problems caused by the overuse of corn to feed the meat industry.  Just watch King Corn.
World Bank agricultural scientists have deemed the meat industry the cause of 51% of global carbon emissions (World Watch).

Chickens and pigs score higher on cognitive tests than dogs and cats, but the latter have legal protection while the former are subjected to entire lives of “unmitigated misery” (Bruce Freidrich). Most people who came within spitting distance of a slaughterhouse would feel disturbed, to put it mildly.  Visiting an industrial abattoir (placed suitably very distant from anywhere residential) as a hitchhiker in a cattle truck several years ago was shockingly traumatic for me, and I din’t even set foot inside the place.

However, the switch over from meat-eating to vegetarian, clearly, does not come from reading a litany of statistics, nor even seeing films of unanesthetized turkeys having their beaks sawed off in a spray of blood and silenced screams.    The facts pointing to better health, better agriculture, and better karma have been available for years.  It seems as though some internal readiness comes first, and then some external trigger finally flips the switch and anchors it.

I was vegan for some years in my twenties, and it didn’t go well.  I found that I couldn’t stay healthy.  In hindsight I see that I didn’t have the discipline and knowledge to be able to sustain my own nutrition.  It takes education, dedication, and responsibility to feed oneself in a balanced way, especially as a vegan.  On the other hand, how else would you want to eat, if not consciously?

Returning to meat,  I contributed to much animal loss of life over the years by eating unconsciously, assisted by the “saran wrap remove”, and believing that I could not be completely healthy, let alone athletic, on a vegetable-based diet (justified frequently with my vegan story).  This is demonstrably bullshit.   Ironman athletes like Brendan Brazier and Dave Scott prove it.  Just last night I learned one of my favorite UFC fighters just went veggie, joining Mac Danzig and others. Continue reading Vegetarian

Bad Day

The leaves have fallen from all the trees but the oak now.  More sky, more sun, more wind, and fewer tourists parking on the road to take pictures of the horse with a blazing background of red sugar maples.

I’m grateful for all the mulch, but I haven’t had time to pick it all up yet.  I made a city trip this weekend past, which was necessary and good, but provoked a minor mental collapse today.  I have endurance, and I have a healthy stress response, but my stress response has no endurance.

The city for three days stretched my stress capacity to its limit, and I found myself in a terrible place of being unable to cope with, well, life in general.  I feel helpless and incapable; the panic rises in my chest and feels like a fluttering bird trapped in there, and I can’t draw a satisfying breath.  Worst of all, I feel like my antennae are numb and I lose the sense of being connected to my guidance system, so I flounder around unsure of what is the right thing to do, and that leaves me feeling quite unsafe.

Bad day.

I have serious compassion for people for whom this is a chronic condition.  For me, losing my connection to soul and nature and my own spirit is terrifying and temporary.  But I think some people sleepwalk half their lives without that, feeling only a suspicion that there is something they’re missing, just off to the left.

I saw lots of them in the city.

It’s amazing to me that the larger “we” can collectively build these sprawling, sick, unhappy, disconnected organisms (cities) that really don’t nourish most of the citizens in them, and in fact the majority of the world’s population now lives in urban settings.  Ie., disconnected from the places where the food that feeds them is grown.  This is very very sad to me.  I am again, grateful for the luxury and personal opportunity I live in and the grand abundance of space and nature that Canada holds.

Canada rules.

Christmas embargo

Halloween’s been here, and now Christmas is about to hit us over the head.

I want a year off Xmas.  I want a Christmas moratorium this year.  I find it stressful and distracting- an obligation to get people stuff and go to gatherings I don’t really want to.      More turkeys are sacrificed needlessly and the psychic noise of credit card debt, guilt, inadequacy and stress escalates.

There are good things.  It’s nice to have a reason to get together with some people, and it’s nice to have a landmark for the year.  Otherwise, years could slide by fused together without distinction.  Eggnog is awesome, and those Cadbury’s oranges you have to smash apart are pretty exciting.  I love making things to give away.   I always enjoy Christmas when I spend it with my family, but this year I probably won’t.

It just seems like Christmas is too much.  And why is it such a big production every year?  It can be a big production, say, every three years, that would be cool.  And the other two years it can have one day of attention and you can kind of wave in Christmas in passing as you carry on getting stuff done and staying in bed watching movies.

I want to call a time out, or have some other anti-Xmas gesture that I can spring on anyone who wants to invite me over for turkey death that says unequivocally and non-verbally: “Temporary relief from Christmas now claimed!  Speak’st thou not of Yule!  This person is not participating in Christmas; find something else to talk about!”

Instead of something as neutral as pointing the fingers of one hand into the palm of the other, though, I would favour clutching one’s throat, making gagging sounds, rolling the eyes back in the head, and then falling forward to the knees and collapsing sideways, twitching.  That’s the universal anti-Xmas signal right there.  Let’s all adopt it!

Eventually

I had a big pre-snow afternoon.  The temperatures are hovering 2-5 degrees above zero at night now, and the snow is close enough now to be imagined covering everything, so now is the time to clean the yard of anything that you don’t want to have to deal when it melts next year.

My main goal of the day was to mulch the potatoes that I’m leaving in the ground, and also to take down my upside down tomatoes that were becoming very unsightly.

Here’s how that went.

First I need to put the trickle charger on my battery but before I move my truck I should load in the stuff I need tomorrow, and to do that I need to unhitch the trailer, and then I see the compost is full when I’m looking for a wrench to undo the battery. I might as well dump the compost on my way to the garden, and there’s also garbage; I might as well load that up too but the bags are ripping, and on my way to get more garbage bags I see some plastic by the side of the garage that should go to the dump too and then the whole side of the garage is piled with wood and ancient tires and garbage that were here when we moved in, and I sort and load all of that junk and move the wood into the scrap wood shed, and then I notice a snarl of fencing and barbed wire to drag to someplace better, and then when I move the tires to the tire pile, I see some more plastic in the woods and follow the trail of garbage that some bear dragged away and distributed long ago, and then if I’m loading up for the dump now I might as well address the old slash pile, and clean up the old wood and berry brambles on that, and after that, then I should move all the ash so the burn scar could rehab to grass, and for that I need the wheelbarrow.

That’s the first time I got near the garden, because that’s where the wheelbarrow was.
Continue reading Eventually

Montreal

I’m on a hedonistic, city-level capitalistic bender of an adventure.  It’s not productive at all.  It’s not well thought out, and is completely indulgent.  I have lots of things I could be up to at home, but I lit out on this adventure to make the break from working decisive.  It is that.  Since it’s not really underwritten by a mission, it’s kind of relaxing.

Work was hard this March and April and my response to that for decompression was correspondingly extreme- going to Montreal to catch a UFC fight.  Hitchhiking home would have been productive, to spark more book work, but my awesome brother ferreted out that VIA was having a 60% off fare sale, and so I’m going home on the train.  Another tick off the list.  I’ve always wanted to take this train.

But I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week surrounded by people, walking around Canada’s biggest cities, navigating the undergrounds, shopping, and searching for nutrition in concrete jungles.  It’s not only a sharp contrast to how I intend to live my life (and do), but it’s an immersion in things I morally disagree with.
Continue reading Montreal

Nothingness and emptiness

I’m falling into a comfortable hole of nothingness and emptiness.  I’ve been increasingly folding myself into a cocoon, craving more sleep, and choosing to do less and less.   I’ve been pushing all choices away from me as contemplating choice gives me heaves of anxiety, and I don’t trust myself to make them wisely, either.  I’m grateful for the luxury to take this break, to ignore time for the moment.  Also to recede and let myself do only what I feel capable of.  I’ve been spending lots of time with the kids, on kid routine. Continue reading Nothingness and emptiness

Health

The biggest goal of my life right now is health.  Turns out “health” is a very complex concept.  I want physical, financial, spiritual, mental health for myself, but seeing as I’m one organism in a giant ecosystem, that includes all species, and all beings, and all humans on this planet, then my health is inextricably linked to the health of the whole planet.  Racial violence, and war, and starvation, and habitat destruction, and species extinction- these are monumental tragedies and we are aware of that pain in our subtle bodies whether or not we wallow in news, or recycle, or grow organic gardens.  Try as we might, we are not insulated from any of it.

 

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Can't wait for the pears. This is the first crop on a young tree.

 

I think the pervasive toxins and mega-germs and new strains of pests that get new names and chatted up in the media are a physical manifestation, or symbol, of this fact that we’ve collectively ignored for too long- that we share everything.  Can’t be ignored any more.  Can’t run to the hills, it rains acid there too.  Germs circulate the world, we breathe each others’ air, we ingest each others’ garbage.  An individual cannot hide from the whole.  The “everything” we notice we’re sharing tends to be bad, but joy, ecstasy, and prayer also circle the world and affect everyone, positively.

The question I always ask: “What can you get up tomorrow and do differently, knowing that?” Continue reading Health