Month: September 2016

I’ve Got Wood. You’ve Got a Box…

 

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Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/dEbhvHCZyfM/hqdefault.jpg

Going “against the grain” is a widely known colloquialism in English. Have you ever considered what it means? A simple summary would be to act unconventionally. My search for freedom is based on the perception that conventions aren’t working for me. Such a perception may warrant closer inspection.

The first record I can find of it is Shakespeare’s use of it in Coriolanus (1607) “Preoccupied with what you rather must do Than what you should, made you against the grain”. From the start, it seems to have carried negative connotations and suggests fault. It evokes images of wood being planed or sanded and acting in line with its natural order to give best results. Or more correctly: implies that to act against the natural order will cause suboptimal results or damage. The idea is paralleled by “don’t rock the boat” or “follow the path of least resistance”. To me it smacks of imposed control and mental enslavement by a ruling class. An insidious idea encouraging conformity hidden within mainstream culture.

Conversely, we have phrases like “thinking outside the box” and “three dimensional thinking” which really mean the same thing (i.e. to do things differently), but carry nearly opposite implications. While “against the grain” implies hardship and suffering, “thinking outside the box” implies innovation and revolution. The same act may be considered in either manner depending only on the accepted attitude of a given setting and being independent of the result.

The time we live in now is a time of cultural upheaval. Perhaps more so in western cultures, but with the internet spanning the whole globe, very few places are unaffected. On the one hand we see the established social orders of the world keen to maintain the status quo. It has allowed humanity to band together and achieve much more than would’ve been possible as individuals. But prosperity has been reserved mostly for a select few at the expense of the labouring classes. On the other hand we have a renaissance in technological and managerial innovation. Advanced technology means unprecedented access to knowledge and the ability to distribute information, products, money and ideas at the click of a button.

In seeking freedom, it must be assumed there is a degree of entrapment or lack of choice. The more I examine this idea consciously through stripping away constraints and obligations, the less it holds water. At least in New Zealand, it truly does seem that there are no givens. There most certainly is a “grain” and there are plenty of people in “boxes” but I’m at a loss to judge what that means.

Friends I’ve gone to school with have faithfully followed the “right” way. I guess this is the “grain”. You know the way. The idea that you go to school, then to university to get a degree, get an entry level job and climb the career ladder. Several have families, hold well-paid positions and seem to be enjoying life. At least one friend from my year at school is now earning upwards of £200,000 a year and several others have secure lifestyles and have built equity to support them for the rest of their lives. While their time is promised to work, their finances offer freedom. Particularly if they have enough capital to cover them through an unexpected financial change.

Other friends have developed entrepreneurial ventures. Most are based on classical models of fixed premises with shops selling goods/services, farming or contracting tradespeople fulfilling local contracts. A few work as consultants (mostly business systems and practices) and there are some outliers running e-businesses or micromultinationals who outsource everything worldwide with a fluid business structure based almost entirely on short-term contracts. Many of these people are free on paper, but constantly working. Others have managed to create freedom of both time and money.

Still others of my friends travel from contract to contract, year to year and bounce from country to country being paid disproportionately well to offset the ‘inconvenience’ of working in a foreign land. This category varies a lot in their circumstances but they often have money, time and none of the hang ups of a career-based mind-set. They have chosen a less fixed lifestyle. They are more focussed on enjoying (or at least experiencing) life now rather than setting up security for later. You could say they’re free, but I can assure you many of them are not. I know I wasn’t when I lived that life. I was bouncing from one high to the next and when there were no highs, there was a bottomless hole in the bottom which needed to be filled.

Then there are those who have plodded along getting jobs as they came. Perhaps working their way through an organisation, but generally just getting by. A lot of them live from paycheque to paycheque but live happy enough lives. They participate in their community in average ways with average results for an average experience in line with the status quo. Not born into the ‘right’ families or into ambition, they provide they make up the force that allows systems to function. They are ok with that for the most part.

These are sweeping generalisations (yet again) with questionable validity, I admit. You could argue that each of these represent freedom. You could argue that none do. You could argue that categorising like this oversimplifies the uniqueness of human experience. You could argue that it is a meaningless exercise if not accompanied by statistical analysis. You could argue that all this arguing makes your head hurt and you’d rather just get a beer and play XBox.

The common thread among all of these is that each experiences a similar situation very differently. Although the details obviously vary and contribute to this, the broader practical situation remains similar. So what creates the vast difference? Some of those included are happy while others feel trapped. Some feel grateful, while others hate their lives. Some feel content mostly showing others how they feel, while others mostly project an image of what they want people to believe. The common thread is that it really doesn’t make any sort of difference what resources you command if your attitude is wrong.

You may think this is obvious. That it is common sense and you can’t believe someone would bother writing it. Another time-waster cluttering the internet with more useless bollocks. Well, I reckon you’d be right on all counts… but the interwebs begs to differ. People study this stuff. It turns out so many people study it that at least one group of very clever people even did a meta-analysis on ‘positive psychological capital’ in relation to attitudes, behaviours and performance (check it out in the summer issue of Human Resource Development Quarterly in 2011 if you want).

There has always been a ruling class. There will likely always be a ruling class. Some would say it is necessary for co-operation and order. Others would impose anarchy with a view to true freedom. But when it comes to freedom and the power to be free, “Power resides where men believe it resides” (Yes. That was a cheeky Game of Thrones quote- it was Varys- nice one George R.R. Martin).

So what’s the best path? Turns out that’s not really the point. It’s your attitude toward your path. Scientists call it a ‘locus of control’. I call it getting my shit together and taking responsibility for myself. Everyone agrees that creating your own freedom is easier said than done. Yet it may also be the simplest thing in the world.

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Helpful Feedback

September 4th 2016

This one is just a quick shout out to people following the blog. I really appreciate feedback that comes in, whether it be encouragement, queries or suggestions for improvement. Keep ‘em coming! 🙂

Recently, I had two messages that were particularly noteworthy. The first was an offer of paid blogging work. That was obviously a pleasant surprise. This blog was really just an alternative to overloading my friends’ newsfeeds on Facebook, so to find that people are enjoying it on a bigger scale is always nice.

The second was a very polite comment suggesting I could do better in the spelling department. I’d like to apologise for subjecting people to poor spelling if that has been your experience. I do endeavour to proofread posts before they go up, but it seems I have been missing a typo or two. I’d like to formally extend a request to let me know if you spot specific errors. I encourage it, as I would prefer to have error-free writing on the blog. I’d also like to apologise because it turned up in my spam folder and I thought I clicked ‘NOT SPAM’ but it disappeared after that and before I could read the whole thing or reply. So, thanks… whoever it was.

A side note to that though, you will find that my blogs are written in English (the primary language of my home country)… as opposed to American 😉 I make no apologies for this. So if you see things such as “coloUr”, “behavioUr”, “generaliSe” etc, these are not actually errors, but merely differences.

So please do keep the messages and feedback coming. It’s nice to hear that people are actually reading and enjoying what I write. And hey, if you are NOT enjoying it, I’d be interested to hear what may not be working for people.

Living from the Heart

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If you’ve been following for a while, you probably notice there are a few different types of posts going up. Some are about lifestyle choices. Things like: tiny house considerations, homesteading/gardening/permaculture, financial ideologies and practicalities, intentional community. Some are basically a diary of what I’ve been up to while exploring what, where and how freedom is. Some, like this one, are basically amateur philosophical monologues. (FYI- they are usually tagged as such, so if you have a preference of what you’re interested in, explore the tags at the bottom of posts)

As much as this year has been about trying to find a way into a sustainable life, it’s about understanding myself. You could frame it as a working holiday in my own country if you wanted to although it feels very different.

I most certainly mostly operate out of a “Type A” personality. Which, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the driven type. I think this is mostly out of a desire to feel (the illusion of being) in control. This year, I’ve tried to park that where possible and explore passion. I have found that in order for that to be any use, I need to act. My ideas tend to be long-term and/or big. As such, some planning and Type A behaviour come into play to create direction. I suspect I’ll never see the benefit of letting stuff just happen in a “Type B” kind of way.

It’s been a time of struggle and a time of torment. It’s been a time of substance abuse and of emotional extremes. It’s been a time of rethinking and reforming core beliefs. It’s been a contradictory battle of release.

It has been an interesting experiment though. It’s meant creating a bit of space and time. It’s meant that time “off” has become a lot more passive but not lazy (as I would have previously seen it). Instead of filling time with activity (well… not as MUCH activity), I’ve made more time to notice sights, sounds and feelings. It’s been a time of learning to evaluate where feelings are coming from too. But not just in a direct cause and effect way. Not even in a stimulus à perception à response à consequence kind of way. It’s been a period of exploring the less logical: the intuitive.

I’ve discussed it a little in “Living for Purpose, Not Pay” and “Money Money Money” and in many of the posts tagged philosophising. A lot of this stuff is no secret and I guess a lot of people don’t need to explore it so much themselves. I certainly perceive the appearance that it happens more naturally for many. But in intentionally living these ideas, I find it consolidates the knowledge.

I imagine it is experienced in everyone differently. For me, intuitive guidance presents as a prickly, tickling feeling right behind my ears on the back of my scalp. It’s just about the exact same feeling as when I’ve just clipped my hair short and run the shower over the point at the bottom and centre of my occipital bone (at the back of my head). It’s a radiant swelling which eventually envelops my whole head.

Other times, it can be different. I think I now understand why we say “gut feeling” because another big one starts on the edges of my diaphragm, which surrounds the top of my guts. It starts with an awareness of tightness at its circumference, which instinctively makes me release the tension. When I do, warmth rises rapidly up my spine, spread through my shoulders and wraps over my head like a hood.

Often, the second also sets off the first as well. When it does, I’ll usually feel choked up and often get the prickle of tears forming in the corner of my eyes. These are the ones I get when I think about “where to from here?” But only ever on the occasions where I decide that The Longest Walk is where I should focus my energy. One of these times, I found a $20 note on the ground straight after. Another time, I found 50 cents. And every time that comes to mind, I feel another of my intuitive signs.

This one has happened on a number of important occasions. The best example I remember was on a Vipassana meditation retreat in Victoria (Dhamma Aloka). Technically, you’re not meant to write anything on such a retreat. But one day, I had a surge of happiness and calm. It lasted 30 seconds, or maybe a minute. It was followed by an outpouring of inspiration. The first two of the children’s books I’ve written on dog training flowed into my mind nearly fully formed. For the next 10 minutes, they just circled and refined themselves endlessly. There came a point that I realised, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the work I was trying to do at the retreat unless I put it down on paper. So that’s what I did. I took my (smuggled) pen and wrote two full books, (visions of the pictures and all) on scraps of paper in my bag.

Sometimes, intuition confuses me. I didn’t plan to come to Motueka. I’d planned to head north after completing the caravan renovation. Whangarei (or its surrounds) was always my planned destination. But tales reached my ears of this place where a whole heap of other idealistic hippies lived and it seemed like a place I should check out. I reasoned that if not now, it’d probably get missed. Plans changed.

On leaving Wellington, this completely different gut feeling came about. This one was heavy. It was a belly full of stodgy porridge. It had a really mild electric current all around it and I read it as worry or as a bad thing. Like it was a wrong decision. But my reason still held and I’d booked my tickets, so I decided to go anyway. I could always come back. That was nearly 5 months ago and it may still turn out to be a mistake, but I struggle to think how. Motueka has been a great decision by all accounts.

Proof-reading the last few posts, it strikes me that some people will think I’ve lost my marbles or that I’m pretty screwed up in the head. Maybe they are right. Maybe I’m just honestly evaluating at a deeper causal level than most people habitually do. Maybe those two things are the same thing.

Regardless, I am what I am. I’ve pretended and tried to ‘fit in’ enough to know it’s not worth the effort. Despite what you think, I will still be what I am. To tell of it really makes no difference at all to me. But it may make a difference to you or someone else who reads it. So perhaps it’s better on paper than in my head.

-And thus, another rambling rant ends-

Riverside Community

August 21st– September 2nd 2016

Of all the little adventures along the way, there is one place that stands out. Its name is Riverside.

Riverside is an intentional community that got a mention in a previous post. Since it worked out that I was going to stay here in Motueka for a while, I’ve made it my business to get involved with the community at Riverside where I can. It’s all well and good to decide you want to up sticks and chuck your lot in with some agrarian community, but the reality will always be that a community consists of people and a shared culture. Which means that every single one of them can be as vastly different as different countries. It made sense to get to know some people.

The whole plan of coming to Motueka was to check out what this meant. What were the different communities like? How do they work? Again, you’re best to look back over the post about the Alpacalypse for a discussion of that. But Riverside stands out as something a little different from the rest. It’s probably fair to assume its age/maturity (it is the oldest intentional community in New Zealand) plays a part. But it is unique in its guiding principles too.

It’s a socialist experiment in the truest sense. It is a living attempt at Marxism (Wikipedia) which seems to be working better than most to create a true socialist community. It is a community defined by: equal rights to decision-making for all members; requirement for consensus of all members before action (with due process for sticking points); relinquishment of any income into a shared purse; voluntary abstinence from the use of any prior savings; a nominal allowance paid to all members equally; equal access to community resources (such as activities, vegetables and milk); mutual respect; transparency and engagement of the greater community. It’s a real attempt at “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs”. After a probationary period of 3-4 years, a member is a member for life and will be afforded the same rights throughout. The idea is to level the playing field of individual resources.

Karl Marx and Friederich Engels were very perceptive in their assessment of the interaction between the ‘classes’. We see the ‘revolution’ playing out between their proletariat and bourgeoisie in movements such as “Occupy”, Community Savings Pools, Timebanking, alternative currencies, Tiny Houses, and numerous other initiatives designed give new access to the use financial assets (in addition to labour). Riverside seems to have created a stable model of just such a thing. While definitely not wealthy, the community has access to a different level of funding than any individual in the group would otherwise have.

It’s not a model that will work for everyone. But then, no model ever could. There are most definitely social, financial, political and psychological pros and cons. But it is a far cry from some of the more anarchist, commercial, idealistic and ‘cult’ie alternatives. The biggest consideration is that it is really set up for a lifelong commitment. People can and do come and go, but the choice to forsake personal savings in favour of contribution to a shared purse has far-reaching consequences to life after Riverside both in the short and long term.

My interview with Riverside began with a coffee at the café. A chat with one of the long-term members. Him and I just shooting the breeze and exploring his story. Next in line was the office lady, a more recent recruit, who had a very different point of view. It was clear that no one person could tell me what it was like so it’s been a process of thought mining and relationship building. I met ex-members who split off after long residency and now trial their own (blocked) ideas. Some are happy, others frustrated; some disgruntled and others at peace.

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Naaaw. Feeding time at the calf-ateria

In the last month or so, I’ve also been volunteering my time and labour to help out where I can. This has been mostly on the dairy farm, but has also taken me up in the hills out the back to plant some trees. It has been during this period that I have started to realise just how BIG it is. Riverside is a huge portion of Motueka/Lower Moutere! I had no idea. It is also host to a very famous little house truck.

Many of you may have seen this video about the Castle Truck, for now at least. Having now visited it in person, I can assure you it is every bit as cool as you might imagine. It’s pretty inspiring to see what people can do with small spaces and a bit of clever design.

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Jola and Justin’s house (AKA the coolest house ever)

It was interesting to think about what the video has meant to the couple who own it too. The video went a little bit viral and from what I understand, it’s led to a lot of extra work for Justin and his incredibly innovative mind. Obviously, this is great because he gets to follow his passion and it allows him and Jola to live a lifestyle that suits them.

For me though, the main point has been to trial the community. That means getting to know people, first and foremost. Of course, the membership will grow and change. So even if I do decide to apply, it will be a fluid thing. However, there will remain a core membership and those who choose to stay longer than a year or so seem to share a lot of similar attributes… which I like.

This week, I had a new experience. Actually, I had two. The first was getting a full load of cow shit directly in the face. The slimy warmth it spread over my body as it slipped under my apron and inside my overalls was second to no thermal underwear ever created. Mmmmmm 😉 It was probably one of the grossest things I’ve ever experienced. I apologise for not snapping a selfie with the ‘full coverage’. I admit, my priorities lay in first cleaning up.

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It’s not all shits and giggles at the dairy farm, but sometimes the shits cause many giggles

Alas, I digress. The experience I wanted to discuss was a men’s group. This too was at Riverside… in a teepee, no less. However, I realised during the writing of it, that it deserves a separate post. So click through to it here.

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Inside a teepee

If you’d like to know more about Riverside, you can check out their website here:
http://www.riverside.org.nz/

What is ‘Man’?

Man Standing in Front of Statue Photo

As mentioned in my last post, I attended a men’s group for the first time this week. I won’t talk in specifics because the point of such a group is that it is a safe place to share and discuss openly within the group. But I will vaguely discuss my own experience being mindful of the trust that other participants bestow on me by allowing me to take part.

You’ve heard it a lot, I’m sure. But we are incredibly lucky to live in the world right now. Social histories of the world regularly speak of dark, ignorant periods. Periods where our collective consciousness has been incredibly restricted. Perhaps we needed to go through these periods of development in order to allow a bit of light to seep in. But it seems that we now, as a global community, are starting to enter the adolescence of our collective development. Who knows how much further that growth may go.

Along those lines, we often hear of the oppression and abuse of women and their rights. The volume of the voice against men’s oppression is much quieter. Perhaps it is due to its more insidious nature. While men have traditionally been allowed (or even thrust) into positions of power to the exclusion of women, the flip side of this is the development of a very unbalanced view of what ‘man’ is.

Take a moment to think of what ‘man’ means to you. In particular, the “successful” man. How old is he? Maybe he’s classically ‘handsome’. Most likely, he is strong, confident and capable. What’s his sexual orientation? Perhaps your definition probably doesn’t extend past a big cock and rippling muscles… a fat wallet being a bonus. It could be that he is in touch with his feelings. But if you are honest, this is probably not to do with him, but instead because you’d like him to connect with you. Chances are your ideal man would not cross the line into weakness. I’m aware this is leading and generalised. I’m equally aware that generalisations almost never match an individual’s reality. But they serve as a background for discussion.

People are people, regardless of gender. We have emotions, ups, downs, strengths, weaknesses, good times, bad times, stressors and things we relish. We know this logically. We can also learn to appreciate that logic has very little to do with how we experience the world.

‘Man’ may well include the attributes above, but to the man who does not naturally possess these, even if only in a moment of vulnerability or pain, it can play on his mind. In much the same way that a woman sees the ‘perfect’ form of a woman in a magazine and inevitably finds herself lacking, a man sees the ‘attractive’ man and finds himself wanting. A contemporary vision of the modern, successful feminine archetype may leave the housewife feeling like a failure, despite her key role in life. And the man who has not managed to carve his ‘success’ from the world may feel helpless and unworthy of manliness.

People naturally experience a vast range of emotions, perceptions, and assumptions which make up their ever-changing reality. To a degree, we have the power to choose these. But often we set it to automatic. In societies which outwardly, (if unspoken) look down on the man who expresses the full range of these experiences, we risk suppressing him. Where we suppress, we create imbalance and unrest.

Often we hear discussion on the effect of pop media or unrealistic ideals on the development our youth. This often does include males but it seems to me at least that it is usually focussed on the effect on girls/women. There are great organisations developing, (the Movember Foundation is a great example) which recognise this and are balancing it out. Men’s groups, like the one I attended are popping up all over in local communities everywhere. Initiatives like the #itsokaytotalk campaign that spread over Facebook recently are also appearing.

I enjoyed choosing to use my evening to delve deeper into myself. I could instead choose to watch TV, a movie, or read a book. I could choose to DO something that entertains me. I could choose to spend the evening combing TradeMe for that bargain “I just have to have because…” or buy clothes that will (briefly) help me feel sexy. I could enjoy some delicious food or some other ‘normal’ distraction from what is really going on in this thing that is me. Instead, I enjoyed connecting with other men on a deeper emotional level than is ‘normal’. I plan to continue with it and when I move on, I intend to be active in seeking out something similar.

So this is my contribution. I don’t expect to change the world, but I choose to believe that individuals can add momentum to any shift in culture. I choose to believe that each little bit helps. I choose to discuss things that make me feel and I hope that one day we live in societies where we are all (male, female or otherwise ‘classified’) really able to just be who we are.