stand up eight

The Buddhist quote I posted a couple weeks ago had been rolling around in my head for several days prior and it really speaks to the perseverance and determination needed to make changes in our outlook on life, the way our families and communities operate,  and how we choose to inhabit this world.

We can all think of examples of where people have made a difference through conscious action- equal rights, marriage rights, the right to make a decent wage for a days work, etc.  These fights all took time to develop public support and to change deeply-held opinions.  Some were decades-long struggles that were won through commitment to a vision of how to make our society a better place for all of us.

cigarette buttThis same sort of dedication needs to be applied if we wish to make improvements and changes in our own lives because we will face similar difficulties with social pressures as well as our own deeply-rooted habits.  Ever try to quit smoking?  It is not as simple as just not lighting up.  The habit is woven into the fabric of your day and it takes time to remove that particular strand.  There will no doubt be days where you miss a thread.  But if you keep working at it, it is indeed possible to change your life.

Those days, where strands are missed, are the ones where doubt creeps in.  Where we begin to question our motives.  When we are perhaps unable to see the vision that was so clear just yesterday.  Fall down seven times, stand up eight speaks not just to determination but to trust as well.  If you can reaffirm that you set yourself on this mission for good reasons, then standing up, facing down your doubt, and retracing that missed strand of bad habit is your only next step.

Strength isn’t the absence of weakness, it is acting in spite of it.  It is believing in the face of doubt.  Rather than giving up and trying something easier, we keep to our decision and work around the difficulties.

I think that we may be in for a few years of difficulty in the United States.  Our misguided culture has elected a governing body that does not have our best interests in mind and there will be unpleasant repercussions from that action.  In light of that, we need more than ever to create stronger communities and take better care of ourselves.

  • We need to not buy into the politics of division and negativity that tear us apart.
  • We need to not follow every shiny new trend created to distract us.
  • We need to shed unnecessary expenses and some of the daily luxuries that have made us soft and weak as a people.
  • We need to want less and live a more economically realistic life because our outsized needs are forcing us into debt and ruining our lives.
  • We need to regain a sense of compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings- this is not a weakness, it is the source of a community’s strength.

In effect, we need to retrain ourselves to be a self-sufficient and confident nation that has the strength to wrest power out of the hands of corporations and big money interests and give it back to those that matter- you and me.

This won’t be done through outright battle with the entrenched powers.  We won’t win.  I believe the way to take our country back is by changing our own habits and helping others to do the same.  If we control our own lives, it is much less likely that we will allow others to control us.


It’s really funny…

It’s funny the way my mind works.  I come to a conclusion.  Ha!  An answer!  And then I stew.  I analyze.  I ponder.  I try to find grand connections to make my desires more relevant on a larger scale.  Then I start again.

Take “downsizing” for example.  In my head, I have been trying to relate my desire to have fewer possessions and a simpler life to the growing problem of climate change, our culture of excess, and what I can do about it.

So, instead of long-winded essays on the lack of governmental authority or corporate greed, all I’m simply going to say is:

I just want less stuff.  

I want less chaos in my life.  I want to regain a sense of playful exploration without the unnecessary burdens we force on ourselves.  We spend too much time and effort buying and maintaining our possessions.  The times I find that my wife and I are the happiest are when we get away from all that- camping, fishing, travelling, hanging with our kids.

Its going to take work.  Sure.  I am good with that.  I have always been a work hard-play hard kinda guy.

Its going to be a struggle sometimes.  Of course.  I am good with that too.  Life is suffering, right?  But do we need to cause so many headaches for ourselves?

Perhaps living a simpler life also means a less complicated mental life.


millstoneThese days, debt is the great anchor/mill stone/weight around the neck of every one of us.  We can point our finger at corporations, the media, popular culture, or even our families for not teaching us any better.  But really, we are in control of our own lives.  That’s the worst part- we did this to ourselves!  It was easy to get there.  It is much harder to get out of debt.

Those winter pounds go on so easily but,
come spring its back on the bike, back in the gym,
to sweat and struggle ourselves back to fitness.

If we can stay true to our goals on a more-or-less consistent basis- financial freedom, fewer possessions, and developing a more sustainable way of living- it will be  much easier to keep our balance.  The best part of this is that we actually have a long-term goal!  After almost 20 years, we have a goal other than just trying to make the mortgage and pay our bills.

How do we break our old, bad habits?  That is what the next four years of my life are going to be about.  By the time our youngest child graduates from high school, my wife and I want to be debt-free, have a house that we can proudly put on the market, give our favorite possessions to our older kids, sell or give away the rest, and hit the road for a while.  A good long while.  I want to live lightly.  I want to rekindle that sense of freedom that we had when we were younger.  I don’t want to relive my past.  That is, shockingly, the past!  What I do know is that we were on to something back then and set it aside in order to raise a family.  It’s time to pick it back up again.

When we sold our large home in bainbridge-houseWashington State, along with a deep sense of loss and finality, there was this incredible feeling of lightness and freedom!  My wife and I were free from the burden of that beautiful home that we had painstakingly built (every 2×6 and window and light fixture and tile!) and I felt like Neil Armstrong on the moon!  It was like gravity didn’t have quite as strong a hold of me any longer and each stride I took was ten feet long.  I was explaining how hard it was to give up this home to a builder I had done quite a bit of work for.  His comments to me were spot on.  He said, “so, your telling me that you built a house.  And now your selling it?  I don’t see the problem.  Isn’t that what we do?  Congrats on finding a buyer!  That’s great!”  I got so caught up in the personal angst of selling our home that I lost track of the reality of it all.  That was indeed what I did for a living- did beautiful work for people and then walked away.  Time to turn this place over to somebody else!

Does that sense of freedom and joy necessarily need to be a temporary feeling?  Can we live our lives with less?  Even more importantly, can we thrive with fewer possessions and a smaller footprint upon our world?  I truly believe we can and that downsizing, that reduction in scale is something that many many people are considering and acting upon.  I know we are actively working toward it.  More on our ideas later.

“it’s just too much…”

hourglass“We don’t really have lives of our own.  If we are not shuttling our kids around to hockey games and track meets (you have to keep up with everybody so, of course the kids are scheduled for 10x more stuff than they have time for…) we are fixing or cleaning or replacing or moving something around the house.  It’s either work, kids, or house.  It’s just too much.  I dream about a little house… Someday…”

I believe this comment from one of my neighbors is the struggle of our generation- the very late Boomers and Gen Xers.  Our lives have grown and upsized and expanded to become so busy and so full of activity that we feel there is just no time for us anymore.  In order to be an adult member of our 21st century world, we feel as though we must be always moving ahead, always having the lasted tech, always trying to be one step ahead of our ever-smiling yet ever-competitive neighbors, always moving.

When I was younger, I used to have grand ideas.  My young and sheltered mind thought these ideas were so obvious and so correct yet so (obviously) under-appreciated that I was certain that nobody had ever thought if it before.

This is not one of those ideas.

Many of us are now starting to realize how crazy this sort of life is.  Its exhausting.  Its unsustainable.  Its unrealistic.  And our children aren’t really happy with it either.  They don’t fully know how to play the “constant upgrade” game yet but they are learning.  They certainly are developing unrealistic expectations of how life is supposed to be that they learned from us!

The first step, as they say in addiction counseling, is to admit that you have a problem.  “it’s just too much” can certainly be an acknowledgement of the problem or it might just be that you are catching your breath before heading back into the game.  It is much more difficult than you might expect to actually understand that the life you are living is not healthy and be willing to do something about it. Changing long-standing habits can be very difficult to do because it calls for a consistent and conscious effort.  Its a little bit like snowshoessnowshoeing- all you are doing is going for a walk in the snow but it is such a struggle at first!  Every single footstep is carefully placed and your gait is modified to accommodate the unfamiliar equipment on your feet.  Soon you find that, as you become more accustomed to the activity, less of your focus will be on the basic mechanics of walking and more on the ability to go places that you otherwise would not have been able to visit.

The child in me says “sell it all!  Burn it!  Move into a yurt!  Buy a VW camper or an Airstream!”  I agree with him.  I usually do.  However, the adult in me knows that this is a longer duration life adjustment.  Meaning, my wife and I have put certain things in motion that require us to stay here and follow through with them.  But that does not mean that we can’t start clearing out unneeded stuff, revisit why we do the things we do, and adjust our level of consumption in preparation for that upcoming change.  We have the time to ask ourselves: do we actually need it?  What is that new item replacing?  Where would it “live?”  Will we use it tomorrow?  The day after?

CraigsList, eBay, consignment shops, yard sales, give-aways, Salvation Army, or even Dumpsters are all great options.  I have had pretty good success over the last couple weeks unloading some of our possessions on eBay.  Made a little extra money but, even more importantly, I have gotten rid of a number of items that were just taking up space in our house.  Now that I have gotten started, I am finding all sorts of stuff to get rid of!

The benefit of having a longer term goal is that you don’t need to rush the process.  That extra time can also be a detriment if you are a well-trained collector of stuff- like most of us.  Moving forward, an even better thing to learn is how to say “NO.”  The culling of your possessions is going to take several different waves of chukking.  If you aren’t ready to let something go yet, then keep it!  Maybe next time you will be ready.