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Though I’m getting a lot better at not taking criticism personally, I do take it seriously, and dealing with it on my two blogs this week has been pretty exhausting. So I’m going to take a little break by blocking comments and not posting for the next week. In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on what the purpose of these online spaces is for me. Here are some of my thoughts – they’re very much a work in progress, but if you feel like taking a few minutes to read them, great. If you have comments, even better! Just save them, let them percolate, and if your comment still feels important, respectful and honest in a week, please post it then.

Having my ass kicked by people this week has had the effect of making me ask myself what the point of these blogs are. Is it to espouse my view of the world? Is it to hear myself talk? What is it that I believe in that compels me to write about what I am experiencing and learning in my life?

Asking myself what I believe in is hard. Because I don’t have mega faith in ether of the Big Two human inventions (God or Science) that are so important to contemporary human identify, I often feel lost. And yet, upon reflection I was interested and surprised to discover that I do have some faith kicking around in this heart of mine.

I believe in the capacity of humans to change. Hearing David Suzuki speak this week helped me to clarify this. He believes that the human ability to conceptualize the future and act to shape it actually defines our humanity and separates us from all the other animals on earth. This idea called “the future” doesn’t actually exist, but through our intentions and actions, humans have the power to use possibility to impact our reality.

Change happens to us no matter what we do, but the potential to use possibility to shape reality adds a consciously directed component to change that results in a definition of “learning” that works for me. In other words, learning is conscious change. Strangely, I realized (just today!) that my belief in the capacity of humans to learn (i.e., consciously change) is also my definition of hope: the belief in the possibility of a different future, in the possibility of change. And I believe in that. So I guess I have hope. Who knew? For a long time I was quite certain I didn’t.

But this hope, this belief in the human capacity to change, is pretty passive. There’s also this other troublesome thing that is more active – this belief that it is necessary for humanity to change.

Clarifying these driving forces for me is also leading to a better understanding of why I write about my life. The capacity for change is huge for me, but it all begins with my own potential to learn, and with the belief that my own ongoing change is necessary. Though events are often out of my control, with great commitment and discipline I have the capacity to consciously direct my thoughts and actions. But the change I’m talking about is not a switch that can be turned on or off. Change is a process – a never-ending combined series of thoughts, actions and events that shape our lives and the world. The process of learning is limitless and ongoing.

My purpose in writing these blogs is to document this process in my life. I use myself as an example of someone committed to the ongoing, limitless process of conscious change. My intention is not to use myself as an example of someone who knows what’s “right” or “good.” It’s not even to try to espouse some particular way of being or thinking, though I certainly believe in the things I’m trying to do and write about. I use myself because this ongoing process of learning is what I value most. I want to write about why this is, and the process by which I am always trying to live this value in the most meaningful ways I can (whether the results are successful or not).

I write about myself because at this point it is the way I know to make myself most accountable. If I talk about how I am trying to change, it is the easiest way to make sure that I am taking responsibility for change needing to occur. It also feels like a safe way to speak strongly without being threatening or overbearing or preachy or judgmental.

Thing is, I’m not the only person that needs to commit to an ongoing process of conscious change. We all do. We all have the capacity to change and make the world better, and the need to do so is urgent. It feels safer to demand accountability only from myself, but it doesn’t work. If I’m going to be most true to myself I have to be fearless enough to say out loud that I am not the only one that needs to change.

The reality is that every human needs to change in order to save life on the planet and the planet itself. Every Northern person needs to change in order to end injustice in the global South. Every white person needs to change in order to end racism. Every wealthy person needs to change in order to end poverty. Every man needs to change in order to end sexism and violence against women. I say these things because I believe that our capacity to evolve is what can make the world a better place.

I’m struggling with how to balance being strong, vocal and principled with remaining open to learning and criticism. One of the things I got called on this week was a quote I posted that I feel captures some of the qualities I most value and respect in the men in my life. I didn’t write the quote (Starhawk did), so I can’t speak for the author’s intentions, though she was talking about working with men in the context of a feminist movement. My intentions in posting it weren’t well thought through (a man who I respect and trust and appreciate introduced me to it and it simply spoke to me), but they certainly weren’t to judge men or demand conformity to a rigid ideal or anything like that.

The charge against me for the post and for my response to the criticism was that I was, among other things, close-minded. A great way to really shut someone down is to dismiss their response to criticism (e.g., I know you think you’re open minded, but you’re wrong!) So I was very effectively shut down. Fine. The blog’s been open for comments, so I left myself open to that.

It made me think about the nature of being close-minded, that’s for sure. Sure, I do self-identify as open-minded (I wonder how many people out there actually identify as close-minded). But when I think about it, it’s true that trying to be a principled person requires closing my mind to all kinds of things. I rigorously practice, for example, closing my mind off to the following ideas: that race is an indicator of value or rights or intelligence, that homosexuality is wrong, that rape is acceptable, that I have the right to consume beyond the means of the Earth, etc. Similarly, I close myself off to people all the time, and open myself to the ones I trust and that nurture goodness and learning and respect in my life.

My critic this week is not the first person to ever call me close-minded. In the past, my fear of being closed has caused me to respond to such charges by trying to remain open at all costs – even to things I had no business being open to. When I’ve done this against my intuition and better judgment, the result is only ever catastrophe. So, while I hope I have the courage in my life to open my mind to the ideas and people and criticisms that will make me learn the most, I will also consciously choose to trust myself to close myself to the things I need to, and to give myself permission to be more open to certain people (and qualities) than to others.

If you’ve made it this far, here’s the gist of the thing: I’m learning, and though it never feels easy and is often not pretty, I’m happy for it. And since some interesting stuff is coming up in the process, I think I’ll stick with it and continue to muddle my way through. But first I will take a breather, and rest up for the next round. Thanks for reading.

xo n

I can’t say that I enjoy criticism, but it does tend to nurture deeper reflection. So let’s see where it leads! What follows is my response to a comment on My Little House on the Prairie.

I fail to see how you fulfilling the liberal dream of property ownership makes the world a better place.

You’re right! You can’t see what’s not there. Owning property, in and of itself, certainly does not make the world a better place. What I am hoping is that my house will be part of a positive direction in my life that is equipping me to contribute more effectively to the world. It’s just a thing, so it won’t make me happy or wise or compassionate. But it is one component of a life I am trying to design to help support me in being the most effective human I can be.

I did say that happiness and peace might help me be more effective. I guess that came off as selfish. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. I tend to see happiness more as a means to an end than an end in itself. My goal in life is not to be happy. It’s to try to make the world a better place. But I recognize that I can’t do that effectively without taking care of myself. I’ve experienced being depressed and anxious and fearful, and I can say with certainty that those states make me pretty well totally ineffectual. Hence my interest in experimenting with happiness.

What exactly are you giving back to the world? By producing independent media? By reducing your ecological footprint?

Oh, they’re good questions. I want to make the world so much better than it is, and I wish I could tell you with total confidence that what I’m doing is contributing to that. The process of growing up and discovering that I might not actually be able to fix things has been hard for me to come to terms with. That said, I do believe in what I’m doing. Media plays a crucial role in shaping our culture, and culture plays a crucial role in shaping how we think and act. Media is a hugely powerful thing…and I take creating independent, critical, fearless media very seriously. I think it’s important work.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing the work I do for long enough to know what the consequences of it can be for myself. A while back I burnt out, and in that state I had nothing to contribute to anyone. At that time I mistook “making the world a better place” with driving myself into the ground, racking up unmanageable debt and being totally out of touch with what a sustainable, healthy, feasible life looks and feels like.

Since that happened I’ve worked very hard to change my life and take steps away from what it was like then. But it’s amazing what a number I did on myself—I haven’t regained all my energy and it’s quite possible I never will. I suppose that’s made me protective of myself, and maybe that means that I’m also selfish. If I want to keep doing the work I think is important, then I have to be able to survive it. I have to be able to take care of myself.

The reality of my life is that I choose to work hard for not a lot of money, and for that to be sustainable from financial and energetic perspectives, I have to manage the balance very carefully. Money is part of the world I function in and I have to be smart about it. I’ve been dumb about money before, and recovering from that has been hard. Going down that path again is not an option for me. One part of trying not to is investing in this city and in this house. Which brings me to:

You’ve just bought into the mainstream, you’ve just fulfilled what it is that banks are for, to give us money to buy things so that they can make more money…you’re still complicit in what it seems to me you are trying to challenge.

I vehemently disagree that I just bought into the mainstream! I have two university degrees, I work fulltime, I pay taxes, I own a computer and I indulge in heterosexual sex. I have student loans and lines of credit and the banks have been making good money off me for years. My goodness, I most certainly did not just buy into the mainstream. My whole culture has been edging me into complicity since birth!

I’m not trying to be a brat on purpose. I’m just of the opinion that most all of us in this culture are complicit in the mainstream, and that we’re farther ahead when we acknowledge it. I was complicit before buying my house and I will continue to be. I will always participate in the economy and in capitalism, and when those collapse I will inevitably participate in whatever human inventions replace them. I could choose to reject my complicity more radically, perhaps by renouncing all my possessions and becoming a monk, or by hiking into the arctic and sacrificing myself to underweight polar bears (is it odd that I’ve considered both?). But by choosing to remain in the world and do my work here, I believe it’s my responsibility to accept that I am complicit in what’s wrong in the world. Then it’s my responsibility to question my complicity. And then to rip it up. And then to talk about it. And then to get blasted for it over and over until hopefully, ultimately, I learn something from it that will make a difference.

I had a wonderful prof named Deborah Barndt who taught me to embrace contradictions – not by ignoring them or skimming over them, but by really engaging with them. So I’m reluctant to try to justify buying my house as the right thing to do. I might very well be a giant, useless, selfish hypocrite. But I made the decision based on a real, thoughtful, critical process, and now I get to live with it, for better or for worse.

So what will I do with this cursed blessing? Getting my ass kicked has definitely inspired me to get on with planning for it more actively than I had been. Mostly I’m just excited to join a community that I can become an active participant in. Here are some of the cool things I know about so far:

Core Community Association. Don’t worry, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for me, ranging from working with kids to providing food to identifying unsafe living conditions.

Thomson Community School is right across the street from my house and, as an inner city school, services one of the most diverse student bodies in Regina.

– Chinastreet. I miss the proper Chinatowns of my former big city homes, but I’ll take what I can get, and there is a great Asian grocery just a few blocks from my house. And although the community is conspicuously lacking a big grocery store, there is also a great health food store and a wicked South Asian/Central American grocery within walking distance. There is also a good Korean restaurant and an excellent Ethiopian restaurant, so food will not be a problem. This particular part of Regina is about as multicultural as this small city gets.

So there it is. More than enough reflection for one night. Thanks Kelvin, for making me think hard.

xo n

Check out the press release for Global Orgasm for Peace Day below, and the delightful science behind why mass synchronized orgasm could change the world at www.globalorgasm.org/demo.html and noosphere.princeton.edu. And don’t forget to celebrate the event on December 22! I can most certainly think of worse ways to act for peace.

Anti-War Activists Plan ‘Global Orgasm For Peace’

(CBS/AP) SAN FRANCISCO Two peace activists have planned a massive
anti-war demonstration for the first day of winter.

But they don’t want you marching in the streets. They’d much rather you
just stay home.

The Global Orgasm for Peace was conceived by Donna Sheehan, 76, and Paul Reffell, 55, whose immodest goal is for everyone in the world to have an orgasm Dec. 22 while focusing on world peace.

“The orgasm gives out an incredible feeling of peace during it and after
it,” Reffell said Sunday. “Your mind is like a blank. It’s like a meditative state. And mass meditations have been shown to make a change.”

The couple are no strangers to sex and social activism. Sheehan, no relation to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, brought together nearly 50
women in 2002 who stripped naked and spelled out the word “Peace.”

The stunt spawned a mini-movement called Baring Witness that led to
similar unclothed demonstrations worldwide.

The couple have studied evolutionary psychology and believe that war is
mainly an outgrowth of men trying to impress potential mates, a case of
“my missile is bigger than your missile,” as Reffell put it.

By promoting what they hope to be a synchronized global orgasm, they
hope to get people to channel their sexual energy into something more
positive.

The couple said interest appears strong, with 26,000 hits a day to their
Web site, http://www.globalorgasm.org

“The dream is to have everyone in the world (take part),” Reffell said.
“And if that means laying down your gun for a few minutes, then hey, all
the better.”

xo n

My subversion of overconsumption has officially encountered its first big test.

I put my back out this morning. I wasn’t doing anything in particular, apart from sleeping in bed. Now I’m in pain. I’m hopped up on Robax Platinum, which does no damn good whatsoever.

I can think of only two things that could have caused my back pain. One is physical, the other is spiritual.

The physical one is simple: my bed sucks. It came with my furnished room. It’s a spongy, saggy mattress that sits on an even saggier box spring that sits on four bricks. No back could withstand such a shitty bed for long.

Radical SimplicityIt’s obvious I need a new bed. But how am I supposed to get one when I’ve resolved to buy nothing new for a year? Back pain is great for melting my resolve. All I want right now is for some bed fairies to deliver a deluxe posturepedic bed, haul it up to my room, make it up with a warm duvet, fill up a hot water bottle, feed me Robax and cocoa, tuck me in and read me stories until I fall off into a gentle, muscle relaxant-induced slumber.

Subverting consumerism through conspicuous underconsumption be damned. Who came up with this stupid project anyway? I don’t want to seek out used mattresses on Regina Freecycle or at Value Village or in alleyways. I don’t want to haul some crappy old bed home to find it smells weird or is saggy or lumpy and makes my back hurt more. What would not buying a new bed achieve? Will sleeping on a crappy bed save drowning polar bears or get generic drugs to people with AIDS or reverse climate change? Or will my actions, well-intentioned though they may be, achieve nothing?

And thus, the physical cause of my pain leads directly to the spiritual one. Last night before falling asleep I was reading Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel. On page 9 he quotes Castaneda’s Don Juan: “We must know first that our acts are useless, and yet we must proceed as if we didn’t know it. That is a sorcerer’s controlled folly.” That made me cry. Then I tried to sleep. In the early morning before the sun was up I was awakened by searing back pain.

Maybe it was the bed that did my back in, or maybe it was the knowledge of my own futility, or probably it was a bit of both. I don’t know how to know that my actions are useless and proceed anyway. I like to think that it’s possible, and I can give myself all sorts of pep talks about not being attached to the fruits of my labour and all that good stuff. But no matter how hard I think it, I don’t know how to make myself feel it. I want to make a difference dammit! Accepting that I won’t, no matter how hard I try, is probably the single most impossible request my life will make of me. I just don’t know if it’s possible for me to accept my own futility. And yet I agree with Castaneda/Merkel that it’s my only option.

So that’s where I am. In pain, both physical and spiritual. Where to go from here is unknown.

Suggestions? Anyone?

Subverting Overconsumption is like Zen, both in its simplicity and depth. In Zen, you sit and you breathe. That’s all. In and out, in and out. You breathe and breathe and breathe, and nothing happens. And everything happens.

There is something similar about this experiment in consumption. It’s a simple practice. Each day I have something simple and concrete to focus my mind on: don’t buy anything new. For close to one month now I have been practising and my mind has been opening. What began as an exercise in developing more conscious consumer habits is transforming into something much more expansive and all-encompassing.

Subverting Overconsumption isn’t just about buying nothing new. The potential of this practice is far greater that I imagined. As I wake up to the possibilities I realize that I want to do something beyond not buying anything new for a year: I want to increase my net creativity by bringing my consumption and my creative production into better balance. I want what I contribute to the universe to outweigh the resources I consume. I want to give more than I take away.

What does this balance look and feel like? Consumption is not just buying stuff. It’s eating and drinking, learning, watching TV, reading, listening to music. Production is gardening, writing, cooking, drawing, meditating, singing, volunteering, laughing. On their own, neither one has more or less value. The value comes in the balance. If my consumption outweights my production, I am in a position of draining energy from my planet and universe (and probably also from my friends, family and coworkers). If my contribution outweighs the resources I consume, then I am in a position of contributing a surplus of creativity. Neighbours and colleagues with higher consumption:production ratios will be able to buy creative production credits from me like polluting countries can buy credits from less polluting nations!

As a mindfulness practice, Subverting Overconsumption can be applied to more than my purchases. It’s a lens through which every moment can be viewed, a scale that can serve to weigh each choice. Like my breath, it’s a guide that I can return to again and again to focus my mind and energy. Come to think of it, maybe Subverting Overconsumption isn’t just like Zen practice. Maybe it is Zen practice.

Now that Halloween is over and the overpriced candy has been relegated to the discount bin, retailers will have ample space to begin the Christmas marketing barrage. Probably the best excuse to consume all year, the holiday season blurs the lines between family, consumption, religion, gratitude and generosity. The annual pressure to consume can make it hard to remember what it’s really supposed to be about.

What is it really supposed to be about anyway? Coming from a WASPy ethnicity but not actually being a Christian myself, Christmas has never been a particularly Buy Nothing Christmas Posterspiritual observance for me. Rather, the festive season’s been primarily about family, friends and presents, with Santa playing a much more active role in my season’s cheer than Jesus. When I think Christmas, I think turkey, perogies, copious amounts of sugar, and tearing open packages with abandon, under a tree with my family.

Whether by peanut brittle or Pier 1 Asia-inspired plate sets, my Christmastime is certainly tied to consumption. So what does it mean that I’ve resolved to buy nothing new this holiday season? Will I enjoy Christmas less? Will I come off like a preachy wet blanket to family and friends?

Those are my fears, but there may be hope. When I recently discovered the Buy Nothing Christmas website I realized I’m not alone in my hopes to subvert overconsumption this Christmas. BNC is a campaign started by group of Adbusters-affiliated Mennonites, and is inspired by a mix of spiritual and sociopolitical values. An expansion of Buy Nothing Day, BNC challenges the culturally sanctioned overconsumption of mainstream Christmas and aims to reclaim holiday cheer that is both spiritually meaningful and socially responsible.

The website has tons of good resources and suggestions for ways to express gratitude and generosity to loved ones over the holidays without buying much or anything. It inspires me to stick to my goal of gifting differently this year, perhaps with homemade art, donations to charities, or recycled/found gifts. The possibilities are endless, and I have a feeling that putting this kind of thought into the proceedings will make my holidays more meaningful and more fun to boot.

Don’t forget, good things come in no packages.

xo n

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