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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

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.

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